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 Membership. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Membership. Show all posts

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Faithfulness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2016

Perfect Them in Love

            The people of Pleasant Grove UMC are being the body of Christ.  Click here to watch Jeremy, Allie, and Sara share how Jesus is blessing them at PGUMC.  They are growing in faith, hope, and love thanks to Jesus Christ.
            1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” Faith, hope, and love are the core components of the promise we—as a congregation—make to people who become members of Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church. We promise to “ all in our power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”  In my previous two blogs, I talked about how we can help increase faith and confirm hope in others. Today I want to consider the greatest virtue—love.  

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

The Greatest is Love
            Perhaps you remember a brash, young boxer who used to boast, "I am the greatest!" Mohamed Ali was possibly the greatest boxer of all times and his ability to boast and talk trash was even greater than his boxing ability.  However, true greatness, the greatest greatness, the only greatness that will last is love.
[Slide – Love is patient and kind…]
            Love is not a warm fuzzy feeling. The love the Bible describes is very different from the love we hear about from the world in movies and love songs. Love is what we do for one another when we act sacrificially. Love is full of patience & kindness.  love honors others.  Love protects, trusts, hopes forgives, and reconciles.  Love gives to others sacrificially.  Jesus is the greatest example of love.
            When I look at the way Jesus loved people and when I read how 1 Corinthians 13 describes love, I don't read anything about how another person makes you feel—how they give you goose bumps or make you tingle or how happy they make you feel.  The Bible teaches us love is what we do for others even if we get nothing in return.

             John Wesley believed we could reach perfection in this lifetime. Wesley caught a lot of flack from theologians who scoffed at the idea of perfect people. People today might be skeptical of his assertion too.  Obviously, people are far from perfect. Even mature, faithful Christians—well advanced in years—still sin (if only in the sense that they occasionally make mistakes). Can we really be perfect?                         We may not be perfect in the sense that we never make mistakes, but, with God's help, we can reach the point that everything we do is perfectly motivated by love.  Perfect love does not mean we will never make mistakes. It means everything we do is motivated by love for God and love for our neighbor. Thus, even when we make a mistake, when it is motivated by love, the Holy Spirit can take our mistakes and turn them into good.
            I once gave my wife a Mother's Day gift I thought was perfect.  I was so proud of myself.  It wasn't a last minute gift.  I planned it weeks in advance.  I knew Kelly liked Tervis' insulated water cups and I found out you can make a customized Tervis.  So, I got online and designed on with a picture of our family and the message: "We Love You, Momma!"  I was so excited for Kelly to open the gift, thinking she would really love it.  When she opened it, she said, "You misspelled my name.  I spell it Mama."  Well, I felt terrible, but we had a good laugh because Kelly is a gracious, patient, loving person and she knew it was the thought that counts and that I had honestly tried out of love to honor and appreciate her.  To this day, we will occasionally have a laugh when we call Kelly Momma instead of Mama.  Even when we make a mistake, God can use it for good when it is motivate by love.
            Your goal as a Christian should be to grow in love toward perfection.  You should aim to reach perfection (in love) before you leave this world. Hope for it. Train for it. Work for it. Strive for it.

The Holy Spirit Enables Us
             The Holy Spirit empowers us to grow spiritually. When we open ourselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit, we can mature as Christians. We can grow in the fruits of the spirit—love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We can grow in faith, hope, and love when we let the Holy Spirit work in us.
            We don’t cause the growth. It comes from God. Suppose an eight-year-old child decides they don't like being eight and want to be sixteen.  So he closes his eyes and grits his teeth and concentrates as hard as he can on being a sixteen-year-old.  Can he make himself sixteen?  Of course not.  That's absurd! Only God can make a child grow.  However, there are things a child can do to cooperate with God's power and open themselves up to the healthy growth God wants to give. They can eat their fruits and vegetables, get enough sleep at night, pay attention in school, learn to obey their parents, etc.  These are things that will help a child mature over time.
            Similarly, you cannot make yourself grow spiritually.  Only the Holy Spirit can do that. However, there are some things you can do to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and open yourself up to growth.  You can pray daily and worship with other believers every week.  You can study your Bible and learn God's ways and will for your life.  You can serve others.  You can give of your time and money.  You can celebrate Holy Communion (we share Holy Communion at Pleasant Grove UMC the first Sunday of each month).  You can look to a groups of trusted Christians friends to hold you accountable.  These are things that will open you up to the growth the Holy Spirit wants to work within you.  Over time, you will mature and grow in your faith, hope, and love.  One day, you may find everything you do is motivated perfectly by love.

             We perfect one another in love by loving one another. Love gives birth to love.
Jesus gave the ultimate example. You see, it is not that we loved God. God first loved us. While we were still sinners, Jesus came and died for us to forgive us our sins. His love inspires true love in us.
God reached out to us in love—even though we didn't deserve it. And because He loves us, we can love Him. We can also love one another, because He loves us all. Even the worst among us is loved by God and can be loved by us if we allow the Holy Spirit to move in us. And when we love the unlovable, it can change them.
            We perfect each other in love by loving each other. Even when your brother or sister doesn't deserve love, love them anyway. This is our promise to each other. It is also how we perfect each other in love. For your love—freely offered—is the hope that love will grow in others. Love gives birth to love.
            So, brothers and sisters, I implore you to increase one another's faith, confirm one another's hope, and perfect one another in love all for the glory of God!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Confirm Their Hope

            1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”  Faith, hope, and love are also the core components of the promise we—as a congregation—make to each other at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.  When someone becomes a member of our church, we promise to “ all in our power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”  This is what we promise to do for one another.
            Last week, we considered how we can help increase faith in others by the the way we speak and act and by our very presence in people’s lives.  Today, I want to focus how we confirm hope.

Ephesians 4:1-4

1Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

Hope and Fear
            Hope is the opposite of fear.  Fear is the expectation of evil.  Hope is the expectation of good. There’s a lot of fear in our country right now. Some are afraid because people are protesting and causing disturbances after this week’s election.  Others are afraid the new president is not fit for the job, that he doesn’t have the temperament or wisdom or experience to lead our nation.  Some are afraid of the policies Trump might implement.  Some are afraid individuals or groups might use Trump’s harsh rhetoric as an excuse to be violent to minorities or other disenfranchised groups.  A Muslim woman in Louisiana told police she was attacked and robbed by two male Trump supporters after the election.  Later she admitted to police she made up the entire story.[i]  One woman’s fear drove her to concoct a lie. Other people’s fear may cause them to generalize what that one woman did and say that’s what all Muslims will do.
            Fear is the opposite of hope. Fear is the expectation of evil. Fear makes people act irrationally. Fear often brings into reality the very thing it dreads.  
            Hope is the opposite of fear.  Hope is the expectation of good.  Hope gives people the benefit of the doubt. It believes the best about people, hoping they will fulfill our expectations.  Hope expects things will turn out alright in the end, that it won’t be as bad as you thought, that maybe it might even be better than you expected.  Hope leads people to treat others with love and patience and grace. Hope enables us to forgive, to reconcile, to rebuild broken relationships, to overlook faults and to escape the chains of worry and anxiety.
            Hope is the opposite of fear. Hope is the expectation of good. Hope often brings into reality the very good it anticipates.  “Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space.  Invite one to stay.”  (May Angelo).  At Pleasant Grove, we are called (and we promise) to confirm each other’s hope.

Confirm Their Hope
People hope there really is something to this Christian faith we preach.  How do we confirm that for one another?  We confirm one another’s hope by the way we act and treat one another.  Ephesians 4 names the behavior that is worthy of our faith.
            How can we confirm hope?  Ephesians 4:1-4 tells us.  We are to be humble and gentle.  We can show patience, making allowances for faults. People are not perfect. They make mistakes. Sometimes they just have annoying habits or don’t do thing the way you would.  We are all different and have different ways. Who is to say who’s right and who’s wrong? Does it really matter?  
            Thank God Jesus wasn’t so critical of people they had to be perfect to come near him. He accept all.  For his twelve Apostles, Jesus chose a few smelly fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot (who hated tax collectors), and a bunch of other riff raff that didn’t amount to much by society’s standards. Somehow they all had to get along. Thank God, Jesus was a very patient man. We should follow his example. 
            Ephesians 4 also says we confirm hope through unity and peace. We are to be united in the Spirit, bound together with peace. I want to tell you something the pastors of my community have been doing as a result of the recent OneCry Revival we had in September. We’ve been meeting together for lunch on Mondays every 2 weeks—Baptists, Methodists, Church of God, Whites, Blacks, Hispanics.  This week, a couple of the Hispanic pastors said that they had never felt such love and unity with the white pastors of our community. They said they are truly thankful to God for what He is doing to bring our communities together. There is great hope for what God is doing to break down racial barriers in our community. So while many in our country are fearful about the racial divide in America, we are hopeful that God will bring us together in peace and unity.  What will you choose? Fear or hope?

Jesus is the Good Shepherd
Some people don’t believe God exists; and if He does, they fear God is angry or uninterested in them.  However, the Christian hope is that Jesus really does know and love us.  In John 10:14 He said, “I am the good shepherd.  I know my own sheep, and they know me…”  What an incredible hope!  That God—in Jesus—not only knows us, but loves us and was willing to lay down his life for us so that we can have eternal life.  This is the greatest hope we have.
How do we confirm this great hope in each other? Again, it is by the way we treat others. Here are some practical things you can do: 
  • Share encouraging words with people. Tell them how much you appreciate them, the gifts you see in them, how you’ve noticed spiritual growth in their lives. 
  • Send someone a card, note, or letter.  In the digital age, it’s easier than ever to stay connected and encourage people! Send an email. Share messages on Facebook. Send a text message to someone to pray for them or share a verse of Scripture. 
  • Another thing you can do to confirm hope is to honor people before others. Tell their parents, friends, employers how much you appreciate them. 
            People hope there really is life after death. 1 Corinthians 15:19-20 “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.”  How do you confirm eternal life—something you have never seen?
            Well, some have seen.  I've heard stories from people (some in my own congregation) about people dying asnd being brought back to life by a doctor.  SOmetimes, they tell amazing stories of things they witnessed on the other side.  If you have a witness about this, share it and help confirm someone's hope!
            Sometimes our hope, in and of itself, is enough to confirm eternal life for others. When we hope, we press on through the hopeless trials of this life knowing there is hope waiting beyond the grave.  As Romans 5:4 says “And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”  How you endure hardships can help others find hope.
            Finally, you can confirm hope by sharing ways you have seen the resurrected Jesus. You may not have seen Jesus in bodily form, but you can share some powerful moments in your life when it was as if Jesus were there with you. You can tell others how Jesus has made a difference in your life. You can share how Christ has given you a reason for hope instead of fear. You can make a difference. Your hope can be contagious.  An epidemic of contagious hope is what our world desperately needs right now.

Jeremy’s Story (Watch Jeremy's Testimony Here)
            A met a young man abuot a year ago named Jeremy Ptak.  Jeremy called the church and left a message.  He was interested in the Methodist church and wondered if someone could call and talk to him about it.  I called.
            Jeremy had lots of questions about Methodism and the way we worshiped and believed.  I tried to answer his questions.  I also invited Jeremy to come to church and he enthusiastically accepted.  He said he needed a ride and I was glad to offer one.  All week, Jeremy was excited come to church, but the day of church, he canceled saying something had come up.  We tried again the following Sunday with the same result.  Each week, Jeremy would start out excited for church on Monday, but back out over the weekend.  Finally, I asked Jeremy why and he shared his struggle.
            Jeremy struggles with severe social anxiety.  He gets really nervous around crowds.  He worries that people are looking at him and talking about him and he gets really nervous and overwhelmed.  He takes medicine to help, but the medicine also makes him very tires; it's a difficult balance between anxiety and depression without enough medicine and having no energy with too much medicine.  (To watch Jeremy's testimony, click here.)
            Jeremy didn't give up and eventually was able to come to Bible Study on Thursday mornings, dinner on Wednesday night, and even Sunday school and worship on Sundays.  Jeremy gave his life to Christ when he was younger, but he wanted to recommit himself to Christ; so, we prayed for him to do that.  Jeremy wanted to do the official ceremony in church and become a member of Pleasant Grove.  So I gave him a challenge.  I said, if you come to church on Sunday four times, then we will have a ceremony in church where you recommit your life to Christ and join as a member.  Jeremy completed the challenge and joined the church in May.  Praise God!
            The people of Pleasant Grove UMC helped confirm Jeremy’s hope in Jesus Christ.  They confirmed his hope by giving him a ride to and from church.  They confirmed his hope by the way they welcome him, just the way he is.  
            Jeremy still has struggles.  Sometimes Jeremy has to miss church because he is having a bad day or because his medicine has made him too tired.  Jeremy dips chewing tobacco to help calm his nerves and sometimes he has to get up and walk out of the sanctuary to take a break.  The people of Jeremy's church accept him and his struggles.  They confirm Jeremy's hope in Christ by the way they make allowances for his faults, by the way you love him, encourage him, and help him through his struggle.
            In turn, Jeremy is helping confirm our hope as well. I am inspired by Jeremy’s story. I think if he can press on through his own struggles, maybe I can endure mine too. How about you? Doesn’t Jeremy’s story give you hope? Do you—like me—see Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Risen Lord, the Savior of the world, at work in Jeremy’s life?

            Jesus is not dead! He is alive and He is moving in our world. Do not fear. Be filled with hope.  What can you do to increase faith and confirm hope in others? What practical thing does Jesus want you to do?  Why not get started today?


Monday, November 7, 2016

Increase Their Faith

            1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us, Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”  Faith, hope, and love are essential and Christians seek to grow these fruits through membership in the local church. New members of United Methodist congregations vow to support the church with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness.  Then, the congregation promises, "Do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”
            Today, we will begin a new 3-week series on these 3 promises my congregation makes to our new members to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.  Today, we will consider our promise to increase their faith. Next week, we will look at the promise to confirm their hope.  We will finish the third week with a consideration of how we can perfect them in love.

Hebrews 11:1-2
1Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. 2Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

            Faith is the reality of what we hope for.  The Greek word Hebrews uses for faith means:  conviction, persuasion; faith is that of which you are convinced.  The idea is almost as if our believing in something makes something a reality.
            Psychologist say much the same thing. For instance, if you have a job interview and don't believe in yourself, don't believe you are qualified, don't believe you have as good a chance as any other candidate, then your lack of faith will come through in the way you interview for the job. You will not present a good image of yourself. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will probably not get the job. If you believe in yourself, it will come through to your potential employers.
            Our faith in Christ—real faith—changes our perspective on life. It gives life meaning.  Because of faith, we know life is bigger than us; we know it's not all about us and our happiness.  Because of faith, we have purpose.  A purely scientific worldview tells us we are just animals.  Faith convinces us we are more and thus we can do more than survive and we can even live sacrifically for the sake of others.
            Our faith persuades God is for us and not against us.  So many religions though out history have sought ways to appease the gods, to earn divine help, or to manipulate gods into doing what the people want. People made sacrifices or performed rituals intending to manipulate god(s) into helping people.  What kind of god(s) is that?  A god who can be tricked is not God who can be relied upon.  A god who must be appeased is not a good god, but a bully.  A god who requires us to earn love, doesn't offer real love.  Real love, the kind the human heart craves, is unconditional; it doesn't have to be earned.
            I am so grateful our faith in Jesus tells us God loves us despite all our shortcomings, failures, flaws, and sins. God loved us even when we blatantly reject Him, fight against Him, and try to kill Him. And the extent of God’s love is this: He laid down His life on the cross for our sins to save our souls. And through God’s infinite power, Jesus rose to conquer sin and death! Oh the infinite wisdom, power, and love of Jesus Christ our Lord, our Savior, our God!
            Our faith in Jesus means we have something to live for and even something to hope for when this life is over. 
            Our faith is not a fairy tale. It is more than just positive thinking that makes our lives better. There is a God who loves us. There is meaning and purpose in ours lives. This is reality. Jesus is Lord. Jesus does save us when we trust in him. There is life beyond the grave. God will right all the wrongs of our world. There will be justice and mercy for all according to God’s infinite wisdom. 

Increasing Faith
            We who are members of Pleasant Grove have been both blessed and a blessing. We have been blessed by God, but also by the saints who've gone before us. I can think of many I have met at my church over the past six-and-a-half years.  I think about a gentle lady named Ann Brookshire.  The first time I remember meeting Ann was in the hospital.  Ann needed a kidney transplant and she often struggled with health problems as she waited for one to be available.  However, Ann handled her illness and waiting with patience and grace.  Her example increased my faith and the faith of many.
            I think of Joanne Oxford, one of the first "At-home" members of our church I met when I came to be the pastor here.  Joanne was so sweet and easy to talk to.  I enjoyed our visits and they increased my faith.
            I think also of Dick Mellema.  Dick suffered from the effects of a stroke he'd had years ago that debilitated him.  Dick didn't do anything grand here at Pleasant Grove, but he was here and his very presence gave us a chance to exercise our faith and Christian love.
            There are other saints still living that encourage us by their words, their deeds, and sometimes just their presence. I know you can name a few who have made a difference in your life.  Look around you; you will see saints if you take time to notice. A saint is not someone who is perfect. A saint is just a sinner saved by the grace of God. We are all sinners and saints if we have faith in Jesus Christ
            Just as we have been blessed by the saints around us, we can also be a blessing to others. We can help increase their faith. By our presence, our words, and our deeds, we can help people see the reality of Christ. We can be the evidence of what they hope for. We can demonstrate that life is not in vain, that they matter, that they are loved, that they have a purpose, that even in spite of trials and in the midst of pain and struggle and grief and sickness and even death, there is victory.  And one day, the glory we find in Christ will make every trial we faced here pale in a comparison.  So members of the household of faith, remember your promise to increase one another's faith. Speak, act, and be the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.