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Showing posts with label New Life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New Life. Show all posts

Monday, January 3, 2022

2022 State of the Communion Address

Introduction
It is our tradition at Pleasant Grove at the beginning of each new year, to have a State of the Communion Address where we look back at the accomplishments of the previous year and look forward to some goals and initiatives for the coming year.  My hope is this will give us a chance to pause and remember and celebrate what Christ has accomplished through us (for it is too easy to forget).  A further hope is to give some direction for our ministry in the coming year.

 But before we get into those details, I want us to hear God’s Word, for all that we believe and do is founded upon God’s Word and I believe God’s Word will give us much needed perspective in our task today.  

1 Corinthians 5:17-21
17 …anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Ambassadors of Christ
Paul’s words in this Scripture remind us who we are.  When a person becomes a Christian, they become a totally new person.  In fact, the transformation is so significant, it can be described as the old person dying and a new person coming to life.  Jesus described it in John 3:3 as being born again. 

This dramatic distinction between the old self and the new self may be easier to realize when a person becomes a Christian as a teenager or adult, because they are more self-aware.  Many people in the church, thankfully, grow up always knowing and following Christ.  For them, they cannot ever remember a time before they were Christian.  This is nothing to worry about.  In fact, it is my hope for all children raised in our church that they will never walk down the wrong road in life and have need for a dramatic conversion experience where they get back on the right road (as the Apostle Paul needed to do).  I pray that my kids, your kids, the kids of my church will always walk the right road.  Of course, we all need little corrections along the way, but it is not necessary for us to start out as scoundrels and convert to become Christians.

The point is, anyone who is a Christian has a drastically different purpose in life than a non-Christian.  A non-Christian believes they are free to choose their own path and do whatever they want in life.  Ironically, they are actually slaves and not free.  Their sinful nature, selfish pursuits, and the corrupt world work together to trap them in a downward spiral to death and eternal damnation.  Though they seek pleasure and fulfillment, it is always fleeting and elusive, because all people were created for a relationship with God and we cannot be at peace without it. 

Christians realize the great gift God gave the world through Jesus. Humanity was lost in sin, completely separated from God, utterly hopeless.  But Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sin and make it possible for people to reconcile with God.  And the Christian has chosen to “die to self”—to abandon selfishness and instead live for God by following Christ’s way of life to take up a cross every day and follow Jesus.  Ironically, by giving up our selfish ambitions, we discover True Life, by fulfilling our divine purpose to live in harmony with God.  And so a Christian’s purpose is the same as Christ’s purpose.  We are here in this world to serve as ambassadors for Christ.  He continues to reconcile the world to God through us.  God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”

 And so, at the beginning of this New Year, I ask all of you–if you are truly a Christian–to remember your purpose.  You are not living to please yourself.  You are here as Christ’s ambassadors, reconciling people to God.

This is our purpose at Pleasant Grove.  It’s not about our traditions or our events or how many people we can get to come to Trunk or Treat.  It’s about reconciling a world of lost people to God through Jesus Christ.  We are Christ’s voice pleading with the world:  “Come back to God!”  That was the purpose that guided our work in 2021 and I hope will guide us in 2022 as well.

Looking Back at 2021
2021 has been a whirlwind.  It has gone by so fast.  I’m truly dumbfounded.  It still feels to me as if it is January 2021!  I know it is now 2022, but it truly seems like I was just sitting down to make plans for 2021 and now we’re making plans for 2022.  Where did the year go?  And yet, so much has happened over the last 12 months, I have to look back to remember it all.  And if I’m being completely honest, ministry has been really hard this year.  

The first year of the Pandemic was an adrenaline rush.  2021 began with such great hopes that a vaccine would finally rid us of COVID.  And we made good progress, but I think we’ve all been disabused of the notion that COVID is just going to go away.  We are going to be living with it for a while.  

And so in the midst of it, we’ve been laboring to resume important ministries like in person Sunday school, Bible study, children’s ministry, choir rehearsal, and others while dealing with quarantines, new variants, fewer volunteers, and inconsistent attendance.

I realize this has been hard for everyone.  It has been especially hard for the leaders of our church.  Leaders put forth a brave face, but those closest to them know how they struggle.  I myself have talked with my wife many times about my frustrations with ministry this year.  And I’ve shed tears in the church office as in front of Angela as I’ve lamented.    Leading in 2021 was frustrating.  We see where Pleasant Grove needs to go and we’re focused on leading the church there, but there are so many obstacles to navigate along the way, and people are scared, anxious, frustrated, and uncertain.  Many people have drifted away from their commitment to Christian habits and have lost their focus on Christ’s call to be His ambassador with Pleasant Grove.

And in truth, I sometimes felt as if many people either didn’t care or they were disappointed with me for not doing enough when in fact I was doing all I could.  I’ve been expending exorbitant amounts of extra spiritual energy to reboot ministries that were shut down for over a year, even as some were expressing their own frustrations and concerns, comparing our efforts to what other churches were doing and what people thought we should do or what their pastor should do.

Despite these frustrations, we have made great strides in 2021 to resume essential ministries.  And I want to point these out so they aren’t overlooked.  Starting back was far more important and much harder than shutting down, but not necessarily as exciting for people who tend to note more sensational events.

Do you remember that at this time last year, many of our ministries were still not meeting in person?  All of our IN PERSON Sunday school classes were on pause or were only meeting on Zoom.  There was no Thursday morning Bible study, no children’s church.  Only the youth were gathering, carefully with masks and social distanced, for Pizza with Amy.  We were still not allowed to do pastoral visits to people in the hospitals or nursing homes.  Funerals were still limited to 50 or fewer people.  We were not meeting for dinner on Wednesday nights.  Almost all our activities, besides Sunday morning worship, were still shut down.  And our in-person Sunday morning worship attendance on this Sunday, last year, was 33 people.  That’s combined—including both the early service and the regular service.  33 people.  Our average in-person attendance in now regularly back up close to 100 people.  

One year ago, we still didn’t even have hymnals available in the sanctuary, because we were still cautious about transferring the virus through touched surfaces like hymnals. 

So throughout the entire 2021 year, we’ve been rebuilding, rebooting, regathering volunteers and attendees, figuring out how to do it all again with ongoing restrictions.  And it’s been a lot of hard work, but so rewarding to see everyone gathering together again. 

We’ve resumed regular, weekly children’s church and Wednesday night children’s ministry under the leadership of our new children’s minister-Tiffany Tankersley.  Tiffany has been working diligently, despite falling down some steps and breaking her face in the first few weeks after she started the job!  Tiffany has working to ramp up our in-person kids programs, almost building them from scratch, while she’s also endure like 3 reconstructive surgeries on her face! It’s been a blessing to have Tiffany on board—to see her genuine passion to teach our children about Jesus’ love.

Our Sunday school classes have resumed meeting every Sunday, in person.  We resumed our Thursday morning Bible study with 10-15 people and have completed studies of the books of James, Jonah, and will soon finish the Book of Psalms.  This year, I was able to do some hospital and nursing home visits for the first time since COVID, though these are still sometimes restricted when new COVID variants emerge.  And I am sending cards to shut-ins ever week. 

The choir was blessed to resume weekly rehearsals for fully vaccinated members in May.  We began by sitting out in the sanctuary, socially distanced, and have eventually worked our way back up into the choir loft, where it feels so much better to sing in a sea of beautiful choral voices.  What a blessing it was to the choir to be able to sing together in person again.  And it was quite a blessing to everyone in worship as well.  Consider, that in December 2020, the Christmas cantata was done virtually.  Everything was pre-recorded and we watched it on the screens.  A few weeks ago, we were blessed to have the choir back, sitting in the choir loft, blessing us with a beautiful live Christmas cantata.  

I want to thank David for his leadership of our music ministries in all this.  I know it was stressful and took a lot of thought, prayer, and extra work on top of the normal workload of leading music ministries of our church. 

In September, we resumed our Wednesday night fellowship meals after a 17-month break forced by the pandemic.  Angela Stack and Angel Kirk worked together to gather volunteers to setup, serve, and clean. And you don't just flip a switch and restart a ministry like that.  Some people might think: "Well, you just get all your old volunteers and start back."  No, after 17 months, you don't have any volunteers any more.  You have to contact every one and build the volunteer list from scratch. 

The resumption of all these ministries took place in the midst of concerns about new COVID variants, like Delta and Omicron, that made us second guess ourselves and sometimes forced us to pause or backtrack.  Throughout 2021, it seems like it was 2 steps forward and 1 step back.  Progress like that is slow and frustrating, but it is progress to be proud of.  Remember, 2 steps forward and 1 step back  is still forward progress and if you do it consistently for a year, you make a lot of progress.  Looking back, we see have moved so far forward!  Don’t you ever forget it!  And be proud because 2 steps forward and 1 step back is 3 steps. So we have work 3 times as hard this past year than we normally do.

We also saw new people joining our fellowship!  Praise God! Hallelujah!  Our first new member since the beginning of the pandemic was Connie Reed, who transferred her membership to Pleasant Grove on May 9th, 2021.

We also received:
· Robert and Melissa Starling and their boys, Garrett and Ellis
· Chris and Ashley Ewton and their infant son Ben
· And we baptized Kelsey and Chad Ikerd’s baby, Julianne

2021 saw 5 new church members, 2 people gave their life to Jesus, 1 rededicated their life to Christ, and we had 6 baptisms!  Praise God! Hallelujah! 

And I can’t let it pass without saying that through out all of this terrible pandemic, the people of PGMC have been faithful to give generously to our church.  Your faithful giving allowed us to keep doing ministry in a crazy time and surge ahead.  

In July, we launched Operation Mercy Drops to award three kinds of grants to help and honor people in our community: 
1. Merit grants to honor people who are serving,
2. Service grants to help community organizations making a difference, and
3. Hardship grants to help people in need.

So far we have awarded five $1000 grants and one $500 grant.  A total of $5,500! This program has been recognized nationally by the United Methodist denomination as an innovative model for how to be the hands and feet of Christ.  And we did it in the midst of a pandemic.  I want to thank this church for stepping out in faith to do it.  I want to thank Salena Weed, Kelly Scruggs, Rita Wagers, and Mike Wilson for directing the program.

I also want encourage you to sponsor someone. (Details are available at www.pleasantgrove.cc/omd.)  We specifically want you to nominate people or organizations you want to reward.  This is not just to help people who have a hardship.  We want you to think of people or organizations that deserve to be recognized.  The program only works if you nominate people to receive an Operation Mercy Drops grant. 

So, 2021 was a challenging year, but it was year of great ministry by PGMC.  Don’t be discouraged.  Don’t lose heart because it’s hard.  We are doing great things in the name of Jesus and we will continue to do great things in 2022.  So let’s look ahead to this New Year.

Looking Ahead to 2022
I want you to know I am committed to be your pastor for the foreseeable future.  I know we are United Methodists and UM pastors are only officially appointed for one year at a time.  However, we are still in the midst of a pandemic and the UM denomination will be navigating a denomination split some time in the next couple years (possibly even this year).  These are extraordinary circumstances unlike anything we or the UMC have ever experienced.  So far, the North Georgia conference leaders have been generous to allow pastors and church more leeway to remain together with their congregations until things settle down.  I have requested not to be moved.  Our HR Committee has also made this request to the District Superintendent.

I want you to know, I have no plans to move to another church until at least 2025.  I have talked with our HR Committee about this and also my District Superintendent and he was supportive.  He even recommended I discuss this with our church to make a plan.  I understand that no one can predict what the future holds.  It is all in God’s hand.  However, we make plans and we work to implement them until God changes them and shows us a different way.  

The point is, I want you to know, I am committed to pastor this church as long as you will have me.  I’m saying this now because I know I’ve been at Pleasant Grove a lot longer than is customary for a UM pastor.  Some may be thinking, “Well, Chris isn’t going to be here much longer.”  Well, I am planning to be here, as long as you will allow me.

I also want you to know, I don’t plan on just coasting by either.  I’m as excited and energized by the opportunity to lead this church as I've ever been.  I hope you will be excited to let me and work with me for several more years.  We have a lot to do and I believe God wants us to do it together.  So let’s get to it.

One of the things I believe we need to focus on this year is more outreach to shut-ins.  There are many people in our church family who are not able to come to church regularly because of age or health restrictions.  They often feel lonely and disconnected from the church and the life in general.  Ministering to them has been especially challenging through this pandemic, but we have got to do better to reach out to them, encourage them, and include them.  I am committed as the pastor of this church to do better.  Last year, I was able to resume some visiting, and I also began writing notes to shut-ins every week.  I will do more this year.  I want to start taking communion to shut-ins.  As a pastor and United Methodist Elder, I am the only one at our church authorized to consecrate the sacrament and share it with shut-ins.  I plan to.

However, our shut-ins deserve more than just the pastor’s attention.  This church is their family.  You are their family and they have known many of you much longer than they've known me.  They need you to call them, visit them, send them notes, and show them your love.  If we all help with this, there are more than enough people at our church to serve these members of our church family.  I want you to pray about this.  How could you help share Jesus’ love to our shut-ins?

I asked all our ministry leaders to share one thing they want to focus on in 2022.  David Crawford shared that he wants to focus on bringing in more college students who have a passion and talent for music, but (like many college students) are not as involved in church.  David wants to bring them in to sing with our choir to be a blessing to the church, but also to bless these students with a church family that will love them like Jesus.  I hope you will pray for this effort and support it wholeheartedly.

Our tech minister, Jeremy Barfield, said his main goal for 2022 is to expand the tech volunteer base and train more folks to serve in various ways in tech. We need more volunteers.  Can you help with this?  Or, can you invite someone to our church who would like to learn about this kind of ministry?

Tiffany’s goals with our children’s ministry are to participate in more outreach events.  She wants to plan more outings for kids and get kids involved in active outreach and serving.  She wants to plan ahead for church events like Valentine’s Day, Easter, Trunk or Treat, and Lunch with Santa, and plan some summer outings and VBS. 

Amy's goals with our youth are to establish more adult volunteers and chaperones to make more youth trips and supervision possible.

My goal is to take communion to shut-ins to share this special sacrament with them so they can draw strength from Jesus presence in the bread and wine.  I also want to use YouTube, social media, and other online tools to teach and preach the Word. 

And I want to help lead this church through the challenges of this ongoing pandemic and the coming split of the United Methodist Church into two separate new denominations:
· one that allows same-sex marriage & the ordination of self-professing homosexuals pastors
· and a traditional denomination that teaches a biblical view of sexuality in line with orthodox Christians around the world and throughout history.

The UMC is scheduled to hold a global general conference at the end of August this year.  If they are able to meet, they will vote to split the denomination and there will be many important decisions for our congregation to make.  However, no one knows right now if the General Conference will be able to meet.  It is a complex gathering with a few thousand delegates from all over the world into one building and 40% of the delegates will be coming from including places like Africa and the Phillipines who are still facing travel restrictions due to the pandemic.  If they are not able to meet like planned, a messy denominational split may proceed anyway or it may be postponed.  Either way, these will be tricky waters for our church to navigate.  I hope I have your trust to lead you through it all.  Please pray for me and our church and our global denomination in the midst of it all this year.

Now, I can think of no better way to begin our new year together than by celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion.  In this sacrament, we remember the sacrifice Christ has made for us to wash away our sins and reconcile us to God and each other. And we remember our purpose to be His ambassadors pleading with the world:  “Come back to God!”  And we also receive His nourishing grace to help us in the task.



Monday, October 18, 2021

Love Never Gives Up

Introduction
If you followed football yesterday, you may know that Ole Miss beat TN.  Alabama beat Mississippi State.  Georgia beat Kentucky. Auburn beat Arkansas. LSU beat Florida. GT beat Duke.

You know, in a football game, there often comes a certain moment in a game where the tide turns for your team and the game is no longer winnable.  You can sometimes gauge when this critical moment comes, because you may see fans start leaving the stadium.  They know their team is beat at this point.  So they start leaving to get ahead of the traffic.

If you’re a true fan, you may hold on to hope.  You may think, “That’s Ok.  We can still get this back.”  And you’re rooting for your team and you’re hoping that they will retake the lead and win the game.  Then, the opposing team get’s another score.  And you’re frustrated.  But it’s still not over. You still believe—because you’re a true believer.  You believe your team can still pull out a win.  But the time is ticking off the clock and soon your down to the final minutes.  And you’re hoping beyond hope that your team can still do it.  Maybe you’re thinking, “If they get the ball back, and this happens and this happens… They could still do it. It’s possible!” You start running through different scenarios in your mind.  “It may take a miracle, but it’s still possible!”  But then the clock is down to the last minute, then the last seconds, and all your timeouts are gone…

I remember watching a few football games with my dad and older brother as a young kid, I would always be the last one to give up hope.  Dad and Nelson were older and knew the game better.  They could read the writing on the wall when the game was lost.  But I was young and na├»ve and I loved our team and was full of hope.  I would hold on till the last seconds.  But then our team would lose.  It was inevitable. 

Well, that’s football.  But love, according the 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, love is another story. Love never gives up.

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

The City of Corinth
This passage is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church.  The Corinthians lived in Corinth, an important port city in Greece.  Corinth was especially important because it was located on the isthmus of Corinth—a narrow strip of land separating the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf.  Ships could be carried over land about four miles on a special paved road made just for moving ships.  It saved a tremendous amount of time and money and was much safer than sailing 185 miles around the treacherous Peloponnesian peninsula.  Corinth’s strategic location made it a very wealthy city, and with it’s wealth also came debauchery.

Ancient Corinth was the home of the temple of the goddess, Aphrodite—the Greek goddess of love.  It was said that the temple employed 1,000 professional prostitutes to “help” the people “worship” Aphrodite.  (I guess that's one way to get people to church!)  

By the time Paul wrote his letter, Corinth had been taken over by the Romans, who converted the Temple of Aphrodite to the Temple of Venus (the Romans name for the goddess of love).  Both Aphrodite and Venus “are known for their jealousy, their beauty and for their affairs with both gods and mortals.”[i]

Study notes in the The MacArther Study Bible say, “Even by pagan standards of its own culture, Corinth became so morally corrupt that its very name became synonymous with debauchery and moral depravity. To ‘corinthianize’ came to represent gross immorality and drunken debauchery.”

Despite Corinth’s centuries of sin and debauchery and corruption of the virtue of love, God did not give up on them.  God sent Paul to Corinth in AD 49 or 50.  According to Acts 18:11, Paul spent 18 months discipling a group of new Christians who then formed the Corinthian church.  God is always working to save people and bring them back from the brink of destruction.  And it doesn’t matter how far gone they seem to be, God still cares.  We see this clearly in the Corinthian church.  From a city as wicked as Corinth, God established a group of Christians to be a beacon of God’s light.

But they still had a lot to learn.  The Corinthian church had some severely warped ideas of love—no wonder; they were a product of a city that worshipped the so-called “goddess of love” that taught love was only a carnal, consuming thing.  Paul wrote about the One True God’s love that is demonstrated in Jesus self-sacrificing love on the cross.  And Paul wrote “Love is patient and kind.”  It had to teach the Corinthians that real love is not jealous like the so-called love of Apphrodite or Venus.  And love “is not boastful or proud or rude.” So they shouldn’t fight amongst themselves about who was the most important or who was more spiritual or who was in charge.  And today we’re learning that “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful…” just as God never gave up on the Corinthians, despite their centuries of wickedness and sexual immorality and moral corruption.  God's love neve gives up and it changes people's live and even changes the whole world.

John 3:16
John 3:16 is probably one of the most well-known verses in the whole Bible, and for good reason.  John 3:16 could be a summary of the entire story of the Bible.  “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

The whole story of the Bible—from beginning to end—is the story of God’s love that “never gives up, never loses faith, and is always hopeful” that people will turn from their evil ways and return to a love relationship with God.  Throughout the centuries, while God is reaching out to people to beckon them to come back to Him, God is also setting up His plan to save the whole world.  The ultimate message of God’s love is given through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, God came in the flesh to show the world His love.  He came teaching people the truth about how to live.  His presence brought healing and life—everywhere he went, the lame were made whole, the blind could see, and the deaf could hear.  Leprosy and deformity and demonic possession were banished.  And so, hoping beyond hope, God reached out to fallen humanity.  There is a way to heal your spirit!  There is a way to be made whole again!  There is a way to be saved!

And there was a tremendous sense of hope.  The Disciples followed Jesus.  And crowds of people heard his teachings and saw his miracles and they believed.  Could this be the Messiah who was sent to save us, even when it seems all hope is lost?

But They Crucified Him
Jesus came in love, but we crucified him.  Can you imagine the disappointment of Jesus’ disciples and followers?  Jesus was love.  He was hope.  They put all their faith in Him.  And then He was brutally murdered on a Roman cross.

Roman crucifixion was the most painful, humiliating, degrading way to kill someone.  It was intentionally designed to make a bold statement to anyone who dared challenge Roman rule.  Crucifixion’s message was: “We own you.  We can do whatever we want to you—any of you.  It doesn’t matter if you are a peasant, a religious leader, a king, or even supposedly a messiah or god, we can strip you naked and beat you to a pulp and nail you to a cross and hang you up to die and agonizing death that will take days while everyone watches in horror—including your mother.”

If ever there was a moment in history when the game was lost, it was on the Friday they nailed Jesus to the cross.  And I don’t care who you were or how much faith you had, everyone who saw Jesus die new the game was over.  Love had lost.

Some cried bitter tears.  Some got angry and cursed Jesus and spat on him.
Some just left, because they knew the game was over. Some ran away in horror and hid in shame.
Some just stared in disbelief.
How could this happen?  How can evil triumph over good?  What do we do now?

There’s a certain point in a football game that’s the point of now return—when the game is lost and there’s no hope to win.  But football’s just a game.  What do you do when it’s real life?

What do you do when the marriage really is over and ends in divorce?
What do you do when your son’s addiction finally takes him?
What do you do when cancer wins?
What do you do when the game clock of real life finally says zero and it really is over?
What do you do when Jesus is really dead?

A Childlike Faith
Jesus was dead and buried in a tomb.  A stone was rolled over the door. 
Soldiers guarded the entrance.  No one was going to get in. 
But Jesus was going to come out!  On the Third Day, Jesus rose from the grave!

With God’s love, true love, divine love, there is always hope.  1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful…”  Love never fails.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

Children often have more faith than adults.
Adults know better.  We know how the game of life works.  We know when the game is over—even if the clock hasn’t finished running out.  We think we know when all hope is lost and how it will all end.
But children believe in magic.  They believe in hope.  They still believe in miracles.
And God can work through miracles.  He saved the world through a miracle.
Jesus was dead, but then He was alive!
Jesus can save you with a miracle.  

So, we need to be mature and use our intelligence, but we also need to keep our childlike faith.
“Humanly speaking, it may be impossible.  But with God, everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Invitation
I want to tell you something though. 
Sometimes you've got to lose before you can win.
Sometimes you've got to die before you can rise to new life.
There may be something you've got to let go of before God can give you something new.
Do you trust Him?
Open your heart. 
Let go. 
Let God do a new thing in you.



[i] http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/culture-miscellaneous/difference-between-aphrodite-and-venus/

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Breath of Life (Dry Bones)

Introduction
            I heard someone describe getting old like this - put Vaseline on your glasses so you can barely see, earplugs in your ears so you can barely hear, weights on your arms and legs so you can barely move, and rocks in your shoes so every step hurts; this is what it feels like to be old.
            Being old is relative.  At 43, I don’t think I’m old, but I’m not young either.   As a pastor, I’m considered young. The average age of a pastor in the United Methodist Church is around 55.  Most of my colleagues are older than me--some much older.  I was only 36 when I came to PGUMC.  Hal Brooker came up to me and said, "Now I feel old.  This is the first time my pastor is younger than me."  (I think I'm a year or two younger than Hal.
            At the same time, I don't feel wet behind the ears as a minster.  I’ve been a minister for 17 years.  Many people don't become a pastor until their 50s or 60s so many of my colleagues who are 10, 20, or 30 years older than me are a lot less experienced as a pastor than me.  So I can feel both old and young at the same time as a pastor.  But to my kids, I’m just old!
            At what age do you consider yourself old?  That's a hard question to answer.  Many people’s bodies start to feel the effects of age at 37 or 38.  That was true for me as I started noticing my muscles and joints aching.  AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) grants membership at 50.  Is that old?  One survey showed most people defined old age as 68.  Really?!?!  Another survey defined old as 80 (I bet the people in that survey were probably 70!)  It seems everyone thinks old is what happens to people who are older than them.  No one wants to be old.
            So since it's so hard to define when old age starts, let me give you a few signs of old age:

If you fall asleep watching TV or reading the paper, you might be old.
If you become forgetful, you might be old.
If you groan when getting up from a chair or out of bed, you might be old.
If you say ‘back in my day’, , you might be old.
If you choose clothes for comfort rather than style, you might be old.
If you repeat yourself, you might be old.
If you have no idea what is in the music charts, you might be old.
If you insist ‘things aren’t as they used to be’, you might be old.
If you repeat yourself, you might be old.
If you choose places to eat because they play quiet music, you might be old.
If you have an afternoon nap, you might be old.
If you repeat yourself, you might be old.

            It seems few people want to be considered old.  Sometimes, it's because of vanity.  People are too proud to give up their youthful beauty or strength.  But often people don't want to grow old because it’s painful and limiting and causes health problems and, ultimate, we are afraid of death.
            If God allows us to live long enough, we will all grow old.  And the fact is every day we live, we are growing older.  The Good News is, God can breath life into our bones at any age, and ultimately even in death we find Eternal Life.

 Ezekiel 37:1-14 1 The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. 2 He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. 3 Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
4 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6 I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

7 So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. 8 Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

10 So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ 12 Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’”

Explain the Passage
            The people of God were called Israel.  They were 12 tribed scattered throughout the Holy Land.  They were a united Kingdom under King David and King Solomon.  But then there was a civil war and the nation split into the northern kingdom of Israel (10 tribes) & the southern kingdom of Judah (2 tribes).  The Bible tells us that not a single king who ruled the northern kingdom of Israel was good.  They were all evil.  And God warned Israel for many generations to repent, but they would not.  He even warned that they would be conquered and destroyed if they did not, but they still would not turn back to God.  So finally, the Assyrian army swooped down upon them and destroyed their kingdom.  Their cities, their homes, their temples, everything was destroyed and the people we dragged away in to captivity throughout the Assyrian empire, never to return home again.  The northern kingdom of Israel was completely obliterated, and has not revived again to this day.  The Israel--the Jews--we know of today consist of the 2 remaining tribes of Israel--Judah and Benjamin.  The other tribes of the northern kingdom are know as the 10 lost tribes of Israel because they have gone extinct.
            Ezekiel was a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel during this destruction.  And God showed him this vision of the valley of dry bones during this time as his people were mourning the loss of their national identity and culture.  It was a vision God gave to tell the people that even though they were dying, God would one day bring all 12 tribes back together again.  This is a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled; we are still waiting for it, but God will fulfill it in the Last Days. 

God Asks Ezekiel (and all of us) the Question
            A question like that reveals a lot about your faith.  Do you believe God has the power to turn bones into living people again? Do you believe in God? Do you trust Him?  When everything seems hopeless, do you believe God will come through?  Even as you are growing older and your body and health are failing and there's nothing you can do about it, do you trust God?  Do you trust God even as you face death?
 
God told Ezekiel to preach to the Dry Bones.

            That doesn't make any sense to preach to dead bones.  They can't hear.  They won't do anything you tell them to.  What's the use?  It took a lot of faith and obedience for Ezekile to preach that sermon.  But Ezekiel trusted that God knew what He was doing.  Ezekiel obeyed and we're still talking about it today.
            Sometimes we look at our church or our community, our family, our friends,and we think sharing the gospel with them or inviting them to church is about as hopeless as preaching to valley of dry bones. What’s the use?  We think, "They're not going to listen."  But if God ask you to do it, you do it.
            Ezekiel trusted God. He said, “Lord, I don’t know if these bones can live again or not. Only You know. But if You tell me to preach to them, I’m gonna preach.”  Ezekiel preached and the Lord brought life to the dry bones.
            If God asks you to preach to Dry Bones you better do it, because you just don't know what God wants to do, but God knows. You have to trust Him. If God aske you to invite you neighbor to church, you better do it.  If God encourages you to warn your sister or brother, daughter or son that they're going down the wrong road, you better do it.  God knows what He's asking.  If God ask you to be a preacher, you better do it.  God asked you for a reason--even if you don't know what it is yet.  If God asks you to preach to dry bones, you better do it. 

Sometimes I Feel Like I’m Preaching to a Valley of Dry Bones.
            Sometimes, the church seems to be full of nothing but whining and complaining. “I don’t like the food on Wednesday nights… I wish we sang different music...  Louder... softer.. faster... slower...  No body called me when I missed church…"  Sometimes, the church seems like it's lost its focus. Sometimes people act like the Church of the Living God is hospice care for the dying.  Friends, I believe in hospice care. It’s a God send to people who are dying and I encourage you to use hospice if you or someone you love is dying.  However, the Church of the Living God is not someplace we go to be comforted while we wait to die. It’s a place we go to COME ALIVE! So COME ALIVE!
            And while you're at it, bring all your friends, all your family, everyone you can to come and meet Jesus in His church and COME ALIVE!

Closing
            Oh, how I long to hear the bones rattling and shaking!  Oh, how I long to see dead, lifeless people rising up to new life!  Oh, how I long to see people getting excited about church!  Oh, how I long to see the young, the old, the middle aged, EVERYONE standing together as an army of God--ALL FOCUSED on our MISSION: Making disciples of Jesus Christ!  Oh, how I long to see Pleasant Grove Giving Hope to the Hopeless, Building New Relationships, and Helping Our Community!             Can these Bones Live Again? Oh, Sovereign Lord, only You know the answer to that.  But I know You have the power to do it! 
            “Dry bones!  Oh you dry bones!  You better listen!  You better listen to the Word of the Lord!  This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again!”  You better get up!  You better get up and get busy serving the Lord! 

Amen?  Amen!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I Have a NEW Mind!

Copyright April 28, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Romans 12:1-3

Introduction 
           I was in the choir room with the choir warming up for our anthem just a few minutes ago.  Sarah asked if anyone had accidentally picked up her reading glasses from the piano.  Kathy, who'd just been sitting at the piano and was holding a pair of reading glasses in her hand said, "No.  I promise. these are my reading glasses."  Kathy's sister, Sally, said, "Uh, Kathy.  You have a pair of reading glasses on your head!"  Sure enough, she did!  And they were the exact same style as Sarah's!  Kathy Said, "I'm losing my mind!"  We all had a good laugh.
            We use that expression, "I'm losing my mind," as a bad thing.  But the truth is, if we follow Christ, we are losing our old mind and Christ is giving us a NEW mind.  And that's what I want to talk about today. 

Romans 12:1-3
1And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

Explain the Passage
          The Apostle Paul gives us the image of a sacrifice placed on an altar.  At the time Paul wrote, animal sacrifice was a common religious practice—for both Jews and Gentiles.  A living animal was usually placed on an altar, its throat cut so the blood would drain out along with the animal’s life.  Then the animal would be butchered, cooked over fire, and eaten, or completely incinerated with fire.  As you can imagine, it was a startling thing to behold—something that left a lasting impression.  The point is a sacrifice was complete and irrevocable.  Right?  You can’t make half a sacrifice.  You can’t make a sacrifice and then take it back.  It’s an all or nothing proposal.  (At least for the animal!)
            But Paul turns the tables on us.  He invites us to leave the animals alone.  Instead, he urges us to put our life on the altar.  Give your own body—all that you are—as a living sacrifice.  It’s not human sacrifice he is asking; it’s self-sacrifice.  It’s surrendering all that you have and all that you are to the will of God.  It’s an “all-in” whole-hearted proposition that is true worship—truly pleasing to God—and it changes everything.
            It’s what Jesus did for us, you see.  Christ gave himself completely for us on the cross.  He didn’t just do some good things.  He didn’t just preach some great sermons.  Jesus gave everything.  He was whole-heartedly committed to God’s plan of salvation for you.  He willingly sacrificed his entire life for you—even when it meant dying on a cross.
            And Christ’s sacrifice makes it is possible for us to be made NEW!  We can have NEW desires, a NEW way of thinking, a NEW purpose in life, NEW peace and joy and confidence, and ultimately the promise of eternal life with a NEW heaven and a NEW earth.  But in order for the NEW to come, we have to let the old die.  In fact, we have to trust Jesus enough to place our old self—our old ways of thinking and living—on the altar as a sacrifice.  For when you sacrifice our old life, Jesus will make you NEW!

Thought Transformation
The key verse for us today is verse 2a – Don’t copy the behavior and customs of the world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Most of us grow up copying the behavior and customs of the world.  We do the things people around us do because we think the way they do.  In fact, if we ever see someone who acts or thinks in a way that in noticeably different, we might even call them weird.  I know when I was in high school, I had a few friends who lived out their Christian beliefs very faithfully.  At the time, I thought they were very weird because they didn’t act and talk and think the way most high school students did.  They stood out.  They were “weird.”  At the time, I thought they should just “copy the behavior and customs” of everyone else.  Now I see they were the minority that was really doing what God wanted.  Now I wish I had been part of that minority when I was in high school.  Now, I am—or at least I am striving to be—because I am striving to let God transform me into a NEW person.  So what if it makes me different.  So what if it makes me weird.  If it makes me more like Christ, great!
We all need to let God transform the way we think.  Romans 12:3 says, Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”  So let’s apply this wisdom and think clearly and honestly about ourselves.
First of all, you are not the center of the world.  Regardless of what the unbelieving world insinuates, the world doesn’t revolve around you.  You are not entitled to “Have it your way.”  Your own personal happiness is not the chief goal in life.  In fact, if you faithfully follow Christ and live for God the way He intended for you, you will definitely need to give up some things you want.  It is a sacrifice.  (Remember how our scripture said to sacrifice yourself to God?)  Following Christ means letting go of our selfish desires, our self-centered motives, and serving others instead of ourselves.  This is tough for many people, but we need to let God transform our way of thinking.
Some people think too highly of themselves.  Others struggle with thoughts that they are not important or that they are not good enough.  That’s why I like Romans 12:3 so much.  It addresses both misunderstandings.  It says, “Be honest in you evaluation of yourself.”  And the Truth is, (though you are not the center of the world) you are very important to God.  God deeply loves you.  He has been working out your salvation since the beginning of time.  He cared enough to send Christ to die for you.  God wants you to be part of His mission to save the world.  That’s pretty impressive.  You must be important!  So if you struggle with low self-esteem, let God transform the way you think.  You are precious to Him.
Do you struggle with shame or guilty?  God has promised He will forgive you if you ask.  No matter what you’ve done—how big or how small—God will forgive you.  1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Shame and guilt can cripple us.  It makes us hesitant in our relationship with God and others.  Shame and guilt are constant burdens that weigh us down and slow us down in our spiritual life.  They sap the joy God wants us to have.  They can make life weary and full of worry.  So if you struggle with shame or guilt, let God transform the way you think.  The truth is, forgiveness is available through faith in Christ.  And if you believe, God does not think about your sins anymore.  They have been washed away.  God says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”  If you asked God to forgive you, He has.  Now it’s time for you to let go of your thoughts of shame and guilt.  Let God transform the way you think.
Some of you may struggle with doubt.  The unbelieving world says this world is all there is.  Since science cannot verify the existence of an afterlife, they reject the idea as a fantasy.  Since they cannot see God, they reason He is just a myth.  But faith helps us see that there is more to life than just what you can see and hear and taste and touch.  Faith helps us to know that Truth is more than just facts and figures.  Faith helps us to see there is always hope even when all seems to be lost.  Faith helps us to know that the future is ultimately in God’s hands and so, there is nothing to fear.  Faith helps us to hear God’s still small voice leading us down the right path.  Faith helps us to feel God’s presence when we need assurance that everything is going to be alright.  Even if we lose this life, God has another waiting for us in Eternity.  And all the wrongs of this world will ultimately be made right one day.  It’s OK to have questions.  It’s OK to have doubts.  Sometimes they lead us to deeper understanding and faith.  But if your doubts control you or keep you frozen with fear, maybe it’s time to let God transform the way you think.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  Take hold of the power, love, and self-discipline God wants you to have.  Let Him transform the way you think. 

Conclusion
            As I close, I join with the Apostle Paul and plead with you, give your bodies to God as a holy and living sacrifice.  Don’t hold anything back.  Surrender yourself completely to the Lord and He will transform your mind.