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Showing posts with label Sermon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sermon. Show all posts

Monday, January 23, 2023

The Bible is God's Word. Amen!

Over the next couple months, I’m going to preach about the basics of what it means to be a Christian—and specifically, I’m gonna focus on the beliefs of Christians from a Methodist perspective.  We are a Methodist Church, after all.  Pleasant Grove began as a Methodist congregation over 170 years ago.  Before there was even a building, Christians were gathering under the Pleasant Grove of trees on this property to study God’s Word and worship Jesus Christ.  There were Baptists meeting in the area too.  In fact, the Baptists at Grove Level and the Methodist of Pleasant Grove worked together to establish Pleasant Grove Elementary School.  The Methodists and Baptist appreciated each other and cooperated on many projects, but they recognized there was a difference between Methodists and Baptists. Though both believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, there is a need for two distinct denominations.  The spiritual ancestors who established our church were Methodists and we are Methodists.

Methodists believe the Bible is God’s Word.  If you believe that, say “Amen.”  Amen!

2 Timothy 3:14-17
14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

Paul wrote these words to Timothy near the end of Paul’s life.  Timothy was a young Christian leader and Paul was his spiritual mentor.  By the time Paul wrote these words, Christianity had grown and spread across a vast empire.  What started out as the beliefs of a relatively small group of Jews in Palestine had spread south to Egypt, East to Parthia, north to Turkey, and West to Greece and Rome.  It was a religion rooted firmly in the traditions and Scriptures of Jewish faith, but it was also the fastest growing religion of non-Jews. Such diversity and rapid growth brought the danger of bad teachings—sometimes the results of inexperienced and uninformed teachers and sometimes cause by false teachers who hoped to use the new religion for their own personal gain.

Paul wrote to his young apprentice, Timothy, to warn him.  In 2 Timothy 3:1, Paul said, “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times.”  He goes on to warn him about the evil attitudes of people creeping into the world and even false teachers corrupting the Church of Jesus Christ.  And Paul tells Timothy, to remain true to the Scriptures.

Today, we also must guard ourselves and the Church from going astray.  We must stay true to the Word of God that has been handed down to us.

The Bible
The Bible is the Word of God.  Paul says all Scripture is inspired by God.  The Greek word Paul used is theopneustos, which means “God-breathed.”  In other words, God breathed life and spirit and wisdom into the Holy Scriptures.

The breathe of God is sacred and powerful.  It breathes life into existence.  You may recall from Genesis 1, that God spoke the world into existence.  He said, "Let there be light..." and there was light.  He spoke and the sun, moon, and star came into existence.  And in the story in Genesis 2:7, God brought Adam to life by breathing into his nostrils.  In the same way, the words of Scripture are inspired by the breath of God.  Scripture is God’s words speaking to us, bringing truth and life when we have faith to hear. 

Originally, when Paul wrote this to Timothy, they only had the Jewish Bible—what we call the Old Testament.  It wasn’t until later that Christians came to include a few more writings from Christian sources into the authoritative collection of Holy, God-inspired Scripture.  The four Gospels, the letters of Paul, Peter, James, and John were accepted as God-breathed and authoritative, along with Revelation.  Thus, we now have the 66 books of the Holy Bible, which Methodists accept as the Old and New Testaments--the inspired Word of God.

The United Methodist official Book of Discipline says, “Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine. Through Scripture the living Christ meets us in the experience of redeeming grace…  Our standards affirm the Bible as the source of all that is “necessary” and “sufficient” unto salvation (Articles of Religion) and “is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice” (Confession of Faith).” [i]

So, we believe that both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible are the inspired Word of God that contain everything necessary and sufficient for our salvation.  This is a sacred book that God preserved for us and uses to speak to us and lead us into truth and salvation through Jesus Christ.  The Bible is the final word for everything we do as a Church and as Christians.

No book has changed the world so much as the Christian Bible.  The very act of reading and writing has been propelled by the Bible.  The ancient Hebrews lived in a time when only a tiny minority of people in the world could read and write.  Yet because the Hebrews revered the written word of God and wanted everyone to be able to read it, it was a priority for them to teach their children to read and write.  Scribes were employed to copy Scripture from decaying manuscripts to the Word could be preserved.  Later in the 15th century, the printing press was invented so make affordable copies of the Bible available to everyone.  The Bible propelled the printing process that makes all kinds of books available to us today. And study and learning have been valued by Christians through the century because we want people to be able to read and understand God's Word.  So education has become the expectation of the modern world.

The Word of God has shaped our modern world.  It has instilled Christian ideals in everyone--even those who are not Christians.  The idea that sacrificial love is a virtue and that people should love their enemies and pay for those who curse them came from Christ and were preserved in the Word.  The idea in the Word of God that all people are created in the image of God has led us to a revolutionary view that we are all equal.  Women and men should be treated as equals and no race should be mistreated or enslaved.  These values came through the Word of God and have changed our world.

We Must Read the Bible with Wisdom and Humility
God gave us the Bible, but God also gave us a brain.  One of the things I love about Methodist Christians is we are encouraged to use our God-given intelligence to understand Scripture.  When we read a Scripture that really challenges us, we ask questions.  “What is this really saying?”  It can be tempting to just accept the passage at face value.  However, Methodists refuse to be lazy about the Bible.  We realize these Scriptures are over 2,000 years old.  They were written to a specific audience on specific occasions.  The poetic Psalms are a different genre than the history books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles.  Thus, different genres must be read and understood differently.  The letters of Paul were written to specific groups of people to address very specific problems.  So, we must take these things into account.  We don’t just read the Bible uncritically.

Furthermore, the Bible is not a weapon we use to prove we are right and everyone else is wrong.  At its core, the 2 Timothy 3:16 says the Holy Bible is “useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”  It's so much more comfortable to avoid looking at our own problems by pointing fingers at everyone else.  And that's what we often want to use the Bible for.  However, Jesus said, "First remove the log from your own eye, then you can see clearly to remove the speck of dust from your neighbor's eye."  We must allow the Bible to convict us first and foremost.

So you see, we must be willing to humble ourselves before the Word of God.  The natural, rebellious state of the human heart always wants to justify itself.  We will either look for a verse in the Bible to prove we are right or we will disregard the Bible and say it’s outdated and no longer relevant to our modern lives.  The Methodist way must be the middle way. It takes Scripture seriously, because it is the Holy Word of God. however, taking the Bible seriously also means studying it and delving into it to really understand critically what God is saying to us today.  Taking it seriously also means humbling ourselves before God and obeying His Word, even when it runs counter to the mainstream opinions of our culture.

It was Scripture that led Martin Luther King, Jr. to fight for civil rights even though it went against popular opinion.  He was arrested, beaten, and ultimately killed for his work.  King would not turn away from the Word of God.  This is just one example from 2,000 years of Christian history.

People are prone to be ignorant and what society finds acceptable changes all the time.  God’s people shouldn't follow the edicts of society.  We build our lives upon the solid rock of God’s Holy Word. 

I want to close today with a challenge.  I challenge you to read your Bible everyday.  You need a challenge to get you started.  So I want to be specific.  There are 12 weeks between today and Easter.  I challenge you to read the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew.  That’s 50 chapters in Genesis plus 28 chapters in Matthew.  That equals 78 chapters in 84 days between now and Easter.  (That leaves a few skip days.)  Read Genesis and Matthew and listen for God’s Word to you.  Listen and ask the questions:  "What do I need to change?  What do I need to do?"

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

2023 State of the Communion Address

It is our tradition at Pleasant Grove at the beginning of each new year, to have a State of the Communion Address where we look back at the accomplishments of the previous year and look forward to some goals and initiatives for the coming year. Before we get into those details, let us hear God’s Word.

Exodus 18:14-26
When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked, “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?”

15 Moses replied, “Because the people come to me to get a ruling from God. 16 When a dispute arises, they come to me, and I am the one who settles the case between the quarreling parties. I inform the people of God’s decrees and give them his instructions.”

17 “This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. 18 “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. 19 Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. 20 Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives. 21 But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. 22 They should always be available to solve the people’s common disputes, but have them bring the major cases to you. Let the leaders decide the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. 23 If you follow this advice, and if God commands you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.”

24 Moses listened to his father-in-law’s advice and followed his suggestions. 25 He chose capable men from all over Israel and appointed them as leaders over the people. He put them in charge of groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. 26 These men were always available to solve the people’s common disputes. They brought the major cases to Moses, but they took care of the smaller matters themselves.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
Moses had a heavy burden—to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land.  These were a people who had lived as subjects and slaves of the Egyptian empire for 400 years.  They had always had slave masters to tell them exactly what to do.  And if they stepped out of line, there was surely a whip ready to snap them back into line.  Now they were a free people, but they had still to learn how to live as free people.

Moses’ Father-in-law, Jethro, saw how hard Moses was working and knew this was too much for one man to bear.  His wise advice was that he should delegate the administrative tasks to capable leaders among the people.  Moses should concentrate on being “the people’s representative before God” and teaching “them God’s decrees” and showing “them how to conduct their lives.
But Jethro advised Moses to delegate the day to day tasks of managing the community to capable and honest community leaders.

The Methodist Way
This is wise biblical advice for any church or large organization.  This is the model that built the Methodist Church.  It’s where we get our name:  Methodist—because we follow a methodical process for governing the church and doing Christ's work.

Rather than one person making all the decisions—whether it be the pastor or someone—the work of the church is divided up among various committees.
We have a Trustees Committee to oversee and make decisions about the property of the church.  We have a Finance Committee to oversee finances.  There is the HR Committee (Human Resources, usually called SPRC) that oversees the paid staff of the church.  The Nominations Committee recommends people for the various jobs in the church and all the committees and ministries report to the Church Council, who is the main decision making body of the church that oversees everything.

Sometime people complain that we have too many committees.  I understand.  no one likes sitting in a boring committee meeting.  However, have you ever thought of the alternative?  The alternative is to give just one person or maybe a small handful of people all the power to make decisions.  That may be easier, but it can also be very dangerous.  Some churches have succeeded that way, but the overwhelming majority get into serious trouble when they invest that much power in the pastor or a small board of directors.  Power corrupts and ultimate power corrupts ultimately.

Using various committees as we do give everyone a say in what happens in the church and maintains proper checks and balances.  Plus, it is actually a method of discipleship.  It may be more pleasant to confine your interaction in church to just sitting in a pew singing pretty hymns and listening to sermons.  But actually doing the business of the church making important (and sometimes even uncomfortable) decisions is a much better way to grow closer to Christ as you oversee the work of His Church.

Some Highlights from 2023

Let’s take a minute to remember some of the things we did last year as a church.

In February, Coach Matt Land was our guest speaker for Souper Bowl Sunday.  It was well attended and included many people who would not regularly attend a church service.  They came to here a football hero speak, but he spoke about the Greatest Hero--Jesus Christ--and the good news that we can be saved from our sins if we repent and put our faith in Jesus.

In February, we also resumed our Valentines Sweetheart Banquet, which we discontinued during the COVID-19 pandemic.  It was great to resume this activity.  And I want you to notice that even though it has been nearly 3 years since the onset of the pandemic, we are still recovering from the negative effects it had on our church's ministries.  

In March we had our first ever Car Show/Cruise-in.  our main parking lot was full of classic cars and visitors roaming the lot to see them all.  And our members were out there mid=gling and our showing Jesus' hospitality.  And again, this was a victory because it was originally scheduled for 2020 and had to be canceled for COVID-19.  SO just having the event meant were we getting thing going again.

Children’s ministry has struggled since the pandemic began.  Of course, we had to cancel many of the usual events because it wasn't safe for kids to gather together.  However, the biggest obstacle has been the loss of so many regular volunteers who are now out of the habit of helping with children's ministry.  Even so, we did have some things to celebrate in 2022.  

We had our first Community Easter Egg Hunt since

COVID began with about 40 people attending.  We also resumed VBS for the first time since COVID began--with about 30-40 kids attending each night.  And we also resumed a Walk-thru Trunk or Treat that well attended and appreciated by around 500 people from our community.  We started Trunk or Treat over 10 years ago and we managed to continue it through the pandemic, but we had done it as a drive-thru event in 2020 and 2021.  In 2022, we resumed the walk-thru method.  Another victory for the return to normalcy.

Our Youth Group for middle and high school students is going strong on the wise, and capable leadership of Amy Harris.  They met weekly on Wednesday nights and had some extra meetings on Sunday evenings as well.  They took several trips including the summer extreme beach trip, a Halloween trip to Hell's Gate Christian Haunted House, Six Flags, as well as others.  Furthermore, they volunteered to help clean up a church members yard, and served as volunteers at the Miracle Field of Whitfield County to help disabled people play baseball.

The Girl Scout troop that has met at Pleasant Grove for numerous years, offered to build a community raised bed garden for our church.  With the help of several church volunteers, they installed 6 raised beds and we had a garden this season!

The Boy Scouts program exploded with over 40 boys attending.  This year, they outgrew the Scout Hut on our property and started also meeting weekly in the Promise Building.  A big thank you to Frank Fetzer and the many volunteers that help run the Boy Scouts program at Pleasant Grove.

On Wednesday nights, we had a first century Roman soldier visit and teach about what life was like for soldiers in Judea when Jesus carried out his earthly ministry.  We also watched seasons one and two of the Chosen Series, about the ministry of Jesus and the Disciples.  (We started Season Three this past week.)

We also had a number of leaders from our community share about their faith in Jesus and how it guides them to serve the Lord in our community in a variety of ways such as teaching, government, business, social work.  Speakers included Senator Chuck Payne, Kelsey Ikerd, Jason Denson, Sherry Dickson, and others.

In July, we had an important Town Hall Meeting to consider developments in the United Methodist denomination and how these may affect our congregation relationship with the UMC.  An anonymous survey indicated the congregation overwhelmingly wishes to pursue disaffiliation from the UMC.  According, our church council voted to request a Church Conference by the District Superintendent to vote on disaffiliation under provisions in the Book of Discipline.   We also created to teams to help, one to handle the work of disaffiliation (the D-Team) and another team to study future affilation options if we disaffiliate (the A-Team).

In November, we had Homecoming and Revival services lead by Tom Atkins.  It was an important time of healing and revival as we drew closer to God.

Becky Haley led our church to collect 148 boxes for Operation Christmas Child--the most we've ever collected since we started participating a decade ago.

In 2022, our music minister, David Crawford, created and directed an original production with volunteers from our congregation acting out the Christmas story with music by our chancel choir.  It was a beautiful presentation that involved so many people.  Then, we ended the year with 68 people attending our Christmas Eve service.  It was such a special time for our church family.

Sack lunches have been packed throughout the pandemic and continue to be an important part of Pleasant Grove's ministries.  In 2022, 17 faithful volunteers met and packed 65 sack packs a week for around 36 weeks, totaling around 2,340 sack lunches to help needy children at Pleasant Grove Elementary School. Plus, another 40 sack packs were packed per month to help at risk children visiting White's Pediatrics, bring the total to around 2,700 sack lunches. This was over 9,000 pounds of food!  In addition, we gave supplies to the nurse at Pleasant Grove Elementary, along with other essential help.

Through our Operation Mercy Drops grant program, Pleasant Grove awarded 12 grants totaling $12,000.  There were 6 hardship awards to help people in need, 2 merit awards to honor people who are doing admirable things in our community, and 4 service awards to help special community organizations continue their good work to help people in our community.  

Looking Forward to 2023

I believe God has great things in store for our church in the coming year.  We are privileged to be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus Christ to our community.  I want to mention a few things that we can expect for 2023.

One Morning Worship Service
First of all, we will combine our two morning worship services back into one starting next Sunday.  We will continue to have our live, online service at 10:55 AM but we will only have one in-person service, which will be at 10:55 AM.  I believe this will bring more unity to our congregation, as we all meet together again in one service for worship.

Easter Program
Second, we will have an Easter Cantata patterned after the Christmas cantata which was so successful.  Families from our congregation will tell the Easter story from Scripture in cooperation with the beautiful music of our choir.  

Children's Ministry
Third and very important, we will focus on children’s ministries in 2023.  I am excited about the idea David and Amy Crawford have to start a puppet ministry.  They had so much fun using puppets for our summer VBS, they took the initiative to build a set in a class upstairs above our fellowship hall that they plan to use regularly during the children's church time to have a puppet program for kids.

But we must also do more to invite more families with kids into our church for regular meetings.  The HR team is already considering how to get some training for our church about how to revamp and invigorate our children’s program and bring in more families and kids.  This is critical to our calling from Christ to make disciples.  We have an important opportunity with children that we cannot pass up.  We have to do better than we've been doing.  

We are also going to need more volunteers to help with children in the puppet ministry, in Sunday school, on Wednesday nights, and in children’s church.  Could you help?

We believe our church wants to vote about disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church over issues related to Scripture and human sexuality.  We have been working through that process and will continue to work through it in 2023.  Unfortunately, the out going Bishop of the North Georgia Conference announced a "pause" on December 28th (a few days before she left our conference to be reappoint Bishop of the Virginia Conference).  This "edict" has disrupted our disaffiliation process (along with hundreds of other faithful congregations across our conference).  We are in communication with other churches and conference leaders to decide what will be our response.  We hope that the conference will be open to cooperate with churches who are faithfully following the process that was approved by General Conference and our own annual conference and conference board of trustees.  We will do whatever we can to ensure that our congregation has a fair chance to voice your desires to either remain in the UMC or to disaffiliate from the denomination.

I am calling on everyone in our congregation to join with hundreds of other faithful Methodists across our state who are praying and fasting to prepare for the difficult road ahead.  I invite you to choose one day each week to pray and fast from sundown to sundown.  For example, I am taking Tuesdays, to pray and fast.  I will eat dinner Tuesday before 6 PM and then only have water, juice, or coffee until Wednesday night at 6 PM.  During the fast, you are asked to pray that our hearts will be right with God, our attitude and motives will be pure, and that the conference will cooperate with churches discerning a path forward that leads them away from the UMC, and that God will make a way for His Methodist people to walk faithfully with Him--whether inside or outside the UMC.

Pray for New Church Leaders

Finally, I call on you to pray for all the church leaders from our congregation who have been elected to serve in 2023.  Here are the names of those who have been elected:  


Chairperson of the Church Council – Tom Dickson

Vice Chairperson – Mike Wilson

Secretary – Amy Harris

Treasurer – Jeff McDonald

Finance Chairperson – Kevin Roberts

HR (SPRC) Chairperson – Elaine McDonald 

Board of Trustees Chairperson – Marcus Blalock

Pastor – Rev. Chris Mullis

Lay Leader – Jason Denson

Assistant Lay Leader – Bill Caylor

Lay Delegate to Annual Conference – Mike Wilson 

Marketing Specialist – Donna Phillips

Youth Ministers – Amy Harris

Music Minister – David Crawford 

Children’s Minister – Tiffany Tankersley

Sunday School Superintendent – Debra Sloan

Church Council Members at Large: Harry Kelly, Dianne Caylor, and Mara Cobble


Lay Delegate to Annual Conference – Mike Wilson

Lay Leader – Jason Denson

John Denson, Elaine McDonald (Chair), Jason Childers, Jimmy Brooker, Danny Cobble, and Diane O’Brien


Pastor – Rev. Chris Mullis (Chair)

Lay Leader – Jason Denson

Scott Ward, Bill Caylor, Sherry Dickson, Sallie Thomas, Amy Crawford, and Angel Kirk


Maribeth Reno, Jean Coker, Marcus Blalock (Chair), Becky Haley, Jon Adams, Lori Roberts, Mike Kirk, Kyle Marlow, and Scott Denson


Chairman – Kevin Roberts

Lay Member to Annual Conference – Mike Wilson

Chairman of Church Council – Tom Dickson

Human Resources Chair – Elaine McDonald

Lay Leader – Jason Denson

Chairman of Trustees – Marcus Blalock

Treasurers – Jeff McDonald, Donna Phillips

Financial Secretaries – Jean Coker, Teresa Marlow, & Debra Sloan

Finance Committee Members at Large:  Becky Ward, Bob Brooker, and Steven Weed

Operation Mercy Drops Committee

Mike Wilson, Salena Weed (Chair), Kelly Scruggs, and Andrea Adams


Vice Treasurer – Donna Phillips

Altar Guild – Kaye Fetzer

Church Historian – Rita Wagers

Librarian – Becky Ward

Nursery Coordinator – Laurie Wilson                    

Coordinator of Ushers – Mike Marlow

Sunday School Secretaries – Ron Phillips, Johnny Denson

Coordinator of Special Events – Marie Jordan, Angel Kirk, and Debra Sloan

Coordinator of Family Night Suppers – Angela Kirk

Prayer Coordinator – Sherry Dickson

Alternate Lay Delegate to Annual Conference – Laurie Wilson

Memorial Garden Committee – Elaine McDonald, Kaye Denson, and Jimmy Brooker

Coordinator of Scouting Ministries – Frank Fetzer

Affiliation Study Team (The A Team)

Debra Sloan, Elaine McDonald, Harold Brooker, Kay Denson, Kevin Roberts, Kyle Marlow, Mike Wilson, Salena Weed (Recorder), and Tom Dickson (Chair)

Disaffiliation Study Team (The D Team)

Bill Caylor (Chair), Jason Denson, Marcus Blalock, Maribeth Reno, and Rita Wagers

Monday, October 31, 2022

Don't Fall Away

Do you ever stop to review all God has done for you?  I have lived long enough now that it is quite easy to forget all the wonderful things Jesus has done for me.  It's not that I'm not grateful.  It's that there is just so much my brain is not big enough to consciously contain it all--unless I intentionally sit down and try to recall it.  As I do, I think of how Jesus saved me from a broken, abusive home and from poverty.  I remember how Jesus led me to the woman who would become my wife.  I recall how Jesus inspired me and my wife to get a college education, even though it was very difficult and we didn't have a lot of financial support from our families.  Then, Jesus called me to leave a promising career in engineering to enter the ministry, which was another great unknown and tremendously difficult.  Furthermore, Jesus somehow gave us the wisdom and energy to raise 3 brilliant kids, despite moving around from place to place and living on very little income.  I could go on and on about God's blessings to me and my family.  

How about you? What has God done for you? Some of you have survived strokes, heart attacks, and other devastating injuries.  I know someone who conquered cancer and gone on to be very active in my church.  Others have overcome, with God's help, substance abuse or other terribly difficult problems.  Some of survived losing a child or a spouse or someone else you love deeply, picked yourself back up after a divorce, or coped with mental illness.  We’ve all made it through COVID (so far); do you remember when the world shut down?  Here we are.  We are still alive and living, with God's help!  Let us give thanks for God is good!

This is the last blog in our series about conquering your fears. Through faith in Christ we can overcome our fears because God fights for us and we are not alone.  God is with us and the heroes of the Bible and even our loved ones who’ve died and gone to heaven cheer us on when we have faith in Christ.

We’ve been studying how the Israelites had to conquer their fears in order to enter the Promised Land.  The Israelites started out as slaves in Egypt.  God sent 10 plagues to force the Egyptians to let the Israelites go free.  Unfortunately, the Israelites were too afraid to enter the Pormised Land, so they were stuck wandering in the wilderness for forty years until Moses and all the original generation died (except for Joshua and Caleb).  Then Joshua became the new leader who led a new generation to conquer Jericho and the rest of Canaan.  

Now, as we come to our story for today, Joshua is an old man.  God has done all the major fighting for Israel.  Most of the unbelievers have been driven out of Canaan.  A few remain as a test of Israel’s faithfulness—to see if they will complete the work of driving out all the worshipers of false gods (or if they will be unfaithful to Yahweh, the God of Israel).  And now, Joshua is coming to the end of his life and he has some parting advice for his people. 

Joshua 23:6-13
“So be very careful to follow everything Moses wrote in the Book of Instruction. Do not deviate from it, turning either to the right or to the left. Make sure you do not associate with the other people still remaining in the land. Do not even mention the names of their gods, much less swear by them or serve them or worship them. Rather, cling tightly to the Lord your God as you have done until now.

“For the Lord has driven out great and powerful nations for you, and no one has yet been able to defeat you. 10 Each one of you will put to flight a thousand of the enemy, for the Lord your God fights for you, just as he has promised. 11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God.

“But if you turn away from him and cling to the customs of the survivors of these nations remaining among you, and if you intermarry with them, 13 then know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive them out of your land. Instead, they will be a snare and a trap to you, a whip for your backs and thorny brambles in your eyes, and you will vanish from this good land the Lord your God has given you.

Joshua’s 4 Pieces of Advice
Joshua gives the Israelites four pieces of advice:  
1.     Be Obedient.  2.     Be Faithful.  3.     Continue the Mission.  And 4.     Love the Lord your God.


Be Obedient

God wanted the Israelites to be obedient.  It’s important to point out that God’s grace came before His call to obedience.  In Exodus 1, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.  Then God does amazing, miraculous things to deliver the Israelites:

He sent ten plagues on the Egyptians to force them to let the Israelites go.  Then God parting the Red Sea so Israel could cross the sea safely on dry ground.  Next God fed the Hebrews in the wilderness with mana from heaven and quail for meat and water in the desert.  

Now notice, all this happens before God gives Israel the Law.  Exodus chapters 1-19 is all about what God does for the Israelites.  It is not until Exodus 20 that God gives Israel the ten commandments and the rest of the Law.  You see, God’s grace and deliverance precedes the requirements He gives, even in the Old Testament.


The same is true for you.  God’s grace pursues you, woos you, encourages you, and invites you before you even spend a single second thinking about Him.  Then, when you realize you need God and you turn from your sin and turn to God through Jesus, God saves you and adopts you as His very own child.  Now, you are part of His family forever.  It is only after God has done all this that you don't deserve that God asks you to be faithful and obedient and act as a member of His royal family.


Be Faithful

God enabled Joshua and the Israelites to drive out the unbelieving Canaanites from the Holy Land, because the Canaanites had rejected the One True God for generations (for at least 400 years).  So now, God gave the land to the Israelites.  They were to be God’s royal priesthood who would represent God to the whole world.  They were to help all the nations return to God.  They had a special purpose. 

A few Canaanite settlements remained in the land.  They were there to test Israel’s faithfulness.  Would Israel be faithful to God?  Would they become bored with their devotion to God and become intrigued by the exotic foreign gods of the Canaanites who remained in the land?  Would they decide to hedge their bets?  (You know, let’s worship the God of Israel so He will be good to us, but let’s also worship the gods of the Canaanites just in case?)  God wanted Israel to be faithful to Him alone.

Unfortunately, Joshua 23:12 has been used to say God forbids intermarriage between different races or nations because it says, "if you turn away from him and cling to the customs of the survivors of these nations remaining among you, and if you intermarry with them, then know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive them out of your land."  God doesn't have a problem with intermarriage between people of different races.  It is intermarriage between believers and unbelievers that God discourages.  We know this is true because the clues are right there in the Scripture.  Caleb was the only other Israelite (besides Joshua) who left Egypt who was also honored to enter the Promised Land.  Caleb was not an ethnic Israelite. He was a Kenizzite (which were a Canaanites), yet Caleb married and had descendents who were accepted as Israelites who received allotments in the Holy Land.  Furthermore, Rahab was a Canaanite from Jericho. God saved her when she converted and worshiped the God of the Israelites.  Rehab married an Israelite named Salmon.  She became the great great grandmother mother of King David and one of the direct ancestors of Jesus. Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, is listed in the New Testament as one of the great heroes of the Christian faith (Hebrews 11:31).  Intermarriage of different races wasn't the problem. Marrying people who worshipped false gods was the problem.  The person you marry is the person who has the greatest influence in your life.  Therefore, we should chose someone who shares our most important core values, which should be our devotion to God through Christ.

In this life, there are many things that will entice you away from God.  Be very, very careful that you remain faithful to God.  He is the only one worthy of your worship.  He must be the first priority of your life.  Do not turn away from Him for riches, for family, for power, for influence, for nation, for politics, for entertainment, for anything.


Continue the Mission

God chose the Israelites for a purpose.  He blessed them so that they could be a blessing.  God had already done the hard work of driving out most of the Canaanites.  All that was left was to mop up the few remaining groups.  This was certainly doable for the Israelites who now had a majority and who occupied the fortified cities of Canaan.  Unfortunately, they lost their focus on being the royal priests of God.  They turned their attention to their own personal pursuits—their families, income, and pleasure.  They forgot the mission of God.  Before long, this led to complacency and unfaithfulness.


Christians have a mission too.  We are to go into all the world and make disciples of Christ.  We are to teach people about the love and salvation of Christ and invite people to follow Him as Lord.  We are to baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  When we get distracted, we worry about all the other things in life.  The main mission of Christ becomes an after thought or no thought at all.  Our lives are about what makes us happy and soon we don’t even care about God at all, except that maybe He can be useful to give us what we want or help keep us from losing what we love.  Where are we then?  We've become like the Canaanites.  We are right back where we started—full of fear, feeling lost and alone.  

We must stay focused on the mission of God or we get lost once and consumed by our selfishness, fear, and depravity.


Love the Lord Your God

Joshua told the Israelites to love the Lord their God.  Jesus said the same thing.  He said the most important commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  And the second was like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  

Love is powerful.  Fear of punishment only goes so far.  It’s an immature and incomplete way of living.  God doesn’t want us to obey Him out of fear.  He wants us to obey because of love.  


How is it with your friends, your children, your spouse?  Do you want them to be faithful only because they’re afraid of what will happen or how you will react if they betray you?  No!  We want the people we love to be kind and faithful because they love us. Right?

God is the same way.  God has already loved you with the greatest love of all.  Romans 5:8 – “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  God wants us to be obedient and faithful—not out of fear, but—out of love.  When you love someone, you try to the best of your ability to do what they want.  Most importantly, you do what they need (even if it's not what they want).  That's love.  

What Christ asks of us is not so difficult.  It is an easy burden to bear and one He helps us carry.  It is love.  Love God with all you are love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Is that so hard?  We are not asked to take up a sword and drive out Canaanite armies.  In America, thanks be to God, we are not even in danger of being tortured or killed for our faith as many other Christians are around the world. So can’t we be obedient and faithful and love?

As I close, I want to invite you to decide who you will follow.  Have you ever decided to follow Jesus as a Christian? If not, please do that today.  Ask God to forgive you for the ways you've turned your back on Him up until today.  Now make a commitment to follow Christ and ask Jesus to help you keep your commitment.  From this day on, seek to be obedient and faithful to God through Christ.  

Perhaps you are already a Christian.  Maybe you even became a Christian a long time ago.  Have you been faithful or have you drifted from the faith or from your commitment? If so, please chose to recommit your life to Jesus today.  God will forgive you for getting off track.  He will help you to make a fresh start if you ask Him.  So ask Him today.

Monday, October 24, 2022

You Are Not Alone

Kids are scary.  Once, when my daughter was maybe two years old, I was sleeping peacefully when I was startled from my sleep in the middle of the night.  There, in the dark, just inches from my face, I saw two big blue eyes staring at me!  After just a moment of shock, it registered that this was the face of my blonde-haired, blue eyed daughter.  She'd woken from a dream and was scared in the dark, so she silently wandered into her parents' room for comfort.  We welcomed her into our bed, where she immediately curled up and fell back asleep.

For some reason, we often don’t want to be alone when we’re afraid.  When we’re afraid as kids, we run to our parents or someone strong who can protect us.  When we’re afraid because we’re facing uncertainty, we want the company of those who have faced our situation before.  Sometimes, we just want someone to be with us so we’re not alone.  

Today, I want to reassure you:  you are not alone in your fear.

Hebrews 11:1
Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see

It Starts with Faith
Faith is the key to so much in life because we can’t see what the future holds.  We don’t know what tomorrow may bring, let alone what will happen next week or next year.  We hope for something good and the Bible says God has good plans for us, but we can’t see the good that will come or the God who promises to give it to us.  

That’s where faith is the key.  Faith shows us the reality of what we hope for.  We hope that God is good, that God loves us, that God has the power to do good for us. That is our hope.  Faith shows us it is true.  Faith is the evidence.  

Through the lens of faith, we can see the love and power of God through all the events of life.  Where others who lack faith see nothing, we see the power and goodness of God.  Where others, who lack faith, see terror and tragedy and disappointment, we see God helping us, healing us, and even using bad things that He didn't want to happen for our good.  Faith in the lens that enables us to interpret events as the work of  good God.

The 11th chapter of Hebrews gives a long list of people whose faith helped them do amazing things.  Noah built the Ark and saved the animals and his family from the flood so the world could have a fresh start.  Abraham left his homeland and went to the Promised Land where God gave him so many descendants we can't even count them all.  His wife, Sarah, was able to have a child even though she was barren and too old.  By faith, Moses was saved from the Nile River and raised by Pharaoh's daughter.  Later, by faith, Moses delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  By faith, Joshua led the Israelites to conquer Jericho and all of Canaan.  By faith, Rahab, who was a Canaanite, was saved from destruction and became one of God’s chosen people—and ancestor of King David and later Jesus the Christ.  By faith, all these people did amazing things because they trusted God and He helped them.

But there are others mentioned too—people whose life story did not have a happy ending—at least, not by the world’s standards and not in this life.  Some were scorned, some were abused, tortured, or even murdered because of their faith in God.  But by faith, they understood they were not defeated because God vindicated them in the afterlife.  These faithful martyrs from the past faced persecution and death willingly because their faith helped them see it was better to honor God than keep their life.  They believed in God’s goodness and trusted Him even to the point of death.  As Hebrews 11:35 says, “They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.”  And so, now they have it.  We need not feel sorry for them.  We can even envy their eternal reward because they where special crown in eternity that honors their faithful witness in death.

Through faith, we can see that God didn’t abandon the world, even though our sin was terrible.  “For," John 3:16 says, "God loved the world so much, He sent His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.”

Faith is the key to so much in life.

Have Faith in Yourself
You have to have faith in yourself.  You have to believe you can succeed.  Of course you have to put in the effort to train and prepare for success.  But even if you full prepare for success and don't believe in yourself, you will fail.  You have to prepare and have faith that you will succeed or you have already defeated yourself.  So you have to believe you can do it or you can't.


Have Faith in Others
The truth is we can't fully succeed in life on our own.  We need other people.  That's the life works.  You need to be able to have faith in other people.  You need others to succeed.  That's why it's so important that you surround yourself with people you can count on--people who will tell you the truth, people who will help and encourage you, people who will help you be your best.  Otherwise, if you can't have faith in the people around you, they will pull you down.  (It's also important to say you should be the kind of person others can have faith in too.  They need you to help them also.)

Have Faith is God
We also need to have faith in something bigger than ourselves.  If we only having faith in ourselves and others, we will be very limited in what we can accomplish.  We may accomplish some good things, but greatness will elude us because we will be limited by our human abilities.  God has big plans for you, bigger than what you can do on your own (or even with the help of others).  If David (from the Bible) only trusted in his ability (or even the ability of the army of Israel), he never would have stepped forward to fight the giant, Goliath.  He was just a skinny kid who couldn't even wear armor or pick up a sword.  David trusted God was able to give him the victory and he went to battle based on his faith in God.  When we trust God, He enables us to do great things--greater than we can do on our own.  So we must have faith in God.

One of the great things God does for us is save us from our sin, through Christ, for eternal life.  Do you trust God?  Do you have faith in Him?  Will you let Christ be your Lord?

You Are Not Alone
In the Old Testament, God spoke to reassure His people in their time of distress in Isaiah 41:10, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

You are not alone!  In the New Testament, Jesus reassured His followers in Matthew 28:20, “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end

of the age.”  I'm sure the Twelve Disciples were afraid and overwhelmed by the prospect of going out into the whole world to make disciples for Jesus.  The "whole world" is a big, scary place!  So Jesus said they could be sure He was always with them.  And Jesus said He would be with His disciples to the end of the age.  "The Age" hasn't ended yet and we are Jesus' disciples if we call Him Lord.  So that means Jesus is with us too!  And it means we have a big job to do--to make disciples of all nations.

So we see that God is with us in the midst of everything we face in life.  Hebrews 12:1 gives even more encouragement to those who have faith.  You are not alone!  Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

You are not alone in your fear or in any of life’s struggles or victories.  All the famous heroes of the Bible are cheering you own!  Abraham, Moses, David, the Twelve Disciples are cheering for you!  Not only that, your friends and love ones who trusted Jesus and have died and gone to be with Him, they are cheering you on too!  You can think of many of the names of your Christian loved ones who have gone to be with the Lord.  They are cheering for you!  You are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses to the life of faith who are rooting for you!

So, DO NOT BE AFRAID!  God is with you!  His faithful people are with you too!

Closing Meditation
Imagine a great cloud of witnesses surrounding you.  Among them are Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah and the prophets, and the Twelve Disciples.  Among them are the many Christian martyrs who gave their lives for the faith over the last 2,000 years.  Among them also are so many of the people you've loved who have died and gone to be with Jesus in Heaven.  

They are so proud of you.  They are cheering for you, encouraging you, rooting for you to succeed.  They understand the difficulties you face, because they faced them too and they made it through.  The know you are scared or overwhelmed, but they know you can make it through.  They are rooting for you!

I also want you to know that God, in Jesus, is with you too. He is not angry.  He is not disappointed.  He loves you.  He loves you so much He died for you.  Imagine Jesus calling out to you.  He says, “Come to me, you who are weary and carrying a heavy burden. Give it to me. I offer rest for your weary soul.  I have something better for you.  It isn’t hard to carry.  And you don’t have to carry it alone.  I will walk with you and help you.  And all these saints around you will be there too, cheering you on.  And there will be many Christians in this world who will help you too.  For in my Church, we are family—brothers and sisters in Christ.  You are not alone.  Don’t be afraid.  I am with you."

Let the reality of this scene wash over you.  You cannot see it with your physical eyes.  See it with the eyes of faith and believe,  Amen.