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Showing posts with label Pleasant Grove United Methodist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pleasant Grove United Methodist. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Love


The Fruit of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Introduction
            The famed list of spiritual virtues from Galatians 5:22-23 are known to Christians as “The Fruits of The Spirit”.  I going to spend some time each week considering each of these spiritual fruits.  Actually, you might notice Paul calls these the Fruit of the Spirit , not fruits; he uses the singular form, not plural. I don't know if he did that on purpose, but I do know that all of these virtues together make up a single fruit that the Spirit produces in us. It is not that one person gets patience and another gets love and another gets self-control. No, the Holy Spirit develops all of these in each follower of Christ. Some people are better at on than the other, but all are accessible to every individual if we allow the Spirit to produce them in us.
As we go through this series of blogs, I challenge you to memorize the list of virtues known as the fruit of the Spirit.  That way you will now the characteristics you should develop as you follow Christ.  And really, it is not that difficult.  If you can remember the ingredients of a Big Mac—two all-beef patties, special sauce,lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun (a jingle with 15 words)—you should be able to learn a learn the list of 9 the spiritual fruits of a Christian. Too young to have learned the Big Mac jingle?  Ok.  If you can remember the words to the Kiki challenge song by Drake (“In My Feelings”), which is a chorus of 60 words, then surely you can memorize the 9 fruits of the Spirit!
As Christians cooperate with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit develops these fruits within us more and more.  It’s important to remember, we do not make these fruits grow. Only God can make them grow.  Just as a 5-year-old child cannot close his eyes, grit his teeth, and will his body to transform into a 16-year-old, neither can we will ourselves to grow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control—no matter how hard we clench our teeth and concentrate.  The growth of these spiritual fruits—just like the growth of the human body or the growth of a fruit tree—is the work of God.  However, there are many things we can do to nurture that growth—to cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work and create an environment where the most growth is possible.  This is also something I want to address in the weeks ahead.  So contemplate, as we go along, how you could open your heart and life to God in such a way that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control take root and grow more and more in your life.
Let's begin today with the first and most important of all spiritual fruits—love.

Love - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
            As a pastor, I have the privilege of uniting many couples in holy matrimony.  One of the most common scriptures to read at a wedding is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  It is known as the love passage as it shares St. Paul’s famous description of Christian love.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 
If you’ve ever attended a wedding, you’ve probably heard those words.  They are a great reminder to the newlyweds what it means to love, honor, and cherish each other as they begin their life together as husband and wife.  
St. Paul’s description of love is so common at weddings, people might not know the passage was not originally intended for that occasion. Paul wrote those splendid words that tell the qualities of love—not for weddings, but—for a church of people that were struggling to get along. The Christians in the Corinthian church were fighting over who was in charge, who was more important, and who had the most impressive spiritual gifts.  Paul wrote his famous words about love to implore a deeply divided church to simply love one another.  Paul wanted the Corinthians to stop arguing with each other and jockeying for power and competing to see who is most important person in the church. 
God calls us all to love one another and “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

Love is Essential
Love is the most important of the fruits of the spirit for “…love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) and, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)  Love is what makes us relevant.  Ideas and philosophies and even people come into and go out of fashion as quickly as the Kiki Challenge, but love last forever.  Biblical love (the divine love of God) is the one thing that never goes out of fashion.  Love makes all other things either relevant or irrelevant. When love is present something else is relevant.  When love is absent, people will quickly lose interest because it will soon become irrelevant.
            Love is the very presence of God.  1 John 4:7-12 sums it up.  "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only
Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.
            Love is essential to the Christian journey. It saves us, it sends us, and seals us to one another. As we serve together as a church and as we represent Christ to the world, I pray love will guide all that we do.  Jesus said love would be the defining virtue in all his followers that proves to the world that we are His disciples.  In John 13:35, Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Creating a Garden Where Love Can Grow
Well, now we have a description of love and how important it is. But how do we help it grow in our lives? We have to prepare the garden of our heart.
Now I'm not a very good gardener. I'm good at building things, but not so good at growing things. I can build a good garden to start with, but it's everything that happens after that gives me trouble. You see, to build a garden, you start by making a place. You clear away the grass or weeds, you till up the soil to make it soft, you plant the seeds and water them. Maybe you put down some fertilizer. And I'm usually good to spend a day or a weekend working on a gardening "project." But I quickly lose interest or get busy with family or work and I don't spend the time I should tending the garden. That's why I do better at building projects like carpentry, because I can work on them for a few hours, and then set them aside and come back to them in a month or so and pick right back p where I let off.
Unfortunately, you can't set a garden aside for a month. It takes constant attention and nurturing. You need to check it everyday to pull up weeds, make sure it's getting enough water (but not too much), and maybe get rid of any pests and bugs that are invading. If you forget about the garden for even a few days (which is what I tend to do), it will quickly run into trouble or be overrun by weeds and eat up by devouring bugs.
Well, what about our spiritual fruit garden? What do we have to do to help nurture the fruit the Holy Spirit wants to produce with in us? It is much like tending a physical garden. To start with, you have to clear out some things in your life so there is room for love to grow. Do you have hatred in your heart? Bitterness? Are you harboring any grudges? These are things you must get rid of or else love will have no room to grow.
One of the things I see so much these days that keeps real love from growing is the impossible and unrealistic fantasy of a love relationship. People have an idealized (idolized really) fantasy of what it is to be in "love". And it hinders the growth of real love. And I often see people who grow older--maybe late into their twenties or thirties or maybe even later and they still haven't married. And for them they want to be married so badly that they make an idol out of marriage. They often make foolish choices or compromise their values all for the sake of the dream of being married. Idolatry is a sin and our idols always let us down and get us into trouble. And it's not until you tear down your idol (or your fantasy) and you clear out space in the garden of your heart, that there is room for real, genuine, fruitful love to grow.
Just like in a real garden, you have to break up and soften the soil of your heart so the Holy Spirit can plant some seeds of love. Have you asked the Holy Spirit to plant seeds of love if your heart? He will if you ask Him. Then, what can you do to water and fertilize the love He is trying to grow within your heart? How can you show love to others through the things you say, the ways you behave, and the things you do?
Now, you have created the perfect environment for growth, but love is not the only thing that will want to grow there.  Now, the Devil will constantly be encouraging weeds to grow in your life. These are things that will distract you, use up your spare resources of time and energy and money. Left unchecked, these weeds will grow up and choke out the love that is starting to grow in your life. How do you take time to watch over your spiritual garden and pull up any weeds that grow alongside your spiritual fruit, stealing vital nutrients from the soil? Do you pray for God to show you those things that are leading you astray or just distracting you from His will for your life? Do you listen and rip them out when He reveals something?

Invitation
            I want to close with a word of encouragement.  If you ever feel guilty, like you ought to be more loving or patient or whatever, give yourself a break.  Jesus came to set us free from sin and guilt and shame.  It's not your job to change yourself; that's the work of the Holy Spirit.  Be patient with yourself.  The Holy Spirit will do the hard work, the supernatural work of making you more like Jesus.  Your job is just to cooperate.  Do the things the Spirit shows you.  Open yourself up to spiritual growth and nurture what the Spirit is doing in you and leave it at that.  It takes time to grow, so cut yourself some slack.
            I invite you and challenge you ask God to plant the seeds of more spiritual fruit in your life.  Ask Him also to show you what you must tear out of your life to make room for the spiritual garden He wants to grow within you.  Ask Him to show you how you need to break up and soften the soil of your heart and how you can nurture and guard the spiritual fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We will look at each one and some of the spiritual practices that help garden your spirit in the weeks ahead.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Christian Extremism (AKA Zeal)

Introduction
             This blog was inspired by John Wesley’s 1781 sermon titled “On Zeal”. John Wesley founded the Methodist movement to restore passion and zeal to the Anglican Church, which had become dull and lazy. Wesley was passionate about God’s Kingdom and urged Christians to serve with passion and zeal. God’s Kingdom was to be their first priority in life and they were to serve with their whole hearts.
             It is impossible to experience any real spiritual progress in your life without considerable commitment and zeal. Furthermore, it is impossible to make a lasting difference in our community without passionate commitment. Yet, religious zeal scares many people—perhaps for good reason. We have seen the evil acts “religious nuts” have perpetrated in the name of God.
            Critics of the early Methodist movement in England considered Wesley’s teachings and religious devotion too radical and extreme. To the apathetic church leaders of the day, Wesley and his followers were dangerous fanatics.
            Perhaps you have known someone you considered a religious fanatic—someone who was too radical in their religion, a real "Jesus freak". My Grandma loved Jesus and she loved the church.  As a kid, me and my siblings used to joke that you didn't want to bring up the subject of religion around Grandma.  You didn't want to get her started on that subject because she wouldn't stop talking about it.  We thought she was a fanatic.  We were fine with religion, just in moderation.  We thought Grandma should be more like us and tone it down a bit.  Funny thing is, now that I am more mature, I embody much of the same passion for Jesus I once scorned in my Grandma.  I'm sure there are many people who think I should "tone it down a bit."  (Someone once told me a good definition of a fanatic. “A fanatic is someone who is more committed than you are.”)  We always think we've got religion in just the right dose.  Maybe we need to consider if we need to have a little more religious zeal.
            There are different kinds of religious fanaticism—some are healthy and some very dangerous. Religious extremism of the wrong sort can lead to horrific violence and terrorism. Is there a still a place for religious zeal in our age? Is there such a thing as healthy Christian extremism? What is the difference between a good and evil religious fanatic?
            Perhaps the Apostle Paul is the best example of the wrong and right ways to be a extremely devoted to God. Before he became a Christian, Paul was an extremely zealous Pharisee. His misguided passion led him on a crusade to destroy Christianity. Graciously, Jesus appeared to Paul and set him on the right path. Paul became as zealous for Jesus as he had once been against him. Paul’s passionate work as a Christian missionary eventually got him in trouble with the religious authorities. He was arrested and put on trial and ultimately gave his life for Christ. In Acts 22, Paul is on trial as a Christian extremist.  

Acts 22:3-4
Then Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison.

Paul Was a Religious Extremist
            Here we see Paul testifying how his religious zeal before he became a Christian led him to persecute Christians. Yet after Paul became a Christian, his religious zeal swung completely the opposite way.  He didn't lose his zeal or become lazy; he became an extremist for God's love in Christ.
            Before he was a Christian, Paul sought to destroy anyone he felt insulted, disobeyed, dishonored, or lied about God or threatened the Jewish religion. Paul was a religious extremist, but his misguided zeal motivated him to do evil and not good. He thought loving God meant destroying people who disagreed with him about God. One must be very careful with extreme devotion to religion. It can lead to the most horrible acts—as Paul showed in his early life.
            Thankfully, God changed Paul’s life and he learned the right way to serve God. In 2 Corinthians 12:15, Paul reveals his new attitude towards people for the sake of Christ. He said, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for you.” As a Christian, Paul was even more extreme in his devotion to God, but his new core value was love. Paul was willing to sacrifice his own comfort, reputation, even his life for the sake of saving as many souls as possible.
            We, also, must learn the right way to serve God—with our whole hearts as Christian fanatics of love, committed to the Kingdom, willing to put our lives on the line for the sake of love.
But is it possible to tell the difference between good and evil Christian extremism? It is and John Wesley’s instructions on the matter may be the best advice on the subject.

Christian Zeal
            John Wesley said, “...Christian zeal is all love. It is nothing else. The love of God and man fills up its whole nature.” This is what the great Christian hymn tells us, based on the Gospel of John: “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love! Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Christians are by definition, Love Extremist. For it was extreme love that led Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. It was the extreme love of the martyrs that led them to risk their lives for the sake of a lost world who needed to hear the Gospel of Christ. And it is extreme love that leads Christians to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

What is the nature of the extreme love we show?
            The Christian extremist is full of humility. We count others as better than ourselves. We willing surrender our rights for the sake of others.
            The Christian extremist is full of gentleness. We are careful with other's feelings. We gently woo them to Christ.
            The Christian extremist is full of patience. We are long suffering, drawing our patience from the eternal well of God’s love.
            Moreover, the Christian extremist doesn’t just have flashes of all these traits. The true Christian extremist is steadfast, showing these traits in all seasons.

Strengthening Christian Virtues
            Do not fret if you lack these characteristics in you in the measure you want. You can strengthen them within you.
            Strengthen them with Christian practices. The more you pray, the more you read your Bible, the more you worship Jesus in church, the more you receive Holy Communion, and meet with other Christians for fellowship and accountability, the more God will strengthen the characteristics of love within you.
            Strengthen them with Christian service. The more serve God and the people around you, the more you offer charity in our community in the name of Jesus, the more you seek to love your fellow man, the more you will exercise and strengthen your humility, gentleness, patience, and love.
These are the ways to strengthen God’s love within you and become the kind of Christian fanatic that Jesus wants you to be. 

The Priorities of the Christian Extremist
             Let’s look at some of the ways Christian zeal is expressed and consider which ways are most important.
            First of all, a Christian extremist will be zealous for the church. I hope one of your top priorities in life is to come to church. Come for worship. Come for study. Come for fellowship. Come for opportunities to serve. Commit to miss no more than 5 Sundays a year. Support the church with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness. If you are truly a Christian, you should have a deep, abiding love for the church. You will want to be here more than anywhere else. Your desire to be present for church should be near the very top of your commitments in life—above sports, above travel, above recreation, above friendships, above politics. A Christian fanatic, a true Jesus freak, loves the church.
            However, the Christian extremist has an even higher priority than attending church. A Christian fanatic is even more passionate about the teachings of Christ than the church in general. For Christ gave us the church, Holy Communion, baptism, the songs of our faith, and the traditions of the church. Since it is Christ we worship when we gather here, the Christian extremist is more devoted to what Jesus said and did than to the church itself.
            But there is more! A Christian extremist who is a fanatic follower of Christ, should be even more zealous to serve in Jesus name—for the Jesus said, “I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.” (Matthew 9:13). Whenever one interferes with the other, acts of mercy are to be preferred above coming to church and even Bible study.
            However, as zealous as Christian extremists are for good works, we should be even more passionate about Christian virtues—humility, gentleness, patience, contentment, submission to God—for these are the attitudes that lead us to serve God and humanity, and serve in the right way at the right time for the right reasons.
            The greatest zeal of all is reserved for the most important Christian virtue—love. This is something the Apostle Paul finally discovered when he became a Christian extremist. He said in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 – “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” 
            
Taking Back the Word Extremist
            Perhaps you are still afraid of the idea of a Christian extremist.  Isn't it too dangerous?  No it isn't and I think Christians should take back the word from evil people who have kidnapped extremism.  True Christian extremism, rooted in love, rejects all forms of evil.
            If true Christian extremism is extreme love, then it rejects every kind and degree of hatred and bitterness. A Christian fanatic refuses to retaliate, but rather loves his enemies and prays for those who curse him.
            If Christian extremism be nothing more than sacrificial, wholehearted love of God and humanity, then it will never have anything to do with prejudice or jealousy or any form of bigotry, racism or xenophobia. Persecuting or mistreating others in any way—even in the name of God—is totally inconsistent with Christian zeal. It is not Christianity at all, let alone Christian extremism.
            If humility is a chief trait of Christian zeal, pride is utterly incompatible with it. The Christian extremist will gladly have their pride hurt for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom.
            Moreover, the Christian extremist cannot be both gentle and angry. And we must be careful of any so-called “Christian” whose chief characteristic is anger. Yes, anger is part of the human experience and sometimes serves a useful purpose to energize us, but the truly zealous Christian will be one who is known for love and not anger. Love is the motivating factor that energizes and excites us. Even anger about a world that has turned its back on God will only be a minor footnote in the life of a Christian extremist. The Christian extremist will devote themselves to gentleness, patience, and love and any anger they feel will be fleeting, dissolving quickly in the far superior attitude of grace.
            Brothers and sisters, it is time for us to take back the term extremist from those misguided people who try to use it but do not know God or His Kingdom.  Let us become so in love with Christ that we show the world what a Christian extremist is really like.  It is the only way to know God and change the world with His love.

Invitation
            Search your heart and discover your own attitude. Are you like the Anglican church John Wesley sought to revive? Is your faith dull and lifeless, lazy and uninspiring? Are you just going through the motions and not really growing spiritually or making any real difference in your family, your community, or your world? Perhaps today, Jesus is challenging you to get serious about your faith.
            Are you like Paul before he became a Christian? Is your religion full of the wrong kind of passion? Is your religious zeal motivated by anger when it should be motivated by love of God and your fellow man? Is your zeal all about following the rules or trying to impress God when it should be about God’s grace and forgiveness? The greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Perhaps today, Jesus is challenging you to be born again—like Paul—so that you turn your passion to the right things.
            Are you a Christian who needs to go deeper, become more committed, be filled with passion for Jesus Christ? Perhaps today, Jesus is challenging you to look deep in your heart and reprioritize the elements of your faith so that love is the motivating factor for everything you do.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Christian Community

Acts 2:40-47

Introduction
            If there's anything the violence of the last month has taught us, it's that our world is in desperate need of God.  I am starting to lose track of all the violent attacks reported on the news.  Less than a month ago, a gunman went on a shooting rampage and killed 49 people and injured even more at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  Just this past week, videos were released of two separate incidents where black men were shot by police officers who are now under investigation.  (Regardless of who's right or wrong, it is a terrible trajedy and telling of the kind of world we live in.)  Then, on Thursday, five police officers were killed and seven wounded along with two more civilians when a sniper opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in Texas.  Our world is in chaos.  We desperately need God to save us from ourselves.  We all need to repent and turn our hearts back to God before it's too late.
            I long for our nation to turn back to God.  It is something I have prayed about for decades.  It is why I am a preacher.  Here’s something I wrote in my prayer journal way back on June 29, 1999--even before I became a preacher:
“Lord, we need You more than ever.  Please work in the hearts of every man, woman, and child on this planet.  Revive us, Oh Lord.  Turn our hearts back to You.  Save us from these crooked ways.  Bring us back to You.”
This has continued to be my heart's desire for 17 years.  It has directed my life and my ministry.  I’m not alone.  I believe there is a longing in many hearts for our community, our state, our nation, and even our world to turn back to God.  I long for this.  Don’t you?
            As we long for a more godly community, we have different ideas about what that looks like.  Some wish the community to be more like it was in the “good ole days”.  Some long for a more progressive community, where we are more tolerant and open to people who are different than us. Who's right?  If we don’t know what type of community you are aiming for, how can you hope to achieve it?
            Rather than aim for our own worldly ideas of a Christian community, let's look to God's Word.  There was a time when the Church community lived wholeheartedly for God.  Let’s read the Scripture to see what pure Christianity, pure Godly living, pure revival looks like.

Acts 2:42-47
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

What were the characteristics of this early Christian community?
            First of all, we see these Christians were devoted. We sometimes hear about parents who are devoted to their children; who would do anything for them.  Sometimes perents are so devoted they smother their children or do too much for them and spoil them.
            We hear about sports fans who are devoted to their team; they won’t miss a single game—whether in person or on TV.  They dress in their team’s apparel, decorate their homes and cars with their team logo.  The most extreme
fans are so devoted they might even paint their faces or bodies for the game.  I’ve seen cheese heads at Packers games shirtless in the dead of winter in Wisconsin!
            The early Christians in Acts 2 were devoted to God.  Oh, that people in our churches today were more devoted to God than they are to the things of this world!  Oh, that we were devoted like the Christians in Acts chapter 2!
            The early Christians were devoted to the Apostles' teaching.  The Apostles spent three years with Jesus.  They learned from what he said and what he did.  They were personal witnesses of his death and resurrection.  In turn, the Apostles passed Jesus’ teachings on to the Church in Acts.  
            These early Christians—who were so close to God, whom we should imitate—were devoted to the Apostles' teachings.  They didn’t try to change the Apostles' teaching to fit their lifestyles.  They didn’t try to make exceptions for themselves.  No.  They humbled themselves, repented of any behavior that was contrary to the teachings—whether sinful things they had done or good things they had left undone—and devoted themselves to living the way Jesus said they should live.
            The Christians of Acts 2 passed these apostolic instructions on to others as well.  They challenged their family, friends, and the people of their community to repent of their sin and turn to God by following the Apostles’ teachings about Jesus.  More and more people started coming to the Lord—and it started to change their community and eventually the whole world.
            These early Christians were also devoted to fellowship.   In other words, they were together as one mind and body.  They saw each other as family.  The bond between these believers was even stronger than the ties between brothers and sisters.  Elders treated their younger believers as their children and young Christians treated their Christian elders as parents.  Everyone in the Christian community was part of the “family of God” and it was more than just words; it was real.  Everyone had each other’s back—to the point they would even sell their possessions for the good of the whole Christian community.  No one went without because everyone was wholeheartedly committed to their Christian family.
            The Church in Acts experienced the risen Christ in their midst because they were devoted to the Breaking of the Bread (otherwise known to us as Holy Communion).  The early church was not distracted by keeping up with the Jones’, making more money, or driving a nicer car.  They were not caught up in sports or politics. They were not glued to their TVs or their Facebook feeds to see the latest gossip in the news.  No.  They were devoted to worshiping the Lord through Holy Communion Thus, they were overwhelmed by Christ's presence in their lives.  Oh that you would be more like these early Christians!  As the song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus and looked full in his wonderful face.  And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”  The Acts 2 community's closeness to Jesus through worship, fellowship, and Holy Communion made them truly alive in Christ and dead to the world, but there is more.  
            These Christians in Acts 2 devoted themselves to prayer.  It was more than just saying they would pray for one another.  They prayed with one anotherThey met every day to pray together—in their homes, in the Temple, where they worked, in the streets.  They never did anything without praying about it first.  Daily, they prayed—not for safety from persecution or death (though these were ever present and real dangers), but instead they prayed—for boldness to share the Gospel of Jesus with the dark world around them.  If you want the dark world around you to change, if you want to see an end to the violence, you must get serious about prayer.  Revival starts with prayer.  It will change you and it will change the people around you.  Soon, it will change the whole world.

What were the results for the early church in Acts?
            These early Christians lived with a powerful sense of awe and wonder.  They saw God’s miracles all around them—in normal everyday things, and sometimes in dramatic actions—healings, people released from prison, impossibilities becoming realities.
            Have you lost your sense of awe and wonder when it comes to God?  Have you become a cynic, skeptical of everything you hear about God and the church?  Have you stopped seeing the Hand of God working in the world around you?  Have you ever had a sense of wonder about God?  I suggest you devote yourself wholeheartedly to the things I mentioned before as did these early Christians in Acts.  You see how they were filled with awe and wonder.  It will work for you too.  
            Another result was the early Christians saw people being saved everyday.  The rich, the poor, men, women, children, slaves, Jews, Gentiles, politicians, beggars, merchants, idolaters, prostitutes, people of all different races and languages, were convert to Christianity—drawn by the powerful authenticity of these people who devoted themselves to the Lord with their whole hearts, who lived what they believed, who were committed to the Kingdom of God above all else.  Daily, new people became believers and the Church grew and grew until it became the largest religion in the world.

Do you want the world to be a better place, a safer place, a more loving place?  It starts with you.  It starts now.  The choice is up to you.
            The Apostle Peter told us what to do—how to find the salvation we and our world so desperately needs.  Acts 2:38, Peter said, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
            He said repent, which means turn around; go a different direction.  Stop living the wrong way and start living the right way.  Stop being unconcerned, lazy, apathetic, indifferent, silent, uncommitted, and start living wholeheartedly for God!
            Peter said, be baptized.  Baptism is a symbol.  It means we die to our old way of living and are reborn to a new way of thinking and acting.  So you must be baptized with water as a symbol, but more importantly, you must die to your old ways and start living a new life.
            Some might say, “I have nothing of which to repent.” You better check yourself again.  We all need to repent of something.  We all need improvement.  We all need to grow.  And just because you are living like or have the attitudes people held in the “good ole days” does not mean you are living right.  Some of those “old” attitudes were wrong (racism, sinful pride, complacency).  It may be that Jesus has some new attitudes and practices He wants you to learn.
            Some might say, “I don’t want things to change.  I like my life the way it is.”  Well, what can I say.  You have fallen in love with the world.  I pray the Lord will break your heart until you realize the world has nothing worthwhile to offer.  Then maybe you will turn away from the world and turn to God.
            Some might say, "We need to protest!  We've got to stand up for our rights!  We need to fight!"  Violence will change nothing; at least not in any positive, lasting ways.  Look instead at Jesus' example.  If anyone did, Jesus had the right and the power to call down 10,000 angels to come and violently change the world.  However he didn't.  Instead, he offered forgiveness and grace.  He said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."  In the end, he died on the cross for the very people who hated him.  As he hung on that cross, he prayed, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  Only love can heal our broken world.  God is love.

Perhaps it's time to repent and turn to God.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Help Our Community

Matthew 5:14-16

Introductions
Pleasant Grove is on a mission from God to tell people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to do it.  That means whatever we do, we are telling people about Jesus. If we are teaching kids at school, we are telling them about Jesus; if we are making carpet in a carpet mill, we are telling people about Jesus; if we are are visiting someone who is sick and in the hospital, we are telling them about Jesus; whatever we do, we are telling people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to do it. And our long range goals are 1) give hope to the hopeless, 2) build new relationships, and 3) help our community.  
Last week, we discussed how God wants us to follow Christ’s example and build new relationships.  Today we consider goal #3 – help our community.  Listen to what Jesus said about the effect true believers have on their world.  

Matthew 5:14-16
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
Shining A Light vs. Bragging
Jesus said, “Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  People take notice when Christians are sincerely kind and helpful. They shine like a city on a hill.
But some people will say, “Wait a minute!  I thought we weren’t supposed to brag about our good deeds?”  Matthew 6:1 does say, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” Remember though, Jesus sais that to Pharisees because they only did good deeds because they liked to make themselves look good.
There is a subtle difference between shining your light and bragging.  It is your motivation.  Bragging tries to make you look good.  Shining your light points people to God and glorifies Him.  So we must Help Our Community for the right reasons.  Not to glorify ourselves or our church, but to bring glory to God and for the love of His people.

Jesus Helped Communities

Jesus traveled all over the land of Israel.  Everywhere he went, Jesus helped the communities he visited.  It was a natural outgrowth of who he was and the Kingdom he represented.  Jesus is the Son of God and He represents the Kingdom of God.  There is no sickness or death or suffering or poverty in the Kingdom of God.  All these evils flee when the Kingdom of God comes near.  So it makes sense that whenever Jesus was present: demons were cast out, the blind regained sight, the lame could walk, and the hungry were fed.
Of course, the miracles were a blessing in and of themselves.  But imagine how the blessings spread out and had a rippling effect like a stone thrown into a pond.  Just take for instance the effect of a healing.  Imagine how that blessed the families of those who were healed.  Now there was an extra wage earner in the family at a time when every bit of income mattered.  The family no longer had to care for the sick person; the sick person could contribute.  And that person who’d been healed would have such a fresh perspective on life.  They would be a more enthusiastic member of society, a better citizen, and one that gave glory to God in everything they did.  Imagine the economic impact of just one healing on a community.  Now there is one more person who can work, defend the city, buy and sell goods, take care of his family, raise children, and help others.  And of course, everyone who knew of the healing would find new hope and a better attitude.  So you see, whole communities where blessed when Jesus came to town.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement led a great revival of Christianity in England in the 1700s.  Wesley preached all over England and people turned to Jesus in droves.  People did away with drunkenness and vulgar language, became better citizens, harder workers, kinder, and more charitable.  Most scholars believe such social reforms as child labor laws, the abolition of slavery in England, the value of education, and prison reform where a direct result of so many people actively following Jesus during John Wesley’s time.  A whole nation was changed because Christians got serious about their faith and did what Jesus called them to do.

Helping Our Community

Proverbs 11:11 says, “Upright citizens are good for a city and make it prosper, but the talk of the wicked tears it apart.”  If we live an active, healthy, Christian life, we will be a blessing to our Community.  It will be a better place to live because Pleasant Grove UMC is in it.  We can help our community believe in itself.  We can help our area be cleaner, safer, and healthier. We should be good to our community because Jesus has been good to us.

What can you do to help our community?
One thing you can do to help your community is support local businesses.  These are the people who live here in our community—your friends and neighbors.  Their success contributes to the success of our whole community.  Our church makes a conscious effort to buy local whenever we can.  For example, you know the fabulous Pleasant Grove t-shirts we have offered.  We were buying them online from a company in Fairfax, Virginia.  Then Donna found a local business who could make the same shirts—The Trophy Hut.  It was a no-brainer for us.  We want to help our community.  We want to support the local economy.  So we bought our shirts locally.  And we try to buy locally whenever we can.  I hope you will too.
Another thing you can do to help our community—pray for it.  Prayer changes things.  It changes people, situations, and it even changes us.  If you want to fall more in love with your community, pray for it.  Do you want have a more positive view of your community?  Pray for it.  Do you want to see better schools and neighborhoods?  Pray for them.  Prayer will change things and it will change you.
When you walk or drive around town, pray for the houses and businesses you pass.    Pray for the churches in our community – not just PGUMC, all churches. (Remember, any church that is telling people about Jesus is part of our team.)  Pray for our community leaders and politicians—especially as they face a tough election this month.  Pray with people. You know just about anyone--Christian or not--will tell you they will pray for you if you ask. It's just a nice thing to say, but not necessarily something everyone follows through on. If you want to really help someone and leave a deep impression of them for Jesus, pray with them--right then when they ask. It doesn't even have to be a fancy prayer--just a sentence or too in normal, everyday language. People might forget if the preacher prays with them, but they won't forget if you do. SO when someone says, "Hey, I'm gonna be late because my son is sick. Please pray for me." Say, "Alright, do you mind if I do that for you right now over the phone." They will never forget that you prayed with them.
Help your community by participating in local community events.  Can I suggest one that happens this month?  Come out for the Family Promise Duck Race in downtown Dalton on May 21st.  It’s a fundraiser for Family Promise to help fight homelessness.  But it’s more than that.  It’s a community event designed to bring people and churches together.  So come out and help your community at the Dalton Depot on Saturday, May 21st starting at 3:00.
Last, but certainly not least, if you want to help you community, live your Christian faith with integrity.  Jesus said we “are the salt of the earth.”  Salt gives flavor.  It preserves food so it doesn’t spoil.  In the same way, Christians who truly live the way Jesus calls us to live add flavor and life to our community.  Our holy living counteracts the wicked deeds of others that threaten to spoil our neighborhoods.  If every Christian truly followed Jesus and forsook the evil ways of our world, our community would experience a tremendous revival and would be beacon of light—a true city on a hill shining for all the world to see.

Invitation
Jesus said, “Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  The most luminous example is Christ, himself.  His final act of selfless love was to lay down his own life for the sake of others.  He laid his life down for you.  It was not just that he died (though that was the ultimate expression of his love).  Think of all Christ laid down for you.
Success.  A man of Jesus' ability could have gone far in this world.  Think of the money, power, influence, he could have achieved.  Yet he gave all that up and chose the life of a wandering preacher, trying to help people.  He didn’t even have a home.
Marriage.  Jesus gave up the joy of having a wife.  We had a wedding for Kathy and Stephen Yarbrough yesterday and we have another one this Saturday for Amanda and Ken.  Weddings are a time of joy and we just assume that most people will experience the joy of marriage at some point in their life.  Jesus sacrificed that dream for you.
Children.  What about children?  My son will graduate high school this month.  What a joy it has been to see Gavin grow from an infant to a young man.  Jesus never got to do that.  He chose instead to sacrifice his life for our sins—for my sins, for your sins.
Mother.  Since it is Mother’s Day, how appropriate to consider the tremendous sacrifice Jesus made in terms of his mother, Mary.  As Jesus was dying on the cross, he looked at his mother.  He must have considered the awful sacrifice they were both making.  They would not be able to spend the next 20 or 30 or 40 years together as mother and son.  Mary would not get to watch her son grow older and pass through the normal stages of life as every man should.  Jesus would not be able to help care for his aging mother.  He would not be able to sit at her bedside as she took her final breath.  Instead, the cross reversed those rolls in a way they should never be reversed for a family—the child died before the parent.  And so as Jesus was dying on the cross, he handed over his responsibility to the disciple, John.  Speaking of John, Jesus said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son.”  And to John he said, “Here is your mother.”
I cannot fathom the heartache and suffering of the crucifixion.  It was horrible for anyone, but especially because Jesus didn’t deserve it at all.  He was completely innocent, the most beautiful person who ever lived.  All he did was bring truth and justice and love into our world.  And they crucified him.  
Yet because of the cross, our sins have been forgiven.  We can find a new life.  We can leave behind our old way of living.  And I pray that we will.  I pray you will not just casually say, “Yes I believe and want to be a Christian.”  No.  I want you to give yourself to Jesus as whole heartedly and sacrificially as he gave himself to you.  As Jesus said, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must lay down his life, take up his cross and follow me.”
That’s what our community needs.  That’s what will truly help.  Not a bunch of casual church people who aren’t much different from anyone else practicing southern hospitality in our Bible-belt neighborhoods.  That kind of religion won’t change much.  But if we will become followers who truly put our allegiance to Jesus and his way of life above everything else, well…  That would truly help our community.  That might actually change the world.