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Showing posts with label Service. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Service. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Christians Practice Spiritual Disciplines. Amen!

The Bible is the Word of God and contains everything necessary and sufficient for our salvation.  The Bible teaches that Jesus Saves us from sin when we have faith.  The Bible also teaches that faith without good deeds is dead. Today, I want to explain some of the spiritual disciplines the Bible teaches Christians to practice.

1 Timothy 4:7-8
Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”

First of all, this Scripture warns Christians: “Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales.”  The Bible is a fascinating book full of intriguing stories.  There are a lot of things that are hard to understand.  There are even many things that have caused people to scratch their head and speculate what the original writers meant.  There are stories about giants and even angels having intercourse with the daughters of the earth.  We wonder:  How did Noah fit all those animals on the Ark? Could Jonah really survive living in the stomach of a giant fish for three days?  These are interesting ideas that capture our imaginations and people love to speculate on them.

However, a quote often attributed to Mark Twain says, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”  It may be “fun” to speculate about the intriguing parts of the Bible, but Paul writes to Timothy (and us), “Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales.  Instead, train yourself to be godly.”

Living a godly life takes work.  It’s hard enough work that we don’t need to waste our time on unfruitful speculations.  Paul writes:  “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”

We all know the benefits of exercise.  In our comfortable and prosperous world, we eat too much and don’t exercise enough.  This leads to all kinds of health problems.  People who exercise regularly, tend to be healthier, happier, more energetic, and productive.  We know the physical benefits of exercise.

But Paul says, “training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”  No matter how much we exercise, our physical bodies are eventually going to wear out and die.  This Ash Wednesday we remembered how our physical bodies will be buried and return to dust: “Remember, you came from dust and to dust you shall return.  Repent and believe in the Gospel!”  We will be given new and perfect bodies for eternal life.   The gains of physical exercise are for this temporary lifetime, but the gains of spiritual exercise are for eternity.

Spiritual Disciplines
Spiritual disciplines are spiritual exercises found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth and health.  Just as physical exercise develops your body and muscles, spiritual disciplines develop your spirit so you become more like Christ.  Spiritual disciplines nurture the growth God wants to give us. 

It is not enough to know about the spiritual disciplines.  We must actually practice them in order to experience the benefits God wants us to have.  There are many spiritual disciplines, but I want to mention just seven for your today, and challenge you to practice them between now and Easter.

First, there is prayer.  Prayer the most basic element of Christian living.  Prayer is like breathing for the Christian.  Some people say, praying is talking to God, but it is even more basic than that.  Last night, Kelly and I went to see the movie “The Jesus Revolution.” It’s a wonderful movie.  Of course, we didn’t talk during the movie.  That would be rude.  We sat and held hands and watched the movie together.  Even though no words were spoken, we chose to be together.

Prayer can be like that. Prayer is spending time with God.  There are many different ways to pray.  You can ask God for help for yourself or people you care about.  Other times, prayer is just sitting quietly with God on purpose.  Sometimes prayer is listening to God while you read Scripture.  Sometimes prayer is writing a prayer or reading someone else’s prayer or even reciting a prayer you have memorized—like the Lord’s Prayer.  Whatever way you pray, you should pray.  It is the most important Spiritual Exercise for Christians.  Prayer is an essential part of all the other spiritual disciplines.

Another spiritual discipline is fasting.  Fasting is voluntarily giving up food (or something else) for a time as a way to humble yourself before God. Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life. Most often, fasting is associated with going without food.  (Jesus fasted for 40 days before he officially began his earthly ministry.)  Many Christians give up something for Lent—like chocolate or coffee.  Fasting could also be giving up TV or social media or something else for a time.  Anything you give up is meant to help you focus more on God and less on yourself.  Fasting and prayer go together.  Fasting amplifies your prayers.  It turns every fiber of your being into a prayer.  As you long for the thing you are without, your longing becomes an unconscious prayer of longing for God.

Next to prayer, study is one of the most essential ways the Holy Spirit changes us.  Our mind is the center of our thoughts and our thoughts lead to our actions.  When we study the Holy Bible, we allow God to transform our minds.  The Bible is the Living Word of God.  If you want to hear God’s voice—the Voice that gives Life—you must study the Bible.  Study can also include reading other books, attending classes, or other forms of study.  All these can be beneficial.  However, studying the Bible is the most essential form of study.

Human beings were designed to worship.  Worship means to show reverence and adoration for God.  It centers on God, not ourselves or our feelings or our own particular preferences.  When we worship God, we point our spirit toward God in worship, we begin to see, hear, feel, and experience God at a deeper level.  We must worship in spirit (heartfelt, intimate closeness, and submission to God) and in truth (based on right understanding).  Worship works best when we prepare properly.  If you expect to get the most out of Sunday morning worship, be sure to get enough seep the night before and prepare for worship on Sunday morning by praying on Sunday morning before worship for God to make worship meaningful.  Come hungry for the Lord and with the expectation that something important will happen.

Christian meditation is listening for God’s voice so we can obey His Word.  In meditation, we use our imagination to spend time with God in the Scripture.  We look for God to come to us and fill our minds with His feelings, His ideas, and His insights and welcome Him to transform our wills.  We are not so much searching for God as letting Him find us as we watch, listen, and wait patiently.  Often it is helpful to read a passage from the Bible, pray for God to speak to you through it, and then just meditate on the passage for a time, letting God speak to you.

One of my favorite spiritual disciplines is solitude.  To practice solitude is to step away from the world for a little while to focus on interacting only with God.  You silence the inner turmoil of your anxious mind and cease striving to control people and situations by your own force of will.  You learn to trust God to work things out according to His plan and His timing.  For introverts like me, it doesn't take much convincing to get us to seek alone time.  We need it!  But when you are alone, make sure to intentionally focus on God's presence with your.  If you are an extrovert who loves to be with people, being alone can be way out of your comfort zone.  But I encourage you to try it regularly.  It may be even more important for you to get away from people occasionally and to only rely on God's presence to to fill you.

Service is helping others.  Jesus said in Matthew 23:11, “The greatest among you must be a servant.”  Service is a spiritual discipline that is good for both you and for others.  Service is really about recognizing we are servants.  We let go of our right to choose who and how we will serve.  Instead, we learn humility as we shift our focus from ourselves and onto others.   This is the main way Jesus taught his Disciples in the Bible.  Instead of sending them off to Bible college to get trained, Jesus gave them on the job training.  And He wants to do the same for you.  You may not feel qualified to serve.  But Jesus may invite you to serve anyway.  He will teach and equip you to serve as you serve.  You have to trust Him and answer the call when He asks you to serve--even if you don't feel ready.

I Challenge You to Practice Spiritual Disciplines
I’ve been giving you challenges throughout this series.  First, I challenged you to read Genesis and Matthew before Easter arrives.  Then, I said focus on one category of good deeds (see the list here).  Today, I challenge you to practice these 7 spiritual disciplines.  There are 42 days until Easter. Let’s get busy.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Spirit and Truth

Christmas in July
It's July as I write this.  But today, I want to share a little Christmas in July!  Listen to the Christmas story.  Jesus' birth changed everything!

Luke 2:1-20
1 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Jesus Divides History’s Timeline
Jesus was born to save the world from sin.  He came to unites all people as one people in the Kingdom of God.  More than any other figure in history, Jesu changed the world.  The world’s transformation by Christ is so great that we split history in half, marking it by whether it happened before or after Christ was born.

After He was born, Jesus grew in wisdom and stature.  He was baptized by his cousin John to mark the beginning of his public ministry.  Then he begam to teach and heal and share the love of God with people.  Jesus also made it clear that His mission was to all people.  Where others in the Bible had only come in ministry to Israel, Jesus even reached out even to gentiles and the despise Samaritans.

Jesus was the son of God, the long awaited Messiah who would save the world. 
The first person to whom Jesus revealed this truth was a Samaritan woman—an outcast in her community.  When everyone else shunned this woman, Jesus met her at Jacob’s well and told her about living water—water that wells up from inside and sustains us spiritually and never runs dry.

And Jesus shared a very important Truth with the Samaritan woman that I want to share with you today. 

John 4:23-24
The time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Spirit & Truth
Music moves me in worship.  It always has.  When I was a child, church was so boring.  I would just bide my time until we could finally leave.  But I will never forget the first time I truly felt something good in worship.  I was only about 8 years old and a lady (I wish I knew her name) sang a solo during the service.  It gave me chills.  Every Sunday after that, I hoped that someone would sing or do something else in the service that would help me feel something in worship.

God is real and His Son, Jesus, is alive.  The relationship we are to have with the Divine is real and tangible.  It is something you can feel.  We can feel love and comfort and friendship and caring and sadness and anger with the Divine just as we do with our parents or our children or our spouse.  Real relationships involve feeling.

But our relationship with God is not limited only to spirit (feelings).  Christians have often gotten into big trouble when they base their faith in God only on feelings.  Feelings are a good gift from God, but they are quite subjective.  People who base their life and faith and decisions only on feelings, quickly find themselves in trouble because "follow your heart" is not a very wise cliché. 

We are also called to worship in truth.  We need wisdom and knowledge.  So God gave us a brain and He wants us to use it.  We can read the Bible and learn and reason to understand who God is and why He sent Jesus and what are God's expectations and commandments and how we are supposed to live.  It is important that we have a rich intellectual relationship with God as well as a heartfelt one.

Another aspect of worshiping in truth is practical truth.  Knowing something is one part of truth, but doing something is putting our intellect into action.  We are called to act upon what we know.  Christians are called to serve and to sacrifice.

I love the Methodist movement.  It grew our of the renewal efforts of John Wesley and others who wanted to breathe new life into the dead, stagnant religions of the Anglican Church of the 1700s.  At that time, there was no passion in worship in England.  People would come hear a boring lecture at church and leave unmoved and unchanged and did nothing practical with their religion in everyday life.  John Wesley wanted to change that.  He believed in Jesus' admonish that God wanted people to worship Him in spirit and in truth.  And so John set about renewing the church.  He was a highly educated man who understood the deep theology of the Christian faith and he taught it in his sermons.  Wesley was also a man who had experienced his heart being warmed as he understood how Jesus had saved him while he was still a sinner.  Wesley felt God's love and was assured of his salvation.  And Wesley brought this out in his worship services.  That's why a university man like Wesley could preach and teach lower class uneducated coal minors and others about God's love and they responded with great emotion and devotion.  And the truth of the Gospel was practical in the Methodist movement, and they cared for the poor, opened hospitals for the sick, made a place for orphans, and even ministered to criminals in prison.  By worshipping God in spirit and in truth, those early Methodists changed England and made it a better place.

The Church in the 21st century, must be a people who worship God in spirit and in truth--with emotions, with intellect, and with practical application.

Be the Church
If the Church is to be what God wants it to be, then individuals must worship the Father in spirit and in truth because the church is made up of individuals. Therefore, if you are a follower of Christ, a Christian, then you must be a follower of Christ who worships in spirit and in truth.

Is your relationship with Jesus spiritually rich? Do you feel Him and know Him? Is He real to your heart? Or is Jesus only someone or something you know intellectually?  What could you do to practice and grow in knowing Christ with your heart this week?  How can you worship Him in spirit?  One way that helps move me is music.  Could that be something that helps you?  Or could it be something else?

Do you also worship Jesus in Truth? Is your relationship with Jesus only emotional? Do you really know Him in Truth? Do you understand who He is and what He did and what He wants to do in your life and the world today? Do you have an intellectually rich relationship with Jesus?  What could you do this week to know Christ in truth?  Perhaps it's time to join a Bible study or listen to a Christian podcast or read a stimulating religious book to learn about an important aspect of your Christian faith.

Does your relationship with Jesus move you to live for Him? Does His love for you and the Truth about Christ compel you to serve others—to be the hands and feet of Christ?  How will you walk with Christ this week--serving others as Christ calls all HIs followers to serve?

The time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Service

When I was a kid I love the Transformers cartoon series and children's toys.  The Transformers were alien robots that could transform into cars, jets, and other cools things.  Even more amazing, each individual robot warrior could combine with other robots in their unit to form a huge super robot.  Some Transformer would be the legs, and others the arms or body.  And this reminds me of what the Bible says about the Church.  All who follow Jesus Christ are filled with the Holy Spirit, who transforms us from our old nature into a new creation of God.  Furthermore, when believers work together as the Church, we make up the body of Christ.  The Holy Spirit gives each believer a special ability we are to use in cooperation with others in the church to help transform the world.  Isn't that cool!  Christian are the real Transformers!

List of Gifts
Romans 12:8-9 list seven gifts the Holy Spirit gives to transform us so we can transform the world. There are other lists in the New Testament list additional gifts.  The number of gifts is not as important as the idea that we are all give gifts by the Holy Spirit that we're to use to build up the Church and make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  The gifts we are studying from Romans 12:8-9 are: Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, Leadership, and Kindness.  Click here if you would like to take a quick and simple assessment to discover how the Holy Spirit may have gifted you.  Today, we will study the transforming gift of Service.

Luke 17:7-10
7 “When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? 8 No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ 9 And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. 10 In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’”

Important Ideas About Servants
There are several ideas Jesus teaches us about servants.  First of all, a servant does things that need to be done—important things that might get overlooked because they aren’t necessarily the things most people think about.  However, if these important tasks are left undone these it will lead to serious problems.  What important yet easily overlooked tasks do we see in the passage?  There is plowing.  Plowing is not a glamorous job; but if you don't plow, you won't have much of a harvest and no food.  The passage also mentions taking care of the sheep.  Again, not a fun thing to do, but if you want wool and milk and meat from your sheep, you've got to do the dirty work of taking care of their hooves and health and making sure they are safe and have food and water.  Menial tasks like these and cooking dinner are essential for daily life and the servant is the one who see to them.

Second, a servant puts the needs of others before their own. Jesus says after working all day, the servant prepares the master’s meal and serves the master before the servant eats.  The servant doesn't complain that they've been working all day.  They know their job's not through.  It's who they are and what they do.  They're servants.

Third, a servant doesn’t expect to be thanked. They are just doing what they are supposed to do.  It's their job.  In the biblical world, it was their very identity.  Many people were servant their whole life.  In the Transformers cartoon, there was a robot names Rachet.  Rachet was the medic who transformed into an ambulance and repaired any injured or malfunctioning Transformers.  He was a real servant.  He reminds me of the firefighters, police, and EMTs from real life.  They are always serving, doing those things we don't think about until we desperately need them--when your house is on fire or you have an intruder or you're injured and need emergency medical attention.  We call them public servants we we express our gratitude.  Sometimes we even call them heroes when they do something heroic like save someone from a burning building.  Yet the most often simply respond by saying, “I’m not a hero; I'm just doing my job.”  That's the attitude of a true servant.

Jesus shared the characteristics of the best servants.

Matthew 24:45-46
45 “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. 46 If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward.
The Best Servants
All believers, who follow Jesus as Lord, are called to serve.  In fact, Lord Jesus came to serve.  He set the example. He left the glory of heaven to come do what we couldn’t do for ourselves.  And while he was here, he didn’t sit back and expect everyone to serve him.  No.  He served everyone else.  The Greatest among you will be the servant of all.

All believers are called to serve.  But some believers have the exceptional, Holy Spirit empowered gift to serve others.  Gifted servants have a special talent for pinpointing exactly what needs to be done and then finding ways to get those things done.  Their serving frees others to work more effectively.  Gifted servants usually don’t need or even want recognition.  Their greatest reward is knowing that the job was done and it made a difference in the overall mission. 

The best servants are the ones you can trust to get the job done without anyone supervising them.  You don’t have to ask them.  You just trust them to figure out what needs to be done, how to best do it, and to make sure it gets done.  Most of the time, they do the work without you even being aware it’s getting done.  Now, some people would feel taken for granted if they did something without anyone else noticing or saying thank you.  But a true servant sees that this is just part of their purpose.  When they do their job really well, no one will notice, because no one even knew the job needed to be done.

Are You A Servant? 
Are you a servant God wants to use to help transform the world? Do you have the gift of the Holy Spirit to serve exceptionally well? A true gifted servant tends to say things like:
  • "I like to do useful, helpful things for people.
  • I show my feelings by what I do for others more than what I say to them."
  • "I prefer doing a job instead of delegating it to someone else to complete."
  • "I like to assist people in practical ways."
If that’s you, you might be a Holy Spirit empowered servant God wants to use to help transform the world! We need gifted servants in many places around Pleasant Grove:
  • Fixing things - In a large church facility, there are always things that need to be fixed.  We need self-motivated, faithful people who can spot things that need repairs and just get it done.
  • Children/Youth ministry - We already have a gifted youth minister and childrens' minister, but their gifts are teaching.  Our biggest need right now are servants who can assist these ministers by watching over the kids, chaperoning retreats, helping out behind the scene so the youth and children's ministers can focus on leading and teaching.
  • Wednesday night suppers - We always need helpers out our church to set tables, help in the kitchen during dinner, serve food, and clean up after dinner.  Is this something you would help with in your church?
  • Checking lights and doors - Sometimes, you don't need any special skills at all to be a faithful servant.  In a large church facility, there are always light that get left on and doors that don't get locked.  One helpful way to serve is just to go through the building regularly and check that all the lights are off and doors are locked.  This is tremendously helpful.
  • Counting money - We are always grateful for the generous giving to our worship offerings, but the money doesn't magically transport from the offering plates to the bank.  It takes faithful, conscientious servants to count the money, record it properly, and deposit it.  Could this be a way you could serve?
  • Planning events - You don't have to be a creative, visionary person who comes up with great ideas to help plan.  We often have innovative thinkers with great ministry ideas.  Unfortunately, creative types don't always know how to translate their ideas into practical ministries.  They often need help with the details and with carrying out the plans.  Are you a servant who likes to work and get things done?  Perhaps you could help with planning.
There are countless ways to serve through the church, the Body of Christ, especially for people who like to get things done and aren't concerned about getting credit.  All glory be to God and his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who empowers us to work together to transform the world.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

9 Acts of Service

Service is an attitude of the heart, but it is an attitude that's lived out through tangible acts.  Here are nine practical kinds of service you can give throughout life. (These are based on Richard Foster's book, The Celebration of Discipline.)

  1. Secret service. We are all given many opportunities to serve in ways that no one else sees. There is great blessing in secret acts of service, whether large or small.
  2. Small acts of kindness. We don’t always have to do big, important stuff. Bringing someone a drink, cleaning up a spill, giving someone a ride, stopping by the store to pick up some milk for your spouse. Nobody is too important to do the menial tasks of life. And those who think their time is too important to be wasted on small acts of kindness may think too highly of themselves. 
  3. Guarding someone’s reputation. There is real wisdom in the old adage: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Be someone who builds up others instead of tearing them down. Don’t participate in gossip and urge others to stop as well. 
  4. The service of being served. Many people are like Peter, who didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet. Don’t steal someone else’s blessing by refusing to let others serve you. 
  5. The service of common courtesy. In our fast-paced, socially disconnected age of technology, common social customs are even more important. Be polite. Remember to say “please” and “thank you”. Hold the door open for ladies and your elders. Be sure to RSVP promptly when requested. Don’t be rude by neglecting common courtesies as outdated. 
  6. The service of hospitality. Hospitality is making people feel welcome and comfortable and seeing that their basic needs are met—especially when they are away from their home. Don’t get so caught up in the details of hospitality that you lose sight of making people feel loved. 
  7. The service of listening. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is just to listen. Give people your undivided attention. Put down your phone, turn off the TV, and focus. You don’t have to have the right answers. Just listen and care. Listening to others also quiets and disciplines the mind to listen to God. 
  8. Bearing one another’s burdens. It is a great act of service to
    offer care and compassion when others are going through troubles. Send a sympathy card. Offer a meal. Sometimes we don’t know what to say. That’s ok. Just say you don’t know what to say, but that you care. Sometimes, I’ll that’s needed is to be there and say nothing at all. 
  9. Sharing the Word of God with one another. We are all part of the Body of Christ. It’s not just pastors and Sunday school teachers who hear from God. God speaks to us all and moves in all our lives. When we keep it to ourselves, we cheat the rest of the world. One of the greatest gifts of service can be simply to share what God is doing in you or saying to you with others. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Go Serve

            Jesus told his disciples, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)  In other words, I will make you into the kind of people who attract more and more people to be part of God's Kingdom.  Jesus spent three years giving the disciples on the job training, and then in in Matthew 28:19-20, he commanded all his followers:  “Go and make disciples of all the nations.”  This is an essential element of the Christian faith; not optional. We might think following Jesus is about being better people, getting more discipline, finding hope, salvation, or peace.  All these are benefits of following Christ, but Jesus said he wants to make us fishers of men.  He didn't say he wanted to make us better people.  He said, "I will make you fishers of men."
            It scares some people to think about telling others about Jesus.  Perhaps you get the image of a Jehovah's Witness going door to door trying to force their religion on people.  But that's not what it's about at all.  Fishing for people is not as hard or scary as you think.  It is simply saying what Jesus means to you. 
            This week, I used Uber for the very first time.  It was an easy way to get to and from the airport in San Antonio.  The Uber driver was friendly and we talked for the twenty minute ride to the hotel.  He asked me what I did for a living and I told him I was a pastor.  That got us on the subject of religion and he showed me a picture of Jesus he kept on the instrument cluster of his dash. He said, "I love Jesus.  One time I had someone accuse me of worshipping an idol because I have the picture and they thought it was Buddha, but it's Jesus!"  He went on to say he didn't believe in idols.  He said, "I don't believe a statue--something people make with their own hands--can do anything for you.  They have no power."
            I agreed and then I shared how we are made in the image of God.  We talked about how humans are uniquely different from all creation--even animals--because we have the ability to think and reason and the free will to choose our actions.  We are the image of God; the only ones authorized by God to represent Him and Jesus helps restore that image that is broken by sin.
            Now, I didn't get in that Uber driver's car with a prepared "Jesus-pitch."  I was just looking for a ride, but God gave me the opportunity and I took it.  He brought a middle eastern Uber driver in Texas and an American Pastor from Georgia together for a twenty minute conversation and steered us onto the subject of faith.  So I went with it.  How about you?  When and how could you talk about Jesus?  How could you cast your fishing nets out and fish for people?
            The process for making disciples at my church follows is the same pattern Jesus used in the
Bible.  1) It all start with relationships.  I didn't have a deep relationship the Uber driver, but I built on the small relationship we had and went with it.  Sometimes, the deeper your relationship, the greater your opportunity to invite someone to Jesus.  2) Next, people come in through a gate to see Jesus (an opportunity to come to church and be with Jesus).  3) Then we go deeper; we move from a conversation or an interest to a commitment.  4) We go out and serve.  And it doesn't end there.  The cycle continue as we build more relationships, invite more to come in, go deeper, and go out and serve.  And it goes on and on.
            Here’s an example on how Jesus invited Levi (A.K.A. Matthew, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew) to be his disciple:

Luke 5:27-32
27 Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. 28 So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.
29 Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”
31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. 32 I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent."

Nobody Likes Tax Collectors
            Nobody likes tax collectors.  That's true today (I hope you all got your taxes filed last month!).  Tax collectors were even more despised in Jesus' day and here's why.  The Israelites were conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire.  The Jews, as God chosen people, didn't like being ruled by a foreign, heathen nation.  And they especially didn't like having to pay taxes to them.  What made it worse was the Romans recruited Jews to collect the taxes from their own neighbors and the Romans might say to the Jewish tax collector, "You have to collect $10,000 from this neighborhood for us." (I'm just making up the numbers here as an example.  These figures have no historical value.)  They say, "Now, you have to pay us $10,000 for this neighborhood, but you can collect as much as you want.  You pay us $10,000 and you keep the rest."  So the unscrupulous Jewish tax collectors would often collect 2 or 3 times as much taxes as they were supposed to and pocket the rest as a huge profit.  They were getting rich at the expense of their own countrymen and they used the Roman soldiers to enforce their extortion.
            Levi (A.K.A. Matthew) was one of those hated tax collectors.  And Jesus invited him to be a disciple.  And Matthew left it all and follow Jesus, to be a "fisher of men."  Matthew wasted no time to start fishing.  He started right away.  He held a banquet for Jesus and invited all his friends to dinner.  You see, fishing for people doesn't have to be complicated.  It can just be a dinner or a hiking trip or a conversation during an Uber ride.
            Matthew's dinner relays an important principle about fishing for people.  Sometimes new converts, new followers, new church members are poised as much or more than anyone else to introduce their friends to Jesus.  Don't wait until you feel you've "matured enough" or got some training.  Just do it!  Do it now!  Do it from the very beginning.  If a tax collector can do it, so can you. 
            You have a unique ability to fish that no one else has.  Think about it.  I'm a preacher and have been one for eighteen years.  Almost everyone I know is already Christian (and probably a member of my church) or a preacher somewhere else.  I've already overfished my waters, but you have a rich fishing whole to tap into.  So go fish!

Go Serve
            And that brings me to our key idea today:  We grow when we go!  Let’s face it, we usually start out with Jesus for less than noble reasons.  Maybe we started coming because someone dragged us to Jesus (like our parents or spouse).  Or maybe we came because we were desperate and we thought maybe Jesus could help. 
            I knew a man once who was quite honest about it.  He said he started coming to church because his father was very sick and he promised God he would start going to church every Sunday if God made his father better.  His father got better, so the man started faithfully attending church.  Now, his faith grew much deeper as a result, but it started out as a bargain he made with God. 
            I became a Christian at the age of eight for the very self-serving reason that I wanted to go to heaven and avoid hell.  My children's pastor explained it very clearly to my 8-year-old ears: We have sinned and the consequences of sin is death, but Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins.  If we trust Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we go to heaven.  If we reject him, we go to hell.  Well, that was an easy choice for me.  I chose Jesus (and heaven).  Now, my faith has grown so much deeper than that in the last 36 years.  But it was a selfish, petty thing in the beginning.
            And that's the way it is for many of us.  We start very shallow, but as we go deeper with Christ, his love inspires us and overwhelms us.  We feel the (sometime troubling) conviction to serve.  The Holy Spirit gives us all the ability to serve.  And each of us is uniquely positioned to serve in ways that no one else can--because of our personal life experience, our abilities, and our connections.  If we don’t serve, the Body of Christ will not function correctly; the mission will suffer.  So we take a leap of faith and serve.  And, glory to God, there is nothing like fulfilling your God-given role.  It is a blessing to those you serve and it is twice the blessing for you.
            One of the things I hear people ask most is: "How do I know what God wants me to do?  If I just knew what my calling was, I would be glad to serve."  Well, I have an answer for you.  Thanks to the wonder of the internet, there is a simple and easy way for you to explore how the Holy Spirit has gifted you so you can find ways to serve that fulfill God's calling for you.  Click this link to complete a free, short survey that will indicate what is your spiritual gift(s) and explains what they mean and how you might use them to serve.

            Throughout this series of messages, I've tried to challenge you to be a fisher of men (or women).  I challenged you to choose three people you can mentor this year (pray for them, help them, be a friend to them, and encourage them).  I also challenged you to consider how you could go deeper in your relationship with Jesus this year (such as joining a Bible study or Sunday school, commit to daily Bible reading, etc.).  Today, I want to add one more challenge.  How could you serve?  God gave you a specific spiritual gift so you can serve in the body of Christ, the Church.  Take the spiritual gifts assessment to find out your gift and then use it to go serve.  Now, go serve!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Guest Blogger - David Crawford - Spiritual Gifts

Today I am pleased to share a guest blog written by David Crawford.  David is the talented music minister at Pleasant Grove UMC in Dalton.  David has a great attitude and humble servant's heart.  He loves his family and his church and serves the Lord faithfully. 
Spiritual Gifts
 Well it’s been about three weeks since Christmas.  Everyone has had a chance to evaluate the gifts they received and make that decision.  Are you going to ‘love it” or “leave it”?  Yes, my wife watches Hilary and David, so occasionally I hear their catch phrase as I walk through the living room, don’t judge me.  I’m sure we all got plenty of gifts that we had hoped for, and perhaps a few surprises that made hiding the puzzling look on our faces difficult as the revealing piece of wrapping paper was torn away from the present.  Whether your presents took you to elation or consternation, gift giving is a big part of the Christmas season and that is in large part because of the wonderful gift God gave us.  Romans 8:32  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
When I read that I had to do a double take.  Did Paul say give us ALL things?  Because Steven Wright, the comedian has clearly pointed out, “You can’t have everything, where would you put it?”  Of course I don’t believe it means that I, personally, will have all tangible items ever made or ever to be made and all intangible qualities of all of humanity; and I’m sure if we asked Bill Caylor if he had enough stuff, he’d probably say, “More than I deserve.”  God gave His Son.  That was way more than we deserved, it was and is a gift that we can never repay.  So what else does God graciously give us?  I’m glad you asked.

According to Paul, in his letter to the Romans, we are all given gifts, Romans 12:6  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us...   Now, it doesn’t say, “Some of you have been given gifts…”   We have all been given gifts, and while we are all given gifts, I don’t believe we are given the same gifts.  A  pink Hello Kitty sweater might be great for 9 year old Samantha, but not so hot for 23 year old Jonathan.  God is a lot better at giving gifts than we are, and the gifts we receive from God are a little different.  They are spiritual gifts.  I used to think of our spiritual gifts as our talents or skills, and until I started looking at this message today had not really thought much more about it.  I thought, if you have a talent or skill you should use it for the realization of God’s kingdom here on earth, and I still believe that, but I found a section on the UMC website dedicated to spiritual gifts, and I found some interesting ideas that made me dive a little deeper into spiritual gifts.
According to the United Methodist Church’s Website, “our spiritual gifts are NOT our talents or skills, but the grace of God at work within us, empowering us to match our deep passion with the world’s deep needs.”  As I read this and saw the word talents, my mind went to this story from Mathew 25: 14-30 (Watch it on YouTube).  At first, I must admit, I had a lot of sympathy for the man given 1 talent.  What can you do with 1 talent?  It seemed a bit unfair, so I looked up what a talent was worth, and, as usual, when I delve deeper into the scriptures, I was surprised.  Of course this story took place a long time ago, and naturally there is some disagreement on the value of a talent during this story’s time setting, but I found the lowest estimates to be from about $1000 to $30,00 (today’s value), while the larger estimates put the value between $300,000 and $500,000.  The story began to take on a different light when I realized the value of one talent.  If we look at this story as it is traditionally taught, we see a parallel between the gifts God gives us and the way we use them; and the investments made by the servants on behalf of their master.  And when I discovered the value of the talent, it became sort of a “duh” moment.  I mean, what was I thinking, is God going to send me out on His behalf with less than what I need to represent Him and His kingdom well?  No.  Always No.  God will not send you out on His behalf ill equipped to represent Him and His kingdom.  Doubt me?  Let me drop a few names, like Esther, Noah, Moses, Mary, Joshua, Daniel, all 12 apostles, and you and me here today.  All of these were called by God to further His kingdom, and all were given the necessary gifts to accomplish God’s goal.  
And so the connection between the spiritual gifts and the talents in this parable became more clear to me, even the 1 talent, which I originally thought was not enough to make a fuss over, was more than enough to be invested in the will of the Master.  Whatever spiritual gifts you have been given, they are more than enough to be further the kingdom of God here on earth.
So, I still had a question lingering in my mind, what about this statement that our skills and our talents are not spiritual gifts?  According to the United Methodist Church’s Website, “our spiritual gifts are not our talents or skills, but the grace of God at work within us, empowering us to match our deep passion with the world’s deep needs.”  What were they saying?  All my life people have referred to skills and talents as gifts.  A craftsman has the skill to build, an artist the skill to inspire, a writer the skill to communicate, musician the skill to speak through sound, engineers design, doctors heal, mothers and fathers nurture, and the list goes on.  I think the distinction comes from the last two thirds of the statement. “...the grace of God at work within us, empowering us to match our deep passion with the world’s deep needs.”  All humans have an aptitude for and eventual develop skills and talents.  But not all humans have invited the Holy Spirit into their lives to work within them to match their skills and talents with the world’s deep needs.  You might have the gift of administration, and you might manage a large company to great success making many people, including yourself, lot’s of money, but if you don’t have the grace of God working within you to take that skill and use it to meet the world’s deep needs, then you have simply exercised a survival skill,
not used the spiritual gift of administration.  This doesn’t mean you can’t use your skills and talents to survive and thrive here on earth.  Of course you can and should, but what you do beyond that which is necessary to survive, what you do as a result of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, what you do as a response to the great gift of love and your own love for the giver of that gift, what you do with your skill or talent that addresses the world’s deep needs, that is the exercising of your spiritual gifts.  That is the investment of the talents in the parable we heard earlier.  

You have spiritual gifts.  If you are not sure what they are, you might try taking the survey on the UMC website, or you could discuss this with pastor Chris, or a Christian brother or sister, definitely pray about it, and ask the the Holy Spirit to reveal your gifts to you and motivate you to use your skills and talents to meet the world’s deep needs.
Now, as I was typing this up I kept thinking that, “The world’s deep needs” seems like an ominous task, an impossible mission, a ridiculous goal for just me here at Pleasant Grove UMC.  So start here.  In the church, in your family, in the community.  In case you didn’t know, PGUMC does exist in this world, as does Pleasant Grove, Varnell, Cohutta, Dawnville, Dalton, etc.  And there are deep needs in our community.  Start here.  Make it manageable. 
A friend of mine made a ceramic mug for me and gave it to me as a gift for Christmas a few years ago.  I thanked her, and among the many other coffee vessels I carry around, naturally hers was one of them.  One day as I was using the mug she gave me, she came up to me and said,”It always makes me feel so good when I see you drinking from the cup I made for you.”  And it wasn’t in a, “I’m so good and wonderful, boastful braggish, manner”, it was genuine joy in realizing she had created something for me that I was enjoying and using.   Well, God gave us spiritual gifts.  Don’t you think it makes Him happy when we used the gifts He gave us?  Can’t you see Him smiling as He witnesses us using the gifts He gave us, knowing that by doing so we will be broadening the kingdom of God on earth, thereby making even more people happy as they encounter the all saving grace of our merciful God?  And I’ll tell you something else.  That mug she made me, well, if I have failed to shave, as I often do, and if I sip from the mug at just the right place and in just the right angle, it’ll grab ahold to one of my pseudo beard hairs, and I won’t know it til I pull the mug away from my face.  And yes, then it stings.  But I still love using that mug!  It was made for me, by someone who cared enough to create it and give it to me, and that makes me feel good!  One of the greatest pleasure we get from receiving gifts is…..USING THE GIFT.  How crazy is it that God gave us gifts, and using gifts makes us happy, and using the gifts God gave us makes Him happy too?  Folks, this is almost too good to be true.  You need to get in on this deal.  Discover your gifts if you haven’t already.  Use your gifts if you haven’t been.  And find new and creative ways to keep using your gifts if you have been using them.
Almost every Sunday we say the Apostle’s Creed as our Affirmation Of Faith, and there is line in the Creed that reads: “There He shall judge the quick and the dead.”  That means that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God judging the quick, which is the living, which as far as I can tell is me and you right now, and the dead.  When we go home to our Master and He asks us how we fared with the talents He gave us, will we be able to show a return on His investment.  Or will hand Him a dust covered cloth filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit that have been buried in our bodies because we were afraid to use them.