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

Monday, January 13, 2020

Bearing God's Name


It's the second Sunday of the New Year.  Many are still thinking about goals for 2020 so I asked Terry Teasley to put two ideas from the Bible on our church sign that would make great goals for 2020:
DON’T BEAR GOD’S NAME IN VAIN 
(which comes from the Old Testament) 
and 
TAKE UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME (which comes from the New Testament).
The two terms are closely related.  The Phrase from the Old Testament comes from Exodus 20:7 and is part of the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 20:7
You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.

The New Living Translation says do not misuse the name of the Lord; the King James Version says do not take.  The old ways of saying this I head as a kid was, “Thou shalt not bear the Lord’s name in vain.” As I was telling Terry what to put on the sign at church, I had to think for a minute on how to spell the word bear.  You can spell it bare, but that means unclothe.  Of course, bear is an animal that could rip you to shreds.  But bear also means to lift or carry.  And that is what the original Hebrew word in the third commandment means: nawsaw - to lift, to carry, to bear.  

As a child, I was taught this commandment means you shouldn’t  use God’s name to cuss (or even to say, "Oh my God!") Although using foul language is not good and using God’s name as part of your cursing is even worse, that is not what the command “Do not take the Lord's name in vain” means.  What it really means is don't misrepresent God.

The Israelites Were God’s People
God chose the Israelites to be His people.  They were His representatives to the whole world.  Everything about them was to be distinctive and different from all the other nations around them.  They were to eat different food.  They were to treat people differently.  It was common in the ancient world to seek violent retribution.  If you attacked my son and poked his eye out, I might get revenge by killing your whole family.  God commanded the Israelites not to be like that, but to offer restraint.  He said, only take and eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.  The were to live justly, love mercy, walk humbly with their God.

The Israelites worshiped differently than all the other nations around them.. All the other religions had idols to look at when they worshiped.  Or they worshiped things they could see in nature like the sun, the moon, animals, etc.  The Israelite’s God was invisible and they were forbidden to make any image or statue to represent Him. The only authorized image for God is people! Genesis 1:26 says, "God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us." So ironically, we are to be the "idols" who represent God, even though because of sin we fail miserably.  All the Law of the Old Testament was God's instructions on how the ancient Israelites were supposed to take up the name of God and represent Him to the world properly. 

The way the Israelites worshiped was one way they represented the name of God.  Exodus 13:16, “This ceremony will be like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. It is a reminder that the power of the Lord’s mighty hand brought us out of Egypt.”  That's powerful language; worship is like having God's name branded on your forehead!  If you worship at church on Sunday, it tells people you belong o God.  It's one way we bear His name.  But what about when you are eating lunch at the restaurant after church.  Does how you treat the wait staff bear proper witness to God's name?

The Israelites were to dress differently. They weren't supposed to wear clothing made of two different kinds of fibers, say cotton and wool (see Leviticus 19:19).  So many of the rules in the Old Testament seem unnecessary!  However, God was making a point.  The Israelites were set apart as distinct from all other people.  They were His people.  They were to be His representatives to the world.  They were to Bear His Name.  And for that purpose, God even gave the Israelite specific commands to carry His name on their foreheads.

Israelites were to wear scriptures in a small box on their forehead.   Deuteronomy 6:8 instructs the Israelites to tie Scripture proclaiming their devotion to the One True God to their foreheads.  And according to Exodus 28:36-38, the Israelite high priest was to wear a gold medallion on his forehead on which were inscribed the words HOLY TO THE LORD.  Holy means set apart.  And the word we translate as “The Lord” is actually God’s proper name in Hebrew--Yahweh.  So the priest was literally bearing God’s name on his forehead.

So, when the Third Commandment says, "Do not bear the Lord's name in vain," it literally meant, "Do not put this name on your forehead if you don't really mean it. Otherwise, you will misrepresent me and you will be punished!"

Sports Teams and Misbehavior
I'll never forget something my football coach taught when I was just a kid. We had just gotten our uniforms and I was so excited!  The fresh smell of brand new jerseys filled the air as coach passed them around.  He said, "Remember, whenever you put on this uniform, you represent our whole team. It's not just about how well you play football.  If you misbehave while wearing this uniform, it reflects on the whole team.  You must represent us well.”

The Atlanta Falcons saw firsthand how damaging it can be when one team member misbehaves.  In 2007, Falcons star quarterback, Michael Vick, was accused of involvement with an illegal dog fighting ring.  Vick's bad behavior tarnished the whole team's name.  Nobody wants their brand associated with that kind of cruelty.  The Falcons lost fans and sponsors and their star quarterback.  Vick was suspended from the NFL and the Falcons sued to recover $20 million of Vick’s signing bonus.  It took years for the team to recover.  And to this day, many people still remember this awful shame.

Many people would never in a million years use God's name as a curse word, but the same people might misrepresent God's name by the way they misbehave.  God doesn’t want His Holy Name to be shamed.  So He commanded the Israelites (and us), “Do not bear the Lord's name in vain.”  

Bearing God's Name in the New Testament 
We aren't ancient Israelites. We don't have to tie scripture verses to our foreheads. We don't have priests who wear gold medallions on their foreheads that bear the words Holy to Yahweh.  But Christians are still God's representatives. And we ought to be the most faithful representatives He has because we follow Jesus Jesus Christ.  Jesus showed us how to live as God's redeemed holy people.  And that brings me to Christ's statement in the New Testament. 

Matthew 16:24
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.

Jesus names the Christian uniform.  It is a cross.  But the cross Jesus identifies is more than a symbol we wear on a necklace.  He identifies it this way:  You must give up your own way.  

In our natural, sinful state, we each have our own selfish way we want to go.  Perhaps we want to indulge our selfish desires for food, sex, or pleasure.  All of these are good things when done the right way, but we want to gorge ourselves beyond God’s natural design.  Maybe we struggle with greed.  We cannot be happy with what God wants to give.  We want more, more, more (and more is never enough). Or maybe we cling to our pride and refuse to be like a humble child.  All of these are our ways of living and Jesus says, “You must give up your own way and take up your cross follow me.”

Jesus has a right to demand we take up our cross because it’s what he did.  The Gospel of John says Jesus is God in the flesh; He created us.  If anyone has a right to demand His own way, it is Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Instead, Jesus humbled himself, “...gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave, and was born as a human being… and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”  (Philippians 2:7-8, adapted)

Christ calls all His followers to do the same.  And though our cross may not mean dying on a literal cross, it always means denying our self as we follow Christ--at least until what we want is perfectly aligned with what God wants.  

What God wants from us is love--love for God and our neighbor.  In fact, Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:55)

A few months ago I was at ACE Hardware and another customer started asking me where she could find a certain product.  I was a little confused as to why she was asking me, but I told her where I thought they might be.  Then, she said, “You don’t work here do you?”  She had thought I was an employee!  I don’t know why she thought that.  Maybe I just had that ACE Hardware kind of style going on that day.  (I do often wear slacks and a golf shirt with my church logo on it.  I like to represent God and  my church whenever I can.)  The lady apologized and I didn’t mind.  I hope she found what she was looking for (or else a real employee who could help her.) Has that ever happened to you?

If you are a Christian, you are to bear the name of God everywhere you go (even if you are not wearing a cross or Christian logo).  You represent Christ.  You bear a figurative cross.  To bear a cross means to forsake your own selfish ambitions. It means to deny yourself (if your own desires are contrary to God's will). Just as Jesus was willing to lay down his life on the cross in order to do God's will and save the world from sin, we are to sacrifice our own plans for the sake of God's. This is how Christians represent God, our Creator.  

Conclusion
So as you live into this new year, this new decade, how will you bear the name of God?  I pray you will not bear the name of God in vain, for we are commanded, “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  Therefore, confess your sins and forgive others that the Lord may forgive you.  Keep your promises.  Love the Lord your God with all you heart, and all your mind, and all your strength.  And love your neighbor as yourself. Take up your cross and follow Jesus.  Seek always, to represent our Lord the way He deserves to be represented.  Amen?  Amen!


Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2020 State of the Communion Address


It is a tradition in the United States for the President to make an annual State of the Union address.  I also make an annual State of the Communion address to our church.  I want to share a few highlights from our ministry together in 2019.  We will also pray for God’s help as we commit ourselves to His Kingdom work in 2020. 

Matthew 7:7-8
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus taught that his followers must seek God passionately with everything within them.  Many people want to know God and know God's will for them.  Many people are interested.  But few people put the Kingdom of God and His righteousness at the very top of the priorities.  Usually, God comes in second or fifth or tenth or twentieth.  Jesus says that will never do.  You must be passionate and persistent in your pursuit of God.  God is the Lord of lords and King of kings.  He will not settle for second place in your heart.  So if you are going to seek and follow Him this year, you must put him absolutely first.  And you must keep on asking and keep on seeking and keep on knocking.

That is what I plan to do as a pastor and follower of Christ this year.  That is what our church plans to do in everything we undertake.  We will be no casual followers of Christ.  He will be our all in all!

Let me review some of the highlights of our ministry from 2019. 

New Members
We received 17 new members in 2019.  – This is the most new members we’ve ever had in one year since I started pastoring Pleasant Grove UMC!  We are so pleased to welcome these new members:  
Scott Dyer
Jordan Dyer
Harry Kelley
Sandy Kelley
Benny Domino
Kristopher Arhart
Ashley Arhart
Amber Arhart
Terry Teasley
Tonya Teasley
Matthew Head
Juilina Teasley
Jessie Teasley
Samuel Head
Abby Stuckey
Jake Davis


Professions of Faith
We also had seven Professions of Faith in 2019.  A profession of faith is when a person stands before God and the whole congregation and professes to believe in Jesus Christ as their savior and Lord and promises to follow him as a member of the Church.  It is the official moment when a person is justified by God or "save" for eternal life.  It is a pivotal time and the core of our church mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Last year the following people made a profession fo faith:
Jordan Dyer
Benny Domino
Tonya Teasley
Matthew Head
Juilina Teasley
Jessie Teasley
Samuel Head



Baptisms
We had eleven baptisms in the year 2019.  SOme were babies who where baptized with their parents seeking God's grace to raise them in the faith until the child makes their own profession of faith.  Others were people of age who had made a profession of faith and were baptized as a sign of their salvation.  Those who were baptized were:


Jordan Dyer
Benny Domino
Jack Ikerd
Tonya Teasley
Matthew Head
Juilina Teasley
Jessie Teasley
Samuel Head
Jazmine Teasley
Adaline Arhart
Ashley Arhart


So far, we have had a grand total of 97 new members at my church in the last decade since I was appointed to PGUMC.  Who will be the 98th, 99th, and 100th new members?  We have also had a total of 43 Professions of Faith and 42 Baptisms since 2010 when I came to my congregation.  Praise God!

Members Who Went to Heaven
2019 was also sad for many as we said good bye to five members died and went to heaven.  We were all shocked when Karla Motley was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away in just a few weeks.  We are grieved at her passing,but find hope because she is with God in heaven and we will see her again if we trust in Jesus Christ as she did.  John O’Brien was a long time member of Pleasant Grove who also passed away.  John was known and loved by many in this church.  John was married to Diane O’Brien who loved and helped care for him when he became severely ill several years ago.  John was wonderful father to his daughters Ivey and Ashley.  His family and our church mourn his passing, but trust that he is with the Lord in heaven and we shall see him again.  Rick Krause was new to our church, but quickly became part of our family.  Despite his crippling health problems, Rick was very active in our church and people quickly grew to love him.  We were shocked when he died the afternoon of Easter Sunday, after he had just been at church to worship the risen Lord with us.  Rachel Mainor was an at-home member of our church who had been unable to attend for many years.  However, when we had a fire at church in 2016, it touch Rachel and she wanted to help.  She contacted the church and made a donation to help our church recover fro the fire damage.  We rejoice that she is at Home with the Lord in Heaven.  And just a few months ago, Sara Brooker passed away.  Sara has touched so many lives in our church and community and even around the state and country.  Everyone new and love this graceful woman.  We are sad to see her god but are happy that she is finally at home with the Lord in Heaven, where she always wanted to be.

Childrens Ministry
We said goodbye to Ashten and Matt Webb last year. Ashten did a great job as our children's minister, but her husband, Matt, took a job in Huntville, Alabama and hey had to move. We were so please to welcome Joanna Scruggs as our new children's minister over the summer. Joanna, Kelly, Eden, and Hank have been members of our church for a long time, but it has been wonderful to welcome them into this new ministry role. Joanna started off by plainning in just one month the best organized Vacation Bible School we've ever had. we avereged around 40 kids each night of the week this past July during VBS. Then she jumped right in, doing a wonderful job, planning our annual Trunk or Treat. We saw nearly 1,000 people from around our commuity come for fun, safe Halloween fun. Many expressed how much they appreciate our church offering this for our community. And of course, Joanna has been doing a great job leading our weekly kids program, planning and leading lessons and organizing volunteers. We are very pleased to have Joanna on staff and look forward to a great year with her and the kids in 2020.

Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis
We had seven people attended Emmaus/Chrysalis spiritual leadership retreats in 2019.  Jordan Dyer, Matthew Head, Grace Mullis, Mattie Maddox, Ashley Arhart, and Amber Arhart.  Mike Marlow attended the adult version, Walk to Emmaus.  Also, we sponsored Rev. Mark Amspaugh from Dalton First Nazarene Church to attend the Walk to Emmaus.  Rev. Amspaugh conveyed his thanks and reported how the experienced has enhanced his ministry.  Would you like to attend Chrysalis or the Walk to Emmaus and grow closer to Christ through this three day spiritual pilgrimage?

Looking Ahead to 2020
Now, I would like to share some highlights for the coming year.  Our focus, as it has been since I became pastor in the summer of 2010, will be to seek the Kingdom of God and His right righteousness in all that we do (see Matthew 6:33).  We will continue to be guided by our long range goals to give hope to the hopeless, build new relationships, and help our community.  The success of everything we do will be measured by these three overarching goals.  We will have several new opportunities in 2020.

Financial Peace University - March 11
A suggestion was made during a finance meeting last year that we offer a course to help church members better manage their finances.  The Bible teaches that all that we have is a gift from God.  Our finances and other resources belong to God and are entrusted to us to use for the good of God's Kingdom.  Therefore, we want to be good stewards and PGUMC wants to equip you to be the best steward of your finances as possible.  Therefore, I have decided to offer Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace university to teach you the financial chronicles you need to achieve your financial goals.  This course is excellent for everyone.  Whether you struggle with money or are already very good at managing your finances, FPU will help you be the very best you can be.

Dave Ramsey's course is also in line with two other initiatives for PGUMC in 2020.  Last year, PGUMC established the early mortgage retirement fund and members have been contributing.  This month, we will make our first extra payment toward the principle of our mortgage with the intention of paying off our building loan early.  We will continue to make extra payments throughout the year as we are able according to the congregation's extra giving to this fund.  Paying off our loan early could save tens of thousands of dollars in interest.  Imagine how much more ministry we can do with the elderly, with children and youth, and outreach in our community when we are free from the burden of a $5,000 per month mortgage.

In December, we also established Sara Brooker Memorial Children & Youth Fund with donations from Sara's estate as from extra contributions from members and a Christmas Eve offering.  We currently have $13,700 in Sara's fund to help with children and youth ministries.  How fitting that Sara's legacy of teaching children and youth about the love and salvation of Jesus Christ will live on through this effort.

PGUMC Car Show – March 21
On Saturday, March 21 from 9 AM - 3 PM, our church will host it's first ever car show.  Following our principle of creating doors where people from the community are welcomed into our midst, this car show will bring people together to enjoy a day of fun and fellowship as we enjoy cool classic cars together.  This is similar to what we do with our annual trunk or treat.  What's new is that the car show will slow the pace down a bit and allow more time for casual visiting and fellowship, so that we can build new relationships and really get to know people from our community.  Please plan to attend, volunteer, help out, show a car, and enjoy this special time.

Pray for the UM General Conference
The United Methodist General Conference which regularly meets every four year will be May 5-15 this year in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  This may be the most pivotal General Conference since the denomination's founding in 1968.

Our denomination is bitterly divided over issues of human sexuality, homosexuality, and transgenders.  Because our nation's ideas about human sexuality have been changing, many in the UMC believe the denomination should change too and allow the ordination of homosexual pastors and same-sex marriages.  Others, like myself, believe that the Bible is clear that we are love everyone but not condone what the Bible clearly defines as sin contrary to God's will.  The disagreement threatens to divide the UMC.  You may have heard or read news stories about this issue.  I want to make a few things clear to dispell any misunderstandings.  First of all, no decisions have been made yet and none can be made until the General Conference on May 5-15.  Even after that, it may take months or even years for any decisions to take affect.  In the meantime, we must calmly pray for God's guidance for our families, our church, and the delegates from all over the world who will meet at the General Conference to debate and make decisions for the United Methodist denomination.  Furthermore, please feel free to ask me any questions you have. This is a complex and emotionally charged issue that requires more time to discuss than we have time for in this short address.  So, let’s sit down together sometime and talk.

Reaffirmation of Faith
As I close this address, I invite you to affirm or reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ and your commitment to serve him.  Please read through the following questions and answer them in your own heart.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

Will you nurture your fellow Christians in the Christian faith and life?

Would you affirm the following commitment?
With God’s help, I will proclaim the good news and life according to the example of Christ.  I will surround my brothers and sisters in Christ with a community of love and forgiveness, that we may grow in our trust of God, and be found faithful in our service to others.  I will pray for them, that we may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.  As a member of God's Church, I renew my covenant to faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by my prayers, my presence, my gifts, my service, and my witness, that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.




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.