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Showing posts with label Matthew 28:18-20. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Matthew 28:18-20. Show all posts

Monday, June 13, 2022

Essential Teaching of the Church

It has been the tradition of the Christian Church for over a thousand years to follow a cycle of seasons that recall the life of Christ.  So we begin in winter with Advent—preparing for the birth of Christ, which comes at Christmas.  Then we have Epiphany, followed by Lent, where we prepare for the death and ressurection of Christ on Easter Sunday.  Last Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost Sunday—where the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church.  The Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday—where we celebrate the Triune God, God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In the Name of…
Jesus, having died on the cross and miraculously resurrected, came to His disciples and proclaimed, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.” Well, yeah!  If a man can die and rise again, I think you better listen to Him!

Then Jesus uses His absolute authority to command His followers (and that includes us), “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

There was a lot of different kinds of baptisms going on at the time Jesus gave this command.  Jews had a purification rite that used water and after coming back from the Babylonian exile, converts to Judaism had to be immersed in water (very similar to Christian batism). 

The John the Baptist started baptizing people in the Jordan River to prepare them to receive the Messiah.  John said in Mark 1:8 – “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

There are many religions that celebrate religious ceremonies that are similar to baptism.  Jesus didn't want His followers to be confused with any of these other groups.  Therefore, Jesus commanded His followers to baptize into a specific name. He said baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Why not just use the name of God or Jesus?  Jesus used these three specific names because the God Jesus represents in One God in three persons--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God is One God  in Three Persons
There are two facts that are very clear from Scripture.  First of all, there is One God.  Although people through the world have often worshiped many gods, the sun, moon, stars, and animals.  The God of the Holy Bible always calls people to recognize there is only one God.  Deuteronomy 6:4 is the clarion call of our monotheistic God, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Yet it is also fascinating that the Bible reveals the One True God in three persons.  In the very first verse, we read Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Yet the Hebrew word used for God here is plurals.  It is "Elohiym", which literal translates Gods.  And in the same chapter, in Genesis 1:26, it says "Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.”  Again, we see this is a plural form.  There is One God, but He is a plurality.

Then, in Genesis 18:1 it says, “The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby.”  So when the Lord appeared to Abraham, Abraham saw three men.

All three persons of the Trinity are mentioned in Old Testament.  Malachi 2:10 referes to God as father, “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?”  Isaiah 9:6 refers to the son and calls him Mighty God.  “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 63:10 mentions the Holy Spirit.  “But they rebelled against him and grieved his Holy Spirit.”

All three persons of the Trinity were present when Jesus was baptized in Matthew 3:21-22, “Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”  The Father speaks from heaven; the Holy Spirit descends; Jesus is the Son who is baptized.

Jesus commands His followers to baptize specifically in these 3 names of God: Baptize them “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  Throughout the New Testament, we find Jesus’ followers invoking the three persons of the Trinity. For instance, in 2 Corinthians 3:14, Paul blesses the church saying, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  One God.  Three Persons.  Christians have followed this essential way of naming God for 2,000 years because it is founded upon Scripture and has become the orthodox teaching of the Christian Church, going all the way back to Jesus and the Twelve Apostles.

God Creates.  People Rebel. 
The Bible teaches that God created people to know Him and worship Him.  Romans 1:20 says “Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature.”

Unfortunately, people are rebellious.  We want to do what we want to do.  We don’t want anyone (not even God) telling us what we can and cannot do.  Romans 1:23 says, “Instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.”  Today, we can add numerous other false gods people worship:  money, power, politicians, nations.  We become more sinful the further we stray from God and people can learn to justify anything they want to do.  There’s nothing off limits—no mater how sinful, shameful, or ludicrous it is. 

Romans 1:26b-28 says, “Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other.”

What do we see happening in the world today?  No matter how kind and patient and open-minded you are, Christians cannot honestly look at the craziness that’s happening in our world and believe this is right and what God wants.

Recently, I attend the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  I was there as the clergy representing my church, which is part of this conference.  It is customary for people who need to ask a question or make a comment to come to a numbered microphone to speak on the conference floor (there are several thousand people in attendance).  When a person speaks, they start by giving their name and the church they attend and whether they are a lay or clergy delegate.  Well, this year a new set of identifiers were added.  People added their race, their choses identity (male, female, or whatever else), and their preferred pronoun (him, her, or whatever else they prefered).  Really?  This is what we've come too?

70 United Methodist congregations in my North Georgia Annual Conference are so fed up with the direction of our denomination and conferences that they went to considerable expense and effort to disaffiliate from the UMC.  Some have joined a new denomination called the Global Methodist Church (which wishes to hold to traditional, orthodox Christian doctrine in the Wesleyan tradition).  Other churches have chose to remain independent or to join other denominations.  

The church I pastor will be reviewing our own affiliation this year and I'm sure thousands of other UM congregations around the world will be doing the same.

Jesus Rescues
You might think God would abandon us when we slip so far into sin and foolishness that we can’t even figure out something as simple as male and female, but God doesn’t abandon us.  Instead, John 3:16 says, “For God loved the world so much, He gave His one and only Son, so that who ever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

And so Jesus comes to rescue us from the mess we’ve made of our lives and our world.  Jesus loves everyone and Jesus came to rescue everyone, but how can Jesus rescue someone who doesn’t even know they need to be rescued?  Jesus’ followers have to be honest and tell the Truth. 

When our society calls evil good, we have to say, “No.  Sin is not good.  Delusion is not good.  Mental illness is not good.  Gender confusion is not good.  Sexual perversion is not good—even if you try to cloth it in a robe of “love” or “self-actualization” or “just being who God made you”.

Jesus was gentle and compassionate.  He ate with sinners and social outcasts and even prostitutes.  He was never one to shy away from rubbing elbows with people the world claimed were unclean and untouchable.  Yet Jesus also always invited sinners to be rescued from their sin.  He didn’t say, “Oh your fine.  You’re just being who you are.”  No.  Jesus said, “For the Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15)

Furthermore, Jesus said to His followers in Matthew 28:19-20 (and this includes us), “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”  So we can’t abandon the people of our world either—even if our society right now says what people are doing is fine and there’s nothing wrong with it.  We have to be a Church that calls a sin a sin. 

Unfortunately, the United Methodist denomination is heading down a road where it no longer wants to call a sin a sin.  Instead, the UMC wants to follow the lead of our secular culture and say people can define human sexuality to be whatever they want it to be.  If you were born as a biological man, but you don’t feel like a man inside, then you can simply identify as a woman.  Or if you’re a woman, you can identify as a man.  

Where does this end? I suppose if you don’t identify as a human, you could identify as a cat. You may laugh and say I’m just being ridiculous.  However, I read a story today about a 52-year-old man who left his wife and 7 kids and now who identifies as a 6-year-old girl (See story here.)  Just this February, a Seattle woman went on television to explain why she 'spiritually' identifies with being a wolf.  (See story here.)

You may shake your head and think these are just people living on the fringe and no one in the mainstream is doing these crazy things.  20 years ago, no one in mainstream American society seriously believed a biological man could “identify” as woman and compete against women in a women’s sport. Yet, here we are.  What will be considered mainstream 20 years from now?  Who knows.  The skies the limit when it comes to humanities ability to corrupt and pervert the Truth of God.

The Holy Spirit Guides
Jesus said in Matthew 28:21, “be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is with us always, leading us, guiding us, encouraging us, empowering us to be His faithful witnesses.  The Disciples and early followers of Jesus lived as a tiny minority is a world that was full of sin and darkness.  People thought these Christians were crazy because they refused to accept the sin and depravity of the culture around them.  Christians stood firm on the teaching of Jesus and the Bible.  They refused to call evil good and good evil.  Even when it meant they were ridiculed, hurt them socially, cost them their livelihood, and even their lives, Christians remained faithful and loved people enough to tell them the Truth about Jesus.

The same Holy Spirit that guided them, guides us today.  And we are called to be faithful witnesses to the world in the 21st century.  So, let us pray now for courage and strength to be Jesus’ faithful witnesses—as a church and as individuals—no matter what the cost.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The State of the Communion Address

Taking a que from the tradition in our country for the President to make an annual State of the Union address, I have started making an annual State of the Communion address to my congregation.  I want to share a few highlights from our ministry together in 2018 and share our vision for 2019.  But first, let’s hear the Word of God and remember our purpose as Christ’s followers. 

Matthew 28:18-20
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

We Have  A Mission
In this passage, Jesus reminds his followers of three essential ideas.  First of all, Jesus is Lord.  He says he’s been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  In other words, everywhere.  He has the right to command everyone and everyone ought to obey.  This is even more true for anyone who claims to follow Jesus (to be a Christian).  Obedience is not optional.  It’s essential.

Second, Jesus gives his followers an important command—go and make disciples of all nations.  We are to tell people about Jesus Christ and urge them to follow Jesus as Lord.  New disciples (followers) are to be baptized—a sign that they have made a complete new start as a new person committed to following Jesus.

Third, we are to teach new disciples Jesus’ commands, his way of life, and encourage them to obey Christ as we ourselves obey him. So there is growth as disciples.  We don’t stay as baby Christians—we grow in our faith and our obedience and communion with God through Jesus Christ.

The Church is not a social club.  It’s not a place we come to be entertained by beautiful art or good music or an engaging message.  The Church is the body of Christ on a mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ and teach them to obey the Lord of heaven and earth.  It’s an important mission.

At Pleasant Grove, Our Mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  We have three over-arching goals as we do that.  They are 1) Give hope to the hopeless, 2) Build new relationships, and 3) Help Our Community.  These are the goals we focus on as we make disciples of Jesus Christ. 

4 Reasons Why I love Pleasant Grove
I’ve been the pastor of Pleasant Grove for more than eight years now.  Eight years is the longest I’ve lived anywhere in my life.  My family and I have loved it here so far.  Everyone has been so kind to us.  I want to share briefly about four reasons I love Peasant Grove.

First of all, Pleasant Grove is big enough to do a lot of good ministry.  I have served smaller churches where we struggled to have the people, facility space, and resources to serve God the way we needed to.  Pleasant Grove has lots of capable, willing people, an abundance of facility space, and the resources to do great ministry.

But another reason I love Pleasant Grove is we are still small enough to have a sense of intimacy.  I have been to larger churches and they have their own kids of strengths, but you can lose the sense of intimacy our church members have with one another.  We know each other’s names.  We have time to talk to each other, care for each other, get to know each other.

And because of that, there’s another thing I find really meaningful at Pleasant Grove—the way people love one another here.  We are all different.  We come from different backgrounds.  Some have lived in this areas their whole lives; others are new comers to the area.  Some are older; some are younger. However, I’ve witness a deep caring and unconditional kind of love here.  You accept people who are different.  You love them despite their struggles.  You accept people as they are, but also help them grow in Christ to become who God wants them to be.  I see this Christ-like love in the people of Pleasant Grove all the time, and it makes my heart smile!

But there’s another thing I love about Pleasant Grove.  The people here are always willing to learn, change, and grow.  As long as I’ve been with you, you’ve always been willing to try new ideas, new music, and new ways of doing things.  You’ve embrace new people, new leaders, and new technology.  I know change hasn’t always been easy, but you’ve had the courage to try and and open hearts to embrace whatever works to further the Kingdom of God.  And that blesses my heart.

Highlights from Last Year
Let me share some highlights from our ministry last year.  Last year, we started using a new model for planning events.  Susan Cooksey and Sherry Dickson teamed up to co-lead a planning team of volunteers worked so well to plan many excellent activities to help us make disciples as we give hope to the hopeless, build new relationships, and help our community.
  • We had an excellent Super Bowl Sunday with the barefoot kicker from Tennessee, Ricky Townsend, as our guest speaker.
  • The youth served an excellent steak dinner for Valentine’s Day so that everyone could enjoy a special meal with their special someone. 
  • Near the end of 2017, we hired a new children’s minister, Ashten Webb. In 2018, she did a great job getting to know Pleasant Grove and leading our children’s program. We had several very successful children’s activities. 
  • We hosted a community Easter egg hunt, with over 200 people attending. 
  • VBS was one of the best organized I can remember, with as many as 50 kids attending. Our volunteers had a fun working it and we got great feedback from those who came. 
  • Trunk or Treat is always a huge hit in our community and we had about 800 people attended this year. Plus, we did some things to help minister to those who came—more than just give them candy and a hotdog. We invited them to church, gave them a pamphlet about community resources in our area, and also a newsletter with a Gospel lesson and information about our church.

One of the things I was very pleased with last year, was how many of our events built on previous events. For example, our movie nights over the summer and our summer bouncy blowout lead into VBS. People from VBS were invited to our Wednesday nights kids program. Each event led into the next one and helped build momentum.

New People
Since our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, one of the most exciting things for me has been to see so many new people coming to Pleasant Grove.  Since last summer, we’ve had at least 27 new people start attending PGUMC regularly.  And they’re also getting involved.  Many of these have started attending Bible study, Sunday school, Wednesday dinner and youth & children’s programs.  Many of our newest people have even gotten involved to help plan some of our events like trunk or treat.  Here are some of the statistics:
  • 12 new people joined our church last year
  • 3 people were baptized – Finley Rebecca Ward, Amaya Childers, & Brooks Blalock
  • 3 people gave their life to Christ through a public profession of faith – Abigail Mullis, Amaya Childers, & Walker England
  • Six members of our church died last year and went on to glory.  It’s never easy to say goodbye to people we love at Pleasant. However, we can find comfort in knowing they are at Home with Jesus in heaven now.  And we can celebrate the way they helped shape our church.  So, we are thankful for the six of our saints who passed away in 2018:  Patricia Pellom, Dot Kuhne, Arnold Locklear, Jerry Albertson, Ann Brooker, & Don Douglas. 

Looking Forward to 2019
We have a lot to be thankful for from the past year.  And we also have a lot to look forward to in the coming one.  We’ve already made a great start for 2019.  Susan Cooksey and Sherry Dickson and the planning team did some great work in November planning the activities we want to do this year.  We already have event coordinators and a list of volunteers for each program.  And Sunday, we bathed each event in prayer.  Now, we need to continue to pray for the teams who are planning them.  Hanging on the walls, you see what we are working toward and who is helping with each event.  Pray for them and support them.  It’s gonna be a great year!

And invite people to come!  Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  All these events are opportunities to invite people through the door of our church, to feel the love we all feel here, and to meet the Lord Jesus Christ who fills our hearts with love.  My hope for our church in 2019 is that we will see even more new people coming and getting involved and growing in Christ.  I want us all to look for ways to invite more new people to come.
Another hope I have for the people of Pleasant Grove in 2019, is more spiritual growth.  Everyone needs to grow in Christ—whether you’re new to Pleasant Grove or you’ve been here a while.  Many people want to grow in Christ.  Many people resolve to grow in Christ.  But growth doesn’t just happen because you make a resolution.  Growth comes through practicing. Practicing the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, study, fasting, and service help nurture the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control become more abundant as we practice and grow in Christ.  So, I plan to teach a series on spiritual disciplines and encourage you to practice them more.  The series will start on Wednesday night, January 23rd.  I hope you will come and invite a friend.

One of the spiritual disciplines is service.  We grow in Christ as we serve.  Pleasant Grove is a very outreach oriented church.  We like to serve and help people.  We are going to continue our focus on that through outreach projects like building wheel chair ramps.  We will also help our community by offering meals for high school groups like football teams and bands and bereavement meals for people who’ve lost a loved one.  Further more, we will continue to serve snack packs to hungry kids at Pleasant Grove Elementary, using funds we’ve received from grants.

In the past, Family Promise was one of the great opportunities we had to serve.  The biggest blessing of working with Family Promise was the opportunity for hands-on service to the needy who struggle financially.  However, for several years Family Promise had shifted their focus away from housing homeless families in church buildings.  This was better for families, but also eliminated hands-on service opportunities for churches.  At the end of last year, the directors of Family Promise decided to disband and let other charitable organizations like the City of Refuge and Greater Works take over. 

We will miss partnering with Family Promise in our community.  However, we are still committed to serve the needy and we’ve increased our outreach budget so we’ll have the funds to do it.  Since Family Promise has disbanded, we were able to shift the funds we were using to support them directly to our outreach fund.  We can use these funds to do more to help the needy directly instead of passing the buck to outside organizations.  Furthermore, we’ve committed to send a feeding team to the City of Refuge four times this year – Feb 7, May 2, Aug 1, Nov 7.  Kay Denson will be coordinating the effort, but it will take everyone’s help to prepare and serve food.  Our job will be to feed needy families as they come to the City of Refuge to learn about Jesus.  So, we will regain the hands-on service opportunities we lost when Family Promise changed their focus from housing homeless families in our church and we will be doing a great service to help the needy and help our community.

One final thing I need to report is we need to pray for our United Methodist Church.  Our denomination has a special General Conference coming up February 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri.  This may be the most significant General Conference our denomination has ever had since its inception in 1968.  Representatives from all over the world have been studying issues about human sexuality and will meet at the General Conference to debate and vote on the issue.  One proposal is to maintain the UMC's traditional teaching that God designed sex to be enjoyed only within the bounds of marriage between one man and one woman.  Another proposal seeks to redefine marriage within the United Methodist Church to include same-sex unions as well open ordination as pastors or deacons to "self-avowed, practicing" homosexuals.  This is a serious issue and the United Methodist Church is not of one mind on the subject.  Many within the United States want to see the church change and be more inclusive of gay people.  Others wish to offer grace to those who struggle with sexual sin, but hold to a biblical view of marriage and human sexuality.  Either way, there is a serious threat that as many may leave the United Methodist Church based on what is decided.  This is not just something that affects other churches in other places.  This is something that could affect Pleasant Grove UMC directly.  We need to be in prayer for our United Methodist Church.

Answer the Call in 2019
If you are a member of Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, I encourage you to pray for our church and our denomination.  Furthermore, I would ask you to pray that God would show you:
  • How you can invite others to join with us at Pleasant Grove
  • How you can grow in your own faith through spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, worship, study, and service
  • And pray for those who will be coordinating events and leading ministry at PGUMC
If you are not a member of Pleasant Grove but are attending regularly, I invite you to consider going deeper in your relationship with God by becoming an official member of the church.

If you live nearby, but are not active in a church, let me invite you now to come see what Jesus is doing in our lives at Pleasant Grove.  I invite you to come grow closer to God here as we grow with you.

If you live too far away to come to Pleasant Grove regularly, I invite you to find a good Christian church where you live where you can partner with other believers to grow in Christ and servce the Kingdom of God.  

May God bless you and lead you in the 2019.

Pastor Chris Mullis
Senior Pastor, Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church

Monday, May 7, 2018

Go Serve

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 30, 2018

Go Deeper

            Jesus is Lord. What does Lord mean? It means He is sovereign. It means what he says goes. You do it. You don't talk back. It’s not a discussion. You don’t make excuses.  And it’s not that Jesus' followers obey grudgingly. Some leaders wield authority like a whip. Nobody likes them. Nobody respects them, but they have the power and you better comply or you’re going to a pay a heavy price. I had a boss like that when I was a teenager.  He often made poor decisions and didn't lead well, but you had to follow his orders or you would be punished or lose your job.  The company he worked for is no longer in business.
            Jesus is not like an overbearing boss.  Jesus’ authority is well earned.  He's a wise ruler.  He does what's best for the whole Kingdom and he cares about each individual.  He loves and serves his people.  He even died on the cross for us.  When he gives a command, he isn’t telling you to do anything he hasn’t already done. And Jesus' true followers (true believers) willingly and enthusiastically obey the Lord.
            Jesus commands his followers: “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I promise I will be with you even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)  We are supposed to make disciples. Jesus made our lives better or he’s in the process of making our lives better. We feel forgiveness and grace and love and peace. We’re learning to live with wisdom and make better decisions. We’re finding healing and he’s breaking the chains that bind us.  It’s a process of healing and part of our process is reaching out and sharing what we’ve found with others and inviting them to come in and meet Jesus too.
            Making disciples is part of the healing process for us, but how do you do it?  Making disciples is a cycle that goes all the way back to Jesus.  If you study his life and ministry, you see four main principles at work that form a continuous cycle.  First, you start with friends (it all starts with relationships). Make friends and second, you invite people to come in (get them to Jesus anyway you can!).  Next, you and your friends go deeper (and that's what my discussion will focus on today).  Then, you go serve.  We see this whole cycle in Jesus ministry and it is the example we still follow.  Let's look again at how Jesus invited his first disciple to follow him.

Luke 5:1-11 
1 One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. 2 He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” 6 And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7 A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

8 When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” 9 For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Key Idea
            The key idea for us today is in verse 4 - “…Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your
nets to catch some fish.”  Peter (also known as Simon or Simon Peter) didn’t really believe he was gonna catch any fish. He’d already tried.  He'd already called it quits and was washing his nets.  And then a carpenter/preacher urged him to try again.  And he did!  Why?  Why go to the trouble after a long and fruitless night and after you've already started packing it in?
            Well, it could be that Peter respected Jesus as a rabbi.  Maybe, he respected the position enough to just do what the rabbi said.  There’s a certain amount of deference you give to people just because of their position.  But I think there was more to Jesus and Peter's relationship and I think that's why Peter was willing to humor Jesus and let the nets down one last time in deeper water.
            More than likely, this wasn’t Peter’s first encounter with Jesus. Jesus and Peter already knew each other. Jesus had probably visited Peter before. Maybe he’d bought some fish from him. Peter had heard some of Jesus’ preaching. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus had had dinner with Peter before, maybe even prayed with him.  And because of the relationship/friendship Jesus already had with Peter, Peter was willing to humor Jesus (a carpenter) when he gave fishing advice to a professional fisherman.
            If you have a good relationship/friendship with someone, they will humor you about this whole Jesus thing. Play that card if you need to. Do whatever it takes to get your friends in to see Jesus (remember the two friends in Luke 5:17-26 who dug a hole in the roof of a house and lowered their friend down in front of Jesus from the ceiling because they couldn't get in the door for the crowd?).
            Peter already knew Jesus, but he had to go deeper if he was really going to see the power of Christ, if he was really going to have his life changed forever. Peter had a choice. He could have stayed safe, stayed a fisherman all his life. Jesus invited him to go deeper, but he could have declined. It was his boat.
            I'm glad he agreed to take a chance and go deeper.  Look at all he would have missed if he hadn't.  Think of all the lives he saw touched by Jesus.  Think of all the miracles and healings he saw.  He even walked on water!  (Sure, it was only a few steps before he started to sink, but still I've never done that!)  And yes, Peter made some blunders along the way.  He said some stupid things.  Jesus had to reprimand him once, saying "Get behind me, Satan!"  Peter even failed miserably when he denied Jesus three times, but Jesus forgave him.  Peter would have missed all that if he'd refused to let down his nets in deep water one more time.
            What will you miss if you stay in the shallow end of the church where you feel safe and unchallenged?  Jesus is calling you to go deeper, my friends. He says, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”  What miracles and power are you going to miss if you stay in the shallow water?

Going Deeper
            You have to go deeper. Maybe you already go to church and that's good. But you have to go deeper or else all you will ever get is some great music, a few prayers, and a mediocre sermon. If you really want to see the power of Christ, you’ve got to go deeper. If you really want to find peace and healing and forgiveness, you’ve got to go deeper. If you want Jesus to change your life, you’ve got to go deeper. And I have to tell you, if you really want to find eternal life, you’ve got to go deeper.
            I can hear some people objecting now: “Wait! What? I thought salvation was a free gift and we didn’t have to do anything to earn it.”  Yes, that's true.  That's what Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches.  You don’t earn salvation.  It is a free gift from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.   However, Jesus becomes your Savior when he becomes your Lord.  Remember what is a Lord.  A Lord is sovereign. What the Lord says goes. You do it. You don't talk back. It’s not a discussion. It’s a command to be followed without reservation. And Jesus is a Lord who sacrificed his own life to save you. If he’s your Lord, you’ll do what he says.  Faith is following and trusting is doing, because Jesus is Savior and Lord.
            In Matthew 7:21, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  A disciple follows their Lord wherever he leads. A true disciple eats with Jesus, walks with Jesus, serves with Jesus, and sleeps where Jesus sleeps.  A real disciple fishes where Jesus says to fish.  A disciple is all in—100%.
            Now, Jesus may not expect you to jump in whole hog from the very beginning.  He is a patient Lord.  First he preaches the truth.  Then he gets your boat.  Then he says, go a little deeper and let down your nets.  Then he says, "Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men."  Ultimately, Jesus invites us to leave everything behind and come be his followers.  He starts off easy, but as you see the power and love of Christ is real, Jesus calls you to go deeper. It's how he makes disciples.  It's how we truly become "fishers of men".
            We have to go deeper and we have to invite our friends to go deeper with us. Not all at once.  Maybe the first step is just to come to church one Sunday and hear the Good News.  You start off by seeing what this religion thing is all about.  And maybe you see the people following Jesus aren't so bad after all.  They have a lot of hope. There's a sense of peace and joy in their hearts and they really do care.  And maybe you decide you don't mind hanging around them.  But there's got to be more. 
            So next you go deeper. Maybe you decided to go to Sunday school or join a Bible study to really start seeing what the faith is all about.  Then, you go deeper still. You start contributing to the church offering and it feels good to be invested in Jesus' mission.  Or maybe you go deeper still and decided to practice the biblical principle of tithing--giving 10% of your income to church.  There are many way's to go deeper in the faith.  You can serving as a volunteer.  You could go on a mission trip.  You could sing in the choir, serve in the nursery, help with children or youth, teach a class...  The opportunities are endless.  But if you're going to continue to following Jesus and grow, you've got to go deeper.  And an essential part of going deeper that Jesus commands of all his followers is to go out and make disciples--to be fishers of men.

            I want to repeat the challenge I've issued for the last two weeks:  Pick three people you could mentor.  Pray for them.  Be a friend.  Help them and invite to church.  But I want to add to the challenge this week.  I challenge you to go deeper in your faith with Jesus.  What could you do to go deeper with Christ?  Do you need to pray to invite Jesus to be your Lord and Savior and become a Christian?  Do you need to join the church?  Maybe you need to recommit your life to Christ because you've been slacking off.  You could also go deeper by starting to read your Bible every day or setting aside 15 (or more) minutes to pray everyday.  You could go deeper by joining a Sunday School class or Bible Study, volunteer to help with children or youth ministry or sing in your church's choir or praise band.  An excellent way to go deeper is by attending a spiritual retreat like The Walk to Emmaus or Chrysalis.  These are all specific things you could do to go deeper (and I challenge you to commit to something specific).  How might Jesus be calling you to go deeper as his disciple?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Great Commission, part 3

Part 3 – “Baptizing and Teaching”
Matthew 28:18-20

            This is the final message in our series on the Great Commission.  The Great Commission is not an option; it is a command given by Jesus to his disciples.  In the beginning, it was to the original disciples, but the command was not just to the twelve.  The Great Commission is for everyone who calls themselves “disciples”—anyone who has decided to follow Jesus.  If you have decided to follow Jesus, you are a disciple and this Great Commission is for you.
            Jesus said, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore…”  In other words, we had better pay attention and heed his command because it has the authority of the Son of God, the Lord of all Heaven and Earth, behind it.  The Great Commission is a command that transcends all other missions we have in life.  It is the Christian’s ultimate objective.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said it this way: “You have one business on earth—to save souls.”
So let’s look at the Great Commission as it was passed on to us in the Gospel of Matthew 28:18-20. 

Matthew 28:18-20
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” 

            Christ’s followers are to spread out into the whole world and live the Great Commission wherever we are.  We go to our homes, our neighborhoods, our schools, our work, and even to faraway places to spread the Good News about Christ wherever we are, every way we can, in whatever we do.  A disciple is someone who makes Jesus the first priority of their life—even leaving everything else behind if necessary—learning Jesus’ ways and living them every day as they seek to make new disciples.  Today, we will consider how Jesus said we are to make disciples.  He said, baptize them and teach them all of his commands. 

            Baptism is the initiation rite for new disciples.  It is the beginning.  Jesus welcomes anyone to be his disciple, but anyone who wants to be his disciple must make a conscious decision to follow him.  They must recognize that Jesus is the Son of God, that he has the power to forgive their sins and save them.  They must choose to trust Jesus to save them, accept him as their Lord, and become his disciple.
            Churches have a surprising number of people in them who have never made this decision.  Jesus has always had a lot of people gathering around him who were curious, attracted by his ideas, or who admired the way he lived (maybe that describes you).  Crowds of people followed Jesus around the countryside during his earthly ministry, but he had only 12 disciples in the beginning who made a conscious decision to be completely committed to Christ.
            I want as many people as possible to come hear the Good News about Jesus.  Everyone is welcome to come and listen.  But just because a person comes to church doesn’t mean they are a disciple (AKA a Christian).  Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car!  A person starts their life as a disciple when they decide to put Jesus first.  And the usual way for us to acknowledge that decision is baptism.  Through baptism, we recognize a person is adopted into the family of God and God grants grace to help that person to live and grow as a child of God. 
            Some might say, “I don’t ever recall making a decision.  I know that Jesus is my Lord today.  I know he is first in my life and that I would do anything for him, but I don’t remember when I first made a decision.  I grew up in the church and sort of came to it gradually.”  That may be true and you might not ever remember the moment you made a decision, but you obviously have decided.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  The key here is that you have decided to be Jesus’ disciple (remembering the moment is not that important).  Unfortunately, there are many in the church who have not decided.  They may even think they are Christians because they go to church, but they aren’t because they have not decided to leave everything else and follow Jesus.
            Some might say, “Well I was baptized as a baby and I don’t even remember it.  Am I still a Christian?”  We baptize babies as a decision of the parents to raise a child from the very beginning of their life as Christians with the hopes that one day they will make their own decision to follow Jesus.  It is a chance for parents to seek God’s grace for themselves and the child that they will do everything possible to make a true disciple of their child.  It is the act of parents who are faithful disciples, but the child must eventually decide for themselves.  The baptism is not complete until a child grows up and decides for themselves to be a Christian (most often around the age of 12 when a child in confirmed in the confirmation ceremony).
If we are going to make disciples, we need to invite people to make a decision to follow Jesus.  Now that doesn’t mean you have to walk up to everyone you meet and immediately bombard them with some evangelistic sales pitch.  Sometimes you have to be patient.  Sometimes you have to get to know people and build a real relationship with them.  Sometimes you have to pray for people for a while so that God will give you the opportunity to make a disciple.  But at some point if we’re going to make disciples, we have to challenge people to choose who will be their Lord.
I would like to challenge all of you today to decide who is your Lord.  Have you ever decided?  (I don’t mean do you remember the day you decided, but do you know today who is your Lord?  In other words, do you put Jesus first in your life—above your work, your family, your ambitions, your money, etc.?)  If you have never decided who is your Lord, I implore you to decided today.  Just because you've been coming to church for a while, doesn’t mean you are a Christian.  Choose today if Jesus will be the Lord of your life. 
            The decision to be a disciple of Jesus is the beginning, but it doesn’t stop there.  Next, we must teach people all of Jesus’ commands.  Gavin will graduate from high school this year.  Over the last year, Gavin has been considering which college he would like to go to after high school.  He finally decided on studying computer network engineering at Georgia Tech. 
            Now suppose Gavin gets accepted into Georgia Tech’s computer networks engineering program.  Will that automatically make him a computer network engineer?  Of course not.  In order to become an engineer, Gavin will have to study for at least 4 years and pass all his courses and earn his degree.
            A person who decides to be a Christian has made a wise choice, but it is only the beginning.  Now they must learn Jesus’ teachings.  This is what the disciples did.  As they followed Jesus, he taught them his ways—how to pray and fast, how to live, things to avoid, how to minister, how to love people, etc.  He spent three years coaching them.  And it was more than book knowledge or just listening to a sermon.  It was  “on-the-job” training.  In other words, he gave them opportunities to actually minister—to heal the sick, to preach and teach, to show mercy to the needy.
            This aspect of discipleship is so important.  Think about it: how do you teach a child how to throw and catch a football?  You could explain it to them—describe all the elements of proper catching and throwing—and you probably will, but that’s not enough.  They have to practice; they actually have to spend time throwing and catching to learn.  The same is true of Christian disciples.  It’s not enough to come to church and listen to a sermon.  We actually have to practice our faith.  We have to pray.  We have to practice self-sacrifice.  We have to love others.  We have to serve.  We have to trust God to help us do things that are beyond our ability.  We have to be a witness.  We have to make disciples.
            Discipleship is an ongoing, contextual education experience.  We learn by doing.  And just because you’ve been a Christian for 30, 40, or 50 years, doesn’t mean you’re done.  You still have more to learn.  The Apostle John outlived all the other original 12 Disciples.  He lived to see all the other’s martyred for their faith.  John is the only one who died of old age.  Yet John never retired from being a disciple; he never said, “I have finally learned it all.”  So even if you are a Christian who is 70, 80, or even 90 years old, you are still a disciple who is learning while doing the work of Christ.
            Jesus concludes the Great Commission with a promise. He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  As we decide whether or not to be Christ’s disciple, as we encourage others to be disciples, as we practice our faith, as we teach others Jesus’ commands, Jesus is with us.  Isn’t it good to know Jesus is with us?
            As we close, I invite you to:

·       Spend a moment in prayer and identify someone you could mentor for the next 2 or 3 years the way Jesus mentored the disciples—teaching them, encouraging them, coaching them in the faith, giving them opportunities to serve.

·       And if you’ve never made a choice to follow Jesus, I invite you to make a decision today.  Will you go where Jesus asks you to go?  Will you love who Jesus asks you to love?  Will you follow him?