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

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.

Monday, April 27, 2015

I Have a NEW Heart!

Copyright April 21, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Ezekiel 36:25-27

Introduction
            I love springtime!  It is my favorite time of year.  I love the weather.  I love the longer days.  But most of all, I love seeing earth spring forth into NEW life.  Trees are budding.  Flowers are blooming.  It is a glorious thing to behold. 
With spring, come caterpillars feeding to prepare themselves to transform into butterflies.  Abigail has a “pet” caterpillar in a jar.  She named him Larry.  Larry has already built a cocoon. Soon Larry will transform into a butterfly (or more likely a moth).  It’s such a pleasure to behold the excitement of a child studying this process—to see it through their eyes.  Abigail also has a “pet” worm, but it won’t build a cocoon. I was joking with Abigail and asked if her worm was going to turn into a butterfly too.

“No!  Worms don’t turn into butterflies!”  She said, “That’s the difference between worms and caterpillars!”
Wisdom from the mouth of an 8-year-old.  The difference between worms and caterpillars: God doesn’t turn worms into butterflies.  Do you have the faith to let God transform you into something NEW?  Are you a worm or a caterpillar?
            If you have faith in Jesus Christ—if you trust him with life and your eternity—God will transform you into a NEW creation.  He will give you NEW desires, a NEW way of thinking, and a NEW purpose in life.  Today I want to talk about God’s promise to give us a NEW heart.  Let’s look back into the Old Testament at the words of the prophet Ezekiel written over 500 years before Christ was born. 

Ezekiel 36:25-27
25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”

Explain the Passage
            Ezekiel lived during the Old Testament period of our faith.  We usually forget what a blessing it is to live in our time as opposed to Ezekiel’s time.  You see the whole character of life transformed when Jesus rose from the grave.  He ushered in a NEW Covenant between God and humanity. 
            In the Old Covenant, people were given rules (Laws) to help them avoid God’s judgment.  God said: If you obey my laws, I will be bless you.  If you disobey my laws, I will punish you. (summary of Deuteronomy 26:1-46)  That was the agreement.  The problem was most people only followed the rules to avoid punishment and receive a blessing.  There was very little sense of actual right and wrong—it was mostly about reward and punishment.  People didn’t necessarily want to do the right thing.  They just wanted to be blessed and avoid the God’s wrath.  Following the law was just a mechanical thing people did.  It was not motivated by love.
            Prophets used to lament this lack of love in people.  Perhaps the prophet Isaiah said it best in Isaiah 29:13, “And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.”

            When Jesus rose from the grave, He ushered in a NEW agreement (a NEW Covenant).  In the New Covenant, love is the only rule.  St. Augustine described Christianity this way.  He said, “Love God and do whatever you want.”  You see if you love God, you can do whatever you want because you will only want to do the right things if you truly love God.  In the NEW Covenant, Jesus offers us a NEW heart that loves God and sincerely desires to do good and not evil.
And all this is what Ezekiel predicted.  Five hundred years before Christ came, Ezekiel prophesied:
·      Vs 25a – “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean.  Your filth will be washed away…”  Since Jesus paid the price for our sins when he died on the cross, we who trust in Christ have been cleansed.  Our sins are washed away!  And how is it that we commemorate this cleansing by Jesus when a person decides to become a Christian?  We sprinkle people with water when we baptize them.
·      Vs 25b "…and you will no longer worship idols.”  An idol is not necessarily a statue.  An idol is anything that takes the place of God in our heart.  Money can be an idol.  Power can be an idol.  Sex or your job or your family can become idols in your heart.  In the story of creation found in Genesis, the forbidden fruit was an idol for Adam and Eve because they desired it more than they wanted to obey God.  You see, there has always been this crazy tendency within the human heart to replace God with something else.  It is the primal sin.  And God promised through Ezekiel, that one day we would stop doing this.  And here’s how God accomplishes this in us.
·       Vs 26 – “I will give you a new heart… a tender, responsive heart.”  Ezekiel dreamed of the days we live in right now!  We live under the NEW Covenant—when we can receive a NEW heart from God—one that wants to do the right thing and no longer wants to do evil!  Because Jesus died and rose from the grave, you can have a NEW heart! 

A NEW Heart
            Christ gives us an amazing opportunity!  We can have a NEW heart!  And here’s what it looks like: 
·       Vs. 26 – “…I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”  [Some of you may have been hurt, betrayed, or disappointed so that your hearts have grown cold.  You can’t trust anymore.  You’re afraid to feel.  It’s like your heart has become cold and stony.  Your cold, stony heart isolates you from further pain and disappointment, but it also keeps you from experiencing life, love, and relationships in their fullness as God intended.  Ultimately, your cold, stony heart separate you from God—the source of life.  If you go on living with your cold, stony heart, you’re going to die spiritually.  But you don’t have to.  If you trust Jesus, he will give you a NEW heart that is tender and responsive.
·       Some of you have dirty, filthy hearts.  Even though you look nice on the outside, on the inside you harbor evil thoughts, selfish desires, and unkind attitudes.  You know this is not the way you should be, but you don’t know how to change.  Jesus can wash away your filthy heart and give you a NEW, clean heart.
·       Some of you are not so bad.  If fact, you’ve spent most of your life trying really hard to follow all the rules.  Your parents taught you right from wrong and you’ve tried to lived up to everyone’s expectations.  Sure you’ve made mistakes along the way (who hasn’t?), but overall you’d say you’re a pretty good person.  But I’ve got news for you:  More than anyone else, Jesus wants to give you a NEW heart.  You see, no matter how “good” you are, you can never be good enough.  If you’ve been trying to get along in life by simply following the rules, you have misunderstood God’s intention for you entirely.  God doesn’t want you to follow the rules.  God want you to do what’s right.  (And following the rules and doing what’s right are not necessarily always the same thing.)  You see, you (just like everybody else) need a NEW heart—one that is guided by God’s Holy Spirit, one that has His laws written upon it, one that always knows intuitively how to do the right thing at the right in the right way.  You need a NEW heart. 

Invitation
            Do you trust Jesus to give you a NEW heart?  You see, faith is the key that unlocks the power of Christ to transform you.  That’s the difference between a caterpillar and a worm.  A caterpillar and a worm both crawl around on the ground.  But only the caterpillar builds its own tomb, seals it, and waits to see what God will do.  And what looks like the end for the caterpillar, God’s sees as a butterfly. 
            Are you a worm or a caterpillar?  Do you trust God enough to let your old heart die so Jesus can give you a NEW heart?  Would you like to go on living with your old heart (which is not really living at all, just existing), or would you rather trust Jesus to give you a NEW heart and a NEW life—true life?
            God invites us all to trust in Jesus and receive a NEW heart.  That is your choice today.  How will you choose?  Are you a worm or a caterpillar?