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Showing posts with label Pleasant Grove UMC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pleasant Grove UMC. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ask Pastor Chris 3 - Questions About Judging

Introduction
            Ask Pastor Chris has been a fun and interesting message series fro me to preach. I have enjoyed receiving questions and talking with people about them over the last month. You can find some of the answers on my blog—PastorChrisMullis.com. Today I will address a few questions dealing with accountability, discernment, and being judgmental. This will be my last official message in this series, but you can always ask questions. I like to know your questions as it helps me know what to preach and teach about. Plus, I may write about some of the other questions on my blog, in our church newsletter, or in the bulletin. 

Matthew 7:1-61 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

“Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.

Understanding the Texts
            Boy, that Jesus has a way with words! Doesn’t he? “Why worry about the speck of dust in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own eye?”  Jesus warns us not to judge others. Or does he?  He does say you will be judged by the same measure you judge others. Which seems to mean, “Don’t judge, at all.” However, that also means you can judge, just that God will judge you by the same standard.  Jesus also says you can help your friend remove the spec his eye, but only after you remove the log from your own. So there is still the possibility of dealing with your friend’s problem.
            Jesus also goes on to say don’t waste what is holy on unholy people.  Jesus says “Don’t throw your pearls to pigs.” Well how do you know they are pigs unless you judge them to be pigs? Isn’t that judging?  I think about his advice whenever I am faced with a drunk person who wants me to give them advice or who wants to discuss deep topics like religion or philosophy.  Have you ever tried to give advice to a drunk person?  It's pointless.  Even if you can get them to understand, they'll likely to forget what you said once they sober up!   

Judging Believers vs. Judging Non-believers
            The Apostle Paul had something interesting to say to the Corinthian church about judging people. Listen to what he said in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 – “12 It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. 13 God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.”
            Are Christians supposed to have a double standard? Well, actually, yes!  Christians should hold each other to higher standards than people who do not believe in Christ. The problem within the church often is we expect non-Christians to live up to Christian standards. So we like to complain about the moral depravity of the people around us who don’t live the way Jesus says we should. Well, if they don’t believe in Jesus, why should we expect them to live the way Jesus teaches?
            Paul says we should focus on holding believers accountable and leave the judgment of unbelievers to God.  Christians need to hold one another accountable. It is a basic need of spiritual growth. A Christian friend recently asked me to hold him accountable for his foul language. He is a Christian and also a leader who people look up to. Yet, he has always struggled with using vulgar language. He recognized this and decided to make a change. He also recognized change would come easier if he had a Christian brother holding him accountable. He asked me and I have and he is getting better.
            Who is holding you accountable? Do you have a Christian brother or sister that needs you to hold them accountable?

Judgment vs. Being Judmental
           We need to recognize there is a big difference between what Jesus said about exercising judgment and being judgmental. People today love to quote Jesus and say, “Judge not, lest ye be judged!” Usually, they says this when they or someone they care about is feeling judged or self-conscious. A lady once came to my churches seeking money early in my ministry.  We were a small church and had no funds to help pay her $500 rent as she requested.  I told her this and started to explain how the Salvation Army in town could help her, but I didn't get the chance.  She stormed out of my office yelling "Well, the Bible says judge not lest ye be judged."  I was certainly not judging her; I was trying to help her.  Unfortunately, she was too self-conscious of her situation or had been rejected too many times and angry and stormed out misjudging my intentions.
            Jesus never meant we aren’t supposed to have good judgment. Quite the contrary, he taught we should be careful to judge people correctly—especially in a world full of liars, hypocrites, deceivers, and false teachers. In Matthew 7:15-17, Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.” Jesus taught how to make good judgments about people.  And he said this in the same passage where he warned us to be careful about judging people.  So we need discernment. Don’t let people guilt you into abandoning good judgment by their misguided admonition: “Judge not, lest ye be judged!”  
            Jesus warned us not to be judgmental. Having a judgmental attitude is different from exercising good judgment. Being judgmental is “having or displaying an excessively critical point of view.” It is the self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude we sometimes have when we think we are better than someone else.  It can be as unintentional as judging a book by a cover. A friend of mine related how he sometimes wrongly pre-judged his soldiers when he was an infantry officer in the Vietnam War. He said, “The most unassuming guys turned out to be the best warriors, the most determined fighters and did their work without complaining.”
            You may not be a soldier, but you might misjudge your employees or co-workers or potential friends based on your preconceived notions. You might miss out on a very good relationship because you “judged a book by its cover” without really finding out who a person is.
            Another type of judging is when we think we are better than someone else. In a sick way, it makes you feel better about yourself when look down on someone else. However, you are only lying to yourself when you do this. The fact is, you are not better than anyone else. Thinking you are is unhealthy, mean, and simply evil. Furthermore, it is ludicrous. It is like pointing at someone derisively because they have a hole in their pants while you are walking around naked! This kind of judgmentalism blinds us to our own faults, while tearing down other people that God deeply loves and wants us to love.
            There is another kind of judgmentalism that is so ridiculous and yet so prevalent we almost all
do it. I call it “National Enquirer Judgmentalism.” Here, we are judge people we’ve probably never even met and know nothing about.  It is the politician or celebrity we gossip and speculate about. I’m not talking about trying to make an educated decision about who to vote for. I’m talking about the way we “entertain” ourselves with so-called “news” speculating about the politics, motives, and lifestyles of famous people.  We even make judgments about the character of more ordinary people who make the news. A police officer in Missouri allegedly shoots an unarmed black man and suddenly everyone has an opinion. You don’t know the officer or the black man or the community or anything at all about the situation (except what the “news” is telling you) and suddenly you are an expert with an opinion. Or maybe a woman allegedly poisons her husband in California and suddenly it’s a national gossip story and everyone’s talking about if she did it and why.  What business do we have passing judgment on these things?  Does it make any real difference to our lives here in Dalton, GA?  Is it up to us to make a judgment? Don’t we have enough to worry about already?  Perhaps we would all be better off not to stand in judgment of people we’ve never met, about things that don’t concern us, in places we’ve never been.

How Do We Stop Being Judgmental?
            Here now, Jesus’ warning judging starts to make sense: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” But how do you stop being judgmental? Here are four tips that can help you stop judging others.
            First be aware you have a problem.  Here are some clues you might be judgmental:
  • Do you put most people you meet in some category? (Young, old, religious, heathen, rough, liberal, conservative, etc.)  Labeling people is a good indication you have a judgmental attitude.
  • Do you make judgments about people based on their appearance?  ("That guys got a lot of tattoos; he must be a rough character."  "She's too quiet.  She must be shy or stuck up."  "He's dressed up in a nice suit.  He must be rich."  "She's too fat.  She must be lazy.")  It's not a good idea to judge people on their appearance before you have a chance to get to know them.  And it's an indication you are being judgmental.
  • Do you gossip about others?  Judgmental people often derive pleasure from gossiping about others.
  • Do you form opinions based on what others say about someone?  This is another way we are judgmental.
  • Do you have contempt for people who disagree with you?  This is something we struggle with greatly in our divisive world.  "Those liberals/conservatives/republicans/democrats are idiots!"  If this is you, you are being judgmental.
  • Do you have a negative or distrustful outlook of people in general?  This is a common characteristic of judgmental people.
            Second, love yourself and don’t compare yourself to others. One of the biggest causes of being judgmental is our need to feel good about ourselves.  We put other people down--either to others or in our own mind--and it makes us feel superior.  This isn't much different from what a kindergarten bully does on the playground when they beat up or belittle a weaker person in order to make themselves feel better.  We don't need to compare ourselves to anyone else.  We are not better than anyone else, but no one else is better than us either.  We are all unique, special, people with great value and each of us is loved by God.  Find your worth in God's love and don't seek to bolster yourself by judging others.
            Third, try to understand and empathize.  Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It's so much easier to judge people who are “not like us.” That’s why it’s easier to gossip about and judge celebrities, politicians, and athletes. We don’t see them as regular people like us. However, when we see someone as our brother or sister, we get less pleasure from putting them down. Try to understand people and feel what they feel and you will be less likely to judge them unnecessarily.
            Fourth, stop gossiping.  Gossip is a way we derive pleasure from our judgmentalism.  Don't indulge in the pleasure reward and you will have less reason to judge people.  It just wont be as fun.

Conclusion
            We all have our struggles.  Maybe some of you struggle with being judgmental.  Ask God to help you get rid of your judgmental attitude.  Recognize you have a problem.   Love yourself and stop comparing yourself to others.  Ask God to help you empathize more and judge less.  And stop gossiping.
            Perhaps you need someone to hold you accountable.  Tell someone you trust you are trying to be less judgmental and ask them to pray for you, encourage you, and hold you accountable (just like my friend asked me to hold him accountable for his language).
            Maybe as you're reading this, you realize you need to use better judgment.  God gave you a brain and intuition.  He wants you to use it.  Pray for discernment.  Get advice from trusted people.  And make a proper judgment about someone or some situation in your life.  Seek to make better judgments about your family, your job, or an important decision you need to make.  Don’t be afraid.  Ask God to help you and He will be your guide.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Genesis, Part 3 - Joseph

Introduction
            Last week we talked about Father Abraham.  Abraham had Isaac, Isaac had Jacob, Jacob had twelve sons—including his favorite Joseph. All these men are known as the Patriarchs, because they are the fathers of our faith.  One thing Genesis shows us is how God’s plans play out over many generations. Genesis tells the fascinating stories of individuals, but the grand story sweeps through the generations right down to us today.
            God said in Isaiah 55:9 – “For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”  Our thinking is so small, but God has a grand plan. You are part of it, but never forget you are not the whole of it.  Perhaps the Patriarchs could imagine how their lives might affect their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren; but Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could not even begin to imagine that 4,000 years later, you and I would be sitting in a sanctuary—with central heat and air conditioning, electric chandeliers, and visual illustrations of their story on our televisions.
            You are part of God’s story—your life, your family, your struggles, and your hopes and dreams. But always remember, your story has more significance than just what you can see and imagine. It will reverberate through the generations to come, possibly for thousands of years. You can only see a small part of what God is doing—and that only if you are very perceptive. So, you must trust God with it all—especially that part you cannot see or understand.
            Today we will pick up the story of Jacob’s son Joseph. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son.  He was born into a dysfunctional family.  His father had two wives, concubines, and twelve sons.  If that were not already a recipe for disaster, add to it Jacob's favoritism for one wives over the others and on son over the others.  Furthermore, Joseph was a punk little daddy's boy who, in arrogance, liked to taunt his brothers with his status as the "golden boy."
             Joseph had a big-headed dream.  In the dream (which he promptly told his family with selfish-pride), he said, “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me.”  The sun and moon represented Joseph’s father and mother; the 11 stars his 11 brothers.  Even Joseph’s father was offended by Joseph’s arrogance in telling the dream.  "Will even your mother and I bow down before you?"  When I was a kid, my mom used to refer to this episode any time I got to conceded or sassy.  She would say, "So, you think the sun moon and stars bow down to you."
            Joseph dream came from God and would eventually come true, but in his youthful arrogance, Joseph didn’t realize the trials that would lead up to the fulfillment of that dream. He would endure decades of hardship and humiliation before anyone would bow down before him. Joseph would need to learn humility, leadership, integrity, and endure the cost of remaining true to God before he was ready to be used as God’s instrument for God’s glory, not his own.
            One day, Joseph's brothers saw him coming and the seized him, beat him, and threw him in a pit.  Rather than kill him, they decided to sell him into slavery and lie to his father and say a wild beast killed him.  So, Joseph was taken to Egypt where he became a slave in Potiphar's house.  But God was with Joseph and he prospered in Potiphar's house so that Potiphar put him in charge of everything.  But Potiphar's wife often sexually harassed Joseph.  And when he wouldn't play along, she accused him of trying to rape her--even though he was completely innocent.  Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison so he became even lower than a slave.  Yet God was still with Joseph.
            All together, Joseph spent 22 years as a slave or in prison in Egypt before one day Pharaoh had a troubling dream than no one could interpret.  Word came to Joseph about the dream and he was able to interpret the dream for Pharaoh, saying Egypt would experience 7 years of bounty followed by 7 years of famine.  This pleased Pharaoh to the point he made Joseph his second in command and put him in charge of the famine relief efforts.  They stored away surplus food  during the 7 good years and lived off the stores during the 7 years of famine.  Additionally, they were able to sell food to some of the peoples and tribes surrounding Egypt.
            The famine even drove Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to buy food and his dream was finally fulfilled.  Joseph’s brothers bowed low before him, though they don’t recognize him.  Joseph finally reveals his identity in Genesis chapter 45. 

Slides - Genesis 45:3-8
“I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers. “Is my father still alive?” But his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them. “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt.But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.

It was God
            Joseph says something incredible to his brothers. He declares them innocent saying, “Don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here, not you!” (45:5, 8)  Consider the faith it takes to make such a statement.  Such faith sees that God is in charge of everything.  This great faith believes that God can even take the evil plots of other people and turning them into good.  Furthermore, it is a great faith that recognizes God has the right to subject us to suffering for the sake of His plans.
           You are His creation. He has all rights to you. Why do we ever think God must always treat us well?  You are an instrument in His mighty hand. Your purpose is to serve Him. Why should the God of the universe need to justify Himself to you if He chooses to use you as the hammer that pounds in a nail to His master plan?  Or suppose He decided you should be the nail that is hammered?  How can you rightfully object?
            Consider Jesus. Jesus was nailed to a cross and died a cruel, agonizing, and humiliating death for the salvation of the world.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed—“Father, if there is any other way to accomplish Your plan, please remove this cup of suffering from me. But not my will but Yours be done.”  Ultimately, Jesus was willing to die, because he trusted God and knew his crucifixion would wash the sins of the world clean forever and and reconcile us to God. 
            Jesus is the only one who didn't deserve to be crucified, yet he was willing for the sake of our salvation.  We do not deserve good, but we usually get it anyway.  Why should we complain if we receive trouble instead of a life of ease?
            In faith, Joseph saw God made a way to preserve his whole family. Furthermore, all of Egypt was spared from the ravages of the famine.  And how many lives of people from neighboring tribes were spared?  Were all these lives--and ultimately God's plan which came through Jacob's decedents--worth the suffering Joseph endured?  You decide.  But also consider how sending Joseph to Egypt as a slave refined his character and ultimately save Jacob and his 12 sons and all their wives and children and servants and livestock.

Do You Have Faith in God?
            Do you have the faith to trust God to accomplish His master plan for you—even if it is hard?  Do you trust God to use suffering to humble you and refine your character?  Joseph was a good boy with great potential. But he was also full of pride and arrogance. He could also be cruel—flaunting his status as “the favorite” in his brothers’ faces on purpose even though he must have known they were already wounded by their father's favoritism.  So God used those 22 years of slavery and prison in Egypt to humble and refine Joseph’s character.  Does your suffering make you bitter and resentful or does your faith enable you to see God is making you a better person?
            Do you have the faith to forgive those who have wronged you?  Do you trust God enough to relinquish your claim to vengeance?  Do you trust God to punish those who have done wrong (even to you or the people you love) according to His great wisdom and mercy? Do you trust Him to be fair—to forgive those who need mercy and to punish those who need justice? (Isn’t it ironic that we want mercy for ourselves, but punishment for others?)
            Do you have the faith to reconcile with those whom you have forgiven?  Forgiveness is one thing. It is wiping away the debt someone owes you.  Reconciliation is another thing. It is rebuilding a new relationship with someone after the debt is forgiven.  Joseph did more than forgive his brothers. He reconciled with them. He loved them again—caring for them, protecting them.  Jesus does more than just forgive us. He reconciles with us. Rev. 3:20—“ “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”  Do you have the faith to reconcile with those who have hurt you?  (Not everyone can be reconciled; and some it may not even be possible or healthy to reconcile with.  But if it is, are you willing?)

Conclusion
            I suppose not many of us think we would do such a despicable thing as sell our brother or sister into slavery.  (Although there might be some…)  But listen to the Word of God in Psalm 14:2-3 – “The Lord looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God.  But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt.  No one does good, not a single one!”
            Brothers and sisters, we have all sinned.  We have all turned our backs on our brother Jesus.  We have all betrayed him, by what we have done or left undone.  Sometimes, by our very attitudes, we have nailed him to the cross.  We crucify him whenever we prefer the comforts of this world over the calling of God.  We crucify him whenever we are ashamed of what someone might think of us if they find out we are one of those “church people.”  We crucify him whenever we give in to the temptations of the flesh—whether it is sexual sin, or gossip, or cheating, or lying, or eating too much, or indulging our ego.  In those occasions and more, we are little better than Joseph’s brothers (according to God’s holy standards).  So do not think yourself innocent or better than any other sinner in this world.
            There may be a few here who feel as though they have done worse.  Perhaps you feel about as low and vulnerable as Joseph’s brothers as they bowed before him.  Perhaps you feel as though God is standing over you poised to execute His terrible judgment at any moment.
            That is why the message of Christ is called the Good News. It is Good News to everyone who realizes their sin and repents because God does not give us what we deserve.  Instead of punishment, He gives us pardon.  Instead of banishment, He gives us a new relationship.  Instead of death, He gives us eternal life.  Instead of sorrow, He gives us joy.  And in faith, even the suffering we face is a blessing because we know God is working out His master plan for us and for the whole world.
            So I woul like to invite you to listen to God and respond to Him.  Perhaps you can respond by trusting God through Jesus Christ instead of depending so much on yourself, others, or the things of this world.  Perhaps you can respond by forgiving someone or forgiving yourself.  Or maybe, God is calling you to reconcile with someone.  Whoever has ears to hear, listen to the Word of the Lord.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Follow the Star, Part 4

Introduction
The Baby Jesus was born day some 2,000 years ago.  And ever since, we have been preparing for his return.  He shall come again--for he said he would.  In the meantime, we must to prepare for him, just as we prepared for Christmas.
Mary and Joseph prepared for him.  For an angel from God spoke to them both separately telling them about the coming child, who was to be the Messiah.  Sometimes God speaks directly (in a vision or a dream)--if we we are sensitive enough to hear.  Do you walk humbly and obediently with God every day, like Mary and Joseph, so your ears are tuned in to hear and obey God’s voice when he speaks?  Do you know Him so you will know when He speaks?
The Wisemen also received a sign, but it was more subtle.  They saw star in eastern sky.  There are millions of stars in the sky.  Why did this one start get there attention?  Sure, it was brighter than the rest, but how did they see that star and decide it was special when everyone else paid no attention?  The Jewish religious leaders in Bethlehem saw the same star hovering over Bethlehem and paid no attention.  They were so wrapped up in their own ambitions and the political intrigue of Jerusalem they missed God’s sign, at least until the Wisemen came asking questions that turn their world upside down.  Then they searched their own Scriptures and found the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem.  Are you so wrapped up in your own plans and aspirations that you are missing God’s signs pointing you to a better life?  Maybe it’s time to slow down, refocus, search the Scriptures, and see what God is trying to tell you?
The Shepherds also received a sign--a dramatic and frightening sign.  An army of angels filled up the night sky singing and praising God and announcing the Messiah’s birth.  Sometimes God signs are big and bold and impossible to miss.  God wants everyone to know the Good News about Jesus--even lowly shepherds--and He certainly wants you to know about Jesus.  But you must have the courage to listen and obey or it’s all for nothing.  Do you have the courage to listen and obey God?
But there is another way God speaks to us I want to share in the final blog of this series.  God speaks to us through important people.  We see an example in the Christmas story itself.  Listen to the Word of God...

Luke 2:25-38
25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
   as you have promised.
30 I have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared for all people.
32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
   and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

36 Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. 37 Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer.38 She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

Simeon and Anna
Here we have two VIPs in the Christmas story who tell Mary and Joseph and everyone willing to hear (including us) that Jesus is a very special child.  Jesus is the Messiah, the one God chose to save the Jewish people (and the whole world). Jesus will turn the whole order of the way the world works upside down.  He will humble the rich and powerful who do not care about God and exalt the poor and lowly who faithfully trust in Jesus. In the process, Jesus will reveal the Truth about who is on God’s side and who is not.
First, we have Simeon, who the Bible says was righteous and devout. Righteous is defined in the dictionary as acting in an virtuous, upright, and moral way.  We all know someone who is a good person, but Romans 4:5 says, “But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.”
Simeon was righteous and also devout. He was devoted to the worship and service of God.  While most people in the world are wrapped up in their own dreams and ambitions, there are a few devout people like Simeon who are totally focused on God.  These are people you should listen to. Simeon was righteous and devout and lead by the Holy Spirit and he told Mary and Joseph (and, through the Bible, the whole world) about Jesus.
There was also Anna, who was a prophet. A prophet (contrary to popular belief) is not someone who tells the future.  A prophet is someone who speaks God’s words. Like Simeon, Anna was devoted to God.  She was very old and had spent almost all her life in the Temple, fasting and praying.  We should listen to devoted people like Anna, who speak the Word of God.

Who Speaks God’s Wisdom to You Today?
Left to right: Rev. Jack Gillespie, Rev. Bob Beckwith,
Rev. Charlie Green, and Sara Brooker
There are people like Anna and Simeon in our world today.  People who are righteous (who live right and moral lives--but even more important--who trust God).  People who are devoted--not to their own dreams and aspirations, but--to God.  People who’ve gained wisdom through the Holy Spirit who lives in them.  Listen to them.  Seek their advice.  If you believe God is speaking to you, wants something from you, has given you a sign, or is leading you, consult with someone who can give you good advice.
Perhaps it is a Christian minister. I have had many preachers who spoke the Word of God to me and changed my life. There was Jack Gillespie and Bob Beckwith who were talented preachers whose inspiring sermons helped me hear God's call to be a preacher myself. Then there was Charlie Green, who was a pastor with the spiritual gift of caring who nutured me as I answered my call to the ministry. There are many different kinds of ministers with all kinds of gifts. Some are excellent preachers. Some are excellent pastors. Some are excellent administrators. Some are excellent counselors. No one person can be exceptionally gifted in all areas. Don't expect your minister to be all things. But perhaps you might find help in knowing God's will for you though a Christian minister.
We also have our Christian elders. I think of my own Grandma, who when I was only a young boy took my and and looked me in the eye and said, "Chris, one day you're going to be a preacher." I thought, "No way. You don't know what your talking about. That's not part of my plans or even on my mind." Looking back now after 30 years, I see Grandma was not delusional old lady. No, she was righteous and devout and filled with the Holy Spirit and I should have listened to her more while she was alive. Who are the elders in your life you should listen to who could be the voice of God to you? Or perhaps you have a good friend who is firm in the faith who can speak GOd's word to you.
And most importantly, let's not forget the Church--the collective voice of God’s people, chosen by Jesus to be his representative in the world. The Church is an invaluable source in revealing God's plan for you and the whole world. The Church gets a bad wrap these days. So many times have I heard someone say, "I just don't like organized religion." I wonder have they considered the alternative? If there's no organized religion, all we have left is a bunch of people running around thinking and doing whatever they like. We had a time like that before in our history. You can read about it in y the Bible in the book of Judges. It was a time when "...all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes." (Judges 17:6) it was a dark, chaotic, evil time and many, many people suffered. I don't want to go back to that kind of living. So I'm glad we have the Church to be the voice of God to us. I know the church has made mistakes in the past and will make mistakes in the future. We are not perfect. However, when we seek the will of God collectively, we get it right more often together than we do as individuals.

Conclusion
This Christmas, God is speaking to all of us.  He has given us a sign--a baby born in a manger to save the world.  An angel spoke to Mary and Joseph.  The shepherds saw an army of angels announce his birth.  The Wisemen followed a star.  Simeon and Anna--filled with the Spirit and wisdom--both spoke of Jesus’ importance to the world.
Jesus reveals Truth in our hearts about whether we are truly focused on God or our own selfish ambitions.  He offers forgiveness for all who turn away from their sin and choose to follow him.  Jesus comes to you this Christmas with this word:

"Turn from your sin and turn to me.
You will find no peace, no hope, no joy, no love until you do.
Following your own path will only lead
to death, despair, destruction, and eternal punishment.
But if you repent and turn to me,
You will find peace, hope, joy, and love
And even more, you will have eternal life."

Whoever has ears to hear:

Hear the Word of the Lord and obey.

Monday, August 8, 2016

I Surrender

Galatians 2:20 (NIV)
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Introduction
            I have a question I want you to ask yourself this morning.  Have you surrendered to Jesus?  Furthermore, have you truly surrendered it all?
            The life of a Christian is one of surrender.  Not surrender to the world, not giving in to worldly temptations or selling out, but wholehearted surrender to God through Jesus Christ.  Everyone who begins the journey of the Christian life begins with surrender.  In the words of the baptismal vows printed in our hymnal, we promise to:
  • Renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin
  • To resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves
  • And to confess Jesus as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the Church… 
We begin with surrender, but we must continue to surrender daily as Jesus reveals more and more areas of our life that need to come under His authority.  This process of sanctification (or purification) takes time and the Lord is patient, but Jesus expects us to continue along the path.  We mustn’t become complacent.  We must press on until every area of our heart is solely under the authority of Christ.

Unconditional Surrender
            I once read a helpful devotion by Robert Munger that compared the Christian life to inviting Jesus as a guest in your home.  I want share it with you today, because it helped me.[i]  Perhaps it will help you to surrender more fully to Christ.

My Heart Christ's Home, by Robert Boyd Munger
One evening I invited Jesus Christ into my heart. What an entrance He made! It was not a
spectacular, emotional thing, but very real. It was at the very center of my life. He came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light. He built a fire in the cold hearth and banished the chill. He started music where there had been stillness, and He filled the emptiness with His own loving, wonderful fellowship. I have never regretted opening the door to Christ and I never will - not into eternity!

This, of course, is the first step in making the heart Christ's home. He has said, "Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20). If you are interested in making your life an abode of the living God, let me encourage you to invite Christ into your heart and He will surely come.

After Christ entered my heart and in the joy of this new relationship I said to Him, "Lord, I want this heart of mine to be Yours. I want to have You settle down here and be perfectly at home.  Everything I have belongs to You. Let me show You around and introduce you to the various features of the home that you may be more comfortable and that we may have fuller fellowship together."  He was very glad to come, of course, and happier still to be given a place in the heart.

The Study
The first room was the stud - the library. Let us all it the study of the mind. Now in my home this room of the mind is a very small room with very thick walls. But it is an important room. In a sense, it is the control room of the house. He entered with me and looked around at the books in the bookcase, the magazines upon the table, the pictures on the walls. As I followed His gaze I became uncomfortable. Strangely enough, I had not felt badly about this before, but now that He was there looking at these things I was embarrassed. There were some books were there that His eyes were too pure to behold. There was a lot of trash and literature on the table that a Christian had no business reading, and as for the pictures on the walls - the imaginations and thoughts of the mind - these were shameful.

I turned to Him and said, "Master, I know that this room needs a radical alteration. Will You help me make it what it ought to be? - to bring every thought into captivity to you?"

"Surely!" He said. "Gladly will I help you. First of all, take all the things that you are reading and looking at which are not helpful, pure, good and true, and throw them out! Now put on the empty shelves the books of the Bible. Fill the library with Scriptures and meditate on then day and night.  As for the pictures on the walls, you will have difficulty controlling these images, but here is an aid" He gave me a full-size portrait of Himself. "Hang this centrally," He said, "on the wall of the mind."

I did, and I have discovered through the years that when my thoughts are centered upon Christ Himself, His purity and power cause impure thoughts to back away. So He has helped me to bring my thoughts into captivity.

May I suggest to you if you have difficulty with this little room of the mind, that you bring Christ in there. Pack it full with the Word of God, meditate upon it and keep before it the immediate presence of the Lord Jesus.

The Dining Room
From the study we went into the dining room, the room of appetites and desires. Now this was a very large room. I spent a good deal of time in the dining room and much effort in satisfying my wants.

I said to Him, "This is a favorite room. I am quite sure You will be pleased with what we serve."  He seated Himself at the table with me and asked, "What is on the menu for dinner?"

"Well," I said, "my favorite dishes: money, academic degrees and stocks, with newspaper articles of fame and fortune as side dishes." These were the things I liked - worldly fare. I suppose there was nothing radically wrong in any particular item, but it was not the food that should satisfy the life of a real Christian. When the food was placed before Him, He said nothing about it. However, I observed that He did not eat it, and I said to Him, somewhat disturbed, "Master, don't You care for this food? What is the trouble?"

He answered, "I have meat to eat that you do not know of. My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me." He looked at me again and said, "If you want food that really satisfies you, seek the will of the Father, not your own pleasures, not your own desires, and not your own satisfaction. Seek to please Me and that food will satisfy you." And there at the table He gave me a taste of doing God's will. What a flavor! There is no food like it in all the world. It alone satisfies. Everything else is dissatisfying in the end.

Now if Christ is in your heart, and I trust He is, what kind of food are you serving Him and what kind of food are you eating yourself? Are you living for the lust of the flesh and the pride of life - selfishly? Or are you choosing God's will for your meat and drink?

The Living Room
We walked next into the living room. This room was rather intimate and comfortable. I liked it. It had a fireplace, overstuffed chairs, a sofa, and a quiet atmosphere.  

He also seemed pleased with it. He said, "This is indeed a delightful room. Let us come here often. It is secluded and quiet, and we can fellowship together."

Well, naturally as a young Christian I was thrilled. I couldn't think of anything I would rather do than have a few minutes with Christ in intimate  companionship.

He promised, "I will be here early every morning. Meet me here, and we will start the day together."

So morning after morning, I would come downstairs to the living room and He would take a book of the Bible from the bookcase. He would open it and then we would read together. He would tell me of its riches and unfold to me its truths. He would make my heart warm as He revealed His love and His grace He had toward me. These were wonderful hours together. In fact, we called the living room the "withdrawing room." It was a period when we had our quiet time together.

But, little by little, under the pressure of many responsibilities, this time began to be shortened.  Why, I'm don't know, but I thought I was just too busy to spend time with Christ. This was not intentional, you understand; it just happened that way. Finally, not only was the time shortened, but I began to miss a day now and then. It was examination time at the university. Then it was some other urgent emergency. I would miss it two days in a row and often more.

I remember one morning when I was in a hurry, rushing downstairs, eager to be on my way.  As I passed the living room, the door was open. Looking in, I saw a fire in the fireplace and Jesus was sitting there. Suddenly in dismay I thought to myself, "He was my guest. I invited Him into my heart! He has come as Lord of my home. And yet here I am neglecting Him."

I turned and went in. With downcast glance, I said, "Blessed Master, forgive me. Have You been here all these mornings?"

"Yes," He said, "I told you I would be here every morning to meet with you." Then I was even more ashamed. He had been faithful in spite of my faithfulness. I asked His forgiveness and He readily forgave me as He does when we are truly repentant.

"The trouble with you is this: you have been thinking of the quiet time, of the Bible study and prayer time, as a factor in your own spiritual progress, but you have forgotten that this hour means something to me also. Remember, I love you. I have redeemed you at great cost. I value your fellowship. Now," He said, "do not neglect this hour if only for my sake. Whatever else may be your desire, remember I want your fellowship!"

You know, the truth that Christ desires my companionship, that He loves me, wants me to be with Him, wants to be with me and waits for me, has done more to transform my quiet time with God than any other single fact. Don't let Christ wait alone in the living room of your heart, but every day find some time when, with your Bible and in prayer, you may be together with Him.

The Workroom
Before long, He asked, "Do you have a workroom in your home?" Down in the basement of the home of my heart I had a workbench and some equipment, but I was not doing much with it. Once in a while I would play around with a few little gadgets, but I wasn't producing anything substantial or worthwhile.

I led Him down there.

He looked over the workbench and what little talents and skills I had. He said, "This is quite well furnished. What are you producing with your life for the Kingdom of God?" He looked at one or two little toys that I had thrown together on the bench and held one up to me. "Are these little toys all that you are doing for others in your Christian life?"

"Well," I said, "Lord, that is the best I can do. I know it isn't much, and I really want to do more, but after all, I have no skill or strength to do more."

"Would you like to do better?" He asked.

"Certainly," I replied.

"All right. Let me have your hands. Now relax in me and let my Spirit work through you. I know that you are unskilled, clumsy and awkward, but the Holy Spirit is the Master-Worker, and if He controls your hands and your heart, He will work through you." And so, stepping around behind me and putting His great, strong hands over mine, controlling the tools with His skilled fingers He began to work through me.

There's much more that I must still learn and I am very far from satisfied with the product that is being turned out, but I do know that whatever has been produced for God has been through His strong hand and through the power of His Spirit in me.

Do not become discouraged because you cannot do much for God. Your ability is not the fundamental condition. It is He who is controlling your fingers and upon whom you are relying. Give your talents and gifts to God and He will do things with them that will surprise you.

The Rec Room
I remember the time He asked me about the playroom. I was hoping He would not ask about that.  There were certain associations and friendships, activities and amusements that I wanted to keep for myself. I did not think Christ would enjoy them or approve of them, so I evaded the question. But there came an evening when I was on my way out with some of my friends, and as I was about to cross the threshold, He stopped me with a glance and asked, "Are you going out?"

I replied, "Yes."

"Good," He said, "I would like to go with you."

"Oh," I answered rather awkwardly. "I don't think, Lord Jesus, that You would really want to go with us. Let's go out tomorrow night. Tomorrow night we will go to prayer meeting, but tonight I have another appointment."

He said. "That's alright. Only I thought that when I came into your home, we were going to do everything together, to be close companions. I just want you to know that I am willing to go with you."

"Well," I said, "we will go someplace together tomorrow night."

That evening I spent some miserable hours. I felt wretched. What kind of a friend was I to Jesus when I was deliberately leaving Him out of my associations, doing things and going places that I knew very well He would not enjoy? When I returned that evening, there was a light in His room, and I went up to talk it over with Him. I said, "Lord, I have learned my lesson. I can't have a good time without You. From now on we will do everything together."

Then we went down into the playroom of the house and He transformed it. He brought into life real joy, real happiness, real satisfaction, new friends, new excitement, new joys. Laughter and music have been ringing through the house ever since.

The Hall Closet
There is just one more matter that I might share with you. One day I found Him waiting for me at the door. An arresting look was in His eye. As I entered, He said to me, "There is a peculiar odor in the house. There is something dead around here. It's upstairs. I think it is in the hall closet." As soon as He said this, I knew what He was talking about. Yes, there was a small closet up there on the landing, just a few feet square, and in that closet, behind lock and key, I had one or two little personal things that I did not want anyone to know about and certainly I did not want Christ to see them. I knew they were dead and rotting things left over from the old life. And yet I loved them, and I wanted them so for myself that I was afraid to admit they were there.

Reluctantly, I went up with Him, and as we mounted the stairs the odor became stronger and stronger. He pointed at the door. "It's in there! Some dead thing!"

I was angry. That's the only way I can put it. I had given Him access to the library, the dining room, the living room, the workroom, the playroom, and now He was asking me about a little two-by-four closet. I said to myself, "This is too much. I am not going to give Him the key."

"Well," He said, reading my thoughts, "if you think I'm going to stay up here on the second floor with this odor, you are mistaken. I will take my bed out on the back porch. I'm certainly not going to put up with that." Then I saw Him start down the stairs.

When you have come to know and love Christ, the worst thing that can happen is to sense His fellowship retreating from you. I had to surrender. "I'll give You the key," I said sadly, "but You'll have to open the closet and clean it out. I haven't the strength to do it."

"I know," He said. "I know you haven't. Just give me the key. Just authorize me to take care of that closet and I will." So with trembling fingers I passed the key to Him. He took it from my hand, walked over to the door, opened it, entered it, took out all the putrefying stuff that was rotting there, and threw it away. The He cleaned the closet and painted it, fixed it up, doing it all in a moment's time. Oh, what victory and release to have that dead thing out of my life!

Transferring the Title
Then a thought came to me. I said to myself, "I have been trying to keep this heart of mine clear for Christ. I start on one room and no sooner have I cleaned that then another room is dirty. I begin on the second room and the first room becomes dusty again. I am so tired and weary trying to maintain a clean heart and an obedient life. I am just not up to it!"

So I ventured a question: "Lord, is there any chance that You would take over the responsibility of the whole house and operate it for me and with me just as You did that closet? Would You take the responsibility to keep my heart what it ought to be and my life where it ought to be?"

I could see His face light up as He replied, "Certainly, that is what I came to do. You cannot be a victorious Christian in your own strength. That is impossible. Let me do it through you and for you. That is the way. But," He added slowly, "I am not owner of this house. I am just a guest. I have no authority to proceed, since the property is not mine."

I saw it in a minute and dropping to my knees, I said, "Lord, You have been a guest and I have been the host. From now on I am going to be the servant. You are going to be the owner and Master and Lord."

Running as fast as I could to the strongbox, I took out the title deed to the house describing its assets and liabilities, location and situation and condition. I eagerly signed it over to belong to Him alone for time and eternity. "Here," I said. "Here it is, all that I am and have forever. Now You run the house. I'll just remain with You as a servant and friend."

He took my life that day and I can give you my word, there is no better way to live the Christian life. He knows how to keep it in shape and deep peace settles down on the soul. May Christ settle down and be at home in your heart as Lord of all!

Conclusion
            Have you invited Jesus into your home—into your life?  Have you given him access to your mind and your desires?  Are you spending time with Jesus daily in prayer?  Are you working for the Lord—producing good fruit for the Kingdom of God in your life?  Is Jesus happy with your recreational life?  Do the ways you have fun honor him?  What secret things have you been hiding from Jesus?  Isn’t it time to come clean and let Jesus clean out your secret closet?  Have you surrendered it all to Jesus?  Why not raise up your white flag and surrender today?



[i] Adapted from “My Heart: Christ’s Home” by Robert Munger - https://www.usna.edu/Navigators/_files/documents/MHCH.pdf
Robert Boyd Munger (1911-2001) was a Presbyterian minister who wrote this timeless work in
1951.