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 Idolatry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Idolatry. Show all posts

Monday, July 25, 2022

5 Steps to Remove Obstacles to Growth In Christ

The following blog is an adaptation of a a talk I gave at a Chrysalis Youth Retreat.  Chrysalis is a ministry of the Upper Room and this blog/sermon was adapted from Talk #10, "God Sustains Us".

As a child I was fascinated with flying.  I loved to watch birds soaring through the air.  I also liked to build models of airplanes and jets.  Sometimes my mom would give me those little Styrofoam trays that come with ground beef in the groceries stores after she washed them out.  I would build little Styrofoam toy airplanes that would fly across the room.  

Part of my fascination with flying was probably due to the rough conditions of my family life.  There was a lot of shouting and sometimes violence.  They idea of birds who could just spread their wings and fly away anytime they wanted was very appealing to me.  

So when I was only about 7 years old, I thought if I can build a model stryrofoam plane that can fly, surely I can build some actual wings fly myself.  I mean, I could see how birds were built and how their wings were shaped.  Why couldn't I fly too?  

So I got som sticks and big sheet of plastic and I build some wings.  And I ran through my house as fast as I could out the front door and jumped off the front porch, which was about 2 feet off the ground.  And... I fell flat on my face, because people can't fly--not even 7-year-old scrawny kids with an great imagination!

People have been fascinated with the idea of flight for thousands of years.  But there were many obstacles to flight.  Even in the early modern ages, when humans started building other amazing gadgets like telephones and light bulbs and automobiles, they still could not fly.  Their flying machines were imaginative, but unsuccessful.  Building materials and engines were too weak and too heavy.  And people didn't really understand the science behind flying.

However, eventually, with time and sacrifice and even many people getting hurt or dying, people worked together sharing their collective knowledge until the Wright Brothers were able to officially get off the ground.  Today, hundreds of thousands of people fly everyday to every corner of the globe.

I want to talk with you today about some of the spiritual obstacles that keep us from being all God wants us to be and how God’s grace can help us overcome them.

Romans 3:23-24
23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

The world is missing the mark. 
Just as God designed butterflies and birds to fly, God designed people to live together in harmony.  We can do so much more together than we can alone.  Unfortunately, society fails to live up to its potential.  We miss the mark.  Though created for love, society is full of hate, hostility, and fear.  

Society misses the mark because we, as individuals, miss the mark.  Though created in the image of God, Romans 3:23 says we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Like a shattered mirror, we reflect God only as a broken and distorted image.  Even Christian leaders in the Bible often failed to live up to God’s perfect standard.

After Jesus was arrested, all the disciples ran away and hid.  They failed Jesus.  Even Peter, who boldly proclaimed he was willing to die for Jesus, denied knowing Him (Mt. 26:34, 74).  The Apostle Paul, who wrote mst of the books of the New Testament, said he often did bad things even though he didn’t want to do. His sinful nature haunted him. (Rom. 7:15, 19-20).

In subtle ways, we all ignore or deny the most important relationship in our life, the root of all other relationships—our relationship with God.  The Greek word for sin, hamartia, is an archery term meaning "to miss the target."  Sin is whatever causes us to miss the target God has given our lives; it is any obstacle that separates us from the love of God and neighbor.

Sin sets up obstacles between us and God, that limit our ability to love, that hinder our growth in the likeness and love of Jesus Christ.  I want to name three specific Obstacles to Grace that keep us from being more like Christ, who reflected God’s love perfectly—three ways we miss the mark.

One obstacle is Not believing in God.  To believe in God is more than believing God exists; even the Devil acknowledges God's existence.  To believe in God is to "live by" God, to trust what God says and who God is.  You know, you can say, “I believe this airplane is safe to fly in.”  But you don’t really believe unless you are willing to personally get in the plane and go for a ride!

Sometimes, we don’t really believe God actually loves us like He says He does.  This is the most common form of unbelief.  We don't like who we are and so we try to hide from God and others.  We're like Adam and Eve who tried to hide from God when they ate the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3:7. 

Sometimes, we don’t really believe God forgives our past.  We condemn ourselves. We let our faults, failures, and bad feelings tell us who we are instead of listening to God’s love.  Whenever your feelings condemn you, remember that God's love is greater than your feelings (1 John 3:19). 

Another obstacle is Idols—believing in false gods.  Idolatry is not necessarily worshipping a statue.  I don’t know anybody who does that in the town where I live, but people still worship idols all the time.  We can make money, drugs, power, or people into idols.  The most dangerous things we turn into idols are not necessarily even bad things.  Sometimes they are good things.  But they become bad for us because we expect them to deliver something that only God can give.

We can turn our family into an idol.  We can turn our dreams into an idol.  We can turn our spouse, our friends, our job into idols.  When we seek the fulfilment from anything (even good things) that only God can give, they will always let us down, because idols are not capable of satisfying the deepest hunger inside.  Only the One, True God can do that. 

The true God is a God of grace and hope, forgiving our faults, redeeming our mistakes, offering a chance to start afresh.   

One more obstacle is Self-centeredness.  When we are self-centered, we try to be God.  We trust ourselves more than God.  We focus our life on our own selfish desires, making God in our own image.  We only see ourselves, our needs, our feelings.  We don’t see other people, their needs and feelings.  We may even feel jealous when others receive affirmation or are rewarded.  This is self-centered behavior.

Everyone is born self-centered, but we shouldn’t stay that way.  We need to grow up!  We must learn that other people have feelings and worth that are just as important as ours.  We are not the center of the universe.

Self-centeredness is when grown people act like big babies.  There is a baby in all of us who never grows up, who tries to make the world revolve around us. The Big Baby comes out in us occasionally in these ways:

Self-pity: When we always think, "Woe is me."  We feel and act like it's never our fault.  Someone or something else is always to blame.  We feel like the victim and take no responsibility.

Self-importance:  We think we’re better or more important or more valuable than everyone else.

Self-righteousness: We think we’re already perfect, like there’s no need for God’s grace.  

Following Jesus involves exchanging a self-centered world for a Christ-centered world.  When we do, we see people with new eyes.  We identify with others’ feelings.  We care about them the same as we care for ourselves.  Our goal is not to be right all the time but to be in right relationship with God and people.  

Not believing in God, Idolatry, and Self-centeredness get in the way of our relationship with God.  The first letter of each obstacle spells N-I-S.  Turn it around and you have SIN.

Sin is putting life together in a way that doesn't work, that stops real growth.  It is a major obstacle to God’s grace.  It misses the mark of what God wants for your life.

Thankfully, there is hope.  God gives us GRACE.


The good news is God sustains us despite our sin. The grace in God is greater than the sin in us. God enables our daily dying with Christ (to unbelief, idolatry, self-centeredness) and daily rising with Christ (to faith, hope, love, life in grace).

Step 1:  Go to God.  
Let go of pride that keeps you from turning to God.  Let go of "I am unworthy" speeches.  Ask God for the help you need. Be honest with God about the obstacles in the way of your relationship with Him.  Admit the ways sin and selfishness take form in you.  God is full of grace to accept, forgive, and heal.


Step 2:  Remember who you really are.
Let go of everybody else's ideas of who you ought to be.  Remember, you are not who others say you are. You are more than your mistakes or successes. You are free of all that. You are who God made you.   Remember, you belong to God. You are God's child.  Let what God already thinks about you guide you.


Step 3:  Accept your acceptance.
Let go of feeling like you are not good enough, that you must prove yourself to somebody, or that you have to find a way to be important.  Accept God's unconditional acceptance of you, not as you think you ought to be but as you are.  Accept God's word to Jesus in Mark 1:11 as God’s word to you.  When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin, John, and he came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended on his like a dove.  And a voice from Heaven said, "You are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased."  Well, if you put your faith in Jesus, then Jesus lives in you.  And when God looks at you, He sees Jesus.  And God says, You are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.  Accept God's view of you. 

Step 4:  Connect with Christian community.
Let go of friendships that reinforce the wrong things in you.  Seek friends who share your faith and want to stay centered in God.  Connect with Christ by connecting with church.  Find a community of support, acceptance, and encouragement to grow in Christ.


Step 5:  Embrace the life God is giving you.
Let go of images of yourself that are less than God's plans for you.  Embrace your life as you are, as God made you with your strengths and weaknesses.  Embrace God's beautiful goal for your life in Jesus Christ.  When you fail God, yourself, or others, get up with God's help and press on.  Progress involves falling down and getting back up, dying with Christ to sin and rising with Christ to new life in God, again and again.  Decide your next step. How will you start to do what you need to do?

The first letter of each step spells GRACE.

Go to God.
Remember who you are.
Accept your acceptance.
Connect with Christian Community.
Embrace the life God is Giving you.

Grace overcomes sin and removes the wall of obstacles between you and God. 

SIN and GRACE things we don't like to talk about, but they are two realities with which you must come to grips.  Sin breaks life apart.  Grace gives us life again.  Grace reunites us with God and one another.  With grace through Christ, we can overcome the obstacles of sin.

I want you to understand this:  There is always more grace in God than there is sin in us.  Therefore, no obstacle can separate us from the love of God we fund through in Jesus Christ.  So, what steps do you need to talk today to start allowing God's grace to overcome the sin obstacles in your life today?

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Creation: Day 6 - Land Animals and People

The glory of creation points to Something/Someone greater than ourselves.  Who is this Creator who made animals in such variety? Why did He make people so much like the animals and yet so very different?  What does the story of creation in Genesis tell us about the Creator’s character?

Genesis was written to help us know the Truth about God.  The creation story reveals the character of God and the life He offers us.  If you want to know God and why we are here, you can find out by studying the story of creation in Genesis.

Genesis 1:24-31

24 Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind—livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.” And that is what happened. 25 God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings[a] in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

27 So God created human beings in his own image.

    In the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them.

28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

29 Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. 30 And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.

31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!

And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day.

On the sixth day, God created land animals and people.

Science and religion have been embroiled in an unnecessary argument for at least 150 years.  Science argues that humans evolved from animals.  Religion argues this cannot be because it is not the way the Bible describes it.  Unfortunately, the debate misses the point.  Genesis was given thousands of years before the advent of science.  It was never intended to describe the creation of the world in scientific terms.  Genesis was written to speak to the mysterious longings within our hearts to know the Truth about God.  Science offers us information, but the Bible offers Truth that is far more profound than information.  

Why does it seem so important that the sequence of creation in Genesis does not match what the prevailing scientific theories of our time?  God must have told the story the way He did to reveal a wisdom that is different than that which science reveals.  It is unfortunate that science and religion have spent so much time trying to prove each other wrong.  It is much more fruitful to spend our time and energy pondering what God is really trying to tell us in the Genesis story.

We see in Genesis that God works systematically, day by day, to bring order out of chaos.  Day one is simply light. Day two is the sky.  Day three is land and vegetation.  Each day, God moves to more and more complex systems until He finishes with the most complex of all—humanity.  God is telling us something important here.  Humanity is special in all of God’s creation.

People are different from animals.

Each day when God reviewed what He created, He recognized that it was good.  But on the sixth day, after God made people, He reviewed His handiwork and recognized that it was very good.  What is it that sets people apart from animals?

Biologically, humans and animals are very similar.  We share the same basic structure and biological functions.  However, there is something special about humans.  It is more than intelligence.  There are animals that are smart too.  (One could make an argument that some animals are even smarter than people—depending on how you define intelligence.)  Some have said that being self-aware is the characteristic that sets humans apart from animals.

But we see that many animals are self-aware too.

Genesis tells us the difference between animals and humans in verse 26.  It says, “Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.””  The Hebrew word for image is salem.  Salem is the same word people would use to say that a son is the spitting image of his father.  Salem is also the word used for idols and for idol worship.

God created us to be like Him.

Throughout the Bible, God continually forbids people to make or worship idols.  In the Ten Commandments, the second command is do not make or worship idols of any kind.  Yet this is a perversion that humanity struggles with over and over again—even to this day.  We can find insight in this—not just that we shouldn’t make or worship idols.  We can also learn something about ourselves and God from this prohibition.

We were made to be the image of God—the reflection, the representation of God in visible form. God wanted us to be like Him, as a son is like his father or mother.  No other image of God or representation of God is adequate or permitted.  We are the only authorized “idols” who may represent God.  We were created to represent Him.  

Out of all the extraordinary creations that came from the infinite imagination of God, people were the creatures God designed to represent Him best.

Idolatry is such an affront to God because it fundamentally goes against the very core of who God is, who we are, and our whole purpose for being.  When we make an idol, we attempt to change the whole order of creation.  We try to make God the way we want Him to be.  We make God in our image instead of recognizing we are made in His image.  We switch the roles of our relationship around until we pretend to be the creator while demoting the God of the universe to our underling.  It is a reversal that is an outrage to all of creation, and an abomination to God.

Idols are not just a thing of the past or primitive cultures.  Unfortunately, idol worship is alive and well in our modern world right here in America.  Some idols we worship today are: money, celebrities, power, and possessions.  People may be more actively involved in idol worship today than at any time in our history.  And it is just as abominable to God today as it ever was.

We engage in idol worship anytime we put something or someone (even ourselves) before God.  It is the very definition of Sin—letting something else besides God be the first priority in your life.  This is not what God created us for.  God created us to be a perfect representation of Him and to worship Him as the center of our lives.

Jesus succeeded where we failed.

We have lived as selfish, sinful people who do not fulfill our primary purpose in creation for so long that we can hardly even imagine what it is like.  What are we supposed to do?  What does the perfect human even look like?  Jesus is the one who shows us.

Jesus came to show the way.  He is the perfect, uncorrupted image of God.  If you want to see God, look at Jesus.  He represents God the way humanity was supposed to from the very beginning.  And the most wonderful thing is, Jesus offers a way to restore the image of God in us.

Right now, because of sin, our “God-image” is broken.  But Jesus offers a way to put the pieces back together again.  He says, “Repent of your sins and believe the Good News.” (Mark 1:15)


Jesus laid down his life to pay the penalty for your sins.  The blood he shed on the cross washes away all your sins.  If you will accept this gift He wants to give you, you can be forgiven and made whole again.  All the things you have done that you regret—both the mistakes you’ve made and the things you did on purpose—can be forgotten.  All you have to do is believe, repent, and start following Jesus today.

Pray today to get your heart right with God.

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.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Ten Plagues of Egypt, Plague 9

Egyptians worship thousands of different gods and goddesses—deities they conjured up from their own imaginations.  The most important god among them was the sun god, Ra.  “Ra was believed to rule in all parts of the created world: the sky, the Earth, and the underworld. He was the god of the sun, order, kings, and the sky. Ra was portrayed as a falcon and shared characteristics with the sky god Horus. The Egyptians believed all forms of life were created by Ra.”[i] 

Yahweh, the one true God revealed in the Bible, sent 10 plagues to show everyone that the gods of Egypt were nothing.  Yahweh is Lord of all.  In the 9th plague, God sent darkness and it was a direct assault on the Egyptian god, Ra.  The Egyptians believed every evening when the sun set below the horizon, their god, Ra, descended into the underworld.  Through the night, Ra journeyed through the underworld and was reborn at dawn as the sun rising. 

Egyptian religion was all about bringing order to chaos.  Their religious traditions sought to maintain the natural order of things.  And their myth about Ra’s daily cycle of death and resurrection assured them that life in Egypt would continue as usual and Egypt would continue as the most powerful empire in the world.  The Egyptians believed that--like the cycle of night and day--dark times in their empire would always be followed by light as predictably as the daily cycle of light.

And then our Lord sent darkness on Egypt for three days.  The darkness Scripture describes is not just the darkness of night or of a naturally occurring eclipse.  The plague of darkness lasted three days.  This is a supernatural event.  (It brings to mind the three days Jonah spent in the belly of the whale or the three days Jesus was sealed in a tomb after crucifixion.) 

Verse 21 says it was “a darkness so thick you could feel it.”  A few years ago, Kelly and I took the kids to the underground sea near Athens, TN.  This is a depe cave, in which is an underground lake.  We used flashlights and their are lights on the walls of the cave passages.  However, at one point our guide said, "OK.  Now we are going to turn off all the lights so you can experience absolute darkness."  And with that, she turned out all the lights and you couldn't even see you hand a couple inches in front of your face.  That's the kind of darkness God sent on Egypt.

Verse 23 says, “people could not see each other, and no one moved”.  And this went on for three days.  “But there was light as usual where the people of Israel lived.”  This is a principle for you to understand.  If you follow the Lord, you will have light in your life—for Jesus is the ‘light of the world.’  But if you reject God and turn to idols, you will be lost in darkness, a darkness so thick you can feel it wrapping it’s evil hands around you, closing in until it’s too late.

The Idol of Tradition
As we draw near to Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of how important tradition is.  We all probably have important traditions we keep every year.  My mother and my extended family (my siblings and their children) has had a tradition of gathering for a Thanksgiving meal, usually the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  Sometimes this has been at my house and other times at my mother and sister’s house.  This year, because of COVID, we decided it’s best to not gather so many people from different households together in one large gathering.  Many of you may be altering your family traditions as well.  It’s a little sad, but I’m choosing to focus on all the good things God is doing and all the things I have for which to be thankful.

Tradition can be a good thing.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and one of the greatest Christian leaders of the last 500 years, included tradition among the four most important ways we can know God.  The first and most important is Holy Scripture, but there is also tradition, reason, and experience.  Traditions can help us learn from past experiences as we remember and honor those who have gone before. (Aren't you glad you don't have to learn everything the hard way through personal experience.  Think about how dangerous that would be!)

Yet Wesley also taught that when tradition and Scripture are in conflict, you must always follow Scripture and not tradition.  And when reason and experience show your tradition is wrong or dangerous, you must break with tradition. 

Tradition is a good thing, unless we make it into an idol—making it more important than God, letting it absorb our heart and imagination more than God, and expecting it to give us what only God can give.  You know traditions have become idols when they can't be changed no mater what.  Idols are disgusting to God because they separate us from God and plunge us into darkness.

If you don’t believe tradition can become an idol in church, you may be as blind as the Egyptians were during the plague of darkness.  “Tradition” is an idol that is erected right in the sanctuary of many churches.  As a young pastor, you learn very quickly to be careful how you deal with people’s traditions in church.  (You learn or you won’t be a pastor for very long.)  Ironically, we even have a name for these unbreakable traditions; we call them “sacred cows.” 

One example of tradition becoming an idol comes from an experience early in my ministry.  A church was getting ready for their summer Vacation Bible School.  Their new children's minister was decorating the church.  She decorated the sanctuary with the theme for the children's lessons.  Unfortunately, a group in the church became very angry that she had (in their eyes) desecrated the sacred space of the sanctuary.  That was a sacred cow for them.  Decorating a sanctuary for VBS may seem like a silly tradition to get so worked up about, but that is because it’s not your tradition.  What are your sacred cow (whether it’s at church or somewhere else)?

For many, nostalgia about “the way the world used to be” becomes an idol.  We look back fondly at the way things used to be in “the good old days” and it blinds us to the good days God is giving us right now.  Or worse, it keeps us from moving forward into the new good God wants us to have tomorrow.  Some look at the 1950s in America as a golden age when everything was at it's best; they think, "If we could just go back tot he way things were then."  Perhaps they forget that in the 50s, America was still segregated--black people were not afforded equal rights and equal access as white people and it was a great stain our our nation's integrity.  I'm very glad things have changed for the better.  The truth is, the “good old days” weren’t as “good” as we think.  We conveniently forget all the bad of those days and only recall the sweet memories.  Ironically, we often only see the bad things of our current situation while overlooking the good.

The Pharisees in Jesus day devoted their whole lives to God, yet they rejected the Son of God when he came to them.  They were threatened because he challenged their traditions.  And so Jesus said, “You can’t put new wine into old wineskins.” (Matthew 9:17 paraphrased) 

I have heard it said recently, nostalgia is the enemy of Jesus’ mission.  Jesus told his followers, “go and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19)  Meanwhile, so many Christians spend their time arguing about what style of songs we should sing in church or whether we should wear dress clothes or go casual.  Perhaps we argue about these things because we want to focus on our comfortabl traditions instead of going out as soldiers of Christ.  When the church worships the idol of traditions, it forsakes Jesus’ mission and becomes irrelevant.  Sanctuaries grow empty and churches close.  Jesus said, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Paraphrase Matthew 310)

What is Your Mission?
The Church is not a building. The Church is the people.  All who follow Jesus as Lord and are saved by His grace are the Church.  We are each one stones in a living Temple.  And we have a sacred purpose.  To tell the world about Jesus, to share His love, and to make disciples.

So what is your mission?  How are you going to live out your mission this week to bring the light of Christ to our dark world?  May I make some suggestions?

Worship the Lord, not just by what you do on Sundays at church.  Worship Him all week long; let your actions be your praise.  Turn away from all else--even traditions--and follow the Lord.

Use every opportunity to share Jesus’ love with others.  Jesus said "They will know you are my followers by the way you love one another.  It's not your political views or the football team you follow.  It's your love that shows people you are a Christian. 

Tell someone what Jesus has done for you.  If Jesus has made a difference in your life, then tell people about it.  This is what it means to be a witness and Christians are called to be witnesses for Christ.

Invite someone to church.  It's never been easier to invite people to church.  All you have to do is attend an online worship service on Facebook live and click the "share" button to share the service with a friend.  Invite people to church--whether it is for an online service or onsite.

So then, go and make disciples of all nations...