Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.
Showing posts with label Holy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holy. Show all posts

Monday, December 12, 2022

God Wants You to be Holy

I haven't always been a Methodist.  I grew up going to Baptist churches.  So when I started attending a Methodist church, I was curious what were the differences.  Someone told me a joke I have always enjoyed.  They said, "You know what’s the difference between Methodists and Baptists?  Methodist say hello when they see each other in the liquor store!" 

And it is true that Methodists are much more open about the fact that we may enjoy an acholic beverage (while Baptist who do might not want to admit it).  There may be other difference we notice--we like to light candles and recite the Apostles Creed and other responsive liturgical readings.  However, the real difference are much deeper than these surface level issues   It's theological.

Methodists have a distinct emphasis on God’s grace. Grace is the undeserved gift of God’s divine help.  All Christians believe God's grace is what saves us--rather than our good works--because we can't earn salvation; it's a free gift from God for those who believe.  However, Methodists really emphasize God's grace and we even spell out the three main ways we experience God's grace.  There is the prevenient grace of God that helps us before we even think about God.  Then there is the justifying grace of God that saves us when we realize who Christ is and we repent of sin and turn to follow Jesus.  And today I want to talk about the third grace--sanctifying grace--that works to actually heal us and make us holy.

In the UMH, we have 22 songs under the theme of Prevenient Grace and 20 songs about Justifying Grace.  However, we have 154 songs about Sanctifying Grace!  What does the number of hymns for each category tell you about how the Methodist church's emphasis on sanctification?  It is very important to us! 

Sanctification is the life-long process of God healing us of sin and perfecting us in love. True Healing comes as we surrender ourselves to God and let His grace transform us.  Healing comes as we obey and do those things God asks of us.  

A man who is seriously ill, physically, will never get better unless he goes to a good doctor and follows the doctor’s treatment plan.  However, it doesn’t matter if the doctor is the best doctor in the world; the sick man will not get better on his own if he doesn't follow the doctor's treatment plan.

Well Jesus is known as the "Great Physician".  He is the greatest spiritual healer of all.  And we need healing.  We can't heal our own sin-sickness.  Jesus can heal us, but unless we follow The Great Physicians treatment plan for us, we will not get better.

Romans 6:12-18
12 Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. 14 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.

15 Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! 16 Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 17 Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. 18 Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.

Key Verses
Let me point out a few key phrases from this reading that shows what God expects from Christians after Jesus saves them.  Romans 6:14 says, "Sin is no longer your master… You are free by God’s grace…"
Romans 6:15 says, "Since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does this mean we can go on sinning? Of course not!"  So we see, God expects Christians to put away sin because we've been set free by His grace.

Here are some other scriptures that show that God wants us to be holy.  1 Thessalonians 4:3, "It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality"  And Jude 1:24 says, "All glory to God, who is able to keep you from stumbling, and who will bring you into his glorious presence innocent of sin and with great joy."

There are even more challenging verses from God’s Word about what God expects with regard to holiness, such as Hebrews 12:14, which says, "…seek to live a clean and holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord."  And 1 John 3:9, "Those who have been born into God’s family do not sin, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they have been born of God."

God’s Prevenient Grace draw us to Him. His Justifying Grace forgives us and sets aside our sin.  However, God doesn’t want us to remain in sin, so His Sanctifying Grace heals our sins and leads us to become holy. 

Now all Christian denominations know this and preach about sanctification.  However, sanctification has always been the hallmark of the Methodist movement.  John Wesley and the early Methodist were specifically motivated to urge Christians everywhere to "Spread Scriptural holiness across the land" (in other words, to truly be reformed and to help reform people everywhere to live holy lives).

Perfection In Love
Methodists believe God’s sanctifying grace through the Holy Spirit can perfect us in love in this lifetime.  We will still be tempted.  (Even Jesus was tempted.)  We will still make mistakes. We will never have perfect knowledge in this life, but we can have perfect love.  John Wesley taught perfect love is when everything you do is motivated by sincere love.  Thus, in this state, even the mistakes you make flow from love.  That is what we are aiming for! 

Strive for perfect love!  Let God change you!  Don’t be lazy and don’t you dare sell out!  God wants more for you than mediocrity!  He wants you to be holy!  And you can be holy, because God’s Sanctifying Grace can heal you and make you Holy.  Eventually, Lord willing, everything you do may be motivated by love!  But you can’t sit back and make the excuse, “Oh, no body’s perfect…”  That won’t get you anywhere.  But God’s healing grace can take you all the way to perfection in love—if you will let Him! 

Personal and Social Holiness
True Methodist doctrine shouts holy sanctification loud and clear!  It motivates us to be changed and to help change the world. 

Some Christians live their lives as if they’re just waiting to die.  They say, “I’ve been saved. 
I know I’m going to heaven.  What more is there?” 
There’s a lot more!  We are not just waiting to die.  

We pray in the Lord’s prayer:  “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  These are not empty words.  They should be the yearning of every Christian’s heart.   I believe God answers prayers, don’t you?  So why would He not answer the Lord’s Prayer? 

It is not God’s will that you continue to be dominated by sin.  God wants you to actually be free!  Does that seem impossible?  Well Jesus reminds us in Mark 10:27:  “With men it is impossible, but not with God.  Nothing is impossible with God!”  And Jude 1:24 says, “All glory to God, who is able to keep you from stumbling…”

We cannot free ourselves or stop ourselves from sinning own our own.  But God—through the Holy Spirit—helps us & sanctifies us to grow more & more like Jesus.  We ought to pray for and hope for and cooperate with the Holy Spirit, trusting God will heal us.  If you aren’t aiming for perfection, what are you aiming for?  And if you aren’t aiming for perfection, what do you think you will get?  

This is not a burden, because we don’t do it by our own strength. It’s not a matter of will power.  It’s not us buckling down extra hard, gritting our teeth, and making ourselves better people.  Sanctification is a matter of cooperation.  God makes the changes in your life, but, you’ve got to cooperate. 

Jesus is a wonderful physician, but you’ve got to follow His treatment plan.  Are you?  Are you actively praying?  Are you reading your Bible?  Are you celebrating the sacraments regularly?  Are you serving God and others?  Are you supporting God’s mission financially with a cheerful heart?  Are you devoting yourself to the Lord above all else?

The Christian faith is not just a personal thing.  It is also social.  We are called to spread scriptural holiness across the land.  Christians have changed the world for the better over the last 2,000 years.  It’s not God’s will that our world continues to be broken or that Christians throw up their hands in resignation and say, “There’s nothing we can do about it.” 

True Christians have always worked to better the world.  Even Christians who were being brutally tortured and executes for their faith, have followed Christ’s example of sacrificial love and sought the salvation of their persecutors.  Surely Christians today can change our world in 21st century America for the better, but it won’t happen unless you take seriously God’s call to be Holy People.  It cannot happen just because you, by you sheer will power, resolve to make the world holy.  It can only happen when you cooperate with what the Holy Spirit wants to do in you today. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

We Are Samson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 23, 2017

Sound Different

            I will never forget the first time I said "I love you" to Kelly.  She was only 16 and I was 18.  We'd only been dating for a short time.  I walked her to her door after on of our date and said good night and then it just came out, "I love you."  I said ti as much out of habit as anything (that's the what we said when we told each other good night in my childhood family).  There was an awkward pause... and Kelly did not reciprocate.
            Back in the car on the drive home, I was kicking myself.  Why did I say that?  It wasn't appropriate because we hadn't been dating long enough and I didn't really mean it; it just slipped out.  When I got to my house, the phone rang and it was Kelly.  She said, "I think I should explain why I didn't say I love you back.  Those are very important words to me and I don't use them lightly.  I think you should really know that you love someone before you tell them "I love you.""
            Now that sounded different--so much more mature and honest than most 16-year-old girls I knew at the time.  And it impressed me that Kelly had a deeper understanding of love and was willing to stand up for what she believed in and to call me and explain.
            Well, we are supposed to sound different than the world.  You see, long ago, God chose you to be holy different--to think different, to act different, to look different, and to sound different.  How You Sound--what you say--is serious business.  Proverbs 18:21 says, "The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences."  Proverbs 15:4 says, "Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit."  And Proverbs 12:18 says, "Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing."  And listen to what Jesus said about the power of what holy people say. 

Mark 11:22-25
22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

In the Passage, Jesus Implies 3 Ways Holy People Will Sound Different.
            First, holy people have faith to speak and move mountains. Holy people use their words to change lives and change the world. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. looked around and found a world full of racial discrimination and segregation. It seemed like an impossible mountain to move, but King knew it was not right and he was a Christian leader, a holy man. So King began to speak and what he said sounded different from everyone else. He urged non-violent protest. He spoke about how segregation and racial bigotry was hurtful not just black people, but also to white people and oppressors. King preached that we all need healing--even those who are mistreating others.
            Holy people don't just sound different when they speak out on momentous social justice issues.  Mountains are moved in small ways every day.  David Crawford is the music minister of our church.  Not only is he talented, but he also has a Christ-like attitude that blesses so many people in so many ways.  David started attending my church decades ago when Tom Dickson invited him to come.  Tom's invitation was just a small thing, but it has made a world of difference for everyone David blesses at my church is linked to Tom's invitation.
            Holy people pray.  Philippians 4:6 says, "Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done."  When others get made, get sad, get worried, get discouraged, holy people pray.  Negative emotions produce more negative emotions.  Worry and stress produce more worry and stress.  Everyone gets to talking and dwelling on their worries and stress and all the negative emotions just get worse and more intense.  But holy people sound different.  Holy people pray and God gives them peace.  And peace gives birth to more peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers…”
            Holy People forgive.  When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he looked down at the soldier gambling for his clothes and said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)  Holy people sound different because they forgive.
            On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof gunned down 9 Christians in a church in Charleston, SC.  The relatives of the slain had a chance to speak directly to the gunman at his first court appearance. One by one, those who chose to speak did not turn to anger. Somehow—by the grace and power of God—they were able to speak life even in the presence of the man who brought death to their loved ones.  [i]Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said at the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion. “I forgive you,” she told him. “You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”
            Forgiveness sounds different. It brings healing—first of all to you. Bitterness will poison you from the inside out. Holding a grudge will tear you apart and damage all your other relationships.   Forgiveness helps you heal and move on to the brighter future God want to give you.

Are You Ready to Sound Different?
            Thankfully, most of us will never experience the tragedy of our loved ones being gunned down in a church prayer meeting.  But there are still some practical things that everyone can do to sound different than the world.  First of all, get in the Word f God.  Your conversations are not scripted.  They are spontaneous.  It's not practically to measure every word you're going to say and how you say it.  Most of what you say just comes from your heart.  Jesus said, "What you say flows from what is in your heart." (Luke 6:45).  So fill your heart with God's Word.  Dig into the Bible so that you are more and more like Christ in your heart.  Then everything you say will flow from your Christ-like heart and you will sound different and holy.
            Second, refuse to use abusive or vulgar language.  Don't try to tear people down in order to make yourself feel better or right.  There is already too much of that going on in our world.  Holy people should sound different.  Refrain from cutting remarks or trolling on Facebook.  Refuse to gossip or talk about people behind their backs.  Instead of texting or emailing, call or visit and talk to people directly. 
            Third, encourage people with love and grace.  Be kind.  Be positive.  The world has enough negativity and darkness.  Sound different.  Speak light, not darkness.  Speak life, not death.
            Fourth, use your words to invite people to church.  People need to be in the church.  We need Jesus and we need each other.  The Church is the place Jesus chose for his holy people to gather.  Let us gather as many here as we can. 
            Some will say, "But I've already asked everyone I know."  Jesus told a parable about that--the parable of the great banquet.  A master sent his servants to invite people to a great banquet.  One by one, all the guests made excuses why they couldn't come.  So the master sent his servants out saying, "Go out into the highways and byways and compel everyone you can so that my banquet may be full.”  It may be that the people you are asking just don't feel they need to be in church.  But there are many others out there who realize they're in desperate need.  So go.  Invite them!  They may be different from you, but different is OK.  Jesus loves different.  In fact, God chose us all to be different and holy.  So build some relationships with different people.  Invite them to lunch.  Get to know them.  And invite them to church.
            Are you Ready to Sound Different?  Good!  Because God wants you to be holy different--to think different, to act different, to look different, to sound different, to be different.  You are His holy people, a royal priesthood set apart for His special purposes to go into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ to build His Kingdom.  Amen.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Look Different

Long ago, God chose you to be Holy and Different.  Christians are meant to Think Different, Act Different, and today I want to share that we should Look Different.  Of all the sermons in this series, I was concerned about this one the most.  Why did God want me to talk about how Christians should look?  I was concerned so I spent a lot of time praying and meditating on this subject.  And I thought about the different ways different Christians have looked and dressed over the years.  And to make things easy, I’ve compiled a few slides showing how Christians can look different. Maybe you would like to choose one of these looks?

You could choose the monastic look of the monk or the nun.

You could choose the 16-17 century clerical stylings of Jonathan Edwards or John Wesley.

Or maybe you would like the more contemporary look of the Christian t-shirt or contemporary music star Colton Dixon's frohawk.

Or you could opt for a more glamorous televangelist hairdo.

Or if that's not hardcore enough, you could go with the crazy street preacher look.

Or if you're really into hats in church...

With "No Shave November" fast approaching, there's even a handy guide for Christian beard styles:
Maybe, if we really want to know how Christians look different, we should just go to the Word of God for advice.
Matthew 5:14-16
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Jesus’ Fashion Advice
            Jesus didn’t give much fashion advice.  he did talk about the Pharisees fashion statements once.  The Pharisees liked to dress in elaborate robes ordained with boxes called phylacteries that held tiny scrolls of scripture.  They liked to be noticed and to look "holy," but Jesus warned they were like white washed tombs, beautiful on the outside but, on the inside, full of dead men's bones.
            In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus said you shouldn't worry about what you will wear; He said the lilies of the field are better clothed than anything King Solomon ever wore (and Solomon was the richest man who ever lived).
           In Matthew 5:14, Jesus gives a few images of how we are to “look.” It has more to do with our character, but it can affect the way we look too.  The images he uses are:  light, a city, and a shining lamp. 

Christians Shine
            Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit and have an inner light that shines.  There something special about them that transcends clothes, age, or even the world’s standards of beauty.  Our inner lights leads us and even gives light to others, but in order for the light to shine, you have to open yourself up to the Holy Spirit.  You have to listen for what the Spirit is trying to say and then obey--even if it's uncomfortable or challenging.  When you cooperate with the Spirit, you become more like Christ.
            You will find you also give light to others.  Christians are called to be a witness.  When someone joins as a member of my church, they promise to support the church with their prayers, the presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness.  Obviously, being a witness means telling people what Jesus has done for you.  But even if you don't say anything, people see the way you live.  If you are a Christian, someone is watching to see what you will do whether you know it or not.  And if you let the Holy Spirit lead you, it will lead others as well.
            There's something else about that shining inner light.  Jesus said it can't be hidden.  He said we shouldn't try to hide it anymore than we should try to high the light of a lamp.  I'm so thankful I live in America--a land where we have the freedom to live as a Christian without concerns about our safety.  That was not the case for the earliest followers of Christ and it is not the case for many Christians who live in places like North Korea, China, and Africa today.  Many Christians have to worship in secret and try to keep their faith hidden.  Can you imagine the burden of that?  How do you keep your faith in Christ secret when it causes you to shine like a lamp or a city on a hill?  I'm so glad Christians in America don't have to hide our light.  And I think we ought to try and shine as brightly as we can in honor and memory of those who didn't have this privilege.  How dare we disrespect those who suffer for Christ by taking our shining privileges for granted?
Christians Gather Together
            I have discovered I am truly country person at heart.  I always thought I was and never would have called myself a big city kind of person.  However, before I moved to Cohutta, Georgia, I always lived in a city or a town.  Every place I've lived my whole life was populated enough that you could walk to a store within 5 or 10 minutes.  Now we live in the country and it takes a minimum of 15-20 minutes to drive to the nearest store.  It would take an hour to walk.  I guess that's the definition of country to me and I like it.  I like the way it's quite and peaceful out in the country; there's fewer people.
            But Jesus said Christians are like a city on a hill.  A city is a large human settlement.  By definition, cities are a gathering together of lots and lots of people.  And that tells you something about how Christians look.  Christians gather together in groups.  You can't have a city with just one person and there are no solitary Christians.  Christians must come together. 
            Think of the two most important ceremonies in the Christian Church.  The two sacraments that Jesus commanded his followers to practice are Baptism and Holy Communion and you can't do either of them by yourself.  You must gather together with other believers to experience them.  Christians look different because we are always gathering together with other Christians to worship, to study, to serve, to grow, to hold on another accountable, and to just share life. 

Christians Have Scars
            I have this old truck I've been tinkering with--a 1978 Ford F350.  I love the truck I call "Dry Bones."  It used to be a dump truck.  They say farm truck live a hard life, but the life of a dump truck is just brutal!  You can see the scars from that tough life in the rust that covers her.  But it's the rusty old worn out look that I like most about Dry Bones.  It reminds me so much of the Christian life.
            You see, Jesus comes to us when we are broken and beat down by the consequences of our sin.  He loves us, despite our ugliness, and he redeems us and gives us a new life.  That's what I think about when I see my Dry Bones truck.  It was just a worn our dump truck discarded and forgotten, but I'm bringing it back to life and making it cool.  People stop me all the time and tell me, "Man, I really love that truck."  And they love it, not because it's shiny and new.  They love it because of the old rusted, worn out look.
            Dry Bones is a good picture for how Christians look different.  Christians have scars.  Even Jesus had scars.  In fact, the risen Christ often showed his people his scars to prove it was really him.  "Look," he would say, "Here are the scars where the nails pierced my hands.  Here is where the spear pierced my side."  Jesus scars are not an ugly thing anymore.  Now, they are a badge of honor that shows what he did for us--how much he loves us.
            Christians have scares too--scars left by sins others did to us and sins we inflicted on ourselves.  But a scar is not a live wound.  It is a wound that has been healed.  And if Jesus is healing you (that who Christians are--those who Christ has healed and/or is healing), you will have the scars to prove it.  And your scars aren't an ugly thing; they are a badge of honor that glorifies God and shows what Christ has done for you.  Don't be afraid to show your scars--to say, "Here.  Here is where Christ healed me form my sin."  Our scars tell our story.
            But some might say, " I don’t have any scars.  I’ve always been in the church"  Well, your scars might be smaller, but they're still there.  One of the godliest people I know is Sara Brooker.  She is known thoughout our church and even the community as a true saint.  Sara's been in church pretty much her whole life and will tell you she can't really remember a time when she wasn't a Christian.  But she will also be the first to tell you, she has struggled with sin and wishes she were more Christ-like.  And I'm always thinking, I can't think of a more Christ-like person on earth, but she sees she falls short.  If Sara has scars, then we all do.  Don't be afraid to show your scars so others can see how Jesus has healed you. 

 "Yeah, But How Do Christians Dress"
            If you were reading this blog to find out how Christians should dress, I will leave you with to scriptures to help you out. 
Luke 12:35Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast.
1 Peter 5:5And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
            So, be dressed for service and dress yourself in humility.  There.  That's your Christians fashion advice. 

            Remember, God chose you long ago to be different, to be holy.  God chose you to think different, act different, and look different.  You should like a city on a hill shining for all the world to see so that the world may glorify God who chose you and made you holy different.  Are you ready to look different?