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

Monday, April 18, 2022

Beautiful Scars - Easter Sunday

Introduction
For Easter, Our choir shared a beautiful Easter Cantata (which you can watch here).  They used music and narration to share the story of Jesus' resurrection so beautifully.  Now I want to share one ramification of that resurrection.  But first, let me read Paul’s words about the resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:19-26
19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.

24 After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Incredible Hope
Christians have incredible hope.  We believe our hope transcends what happens in this life.  The fact is, some of the problems in this life aren’t going to be put right in this life.  There is no greater example of this that what happened to Jesus.

Here was an absolutely innocent man–the very best kind of man who ever lived–who was humble and yet full of incredible power to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and open the ears of the deaf.  Jesus only ever loved and helped people, yet he was arrested on trumped up charges and tortured and executed–the greatest injustice ever wrought on earth.

If that was the end of the story, then it would be the most tragic story ever told.

It wasn’t the end of the story.  Easter is a Sunday that is traditionally the most well attended day of church the whole year, because we celebrate Christ’ resurrection. 
And resurrection means death is not the end.

This life–with all its troubles, many of which are never resolved in this life–is not the end of the story.  Christians believe that what is not resolved in this life, God will make it right in Eternity.

First Fruit
The Bible calls Jesus the “first fruit” of a great harvest.  What this means is His resurrection is the example of what will happen to all His followers.

Many people--including me--started gardening during the pandemic.  Perhaps this is because the pandemic began near the beginning of spring and we couldn't go anywhere or do anything except go outside.  Plus, there were concerns about food shortages.  So we took to our gardens.  And this is the time of year you plant things like tomatoes.  There's nothing like a homegrown tomato.

So you plant a tomato after Easter, after the danger of frost has past.  Then you car for the plant for several months, dreaming of those fresh tomatoes.  And then it happens. you get that first tomato.  It starts out green, and slowly ripens.  So you pick it and take it inside.  It looks great, but how will it taste.  You slice it and taste it.  And you are so pleased when it is delicious!  But the greatest things is knowing that tomato won't be the only one.  It is an example of how all the other tomatoes will taste.  If you've been successful, you will have many more tomatoes just like the first one.

Jesus is the first fruit.  Just like Christ died, we will all die.  But hang on.  It also means that just as He rose to new and eternal life, so will we (if we truly follow Him). So if we want to know what’s in store for us after this life, we just have to look at Jesus.  He shows us what it will be like.

Living with the Scars
One of the unexpected things that strikes me about the resurrected Jesus is this:  He had scars.

One of the ways the early disciples knew they were actually talking to the resurrected Jesus and not some one else pretending to be Jesus, was Jesus’ scars.  Remember, he was nailed to a cross until He died, and a soldier pierced His side with a spear to make sure He was in fact dead.  So one of the ways Jesus authenticated His identity after the resurrection was to point out His scars.  He said, “Look at my hands and feet.  Look at my side.” 

And I want to point out that these scars were not gross or festering wounds.  These scars were fully healed, but they were not erased  And they were also somehow beautiful.  These scars were a badge of honor.

Do any of you have physical scars that you received earlier in your life? Maybe you have a great story that goes along with your scar.  I got a scar once doing something really stupid.  (My friends told, "Don't tell people you got that scar doing that.  Tell them you got it fighting a bear or something.")

I have a friend who likes to tell people he doesn’t have a belly button.  It's true.  Apparently, he had a surgery when he was very young and it somehow erased his belly button.  So he likes to introduce himself saying, "Hi, I'm Dave and I don't have a belly button"  It's quite memoriable! 

Jesus’ scars tell the story of a man who was the absolutely perfect Son of God, worthy of all glory and honor and praise.  And yet, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippian 2:6-8) 

“He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) 

“He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” (Romans 4:25) 

So, when Christ shows His scars, they are the highest badge of honor that can ever be traced upon human skin. 

And that got me thinking about what scars we have now–scars that we’ve received from our own personal tragedies–whether physical or emotional.  And perhaps they won’t be completely gone when we enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Maybe they will be like Jesus’ scars.  They will be there to remind us–and remind others–who we are and what we’ve been through.  But they will also not be horrific reminders.  They will be like Jesus’ scars–beautiful badges of honor that God has miraculously transformed so that we will gladly show them to people and say, “Look at my scars!  Touch them.  It’s really me!  But Praise be to God!  My wounds have been healed by the blood of the Lamb!” 

What would that mean for you?  What wounds have you received?  What scars do you bear now?

The Apostle Paul who wrote so brilliantly about the Good News of Christ, shared his own struggles.  In 2 Corinthians 12:7, he said, “...to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.” 

People have speculated as to what was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, but we don’t know for sure what it is.  There’s no record left as to specifically identify the "thorn in his flesh ".  Some have said it was a temptation he struggled with throughout his life.  Others have said it was a speech impediment, which for a man whose passion was to preach the Gospel would have been awful (because no matter how brilliant this arguments, there would always be some people who paid more attention to his impediment than the force of his arguments).   Others have said Paul had a crippling ailment like arthritis, a chronic eye problem, malaria, migraines, or epilepsy.  It could also have been a wound that wouldn’t heal, perhaps something he sustained in one of his meaning beatings, imprisonments, or the time he was nearly stoned to death.  Those tribulations had to leave their marks. 

And Paul was just like us when we have a painful and nagging problem.  He wanted to be free of it.  He wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 - “8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

Sometimes God brings healing from our physical, spiritual, and emotional wounds in this lifetime.  When He does, it brings glory to His name.

Sometimes, we must bear up under our wounds–with God’s help–until God heals us in eternity.  

When we endure our hardships, it brings Him even more glory.  But I believe there will be a great reward in this too.  For the wounds and scars we’ve carried throughout this life will not be anything for which we will be ashamed in eternity.  Perhaps, they will be like Jesus' scars that He gladly shows.  Perhaps they will be our beautiful badges of honor in the next life.  We will be able to show them to the people we love and say, "Look at my scars!  It really is me!  Remember how I carried that burden all through my life?  But I made it!  I thought I was carrying it alone, but I wasn't.  Christ was there carrying it with me!  Remember when my loved one died and it nearly killed me too?  I didn't know how I could get out of bed and keep going.  But Jesus brought me through!  Remember how I survived that divorce (or devastation, or tragedy, or trauma, etc.)?  Jesus brought me through it and here I am and all my former hurts and wounds and scars are now fully redeemed!  Look at the scars that tell my story and the story of how Jesus set me free!" 

That’s what the power of Christ’s resurrection does.  It has the power to transform death into life.  Look at the cross.  It started out as a symbol of the cruelest, most shameful form of execution known to man.  Easter transformed the cross into the greatest symbol of hope and love we have.

Christ resurrection changed the most evil act humanity could do–murdering the Son of God–into the greatest act of grace and salvation God could offer.

Jesus was the first fruit.  He is the example of what we will experience if we follow him.

We can’t imagine how our resurrection to eternal life will completely transform us–even transforming our scars.  So as you go through this life and face whatever trials and sorrows and burdens you must bear, find hope in the Resurrection.  The Resurrection changes everything! 

And the Resurrection can change you–both now and for eternity.  I pray God will open your eyes today to see things as Jesus sees them.  See your wounds as future glory of God’s triumphant grace.

Invitation
So now, I invite you to repent of your sins, turn to God through Jesus, and follow Him so you can experience the Ressurection to eternal life.  Won't you?

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!