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Showing posts with label Holy Communion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holy Communion. Show all posts

Monday, November 14, 2022

Are You Having An Identity Crisis?

In the movie “Finding Nemo”, a clown fish named Marlin goes on a frantic search and rescue mission to save his son Nemo who was captured by a scuba diver and put in a dentist’s fish tank.  Marlin meets a blue reef fish named Dory who saw the address on the diver’s mask and knows where they took Nemo.  Unfortunately, Dory has short term memory loss.  She can’t remember her own name, let alone the address P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sidney.

The plot is a clever twist of a common theme in  many movies and TV shows.  It’s the
“Who Am I?” plot, in which a lead character has amnesia and can’t remember who they are. 
It’s an identity crisis.

Life is not a movie, but people do have an identity crisis in real life when they don’t know
they belong to God.  God’s Word reminds us our identity is greater than the superficial things of this world.  Our true identity is in Christ.

1 Peter 2:4-12
You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,
    chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him
    will never be disgraced.”

Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has now become the cornerstone.”

And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble,
    the rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

10 “Once you had no identity as a people;
    now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
    now you have received God’s mercy.”

11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

Who You Are in Christ?
“You are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple…” (verse 5)  The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was the most important place on earth to Jews in New Testament times.  They believed it was where God’s Spirit dwelled on earth.  Some had even come to idolize the Temple.  But Jesus reminded people God’s Spirit is not confined to the Temple.  In fact, people who put their faith in God through Jesus are the real residence of God’s Holy Spirit.  Therefore, Christians together make up the true Holy Temple.  What an honor and privilege!

Further more, verse 5 says “You are his holy priests…”  A priest is someone who intercedes to God on behalf of people on earth.  A priest prays for people and performs religious rituals that help people find healing and wholeness and forgiveness and purification so they can reconnect and be at one with God.  In the Old Testament, only one a certain tribe from the twelve tribes of Israel could be priests.  And even within that tribe, anyone who had a blemish or a defect was disqualified.  Only perfect people could be priests.  So for example, if you were born without a finger or lost eye in accident, you couldn’t serve as a priest.  But when we put our faith in Jesus, it is different.  We are all priest of God Most High—even if we aren’t perfect—because Jesus makes us whole.

Verse 9 says, “You are a chosen people…”  In the Old Testament, only Israelites were consider the chosen people.  Everyone else was a Gentile.  And in Jesus’ day, Jews believed only Jews were God’s chosen people.  But Jesus shows us that anyone who places their faith in Christ is God’s chosen.  So we could paraphrase verse 10 to say, “Once you were nobody; now you are God’s somebody!”  In Christ, everybody is somebody special.  Sinners become saints.  Heathens become priests.  The lame are made whole.  The blind can see and deaf can hear.  Those who were damned become holy.  This is what it means to be Christian. 

Why I Am Methodist
There are many different denominations of Christian churches in our world.  I believe God uses them all to serve a special purpose.  Communities need Baptists and Presbyterians and Pentecostals and Methodists.  

Unfortunately, when a church struggles with an identity crisis, it may begin to look around at what all the churches are doing.  They may think, "Well that church is on fire and really growing.  They must be doing something right.  Maybe we should just copy what they are doing."  Sometimes individuals have them same identity crisis.  They forget who they are or for some reason aren't happy with their life.  They look around at some other people who seem to have their life all worked out.  The temptations, the easy fix, is to just try to copy someone else.

The trouble with both of these quick fix situations--for a church or and individual--is that God created us the way we are for a reason.  God made the Methodist church Methodist for a reason to fulfill a specific need in a community.  God made you as an individual for a specific reason.  If you try to copy someone else, you won't be you and something important God wanted to give the world will be lacking.  The same true in the case of a church.  If my church just tries to copy some other church, we won't be who God wants us to be.

I am a Methodist minister, but I was not always a Methodist.  I grew up going to Baptist churches.  My grandparents and parents were Baptists and so I was a Baptist.  I started attending a Methodist church when I was 18.  My girlfriend (now my wife) and I started attending Wesley United Methodist Church in Macon, GA with her friend Laurie Stewart.

Now, I was skeptical when I started with the Methodist church.  The Baptist churches I attended as a kid taught me to be wary of churches that were overly ceremonial and ritualistic.  These, they warned, were superstitious innovation that were not necessary or biblical.  So I was concerned when the first thing I saw happen in the Methodist worship service was acolytes lighting candles on the altar table.  I eventually learned that this wasn't some magic ritual, it was a symbol to remind us that Christ, the Light of the World, is with us when we worship in church and that His light goes back out into the world as we leave (symbolized by the acolytes carrying the flame from the candles out at the end of the service).  Churchgoers follow the light out back into the world.  This is a tradition that teaches us about our faith and our purpose as followers of Christ.

I learned that the Methodist church is a church that values tradition.  We have many.  We believe we can learn from the traditions of Christians who've gone before us and wrestled with the Bible and with the Christian faith.  These tradition help us be better Christians today and help preserve the hard lessons of those who've gone before us.  But Methodist are not only a church that values traditions.

We also value reason.  Jesus told us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).  So Methodist use the brains God have us to understand Him and how we should live.  Our intellect helps us to mature in the faith Jesus gave us.  And our intelligence keeps our traditions from becoming superstitions.  We understand that Jesus is not literally in the candlelight on our altars.  The candles are symbols for our minds to interpret.  And sometimes our reason also concludes that some tradition have outlived their usefulness and we can change them.  At other times, reason leads us to know a tradition is wrong and needs to be changed.  Methodist value tradition and reason.

Methodist also value experience.  Our relationship with God is not merely intellectual.  It is an personal experience that includes feelings and emptions and an actual relationship with God.  our relationship must be more than intellectual--just as a relationship with another person must be more than intellectual in order to be real.  So we experience God as a relationship and we learn about God and our faith through personal and communal experiences.

Methodist value tradition, reason, and experience.  However, Scripture is the foundation of all our beliefs and practices.  We understand that our experiences and feelings are limited and very subjective. We may have feelings of great love for someone today, but tomorrow we feel quite irritated with them.  And then the day after that, we may feel great love once more.  That is the subjective nature of experiential feelings.  Traditions change, reason may evolve, and experience is subjective, but the Word of God in Holy Scripture is always the same.  The Bible is an anchor that keeps our faith from floating away into the oblivion of our own human subjectivity.  Methodist have always been a people grounded in Scripture and we must always be so if we are to be true to Christ our Lord.

Thankfully, Methodists are not a group who accept Scripture blindly as fundamentalists often do.  No, Methodist read Scripture intelligently--seeking to understand the historical and cultural contexts.  We use our reason to mine the depths of God's Word.  We use traditions to remember the lessons of God's Word.  And we experience God through the lens of what Scripture teaches us is true about God.

Tradition, reason, experience and Scripture are all distinctive parts of the Methodist way of Christian living.  They are some of the reasons I am a Methodist and I think our way of following Christ may be helpful for you too.   But there is another distinctive features of Methodism that is important for our world.  I will share some of these in the coming weeks, but I want to end with one more thing today.

The Methodist church is a sacramental church.  We believe that Jesus gave the Church some sacred ceremonies that He uses to help His people.  For instance, we typically celebrate Holy Communion once a month in a Methodist church because we believe it is a sacred and special ceremony Jesus told His followers to practice.  

We call it Holy Communion while many other denominations prefer the term The Lord's Supper.  We prefer Holy Communion because of the notion of communing with Jesus.  You see, some denomination would prefer to call Holy Communion an ordinance, while we call it a sacrament.  An ordinance is something you are supposed obey (sort of like a city ordinance).  So some denominations practice the Lord's Supper primarily out of obedience to the ordinance Jesus gave that they such celebrate the meal.  Methodists, on the other hand, celebrate Communion as a sacrament.  We believe it is a sacred moment when God is actually doing something.  So yes, we practice Communion out of obedience, but also because God does something.  We base our believe that God does something on several passage from the Bible where God acted through the celebration of Holy Communion.  For instance, the understanding of the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) was illuminated when Jesus broke the bread of Holy Communion. 

Methodists believe Holy Communion is sacred, but we also believe it is accessible to anyone.  We practice an "open table" where anyone can receive Holy Communion even if they are not a mmber of the church or even if they are young children.  We believe God is infinitely sacred, but He is not something that must be kept separate from people.  Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross--shedding His blood to purify us--God has torn the veil that separates us from in two.  We can come boldly into his presence and so we do this symbolically by welcoming everyone to His table in Holy Communion.  It is a beautiful sacrament that nourishes the spirit just as food nourishes the body.  God impart grace to help His people through the celebration of Holy Communion, and we want everyone to receive this blessing if they are willing.

I hope you will follow this series as I continue over the next few weeks to discuss the identity of the Methodist people and what I believe we have to offer the world.  Perhaps, you may also discover your identity and maybe even choose to be a Methodist Christian as well.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Love Rejoices With the the Truth

We’ve been studying 1 Corinthians 13.  Last week, Rev. Donna Lucas was gracious to continue the theme of our series while I was away celebrating my son’s marriage, preaching “Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs”.  It was a wonderful weekend celebrating their love.

1 Corinthians 13 is popularly known as the “love chapter”.  It is the number one scripture read at weddings and it certainly does give invaluable advice to a husband and wife about how they should love each other.  However, this chapter was not originally written for weddings or newlyweds.  It isn't specifically about romantic love at all.  1 Corinthians was written to correct a dysfunctional church.

The Corinthian church had a lot of serious problems.  There were power struggles and jealousy among the members. Some were claiming spiritual superiority and expecting special treatment.  Some were abusing the sacrament of Holy Communion and getting drunk on the communion wine while others were being left out of the meal altogether.  In Corinthians 5, we read that one Corinthian man was sleeping with his father’s wife (his stepmother) and the church ignored his sexual immorality.  Paul writes, “You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.”

Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians to reprimand the church and try and bring them back to authentic Christianity.  The letter comes to a climax in the 13th chapter as Paul explains that the most important thing is love.  It all comes down to love.  But the kind of love we’re talking about is not some wishy washy, warm and fuzzy kind of love.  It’s a deep, sacrificial love—the way God loves us, a love demonstrated best by Christ when He died for sinners on the cross.  Let's review 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
1 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Love Does Not Rejoice About Injustice
The NLT says, love “does not rejoice about injustice”.  The NIV translates it “Love does not delight in evil…”  The world today has a warped idea about “Love”.  People today value tolerance, so naturally they like the idea of love being patient and kind.  But, most people would prefer to chop off that part that says love does not delight in evil. Biblical love holds people accountable to God’s Holy Truth. 

A big part of the problem is how people define what is evil.  The world has one standard, and that standard changes from generation to generation.  Things that were considered evil when I was a child are accepted and even praised as  good and wholesome today.  However, God’s standards of good and evil never change and they are preserved in God’s Holy Bible. 

Christian love holds people accountable to God’s standards of good and evil.  That is why the Apostle Paul can write to the Corinthian church about love and also say in the same letter: “It isn’t right for a man to sleep with his stepmother.  You need to remove this man from your church if he won’t repent of his sin.”

Real love doesn’t put up with evil and injustice; it holds people accountable.   

We see a lot of evil and injustice in our world today.  And Christians who are loved by God in Christ and who also profess to love God and love our neighbors ought to call out evil and injustice whenever we see it.   

We should start with ourselves--as individuals and then as the Church.  Jesus once said, “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” (Matthew 7:3)  So where do we see evil injustice in our own lives?  Don’t let pointing the finger at someone else’s sin be an excuse to ignore your own.  Examine yourself.  Ask the Lord to reveal where you have fallen short.  Repent of your sin and ask the Holy Spirit to reform you. 

On the other hand, don’t let your own imperfection be an excuse to rejoice about evil and injustice in the world either. Some will shy away from calling sin “sin” because they are too ashamed of their own sin to say anything to someone else.  So they keep silent and their silence condones what is evil. 

Love Rejoices Whenever The Truth Wins Out
But love doesn’t only go around telling people how wrong they are.  Love “rejoices” when the truth wins out.  Love is happy when people finally get it.  Love is overjoyed when it sees someone earnestly repent and turn to God.  Love celebrates with a feast when a prodigal son comes home and reconciles with his estranged father.  Love looks for the good and celebrates it every chance it gets!

Jesus is the very best example of true love.  I guess this is because God is love and Jesus is God so Jesus is Love in Love’s purest form.  Jesus never condoned evil.  Yet, in love, Jesus knew how to call out evil and call people to repentance and also to rejoice whenever the Truth won.  

I want to close with a story from Jesus’ life that I think illustrates how love "does not delight in evil but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.”  It comes from Luke 7:36-50. 

Luke 7:36-38

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

I learned in Sunday school a couple months ago that this jar of perfume was probably used by the woman as part of her “trade”.  Her trade was probably the oldest profession (prostitution).  If so, she would want to use perfume to make herself more attractive to her clients.  When Matthew and Mark tell this story in their Gospels, they say the woman smashed the jar of perfume—symbolic showing she was never going back to her sinful life.

Luke 7:39-48
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

When we have the privilege of celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion, we rejoice that the Truth has won.  Jesus, gave His life so that we can repent of our sins and return to God as Lord.  When we accept God as rightful Lord of our life and surrender to His will, we are saved by the sacrificial love of Christ.

Examine yourself now, and ask, “Lord, show me the sin for which I need to repent today so that I may come to Your table and celebrate how Your Truth has won the victory in my life today.”  

May the Lord show you and may you repent and follow Christ. Amen.

Monday, August 9, 2021

The Names of God - Yahweh-Shammah

Proverbs 18:10 says, “The name of the Lord is a strong fortress; the godly run to him and are safe.  God’s names reveal His character and help us to know Him.  Today, I want to consider the name Yahweh-Shammah, which means the Lord is there. We will see it is a name for God and also for a great city that Christians hope to inhabit one day.

Ezekiel was a prophet of Israel that lived in captivity in the time of the Babylonian Empire. Babylonia conquered Jerusalem and set up a puppet government that promised to be loyal to Babylonia. Then, Babylonia took several important people captive as hostages back to Babylonia. Ezekiel was among the captives. A few years later, Jerusalem rebelled and Babylonia returned to reconquer and destroy the city. When Ezekiel and the Israelite captives in Babylon heard the news of Jerusalem's destruction, they were devastated. But God gave them a vision through Ezekiel. God said Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed because of Israel's sin of idolatry. However, God was going to one day build a new eternal city and temple and Israel's heritage and way of life will be built into the very walls of the city.

Ezekiel 48:30-35
“These will be the exits to the city: On the north wall, which is 1 1⁄2 miles long, 31 there will be three gates, each one named after a tribe of Israel. The first will be named for Reuben, the second for Judah, and the third for Levi. 32 On the east wall, also 1 1⁄2 miles long, the gates will be named for Joseph, Benjamin, and Dan. 33 The south wall, also 1 1⁄2 miles long, will have gates named for Simeon, Issachar, and Zebulun. 34 And on the west wall, also 1 1⁄2 miles long, the gates will be named for Gad, Asher, and Naphtali.

35 “The distance around the entire city will be 6 miles. And from that day the name of the city will be ‘The Lord Is There.’”

Slide – Yahweh-Shammah
The New Living Translation translates the Hebrew Name for God and the eternal city as "The Lord Is There".  The original Hebrew word was Yahweh-Shammah.  Yahweh means "I Am" or "I Am Who I Am".  Usually, this is translated into English as LORD with all capital letter to indicate the original word was Yahweh.  Lord is decent translation; it captures something of the original meaning.  A lord is sovereign.  You can't tell a lord what to do; the lord tells you what to do.  God (Yahweh) is Lord of all.  He is sovereign over everything.  He is who He is.  We can't control or manipulate Him.

Shammah means There.  Ezekiel 48:35 is the only time Shammah is used in the entire Bible.  

Yahweh-Shammah is the last word of the last sentence of the last chapter of Ezekiel.  The Prophet ends his vision of God’s restoration of the broken dreams of God’s people with this hope:  “Something new is coming.  I know our homes have been destroyed.  Our culture is demolished.  Our city and temple are gone and we are prisoners in a foreign land.  But One Day the Lord will build a new city and it’s eternal name will be “The Lord is There.”

Do you know the Lord is there?
Do you know the Lord is there?  Some people struggle to know the Lord is there.  Thy think of God as an old man in the sky, or a distant deity, or some ethereal energy or spiritual force.  However, the Bible repeatedly tells stories that reveal God is real, tangible, and personable. 

God spoke to the prophets.  God was a friend to Abraham. Genesis says God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden during the cool of the day.

If that weren’t enough, God took the form of a man and came down to earth.  He was born as a baby named Jesus.  We read how Jesus was dedicated at the Temple.  Luke tells us about a time when Jesus got separated from his parents during a trip when he was 12.  The Gospels tell so many amazing stories about Jesus’ miracles and teachings, but it is also clear that, in Jesus, God is a man with flesh and blood who gets thirsty and hungry and who, in the end, even bleeds and dies.

So God is real and He is there.  God is not something vague or far off or impersonal. He is there.

God is there when a baby is born and a new life comes into the world.
God it there with the mother as she struggles through the pain of childbirth.
God is there with the father who can't do anything but watch and pray as the woman he loves gives birth.
God is there when your kids go back to school in uncertain times and with the teachers trying to educate them and keep them safe.
God is there when a young couple gets married or when a person struggles to remain single.
God is there when you start a new job—with the uncertainties and the hopes for the future.
God is there when you lose a child and you feel like your heart is utterly broken and you don't knwo how you can go on.
God is there when someone betrays you or when you are the betrayer.
God is there loving you even when you are being disciplined.  He was with the Israelites consoling and encouraging them with a new vision--even as they learned their homeland had been destroyed.
God is there when we celebrate, when we laugh, when we cry, when we live, and when we die.

Ezekiel and his people were devastated when the temple was destroyed.  For them in their time, the temple was where God lived.  The temple gave the people access to God’s presence.  The temple’s destruction meant they no longer had a place to be in God’s presence.  However, Ezekiel shared a vision for a new city called, Yahweh-Shammah, “The Lord Is There”.

Jesus came to start building that city in our hearts.  Do you remember how Jesus once told the religious leaders, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19).  The people thought he was crazy.  It had taken them 46 years to build the Temple.  However, Jesus wasn’t talking about a physical temple.  Jesus was talking about His body, which the Bible says was crucified and buried in a tomb and rose back to life on the third day.

This is part of a New Covenant God made with people.  If you repent of your sins and turn to God as your Lord, He forgives your sins and He is there for you.  In fact, His Holy Spirit lives in your heart!

You don’t have to travel to Jerusalem and seek God’s presence in some ancient temple.  God is right here, right now.  1 Peter 2:4-5a says, “You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.  And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.

When Christians gather together, we form a spiritual temple where God is present.  Isn’t that amazing!  Remember how the presence of God filled the two holy places in the Old Testament.  First, there was the Tabernacle in Exodus.  As the Israelites were living in tents traveling from Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land, God also lived in a tent called the Tabernacle.  It was the Israelites first Holy Place to worship in the presence of God.  The presence of God was revealed through a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Later, when the Israelites were settled in the Promised Land, King Solomon built the first temple and dedicated it to the Lord as the holy place where people worshiped in the presence of the Lord.  And the Lord revealed His glorious presence to the people through a great cloud of smoke that filled the temple.  Then we fast forward to the New Testament, to the book of Acts in the second chapter.  Jesus' disciples are gathered together in an upper room and the sound of a mighty rushing wind filled the place as the Holy Spirit filled the believers and it was as if tongues of fire were dancing above each disciple's head.  It was just like in the Old Testament stories, except this time the presence of God did not inhabit a building; God filled people who believed in Jesus!  Christians are no the temple of God!

What’s more, Ephesians tell us the church is the body of Christ.  When we put our faith in Jesus, we are His body and His temple and the Lord is there.

A Future Hope
We still long for a day when all that is wrong with the world will be made right.  That Day is coming.  It is closer today than it was yesterday.  Jesus promised He would return One Day to separate the sheep from the goats and the wheat from the weeds--His faithful from the unfaithful.  That Day is coming and no one knows the day or the hour, so we have to always be ready.

One Day, God will make a New Heaven and a New Earth where everything is the way it was meant to be.  In that day, we will live together in the City of God on Earth.  Picking up on the vision God revealed to Ezekiel, the Revelation of John describes the New City named “God is There.”

Revelation 21:1-4
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

Holy Communion
Whenever we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion, it reminds us o
f what Jesus did to reconcile us to God.  It also reminds us of His presence with us now.  Finally, it reminds us of our role to be the Body of Christ in this broken world until He returns.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Homecoming - In Remembrance


Recently, I had the honor of preaching the homecoming service for one of my former churches. If you are not familiar with the tradition of a church homecoming, let me briefly explain. Homecoming is an annual service where former church members "come home" and celebrate the heritage of the church. It's sort of like a family reunion, but for churches. Homecoming often includes a special meal after the service with everyone bringing a dish to contribute. It's a very joyous celebration. You should attend one sometime and see.

It is also customary to invite a former pastor of the church as the guest speaker for homecoming. I was honored to return as the homecoming speaker for Mt Zion United Methodist Church in Smarr, GA--a church I served from 2005-2010. I used the occasion to talk about the purpose of life. I have edited my remarks to share with you on my blog today. Perhaps this message might be meaningful for you.

In Remembrance

In my last sermon at the end of my tenure as pastor at Mt Zion I told you I would no longer be your pastor, but I would always be your friend.  I said, “You might not see me in person, but I will always be somewhere watching you from afar, holding you in prayer, and I will be one of your greatest cheerleaders.”  I am so grateful for tools like Facebook that make it possible to see pictures and snippets of the happenings in Smarr, Georgia.

Memories from Mt Zion

It would take a whole book to share all the memories I have of Mt Zion UMC, but here are just a few of them. Probably my first memory of is how, before I had even served one day their pastor of some folks from Mt Zion came with Eddie and Kathy Rowland to Athens, GA to attend my consecration service through the North Georgia Annual Conference of the UMC at the Classic Center. It meant a lot to have them there cheering for me.

My wife and I were so young back then and our kids were so little. It was a challenge to raise a family and also have a wife that worked and me working full-time as a pastor and also still completing the extensive requirements for full ordination through the UMC.  Thankfully, we had a loving church that adopted our kids as their own.  Eddie and Lillian Bowden and Elvis and Augustine Hammersley were especially helpful babysitting our kids any time we needed help. (And we needed it a lot!) My youngest, Abigail, was less than 3 years old at the time. She can't remember these special people, but they are in her DNA. The person she and all my children are today was informed by these special people and everyone at Mt Zion.

I remember how I might drop the kids off with them and then go teach Tang Soo Do in the fellowship hall.  The church embraced my Christian martial arts program.  Many took part in one way or another, but Rusty Vullo was the most dedicated to the program. It took 5 years, but Rusty made it all the way to black belt. I’ll never forget promoting Rusty to black belt and washing his feet and telling him to symbolically do the same for others.

I remember how the church would all come together to serve food at the Meadows Gun Club and at the Forsythia Festival.  It was so hot with the grill going in the middle of summer.  Thankfully, there would be 10-15 ice cream churns going in the kitchen to make homemade ice cream to sell. There was nothing like that homemade ice cream while we were under the covered tent grilling hotdogs and hamburgers and serving people with a smile.  It gave us a chance to be out in the community giving great service while also earning money for ministry.

I remember getting my very first deer out at Sara and Coolidge Gasset’s place and I remember hunting with Eddie Rowland and Red Ezelle and Rusty Vullo.

I remember how the church was growing and we wanted to start a new Sunday School class, but there weren’t any more rooms.  The class would have to meet either in the bathroom or the Pastor’s office! So the church told me I should stop having an office in the church building and just do my work at the parsonage so they could convert my church office into a Sunday school room.

I remember having prayer meetings every week and usually it was just me and Suzy Newman.  We faithfully prayed for your needs every week and she always came.  One week, I was running a little late. Actually, I was running right on time because I knew it took exactly 10 minutes to drive from the parsonage in Forsyth to the church down highway 41. Unfortunately, I was going to be late because I was stuck behind a slow driver. I was fuming the whole way because they were going too slow and I couldn't go around them. They were in front of me the entire drive. Then they turned and went across the railroad tracks and turned into the church parking lot, and it was Suzy Newman!

I remember staying up all night long with the Relay for Life team and it was so fun/meaningful. They would dress up as the charactersf from Gilligan's Island or as a football team or something else and cheer people walking on the track at Mary Person High School to raise money to fight cancer.

I remember the church paying off the land across the street and then having a note burning ceremony to celebrate. Then they had the idea to build a pavilion, ball fields, and a walking track on the land--something good for the church and a resource for the whole community.  I remember everyone working together to build it--installing lights and plumbing and doors.  And of course, I remember when we all got together to play softball, I was amazed at the athletic abilities of Katie Rowland, Adair Woodward, and Madison Darden and others who were travel softball players.

I remember all the mission work with Mt Zion.  Helping with the refugees from Hurricane Katrina and again when tornadoes ripped through Macon.  I remember working with Habitat for Humanity and also Kingdom Builders.  I remember how I called up John DeGroat once and asked if he could lead a team to repair an extremely old and run down house in Forsyth and how he did it while our church partnered with several other churches in our area to repair a number of houses for people in great need. I remember painting a house with a team of youth while they laughed and helped a family while serving Jesus. Most of those kids are grown up with kids of their own now.

I remember one time for Trunk or Treat, my wife and I dressed up as Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.  When I got to church, Connie Ham didn’t recognize me. She came up to me and welcomed me to the church. It was hilarious, but also gratifying to know that she was so dedicated to welcoming strangers to our church.

I remember some of the great ones who have since gone on to glory--Jim Wright, Garnett Woodward, Hank Stevens, Elvis and Augustine Hammersley, Gail King, Tom Branch, Jim Ham, Eddie Bowden, and Rosemary Evans.

When I’m online and I see the Mt Zion's contemporary worship service called The Mount, I remember how we started having a once a month contemporary service (before we even had Grace Pavilion) and Ashley and Allison and I would sing and we had others too--like Chip Bell and Steven Swain and Jeff Dean.

I remember how we first started hiring some extra staff because we needed more help to do all the ministry Jesus was giving us.  First, we hired Jeff Dean as our youth minister. Later, we hired David Walker as our administrative assistant.

I remember how we once received a very large donation that enabled us to start a Hardship Assistance Program during the 2008 recession.  That program was the inspiration for a similar program we just started a few months ago at my current church a program we call Operation Mercy Drops.

One of my last and favorite memories from my time at Mt Zion happened right at the end of my time there. Me and three others from the church (David Walker, Paul Walls, and Tyler Allen) joined with members of four other church in our district to go on a mission trip to Guatemala. We ran a week long dental clinic and also helped build a church in a remote village. That was a wonderful experience I will never forget.

It's Not About Us

It was not all good memories.  We had problems to overcome too.  There were some sad times as well.  And there were probably some at the church who were not always pleased with my ministry or leadership.  That’s ok.  We don’t do what we do so people will like us.  We do it in remembrance of Christ.  That’s something we always have to stay focused on as Christians.  

Honestly, it’s hard for church people not to worry about what people think of them--whether they like them or not.  Maybe it’s even harder for pastors.  You see, we want people to like us.  Everyone probably wants people to like them (to some degree), but church people really want people to like them.  Church people tend to be the kind of folks who want to do the right thing.  We try and it feels good when people look up to us as good people.  And preachers tend to be at the head of that list.  The admiration of our peers is one of the perks of being a preacher.  People respect you.  Church people look up to you.  Community leaders listen to you and invite you to pray or speak at civic events.  It makes you feel important.

Homecoming is a great time for fond memories.  We remember all the good times and don’t think much about the bad times or disappointments or disagreements.  Sometimes people even idolize their pastor and put you up on a pedestal, though we are never worthy of the way some people see us.  However, if I’m being totally honest, it feels good to be the “good guy”, to be the “hero”, the honorary guest, or to have people’s respect and admiration.  Am I making any sense?

The problem is, sometimes following Christ means saying things or doing things that people won’t like.  Maybe it even puts you at odds with the culture around you--especially if society is moving farther away from God’s values.  So Christians have got to get over this infatuation with being “people pleasers”.  It’s ok to be a likeable person, but that can’t be our most important goal. 

This life isn't even about us anyway.  We humans are so self centered.  Do you think you are on this earth for your own sake?  You may never have questioned that.  Or if you have thought about it, you may not have gotten to the core of it.  When we are being most noble, we may have thought “Well, sure, it’s not about me as an individual.  It’s about us as a community of people.”  And so maybe we think it’s more about the greater good than the good of just one individual.  However, I think that misses the mark too.  Is life really about people and what’s best for humanity?  Or is Life’s Purpose even greater?  What about creation, the animals, the environment?  Are these secondary?  What about God Himself?  Is this life we live together and your individual life about something more than just what’s good for people?  This is a question of great consequence, because it may determine everything about the way you live the precious years God gives you.

Jesus gave us a clue about the purpose of life when he instituted the Lord’s Supper.  In this meal, he took ordinary elements from everyday life--bread and wine, things that were consumed at nearly every meal in New Testament times.  Jesus used these ordinary elements for an extraordinary purpose--to symbolize how His body would be given and His blood would be shed for us and the whole world.  And Jesus ordered that we should celebrate this sacred meal often as a way to remember…  Him.  The Apostle Paul recalls what Jesus said that fateful night he was betrayed and arrested.

1 Corinthians 11:23-25

23 For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.”

In Remembrance of Christ

When I think of all the memories we made together at Mt Zion, I remember it was all about Christ.  It wasn’t about me.  It wasn’t about you either.  All the wonderful things we shared, the laughter, the joy, the connection, it was all possible because of the common connection we have with Jesus.  If Christ had not allowed himself to be broken and poured out, nothing would unite us.  We would not be one body.  We would be a bunch of individuals chasing our own individual dreams and selfish ambitions.  But Jesus came along and said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).  And He said, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” (Mark 8:35).  So the Christian is the person who lives out the words of Galatians 2:20, where Paul said, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”

No friends, all the memories we have are only possible as a subcategory of THE GREAT MEMORY--the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And the more we accept this and live this, the greater, more meaningful and memorable are our lives.  

You see.  It’s all about Him.  The Life we live is not about us--not as individuals and not even as humanity as a whole.  Humanity was made by God for God’s glory.  In His incredible grace, God blesses us with deep meaningful relationships and experiences in this life.  But even if He didn’t, it would still be all about Him.  We were created for a relationship with God.  

Unfortunately, we often turn our attention to a relationship with others--other people, other things, even other gods.  We may even selfishly put our main attention on ourselves.  And when these other things become the main focus of life, you know what we call it?  We call that idolatry.  It is the chief sin that leads to all the other sins in life.  It is the very reason that Jesus had to die in agony on the cross.

So, God in His gracious, unexplainable, unconditional love came to our broken world and lived as one of us in Jesus Christ.  And to show us His love and plan for our salvation, He said to His Disciples (and us) “This is my body given for you and this is my blood… Do this in remembrance of me.”


So, I’d like to invite you to think on these things today--and especially when we celebrate the sacred meal of Holy Communion, in remembrance of The One who made it possible for us to know and love each other now and for all eternity.


Monday, May 3, 2021


Exodus 20:7 You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.


Have you ever looked up at the clouds and saw they were shaped like animals?  One minute, you see what resembles a cow.  But a few moments later, the wind blows, the clouds move, and the cloud changes to something else.  

Our words are like the wind reshaping world around us. We need to be careful how we use words, but that can be tricky.  The meaning of the words we use and how we use them changes from one generation to the next just like the clouds above in the sky.  And words can mean different things in different communities.

A young pastor had an unfortunate experience on his first day pastoring a small church.  He grew up in the city.  So on his first day as the pastor, he was full of wonder driving through the countryside.  Unfortunately, he offended half the congregation in his opening remarks when he talked about all the bulls and cows he saw on the way to church.  Unknown to the young minister, the polite society of this rural community only used the words cow and male cow! “Bull” was a profanity to their sensitive ears.  Can you imagine the horror of finding out half the congregation thought you were cussin’ them in your very first sermon?

Do you consider the word “bull” a profanity?  I guess some communities do.  There may be words you consider profanity that others don’t.  One polite way to refer to a person’s backside is to call it a fanny.  We even have “fanny packs” to hold stuff when you go for a walk.  However, don’t ever call it a fanny pack if you take a walk in Ireland. Fanny is a very vulgar word in Ireland.  (Call it a bum bag.)  Meanwhile, while in Ireland you will find the Irish sprinkling the word “F.E.C.K.” liberally throughout their conversations.  They use this word on TV and radio; even nuns and priests use “F.E.C.K.” in polite company.  For them, it simply means “very” or “extremely”.  So they might say something like "That fecking idiot told the nun he was wearin' a fanny pack! How vuklgar!"

Last Sunday, I shared that words matter.  Today, I want to talk about profanity.  We have a serious problem with profanity in our society.  However, profanity may not mean what you think it means.

Profanity is deeper than just using cuss words.  Profanity is desecrating something that is sacred--whether it is God’s name and reputation or something sacred He has made. Ultimately, profanity is living with the attitude that nothing is sacred.

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church in Corinth about their problem with profanity.  Listen to what he said.

1 Corinthians 11:20-22, 27
20 When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 21 For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 22 What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly will not praise you for this!

27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

Desecrating the Holy
In the first century church, what we now call Holy Communion was still full meal.  Just as Jesus originally shared dinner with his Disciples at the Last Supper, New Testament churches would gather for a special dinner to eat and drink and remember their sacred Savior.  As they dined, they would break bread and recount what Jesus said: “This is my body, given for you, and this is my blood shed for you...”  Jesus told his followers to do this often and remember how he died on the cross for their sins.  Though these meals served the common function of nourishing the body, they were also sacred and holy.

What Does It Mean to Take the Lord’s Name in Vain?
Many Christians share how offended they are when people take the Lord’s name in vain--whether it is as extreme as using God’s name to damn something or someone or even something as simply as using God’s name to express ecstatic excitement like--“Oh my god! I love your new car!” Many have shared how hearing God’s sacred name used this way is extremely offensive, and I understand.  You love the Lord and revere Him and you want to honor His name.  That’s noble.

However, I want to make sure you understand the prohibition of using God’s name in vain goes far, far beyond merely the words you say.  When Exodus 20:7 says, “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain...”, the word name means God’s reputation.  You see, the Israelites (to whom the Lord gave these commandments) were supposed to represent God to the world.  God set the Israelites apart as His royal representatives.  Everywhere they went, it was like they were carrying a banner that said, “We are God’s people.  Look at us and you will see what God is like.”  So then, it would desecrate God’s perfect pure reputation if His people were dishonest, disrespectful, vulgar, immoral, bad people.  

In the same way, Christians today are to represent Jesus Christ to the world.  In the New Testament in 1 Peter 2:9, it says, “You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God...”  You can live your whole Christian life without ever saying GD or even OMG, but if your bad behavior misrepresents God’s character, you are just as guilty.  Scripture repeatedly shows that behavior that profanes God's name is far more offensive than mere words.  

Profanity - Definition
Profanity is becoming more commonplace in our world today.  People use profane words and even use the Lord’s name in vain. We hear it in the workplace, at school, and profanity has even become more prevalent on TV shows where the FCC used to censor offensive language.  We also live in a time when our attitudes and actions toward one another are not very gracious.  People are angry, divided, and mean-spirited to one another.  I suspect the two go together.  Our words matter.  They affect our actions.   If we speak profanity, we soon act profanely.  And the more we act profanely, the more profanity comes out our mouths.

Just because something is sacred, doesn’t mean it also must be somber or boring. There are many sacred ceremonies full of joy and celebration. At a wedding, we sing, we dance, we laugh, and we love. It’s a wonderful celebration, but it’s also a sacred time when a man and a woman stand before God and a group of eye-witnesses and promise to love each other for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for the rest of their lives.

Sacred moments don't necessarily have to be religious ceremonies either. One of my church members just had a baby. This is a time of pain and joy, and it is also something very sacred. So something sacred doesn’t have be a sombre or even "religious".
However, there’s a fine line between sacred joy and profane behavior. Unfortunately, the Corinthian church had completely abandoned the sacred nature of Holy Communion. Some would hoard a bunch of food to themselves while others didn’t get anything to eat at all. Others were drinking so much communion wine they were sloppy drunk and acting very vulgar. The spirit and remembrance of Christ’s love was not their focus. They were desecrating the sacred memory of Jesus and how he died on the cross for our sins. Appalling!

However, I want to make sure you understand the prohibition against using God’s name in vain goes far, far beyond mere the way people use words. When Exodus 20:7 says, “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain...”, the word name means God’s reputation. You see, the Israelites (to whom the Lord gave these commandments) were supposed to represent God to the world. God set the Israelites apart as His royal representatives. Everywhere they went, it was like they were carrying a banner with God's name that said, “We are God’s people. Look at us and you will see what God is like.” So then, it would desecrate God’s perfect, pure reputation if His people were dishonest, disrespectful, vulgar, immoral, bad people. God would not put up with His people sullying His name with their bad behavior. This command was more about behavior than words.

In the same way, Christians today are to represent Jesus Christ to the world. In the New Testament in 1 Peter 2:9, it says, “You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God...” You can live your whole Christian life without ever saying GD or even OMG, but if your bad behavior misrepresents God’s character, you are just as guilty. Scripture repeatedly shows that behavior that profanes God's name is far more offensive than mere bad words.

I don’t want to be na├»ve nor a prude. However, I believe Christians are to be salt and light that makes our world a better place. I believe the words we use matter and affect the world around us. We need to be gracious and loving to one another in both our words and deeds. 

Furthermore, we need to remember that God made the whole world. It is not that the church sanctuary is sacred and the world outside is not. All of life is sacred. We gather around the sacred table in the sanctuary to share Holy Communion. but then we will go out and interact with people all week long. They are sacred too--living beings God created and loves who have a purpose. The environment is sacred and God command us to be good stewards of creation. Our own bodies a called "living stones" in the temple of God. We house the Holy Spirit of God. We are sacred and out to treat our own bodies as sacred spaces. All of life is sacred, but too many people in our times live as though nothing is sacred. This is profanity--in its deepest sense. And Jesus wants us to live a different way, a better way.

How can you do that this week?