Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - www.PleasantGrove.cc Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.
Showing posts with label Purpose. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Purpose. Show all posts

Monday, June 1, 2020

Ekklesia 3 - Called out of the World


Introduction
I’ve felt like an outsider almost my whole life.  I never had any resentment about it—it was just the reality for our family when I was a kid.  My parents were both born in Georgia but met and married in Maryland.  So, I began my life as an outsider in Maryland, a child of two outsiders from Georgia.  Eventually, we moved away from Maryland back to Georgia.  In Georgia, I felt even more like an outsider.  In Maryland, kids teased me because I had a southern accent.  (I guess I picked it up from my parents.)  When we moved to Georgia, kids at school said I talked like a Yankee.  Some of the kids in my school in Macon had such thick southern accents, I couldn’t understand what they were saying! 

In all, I attended five different elementary schools and, each time, it reinforced the fact that I was an outsider—the new kid on the outside of a circle of friends.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  It was just the way it was and I didn’t know any better and didn’t resent it.
 
Then, after high school, I moved to Marietta to attend college.  Metro Atlanta was very different from Macon, and again, I felt like an outsider among people who had lived in the Atlanta area their whole lives.  They would talk about the different towns and roads and places assuming everyone knew where they were—and most everyone did (accept me, the outsider).  But that was OK, because by then I knew how to make it as an outsider—a stranger in a foreign land, as they say. 

After college, I worked for a small textile mill in Griffin—a small town where everybody knew everybody and everyone in the mill knew everybody else, and probably had for their whole life.  Except for me, of course; I was the outsider—that new college kid who thought he was smarter than everyone else. (That was their opinion, not mine, by the way.  I deeply respected their vast experience and just wanted to learn from them. I didn’t think I was better than anyone, but some perceived me that way simply because I had a college degree.)

And then I answered the call to ministry as a United Methodist minister.  And guess what?  United Methodist ministers are reappointed to new churches every so many years (the average is about 5 years in each congregation)!  So all together, I’ve lived in twelve different homes in my life and I have attended 10 different churches.

Now, the more I have matured in my Christian faith, the more I see the benefit of my life as an outsider, because one of the great truths is Jesus came to call Christians to be “outsiders” in this world.

John 15:18-19
18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.

Called Out of this World
As we think about the purpose of Church, we have to remember that Christians are a “called out” people.  The Greek word for Church in the New Testament is Ekklesia, which literally means “the called out people”.  The Church is not a building.  The Church is a group of people who have been called out of something old into something new--called out of darkness into light, out of shame into nobility, called out of the world into the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps it has been easier for me than for most to accept that Christians are outsiders in this world because I have never felt “at home” in this world.  My faith in Christ has assured me that feeling is OK because this world is not our home. 

Philippians 3:20 says, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.”

You see, being a Christian isn’t a sentence to be an outsider forever.  It only means being an outsider in this world.  But it means being an insider in God’s Kingdom.  Hebrews 13:14 – “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

But many Christians struggle with being “outsiders in this world.”  There are too many things we like about this world.  Hank Williams Jr. once sang a song, “If Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go.  If Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I’d just as soon stay home.”  How about you?  If Heaven ain’t a lot like the place you call home, would you still want to go?  Are you more a part of this world or of God’s Kingdom?  These are critical questions to consider.  Remember, all the things of this world will soon melt away, but the Kingdom of God will stand forever (see 2 Peter 3:10-12).

The Purpose of the Church
It’s important to always keep in mind that Christians are not just called out of, but we are also called into.  We are called out of the world, but we are called into God’s Kingdom.  And this reveals one of the essential purposes of the Church.  The Church is the place Christians gather together into a community--a community of faith, God's Kingdom on earth.  Right now, it's just an outpost of God's Kingdom.  One day, it will be God's full Kingdom on earth when Jesus comes to reign in power and might.  Until then, we need a place where the faithful can gather.  The Church is that place.

No one can make it in this world completely alone.  We’re not made that way.  It doesn’t matter how much of a loner you are, you cannot live in complete isolation from other people.  Everyone (and I mean everyone) needs to be part of a group of people.

Christians do not live out our faith alone.  We need each other.  Jesus, the Son of the living God, called together a group of 12 people.  Don’t you think Jesus, God in the flesh, imbued with all the power in the universe, could have saved the world all by himself?  He didn’t need the help of 12 flawed, feeble mortals to do His work.  However, he chose these broken men to be together because being together is essential to the Christian life.

Part of the purpose of Church is for us to be together.  Because if we are called out of the world and we don’t gather together, then we’re just alone; and being alone is a death sentence to your spiritual life.  I want everyone reading this to understand me clearly.  If you are trying to live as a Christian all alone, all bv yourself without a group of other Christians, you will die spiritually.

Now, don’t get me wrong, gathering as a “church” doesn’t have to look like it has traditionally looked in America.  Obviously, we’ve been learning a new way to do “church” through online worship for over two months.  Church could also be a group of men gathering for lunch at a restaurant for encouragement, accountability, and cooperation in the mission of the Church.  Church could also be gathering in your living room or outdoors at a campground.  But it’s not just gathering; it’s not the same as getting together with your family or friends for a cookout.  We gather for some specific reasons.  What are they?

The Church Gathers for Important Reasons
Here are some of essential reasons we must gather.  Now, I’m still praying about this and studying.  I don't know that I have this all worked out and organized.  A lot of this is me just thinking out loud.  But here’s what I think are some of the essential reasons Christians must gather together.

Worship.  Obviously, we can worship privately as individuals.  We can also worship online as we are doing in many churches during the COVID 19 pandemic.  Some people may prefer to worship online as we are today.  For others, being together in one room worship God with other people enhances the worship experience. We feel God presence more compellingly when we are in a group.

Learning and growing.  There is a certain amount of learning and growing that can be accomplished online.  We are learning that we might actually be more effective in some ways when we teach online.  The jury is still out.  If online learning is as effective as onsite learning, then why have we not yet abolished school classrooms and gone completely to online learning for public education as well as college courses.  Right now, these are options, but most students and teachers still believe being physically present in a classroom is essential for proper education.  I mean, do you want to be operated on by a surgeon who only took online classes in medical school?  I believe onsite learning in small groups, Sunday school classes, and Bible studies is essential in the church.  We are learning, however, that the right combination of online and onsite learning may be better than either one alone.

The Sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism.  Jesus commanded the Church to perform two sacred ceremonies—Baptism and Holy Communion.  These can only be celebrated when a community of Christian believers are gathered together in person.  Some are celebrating online/virtual communions and I don't fault them; Christians long to celebrate Holy Communion and this is something many are trying to get by during a global pandemic.  However, I would say it's not really true Communion.  It is a stand in.  True Holy Communion must be celebrated as we gather in person. 

Cooperation for the sake of the mission.  Together, as a church, we are a team.  Christians are more effective when we work together.  We can do more as a group than we can do individually.  I’m good at some things, but not everything.  You are better at some things than I am.  When we get together, I add the things I'm good at your good things and the good things of everyone else in the church and it adds up to great things.  When we all pool together our time, our talents, our perspectives, and our resources for the sake of the Christ’s mission, we can accomplish greater things than we could ever accomplish alone.

Finally, there is fellowship.  And this is huge.  Sometimes, fellowship doesn't get the respect it's due.  Cynics may say a church that focuses on fellowship is just a social club.  That's not fair.  Fellowship is vital to the Christian faith.  People who don’t meet together regularly to fellowship in person will grow apart.  And if a church is going to work together as a team, weathering trials and tribulations, we have to know each other, trust each other, and long for each other.  We have to be one as a family—brothers and sisters in Christ.  I just don’t see how a Church can go to the depths of relationship building, working together on our great mission, and being the community of faith Jesus calls us to be if we don’t get together regularly in person all in the same space.  We can manage it for a time, but eventually we would grow apart.  Over the long term, we have to be together to be one in Christ to do the things the Church is called out of the world and into the Kingdom to God to do.  Fellowship is essential.

Closing
I want everyone reading this to seriously contemplate how you are called to be part of the Church.  Over the next month, we will slowly begin to resume onsite gatherings at my church, Pleasant Grove.  Is God calling you to be here. If you don’t live close enough, is God calling you to be in a church near you?  Please understand, that doesn't necessarily mean you need to worship in a traditional church building.  You could worship online at my church on Facebook on Sunday and then meet with a solid group of Christian friends for coffee on Monday morning and get the "in person" portion of Christian relationships you need.  Is God calling you to do that?

Jesus came to call you out of darkness into light, to call you out of shame into a noble purpose.  He came to call you out of a broken world of sin into God’s glorious Kingdom of eternal life.  Won’t you hear His voice today and start to follow Him?

Monday, May 18, 2020

Ekklesia 1 - Rediscovering Church

Introduction
I’m so very proud of the graduating class of 2020. Our church recognizes graduating students every year and we are always proud of each one.  But I can honestly say, we have never had a year like this one.  Each graduating class is unique and has its own struggles, but your class—2020—has faced a pandemic that has shut down the entire world.  Humanity has faced plagues before—some far deadlier than COVID 19.  However, nothing has ever shutdown the entire globe, all at the same time—from Asia to Europe to Africa to America.  Class of 2020, your year will go down in history as one of the most challenging of all times.  Perhaps one day, when you are old and gray, you will take your grandchildren of great grandchildren in your arms and you will say, “I was in the graduating class of 2020.  They canceled the last 2 months of school, along with proms and sports and all our extracurricular activities.  But we endured and we graduated.”  And I hope, after having some time to reflect upon your experience,  you will also be able to say, “We learned more during that crazy time about what really matters in life than we could have ever learned in our classrooms.”

I hope we have all been reflecting and learning a lot more these day—about life, about death, about the meaning of it all and what’s really important.  I know many pastors and Christians have been reflecting on what church is all about.  It has now been nine weeks since we had a regular onsite worship service at Pleasant Grove.  All our services since March 15th have been “online only”.  In fact, the graduates and their families that joined us for worship in the sanctuary on May 17 (about 60 people spread out for social distancing) were the first “congregation” we’ve had on site in over two months (other than a small worship team that’s helped us lead our LIVE stream service on Facebook).

And so, many pastors and Christians have been pausing to reflect on what “Church” is really all about.  What is the purpose of Church?  If we can’t meet in person, are we really still a church?  Pleasant Grove Methodist is a very active church; our calendar is normally full of activities.  But for the last two months, all of those activities have been canceled.  We've tried to limit our work to only what we've felt had to be done--online worship, managing essential administrative tasks, and some vital mission work that needed tp be done.

High school seniors from this year’s class know what it’s like to have activities canceled.  Your senior year is supposed to be full of special activities.  Yet many of those activities have been canceled.  Does that mean you are not a senior?  Does that mean you won’t be a graduate?  Does the cancellation of these extracurricular activities nullify all the work you’ve done for over a decade in your academic career?  No.  Of course not.  They will still graduate.

Here’s why.  It all goes back to the purpose of your education.  I’m not an expert in public education so I don’t know if I can perfectly distill down the essence of public education.  However, I’m certain what is most central to a high school education is not marching band or football games or prom or baseball or even the graduation ceremony itself.  All of these (and more) have become beloved traditions of high school education and it hurts your heart when they are taken away.  But the cancellation of all these activities does not nullify in any way whatsoever the fact that you are high school educated graduates. 

Therefore, the purpose of a high school education must be something greater than our beloved traditions—something that you have attained.  Again, I’m not a public educator, but I would speculate that the core purposes of a high school education is to teach you the knowledge you need to succeed in life.  To this you might add, the skills you need to succeed in life.  Perhaps, even more important, maybe, is that a proper education teaches you to be a good person who will be a good citizen. (That’s something that’s important to all of us, because the last thing we need is a bunch of smart, skillful people running around doing evil things!)

As I said, I’m not an educator.  I’m a pastor.  So the big questions on my mind through all this craziness has been: “What is essential about church?”  It’s a question I’ve thought about many times over the years throughout my ministry—it’s not totally new.  However, this question—what is essential about Church—has become especially pressing for me during this time when so many of the traditional things the American Church does have been called off.  Does that make sense?

So today, I’m beginning a new series titled “Ekklesia,” because Ekklesia is the Greek word Bible originally used for “church”.  My purpose today is not to give answers.  Today, I want to give questions. I will spend more time in the next two Sundays sharing some answers about the essence of the Church from Scripture.  But today, I want to get everyone asking the question.  And maybe, as part of that, the graduates of the class of 2020 can ask some deep questions about their own lives as well.  Maybe we can all ask ourselves some core questions that get to the heart of our individual lives.

Jesus always had a way of asking the right questions.

Matthew 16:13-18
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.

Important Information
Jesus reveals some very important information in this short conversation.  First of all, he reveals that he is the Messiah (Chosen One), the Son of the living God.  These were actually Simon (Peter's) words, but Jesus did not dispute them.  Jesus affirms Peter's statement.  Everyone has an opinion about the identity of Jesus--both today and in Jesus day.  Some say he is a prophet, a religious leader, a revolutionary, or even a fiction character.  But Jesus asks, who do you say I am and Peter replies he is the Chosen One, the Son of the Living God.

Jesus also reveals that God inspired Peter to believe this.  Peter didn't get that idea from any person, but directly from God.  It was divinely inspired.  We ought to pay careful attention to this revelation then.

Lastly, Jesus reveals that the Church (Ekklesia) will be founded on Peter’s kind of faith in Jesus.  This is huge.  For any church to stand and remain legitimate, it must be built upon the affirmation that Jesus is the Chosen One, the Son of the Living God.  Otherwise, it is not really a church and will crumble.

Foundations are Critical
The foundation is the most important part of any structure.  Last Saturday morning, a group of men from my church went to another member's house to help build a porch.  We worked for about 8 hours, but nearly half that time was spent laying the foundation.  We needed to take our time and make sure everything in the foundation was right.  Was it level?  Was it square?  Was it firm?  It was very important to make sure the foundation was firm, because otherwise the structure--no matter how pretty--would not last or be reliable.  Once the foundation was laid, we moved very quickly and the rest of the porch was assembled very fast because it was built on a firm foundation.

Foundations are not just for buildings.  Your high school education  is the foundation you need to succeed in life.  It is only a foundation.  You still need more.  Maybe you  go on to get a college education or job training or you  go to work.  But you wouldn’t be prepared to begin those things without the foundation you built over the first 18 or so years of your life.  And a faulty foundation will give you trouble with everything else you try to build in your life as an adult.

What’s Your Purpose?
Your foundation is built from far more than just your education.  Here’s where the questions come in.  Who are you?  What is your essence?  Remember, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?”  Well, who do people say you are?

What you family and closest friends say may be some indication as to what’s most essential about you.  They know you well and may see things you don't  However, if you really want to know the core of who you are, I would recommend looking to God.  God is the One who designed and created you.  He is the One who brought you into this world and has been guiding you all along the way (even if you didn’t know it).  He was there all along.

This is a message especially applicable to graduates as you enter a new phase in life (but it’s also a message we all need to consider during this time when our normal lives have been turned upside down).  Who are you?  What is your purpose?  What kind of life do you want to build?  I would think this is the time for schools and educators to be asking the same things.  What is school all about?  What is the purpose of eduaction?  Now that all the extra stuff has had to be canceled, what is it about school that is essential and cannot be canceled?

Graduates, as you start a new phase of life, you have so much potential and a great amount of freedom to build whatever kind of life you want.  What do you want to build?  More importantly, What do you think God wants you to build?  Because, here’s the thing, what God wants you to build will be so much more fulfilling than anything else.  Believe it or not, God knows you better than you have ever known yourself and His way will always be the better way.

This is a message for everyone, not just graduates.  The COVID 19 pandemic has been awful, but it has given us all a unique opportunity.  Since our normal lives have been so severely disrupted, don’t miss the opportunity to take a good, hard look at what’s most essential in your life.  Now that so much of the fluff is stripped away, ask the question:  Who are you?  What’s your purpose?  What kind of life do you want to build going forward?  Many of us in so many ways will be building something new in our lives in the coming days.  What will it be?

I pray you won’t just opt for the easy, comfortable thing, which is to just go back to the way things were before COVID. (That may not even be possible.  The world has changed.)

I am looking at my own life.  I am also looking at the Church to see what needs to change.  I think that’s what God wants us all to do.  After all, I believe this life is not my own anyway—it belongs to God.  And this church is not ours either—it belongs to God.  So, I want both my life and our church to be what God wants it to be.  How about you?

I invite you all to meditate on the questions God has put on your heart.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Testimony of Rick Tomnsend

"WHERE ARE YOU?"

MY PURPOSE: Mark 5:19 says, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

"WHERE ARE YOU?"

            I have always heard of Jesus, or about Jesus, but I was just not a follower of Jesus.  I was sprinkled as a young boy at the Methodist Church and considered myself a Christian although I probably didn't really know what that meant.  I never realized God was the one who gave me the ability to excel at sports... which was really my identity back then.  Playing sports was my life water...  I lived, breathed, and thirsted for playing sports when I should have been thirsting for the Lord.  And God said, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9)

            After being recruited to play football by a major university, I began using drugs and drinking, feeling a thirst to fit in.  I was still excelling at football... becoming one of only 14 two-time All-Americans at the University of Tennessee.

            In 1972 and 1973, I made Football Writers' All American and Playboy All American teams and was featured in Playboy magazine both of those years.  When I was drafted by the New York Giants in 1975, I felt that my thirst had finally been quenched.  Things didn't work out there and I went to the WFL, having a great year with the Memphis Southmen.  When that league folded, I went back to the New York Giants and was then traded to the San Francisco 49ers.  Life just rolled along and I was still thirsty.  I couldn't find my fill and I never looked to Jesus.  My well ran dry and although I wasn't able to quench that thirst...  I still didn't turn to Jesus, the only one who could quench it.  And God said, "Where are you?"

            My oldest son served time in prison twice and my youngest son spent 6 months in drug rehab, while my middle son was in college on football and academic scholarships.  In 2005, my wife of 33 years divorced me followed by the loss of my mom the next year.  And God said, "Where are you?", but I still didn't get it.

            In 2007, I met Debby and we married in 2008.  Life was looking better.

            In 2013, I was hospitalized with a carbon dioxide level of 117.  Normal range is 35-45.  Within an hour of arriving in the ER, I was on life support in the ICU - where I stayed for the next 13 days.  After coming home, I had to rehab for about 6 weeks.  My wife and I were walking at the track and she started having burning in her upper chest.  She had a heart attack a few days later and we were back in the ICU.

            I told her that as soon as she was able, we were going to church (I had not been to church in 30 years).  That next Sunday we visited Christ Community Church where we still go every Sunday. The third Sunday we were there I felt the Spirit enter my body while listening to "Give Me Jesus," now one of my favorite songs.  My wife said on the way home that I was not the same man she came to church with that morning.

            I now travel around speaking to others about the grace and mercy God has shown this sinner. 

            I now live every day to the fullest, praising God each and every day for allowing me to wake up and experience all the beauty around me.  I especially thank him for using me for times like these... speaking to others in the hopes of reaching people (even if it is just one person) who hasn't been saved and leading them to Jesus.

            Jesus says He is the only way to God the Father.  Some people may argue that this way is too narrow.  In reality, it is wide enough for the whole world, if the world chooses to accept it.  Instead of worrying about how limited it sounds to have only one way, we should be saying, "Thank you, God, for providing a sure way to get to You!"

FOR SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS:
RICKY TOWNSEND

Friday, July 21, 2017

Proverbs Day 21

Read Proverbs 21
Success takes planning and hard work. There are no shortcuts in life. You have to know what's really important. Keep your priorities in line and focus your time, energy, resources, and money on what's really important at the expense of everything else.

Pastor Chris' Paraphrase of Proverbs 21:5, 6, 9, 17, 20 and 25-26

5 Good plans and steady hard work earn great rewards, but reckless haste makes you poor.

6 Treasures earned with deceit lead to death and will soon be gone.

9 It’s better to crash in the corner of some attic than live in a charming home with a wife who’s always angry.

17 People who indulge and party all the time never have enough; people who always have to have the latest, greatest things don’t get rich.

20 Wise people have lots of wealth and luxury, but fools immediately spend whatever they get.

25-26 A couch potato dies even though he wants more, because he’s too lazy to work it. He always wants more, more, more. Godly people are more givers than takers. 

Know who you are and Gods's plans for you. Focus on what really matters and don't worry about everything else too much. Be happy with what you have and don't covet. Be generous and not greedy. Work hard to follow God's plan and be persistent. Good things come to those who are wise.

Prayer
"God of Heaven and Earth, help me to know Your plans for me and to stay focused on them, working hard to accomplish everything You want me to do. Amen."

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Great Commission - Part 1

Part 1 – “Go!”
Matthew 28:18-20

Introduction
            Everybody needs a purpose.  With no purpose, you have no direction and no motivation.  A person's health often declines drastically in the months just after they retire.  Researchers believe this is largely due to the retiree losing their since of purpose.  A study by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that recent retirees were 40% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who were still working.[i]
Perhaps this is because while people are working, they have a stronger identity and more driving them.  When people retire, they often feel adrift, become depressed or inactive.  It is not that retirement is unhealthy, it’s just that retirees need to find a new purpose to give them direction and motivation.
            We all need a purpose.  The Good News is God gives us a noble purpose that transcends our jobs, our age, our gender, and everything else about us.  Our purpose, our mission, is called the Great Commission.  Today we begin a new sermon series on the Great Commission.   It was given directly by Jesus after he rose from the grave, just before he ascended to Heaven to sit on his throne at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  Let’s look at the Great Commission as it was passed on to us in the Gospel of Matthew 28:18-20. 

Matthew 28:18-20
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Context
            The Great Commission is not an option; it is a command given to Jesus' disciples.  In the beginning, it was to the 12 original disciples (minus Judas who betrayed Jesus and committed suicide).  But the command was not just to the twelve, it is to all who call themselves “disciples”—anyone who has decided to follow Jesus.  If you have decided to follow Jesus, you are a disciple and this Great Commission is for you.
            Jesus said, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore…”  In other words, we had better pay attention and heed his command because it has the authority of the Son of God, the Lord of all Heaven and Earth, behind it.  The Great Commission is a command that transcends all other missions we have in life.  It is the Christian’s ultimate objective.  When God gives an order, it transcends all commands given by those of lesser authority.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said it this way: “You have one business on earth—to save souls.”
            That doesn’t mean we drop all our other responsibilities in order to carry out this one Great Commission.  The Great Commission can be carried out—actually it should be carried out—as we go about all our other duties.  The Great Commission ought to permeate everything we do.  Let’s look a little closer at what the Great Commission says by breaking it into parts.  We will look at the first part today.  It is simple.  Just one word.  “Go!” 

Lost in Translation
Some things are easily lost in translation.  The Chevy Nova was one of the top selling cars for General Motors in the 1960s and 70s.  I used to catch a ride to high school with my best friend in his brother’s 1974 Chevy Nova SS.  It was a fast, fun car to ride in.  But legend has it, the Nova did not sell well in Spanish speaking countries because “No Va” in Spanish means “No Go!”  Who wants to buy a car that “won’t go”?
            We have a similar problem when we read the Great Commission in English.  The first word we read is “go.”  It could lead us to think the main point of the Great Commission is to go,  but that’s not it at all.  The issue is the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Greek.  The Greek language does not phrase sentences the same way we do in English. 
            A literal translation of the Great Commission from Greek to English would say something like:  “Make disciples when you go…”  In other words, the main point is to make disciples.  It is assumed that you will go.  And when you go, wherever you go, and in whatever you do, you should seek to make disciples.
            The Great Commission should permeate every action of your life.  You should make disciples when you go home to your family.  You should make disciples when you go to work to make a living.  You should make disciples when you go next door to your neighbor’s house.  You should make disciples when you travel to a faraway land you’ve never been to before.  You should make disciples when you become a parent and start raising kids.  You should make disciples if you decide to remain single or not have any kids.  You should make disciples next Sunday when you go to work on a project for Be the Church.  You should make disciples whenever and wherever you go and whatever you do.  It is the main point—the Great Commission.  But I like the word go.  It reminds us to be active.  We’ve got to step on the gas and get busy. 
Listen to what James 2:14 says, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?”
            Sometimes we in the church get so caught up in being “spiritual” (studying our Bibles, praying, etc) that we forget to go and make disciples.  We become so spiritually-minded that we are of no earthly good.
            In thinking about James 2:14, listen to what our music minister, David Crawford, wrote this week.  He said:
“I believe there is a similarity between faith and prayer in this instance.  Prayer is important, and is a power given to us that enables us to ask for things we do not have the ability to achieve on our own with the resources God has given us.  But there are times when action other than prayer is necessary to show God’s love, and do His will.  Sometimes it is being God’s hands and feet that may be the answer to the prayer of those unable to help themselves.  Yes, you should pray, but don’t forget to do.  Faith without works….prayer without deeds….we should all strive to Refuse to have one without the other.” 

Closing
            Are you willing to obey the Great Commission from Jesus Christ?  Are you willing to make disciples whenever and wherever you go in whatever you do?  Will you refuse to “sit around and wait for someone else to do what God has called [you] to do [yourself]”?[ii]  I hope so.  Because what the world desperately needs is Christians who are willing to go make disciples of all nations.




[i] http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-retirement-good-for-health-or-bad-for-it-201212105625
[ii] Josh Wilson – Song, “I Refuse”

Monday, May 11, 2015

I Have a NEW Purpose!

Copyright May 10, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Mark 16:15-18
 
Introduction
           I thought I married a lady named Kelly.  But ever since we had kids, I keep hearing her called by different names.  First it was mama.  But then I started hearing her called other strange names that almost sound like African names.  It started with:  mama-can-I (Mama-can-I have a snack?  Mama-can-I go to my friends house?) And then came Mama-buy-me (Mama-buy-me an ice-cream.  Mama-buy-me that toy.)  And then there another I even use a lot:  Mama-wheres-my (Mama-wheres-my shoe?  Mama-wheres-my car keys?).
             A mother’s roles change throughout her life.  There is the mother of a yet unborn baby trying to do everything she can to nourish the child she has not even met yet.  There is the mother who gets so little sleep because she is taking care of a newborn baby.  But these motherly roles change so quickly.  Children grow up.  Then the mother must find herself as the mother of a teenager or a young adult.  Eventually, the mother may grow older and learn to let her children take care of her more and more.  Some mothers deeply grieve the passing of their rolls.  It must be difficult for a mother who pours so much time and energy into their children at little leagues baseball games and then sees their children grow out of that stage of life.  A mother's identity sometime becomes closely linked to the stage of life they are in with their children and when the role most change their can be an identity crisis.  (We have not even touched on other mothering roles like foster care mothers, step mothers,  mother-in-laws, or mothers who have lost a child.)
            And it's not just women or mothers who define their identity by the roles.  Men’s define themselves as: son, athlete, student, worker, husband, father, provider...  And both men and women are often shaken to their core when their role changes.  They can feel as though they have lost their identity. 
            God wants to give you a NEW purpose that transcends your roles, your stages of life, where you live, how much you earn, your standing in the community, etc.  What is your NEW, transcendent purpose? 

Mark 16:15-18
15 And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. 16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. 17 These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. 18 They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”

Explain the Passage
            This passage explains the NEW purpose Jesus gives each of us.  His words are known as the “Great Commission.”  After Jesus rose from the grave, before he ascended to heave, he commanded his followers to preach the Good News to everyone in the world.  The Good News is that God loves us and wants to save us from our sin.  And if people repent and believe the Good News, they will be saved.
The most common version of the Great Commission is found in the Gospel of Matthew, but I really like the way the Gospel of Mark puts it.  Mark is very simple, straight forward, and even blunt.  What Jesus expect is very clear.  Go preach the Good News to everyone.
·       Go – You don’t necessarily have to go far.  Some will go around the world in order to make sure everyone hears the Good News.  But there are plenty of people right here in Dalton (even here in our church, even in our own families) that need to hear the Good News.  Are you willing to go to them?

·      Preach – This doesn’t mean you have to stand up in a pulpit in church and preach.  You have to get up on a soap box on the street corner either.  To preach means to proclaim.  It has been said, “Preach the Gospel at all times.  Use words if necessary.”  You should use words, because they communicate ideas most clearly.  But don’t just stop with words.  Use everything method you can to convey the Good News.      
 
            This week at the church, we've been hosting students from Coahulla Creek High School in our fellowship hall. They needed a place to take their AP exams. After completing a year of AP studies in various courses, they take the examine. If they score high enough, they can get college credits. As they were coming in Monday morning, I thought 'What can I do to "preach the Gospel" to these students?' The answer was simple. I made a sign to hang on the door as they entered that said "Welcome to Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church. God Loves You! Good luck on your AP exams." You see, you don't have to hit people over the head with a Bible to preach the Gospel. You just help them see how much God loves them.
            Some people don’t feel qualified to “preach” the Good News. If you believe in Jesus, you are qualified to proclaim the Good News, you have the authority because Jesus authorized you.  You are qualified because—if you are truly a Christian—you know Jesus personally and He has made a difference in your life.  You have the right to share what He has done for you.  In fact, no one is more qualified to tell your story than you.  And if you don’t tell it, part of the full testimony about Jesus will be missing.
 

·       To Everyone – to children, to teenagers, to young adults, to older adults, to seniors, to Mothers and Fathers, to co-workers and friends and neighbors and the strangers you meet in a store.  To people who are easy to like and people who nobody likes.  To gay people, straight people, married people, single people, good people, bad people, and people just don’t care.  To people who look like you and people who look nothing like you.  To people who speak your language and people who can’t understand a word you say.  Everyone includes a lot of people—it’s everyone!

·       Verse 16 – The stakes are very high so Jesus is very blunt.  Anyone who believes the Good News will be saved.  But anyone who does not believe will be condemned.  Heaven or Hell…

            I almost omitted these verses 17 & 18 from our study because I didn’t want you to get distracted from the point of the passage. The point is to Go, Preach, the Good News, to Everyone. But, we need to address these difficult verses because people often misuse them, abuse them, or misunderstand them. Mark says we will cast out demons, speak new languages, handle snakes, drink poison, and heal the sick with the touch of our hands. We don’t have to spend too much time on this. I don’t want you to get wrapped up in these verses wondering if we’re supposed to be doing all these specific miracles. (You know there are “Snake Handling Churches” who have gotten this all wrong and think we need to bring snakes to church. Others like some Pentecostal church think you aren’t a real Christian if you can’t speak in tongues.) The point is when we believe, amazing things will happen.
             For instance: It says we will cast our demons – I have seen men and women cast aside many demons through faith in Jesus—the demons of alcohol and drug abuse, overcoming mental illness, transformations of a selfish, egotistical spirit to one of a caring, giving spirit. Are these not true miracles in themselves? I think they are as miraculous as any exorcism we read of in the Bible. Whether or not we are talking about real demons is beside the point. Talk to anyone who has been freed from any demon—literal or metaphorical—and it won’t make any difference. 
             Do I need to go through this whole list of miracles and explain how we see each of these actually happening? I don’t think I do, but just in case let me touch on a few. Speaking new languages—a couple years ago we took a mission team to El Salvador.  None of us spoke much Spanish and Jason Denson probably spoke the least of all.  And yet, Jason communicated the love of Christ to the people of El Salvador who didn't speak English with a smile, a hug, and a helping hand.  Love is a NEW language.
              And I could go on about the miraculous power of Christ.  how many of us have not sometimes had to handle "snakes" at work--people who wanted to do us harm?  How many of us have visited sick people in hospitals or homes and our presence, prayers, and touch were a healing influence?  Were these not miracles worthy of God's glory?  The point of all this is there is remendous power in Jesus name. And when we follow our God-given purpose, we have all the power of Jesus at our disposal.

Live a Purpose Driven Life
            My hope for you today is for you to recognize this wonderful NEW purpose Jesus gives each of us when we believe and choose to follow Him.  Our NEW purpose begins to drive everything we do.  You will become a better mother, a better father, a more loving wife, a more faithful husband, a better teacher, a better provider, a better employee, a better boss…  You see our NEW purpose goes beyond the changing roles we have in life.  It makes us more devoted in our various roles, but it also frees us to find our true identity in Christ and not in our “titles.”  Whatever we do, we do it as if we are serving Christ and not people.  Furthermore, everything we do becomes an opportunity to love God and love our neighbors as we Go, preach, the Good News, to Everyone.

Conclusion
            Jesus Christ has changed everything.  He left the glory of heaven and came down to this corrupt world.  He lived as one of us; He knows all the good, the bad, and the ugly this life can bring.  He walked faithfully with God while living here on earth and taught us how to follow His path.  In the end, because He loved us so much, He laid down his life on the cross to make a way for us to repent and be reconciled with God.  He died and on the third day, He rose from the grave making NEW life possible—even eternal life in Heaven.
            Today, Jesus invites you to trust in Him--to surrender and let Him be the Lord of your life.  And all who do, He will make them NEW.  He will Give you a NEW heart full of godly desires.  He will give you a NEW mind that thinks like Christ.  He will give you a NEW purpose that guides you to live your whole life full of meaning.  And ultimately, He will give you a NEW destination—even after this life on earth is over, you will be at Home with God in Heaven.
            Today, I have preached the Good News to you.  The stakes are high.  Jesus was blunt.  He said, “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.”  How will you respond to the Gospel today?  I urge you not to put off your response.  No one knows how much time they have.  It may be that tomorrow will be too late.  Today is the day you need to decide.  Go ahead and take hold of the NEW life and NEW purpose Jesus wants you to have.