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Showing posts with label Spiritual Growth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spiritual Growth. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Spiritual Disciplines - Introduction


Galatians 6:8Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.

You are what you practice regularly.
If you want to get good at anything, you have to practice.  I started training in martial arts when I was 11-years-old.  I went to class two or three times a week until I graduated from high school.  I took a few years off, but started back training again when I was 27.  I’m almost forty-five-years-old now and I still try to train two or three times a week. 

People sometimes ask me, “Can you teach me something about how to defend myself?”  They often have this misconception there might be some secret karate move that will save them if they ever get attacked.  Sometimes, I will show some trick I’ve learned.  But always in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “You can’t learn one karate move and think it will keep you safe.  You can’t even just take one class and expect to be prepared for a violent encounter.  You have to practice and practice and practice until self-defense becomes second nature to you.” 

Practice is essential in any sport.  Professional football players run some of the same weekly drills they ran when they were just kids starting out.  Singers and musicians know how important practice is too.  Our church pianist, Sara Forester, comes out and practices almost every week in the sanctuary.  You will often find her on a Saturday morning by herself in the sanctuary practicing the offertory or prelude music she will play on Sunday morning. Our church choir practices at least once a week, sometimes twice.  Singing in the church choir is probably one of the best ways to really get better at singing, simply because of the regular practice you get.  Your voice is a muscle that grows stronger and better the more you exercise it.

Can tell? I’m a strong believer in practice and training.  And here’s why:  what you practice regularly comes out when the pressure is on.  If you know how to fight because you practice all the time, your fighting skill will come out naturally in that unexpected moment when you’re attacked and you need to fight.  You won’t have to think about it.

The same is true of the Christian virtues in a person’s life. You are what you practice and it will come out when the pressure is on.  You might be able to fake being Christian for a little while when everything is easy; but when the squeeze is on, the real juice on the inside is gonna come out. When you’re stressed out and under pressure, who you are on the inside is gonna come out—compassion, forgiveness, grace, and mercy or frustration, retaliation, unreasonable demands, and a mean spirit.  When someone squeezes you, the juice that comes out will be from whatever fruits are in your spirit.  What kind of person are you when the going gets tough?


The exercises Christians practice to help develop their spiritual muscles are called Spiritual Disciplines.  Some of the most useful spiritual disciplines are:  meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.  Each of these disciplines have been used by Christians for thousands of years to nurture the growth of the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Over the next few months, I’m going to teach about each of these spiritual disciplines.  We will try to understand each one better.  What I really want, though, is for you to practice them.  What good would it be to know all about prayer, but never pray?  It would be as useless as a recipe for a pecan pie, but never cooking or eating one.

Two Dangers
There are two dangers I need to point out from the very beginning in regards to spiritual disciplines.  First off, there is a danger of using the spiritual disciplines for the wrong reasons.  There are many—chief among these were the Pharisees in the New Testament—who misunderstand the purpose of the spiritual disciplines.  They think that by their very strict and strenuous practice of prayer and fasting and study and worship, etc. they might work their way to God’s blessing and salvation.  Remember the prideful prayer of the Pharisee from Luke 18:11-12?  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector!  I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ 

You see, the Pharisee thought his religious devotion made him special and better than others.  When spiritual disciplines are misused in this way, they actually lead you away from God and not toward Him.  Pride is one of the deadliest sins in the human heart.  Fasting and tithing are spiritual practices that, when used rightly, can help drive pride from your heart and remind you of your utter dependence on the merciful providence of God.  However, if you use your fasting and tithing to convince yourself you are something special, you have increased your pride and defeated the purpose for fasting and tithing altogether.

Another common misuse is related and stems from using the spiritual disciplines to try to impress others.  Again, the Pharisees in the New Testament were very diligent with their prayers, but they did it to impress people.  A common practice—which Jesus condemned—was to go out on a busy street corner and blow trumpets to get everyone’s attention.  Then a Pharisee would handout charity and pray so everyone could see them and be impressed (Matthew 6:1-6).  Jesus said you should pray in private so no one sees it—except God.  In Matthew 6:16, Jesus said, “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.  Jesus taught we should fast in such a way that no one would even notice we are fasting, except God who knows what we do in private.  So we have to be careful not to misuse the spiritual disciplines to try to impress people or God. 
  
That brings me to a second danger in regards to spiritual disciplines.  There is the danger that we neglect the spiritual disciplines, because we assume we can’t do anything at all to help transform our spirits.  It is true that we are saved by grace and not by the good things we do.  But that doesn’t mean we just sit back and let Jesus to do all the work without any help from us. 

Notice what Jesus said in Matthew 6:16.  He said, “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do…”  He said “when” you fast.  He assumed we would indeed fast (which is one of the spiritual disciplines).  He just wanted to make sure we fast and pray for the right reasons.  This applies to all the other spiritual disciplines as well.  The reasons we practice them make all the difference.

Meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration open us up to the power of the Holy Spirit and nurture the growth of the spiritual fruits in our hearts.  The spiritual disciplines are the means God gives us to receive His grace. They are the methods by which we place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.

The Spiritual Disciplines are for Everyone
Unfortunately, people these days often think spiritual disciplines are only for spiritual gurus or people who live in a monastery.  That’s only because so many these days have forgotten about the disciplines.  For centuries, most Christians practiced these disciplines on a regular basis.  They were even incorporated into their communal life.  People automatically knew it was time to pray when they heard the bells ring in the church steeple.  People knew fasting and penance were the order of the day during the forty days of Lent leading up to Easter.  Some of these practices survive today.  Most have been forgotten by the masses.  And we are weaker for it. 

I want to revive these spiritual disciplines as a regular exercise within our church.  And really, it shouldn’t be too difficult.  These spiritual disciplines aren’t too difficult to understand or practice.  It’s just we have to make them a priority in our busy lives.  We have to exercise our spirit the way we exercise our body.

My hope then, as we go through this series, is to better understand each of the disciplines in order that we may practice them.  But the key is in the practice.  Understanding the spiritual disciplines is not as good as practicing them.  Understanding and practicing them is the best of all.  So I hope we will grow in both understanding and practice together over the next few months.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Love


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 30, 2018

Go Deeper

Introduction
            Jesus is Lord. What does Lord mean? It means He is sovereign. It means what he says goes. You do it. You don't talk back. It’s not a discussion. You don’t make excuses.  And it’s not that Jesus' followers obey grudgingly. Some leaders wield authority like a whip. Nobody likes them. Nobody respects them, but they have the power and you better comply or you’re going to a pay a heavy price. I had a boss like that when I was a teenager.  He often made poor decisions and didn't lead well, but you had to follow his orders or you would be punished or lose your job.  The company he worked for is no longer in business.
            Jesus is not like an overbearing boss.  Jesus’ authority is well earned.  He's a wise ruler.  He does what's best for the whole Kingdom and he cares about each individual.  He loves and serves his people.  He even died on the cross for us.  When he gives a command, he isn’t telling you to do anything he hasn’t already done. And Jesus' true followers (true believers) willingly and enthusiastically obey the Lord.
            Jesus commands his followers: “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I promise I will be with you even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)  We are supposed to make disciples. Jesus made our lives better or he’s in the process of making our lives better. We feel forgiveness and grace and love and peace. We’re learning to live with wisdom and make better decisions. We’re finding healing and he’s breaking the chains that bind us.  It’s a process of healing and part of our process is reaching out and sharing what we’ve found with others and inviting them to come in and meet Jesus too.
            Making disciples is part of the healing process for us, but how do you do it?  Making disciples is a cycle that goes all the way back to Jesus.  If you study his life and ministry, you see four main principles at work that form a continuous cycle.  First, you start with friends (it all starts with relationships). Make friends and second, you invite people to come in (get them to Jesus anyway you can!).  Next, you and your friends go deeper (and that's what my discussion will focus on today).  Then, you go serve.  We see this whole cycle in Jesus ministry and it is the example we still follow.  Let's look again at how Jesus invited his first disciple to follow him.

Luke 5:1-11 
1 One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. 2 He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” 6 And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7 A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

8 When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” 9 For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Key Idea
            The key idea for us today is in verse 4 - “…Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your
nets to catch some fish.”  Peter (also known as Simon or Simon Peter) didn’t really believe he was gonna catch any fish. He’d already tried.  He'd already called it quits and was washing his nets.  And then a carpenter/preacher urged him to try again.  And he did!  Why?  Why go to the trouble after a long and fruitless night and after you've already started packing it in?
            Well, it could be that Peter respected Jesus as a rabbi.  Maybe, he respected the position enough to just do what the rabbi said.  There’s a certain amount of deference you give to people just because of their position.  But I think there was more to Jesus and Peter's relationship and I think that's why Peter was willing to humor Jesus and let the nets down one last time in deeper water.
            More than likely, this wasn’t Peter’s first encounter with Jesus. Jesus and Peter already knew each other. Jesus had probably visited Peter before. Maybe he’d bought some fish from him. Peter had heard some of Jesus’ preaching. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus had had dinner with Peter before, maybe even prayed with him.  And because of the relationship/friendship Jesus already had with Peter, Peter was willing to humor Jesus (a carpenter) when he gave fishing advice to a professional fisherman.
            If you have a good relationship/friendship with someone, they will humor you about this whole Jesus thing. Play that card if you need to. Do whatever it takes to get your friends in to see Jesus (remember the two friends in Luke 5:17-26 who dug a hole in the roof of a house and lowered their friend down in front of Jesus from the ceiling because they couldn't get in the door for the crowd?).
            Peter already knew Jesus, but he had to go deeper if he was really going to see the power of Christ, if he was really going to have his life changed forever. Peter had a choice. He could have stayed safe, stayed a fisherman all his life. Jesus invited him to go deeper, but he could have declined. It was his boat.
            I'm glad he agreed to take a chance and go deeper.  Look at all he would have missed if he hadn't.  Think of all the lives he saw touched by Jesus.  Think of all the miracles and healings he saw.  He even walked on water!  (Sure, it was only a few steps before he started to sink, but still I've never done that!)  And yes, Peter made some blunders along the way.  He said some stupid things.  Jesus had to reprimand him once, saying "Get behind me, Satan!"  Peter even failed miserably when he denied Jesus three times, but Jesus forgave him.  Peter would have missed all that if he'd refused to let down his nets in deep water one more time.
            What will you miss if you stay in the shallow end of the church where you feel safe and unchallenged?  Jesus is calling you to go deeper, my friends. He says, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”  What miracles and power are you going to miss if you stay in the shallow water?

Going Deeper
            You have to go deeper. Maybe you already go to church and that's good. But you have to go deeper or else all you will ever get is some great music, a few prayers, and a mediocre sermon. If you really want to see the power of Christ, you’ve got to go deeper. If you really want to find peace and healing and forgiveness, you’ve got to go deeper. If you want Jesus to change your life, you’ve got to go deeper. And I have to tell you, if you really want to find eternal life, you’ve got to go deeper.
            I can hear some people objecting now: “Wait! What? I thought salvation was a free gift and we didn’t have to do anything to earn it.”  Yes, that's true.  That's what Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches.  You don’t earn salvation.  It is a free gift from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.   However, Jesus becomes your Savior when he becomes your Lord.  Remember what is a Lord.  A Lord is sovereign. What the Lord says goes. You do it. You don't talk back. It’s not a discussion. It’s a command to be followed without reservation. And Jesus is a Lord who sacrificed his own life to save you. If he’s your Lord, you’ll do what he says.  Faith is following and trusting is doing, because Jesus is Savior and Lord.
            In Matthew 7:21, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  A disciple follows their Lord wherever he leads. A true disciple eats with Jesus, walks with Jesus, serves with Jesus, and sleeps where Jesus sleeps.  A real disciple fishes where Jesus says to fish.  A disciple is all in—100%.
            Now, Jesus may not expect you to jump in whole hog from the very beginning.  He is a patient Lord.  First he preaches the truth.  Then he gets your boat.  Then he says, go a little deeper and let down your nets.  Then he says, "Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men."  Ultimately, Jesus invites us to leave everything behind and come be his followers.  He starts off easy, but as you see the power and love of Christ is real, Jesus calls you to go deeper. It's how he makes disciples.  It's how we truly become "fishers of men".
            We have to go deeper and we have to invite our friends to go deeper with us. Not all at once.  Maybe the first step is just to come to church one Sunday and hear the Good News.  You start off by seeing what this religion thing is all about.  And maybe you see the people following Jesus aren't so bad after all.  They have a lot of hope. There's a sense of peace and joy in their hearts and they really do care.  And maybe you decide you don't mind hanging around them.  But there's got to be more. 
            So next you go deeper. Maybe you decided to go to Sunday school or join a Bible study to really start seeing what the faith is all about.  Then, you go deeper still. You start contributing to the church offering and it feels good to be invested in Jesus' mission.  Or maybe you go deeper still and decided to practice the biblical principle of tithing--giving 10% of your income to church.  There are many way's to go deeper in the faith.  You can serving as a volunteer.  You could go on a mission trip.  You could sing in the choir, serve in the nursery, help with children or youth, teach a class...  The opportunities are endless.  But if you're going to continue to following Jesus and grow, you've got to go deeper.  And an essential part of going deeper that Jesus commands of all his followers is to go out and make disciples--to be fishers of men.

Challenge 
            I want to repeat the challenge I've issued for the last two weeks:  Pick three people you could mentor.  Pray for them.  Be a friend.  Help them and invite to church.  But I want to add to the challenge this week.  I challenge you to go deeper in your faith with Jesus.  What could you do to go deeper with Christ?  Do you need to pray to invite Jesus to be your Lord and Savior and become a Christian?  Do you need to join the church?  Maybe you need to recommit your life to Christ because you've been slacking off.  You could also go deeper by starting to read your Bible every day or setting aside 15 (or more) minutes to pray everyday.  You could go deeper by joining a Sunday School class or Bible Study, volunteer to help with children or youth ministry or sing in your church's choir or praise band.  An excellent way to go deeper is by attending a spiritual retreat like The Walk to Emmaus or Chrysalis.  These are all specific things you could do to go deeper (and I challenge you to commit to something specific).  How might Jesus be calling you to go deeper as his disciple?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Eat Your Vegetables - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell…

Acts 2:42 – All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

“Eat your vegetables!”  It’s a phrase exasperated parents often exclaim as they plead with kids to eat the healthy food on their plate.  Rarely will you hear them beg, “Eat your cake!  Drink more sweet tea!  Please, have another cookie or piece of pizza!”  But alas, the neglected vegetable—the healthy source of such vital vitamins and minerals and nourishing stuff pediatricians say our kids must have—remain the bane of many a child’s mealtime experience.
Perhaps a parent’s quest to force healthy food down their kids’ gullets is even more difficult because adults often crinkle their noses at the green things on the table too.  Ham and macaroni and cheese are great, but broccoli, spinach, or Brussel sprouts?  How can you encourage your kids to eat wholesome vegetables when you don’t like them yourself? 
Parents will sometimes try to trick kids (or themselves) into eating vegetables by disguising them as other foods.  I saw a segment on TV about using spaghetti squash to make lasagna.  “It tastes just like regular lasagna!” they exalted, “You wouldn’t even know it was good for you!”  Well, whatever it takes I guess…
We need to eat more healthy vegetables.  As I’ve grown up, I’ve found I like many of the vegetables I used to turn my nose at as a child.  I have “put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11) so to speak (except for Brussel sprouts, bleh!).  As a mature adult, I enjoy how vegetables offer variety, texture, and flavor to my meals as well as nutrition without all the add calories associated with bread and fatty meats.
There are activities in the Christian faith that many treat like vegetables—things people know are good for them, but they just don’t like to do.  Some of these might be reading the Bible, keeping a daily prayer time, going to Sunday school and church, and receiving Holy Communion.  When the preacher says “Do these!” we crinkle our nose like a stubborn child and refuse or make excuses (or just pretend like we’re doing them and hope no one notices we’re not).
As you look ahead and ponder your goals for the coming year, consider that you cannot progress unless you “eat your vegetables.”  In other words, you cannot fully grow as a person unless you do the things that help you grow.  Jesus’ first believers found growth by devoting themselves “to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)  Sound familiar?  Those “vegetables” sound I lot like: reading the Bible, attending Sunday school and church, receiving Holy Communion, and daily prayer.
When we eat our “spiritual vegetables,” we find the Holy Spirit produces some sweet spiritual fruit in our life:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  So, eat your vegetables and you will taste some sweet fruit.  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…

Remember, God loves you

Monday, October 2, 2017

Think Different

Introduction
            Long ago God chose you to be holy and different.  Have you ever noticed that all the heroes of the Bible were a little different?  Some might say, they were a little off or weird; they were definitely different.  Noah built an ark out in the middle of dry land.  Can you imagine what his neighbors thought when he build the biggest boat they'd ever seen and there wasn't anywhere to sail it?  Abraham took his only son up on top of Mt. Moriah to sacrifice him, because "God told him to."  That's just crazy!  King David got so excited when he was bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, he started dancing so hard and worshiping God his clothes came off.  He embarrassed his wife and she had to scold him for exposing himself and not being dignified like a king should be.  david was different; his heart was different.  He loved God more than his own dignity.  The prophet Ezekiel ate a biblical scroll and said it tasted as sweet as honey!  That's different! 
            Jesus was the most different of all.  He is the divine son of God.  If He was going to be born on earth, he should have been born in the most majestic palace or temple with the most important people in the world gathered around, but he did things different.  He decided to be born in a manger with cows and sheep and shepherds gathered around.  The Son of God cae to change the world and he had the power to do it all by himself, but he instead he chose 12 mortal men to help him do it.  I would have chose the 12 most gifted, smartest, powerful, influential people in the world to help me, but Jesus did something different.  Instead of picking the best and brightest , he pick a bunch of smelly fishermen, a collaborator, and a terrorist determined to kill collaborators!  Peter was a bragger. Thomas was a doubter. James and John were a manipulators. And Judas was a betrayer!
            And instead of conquering his enemies by force, Jesus chose to be different—he let them crucify him on a cross and he forgave them.  And then he said to his rag tag team of disciples, “Alright boys, you know what to do.  Go change the world.”  And today, Christianity is the largest religion on the face of the earth!  Apparently God sees things different than we do and He has a thing for people who are different.  God wants you to be different! Don’t you want to be different?  
 
Romans 12:1-3 (Emphasis added)

1And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.
 
God Chose You to Think Different
            Let me first point out a few key insights about this passage that we need to hear.  First, don’t copy the world.  The world has a way of doing things and ideas about right and wrong, but we don't pattern ourselves after the world.  We should be different. 
            The Amish people seem to take this verse to heart.  They very literally choose to be different and reject the innovations of modern society.  They dress in old-fashioned clothes, refuse to use TVs or cell phones, and even still ride in horse and buggies.  I admire their dedication to being different, but I don't think that's how God wants us to be different.  The passage says let God change the way you think.
            We may dress like everyone else in the world, use modern technology, and do many similar things as everyone else, but God has changed the way we think.  And when you think different, you have a different attitude and you do things for a different reason and you will often act different.
            And finally, I want to point out the passage says, "Don’t think you are better than anyone
else—evaluate yourself honestly..."  I love the way the Word instructs us on this because it addresses to ends of the same spectrum.  There are some people who arrogant and conceited, who think they are "all that and a bag of chips."  To them the Word warns, "Don't think you are better than anyone else."  If you're full of pride or look down on others, you need to change the way you think.  But there are others who struggle with low self-esteem.  And the Word addresses that too.  It says, "Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us." God made you and God doesn't make junk.  You are special.  God's fingerprints are all over you.  So let God change the way you think.


Three Ways We Need to Think Different:
            I want to give you three ways we need to let God change the way we think.  First, stop thinking this world we see is all there is.  This world is an amazing place and it's full of wonders.  We are blessed to be able to enjoy this life, but there is more going on than just what we see.  In fact, this lifem this world, is not what it's all about.  We are tempted to think that because it's all we see right now.  However, the Word teaches us there is more.  There is a spiritual battle going on behind the scenes we can't see.  Eternity hangs in the balance.  There Life to come when this life is over.  And the rewards of this life aren't that important when measured in the scales of Eternity.  So, as the old hymn says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of of his glory and grace.”  Stop thinking this world, this life, is all there is.
            Second, stop thinking this life is more important than the Life to come.  Since this current life is all we've known and is what's immediately pressing in upon us, we get so wrapped up in it's joys and concerns.  Have you ever thought about this when we are praying about those who are sick?  Suppose we pray for someone who has terminal cancer and God's miraculously, unexplainably heals them.  (The cancer was there one day and gone the next.)  We would praise God and be so happy!  But what was really achieved?  That healing--at best--is only temporary.  Even if they live 40 or 50 years more without any other traces of cancer, then they will still die.  Everyone in this life dies.  The True Healing comes when they are resurrected in Eternal Life.  And a million years fro now, when we are praising God on that Golden Shore, no one will give a second thought to the few measly years we lived in this fallen world or the joys or sorrows we faced here.  All the things we spend so much time fretting over will seem infinitely inconsequential. Romans 8:18 - “What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.”
            Some would say: “Yeah, but I want glory in this life and in the future one."  Why do you deserve that?  Do you think you are any better than the saints that have gone before you?  Think of those saints who suffered and died for Christ.  Think of Stephen in the book of Acts who was stoned to death simply because he preached about Jesus' death and resurrection.  What about the Disciple Peter who was crucified upside down or the Apostle Paul who was beheaded in Rome.  Do you deserve more rewards in this life than those protestant reformers who worked so hard to help the Church return to true faith in Christ and received as their only reward in this world to be hanged, drawn and quartered, burned at the stake, or drowned--simply because they believed what God said in the Bible more than what the Pope said in a corrupted church in Rome?  We need to change the way we think.
            And third, we need to stop thinking the rewards and consequences of what we do now are primarily realized in this life.  People ask, "Why do the wicked prosper?  Why do bad things happen to good people?"  First of all, I would say who is really good?  The Bible says, "No one is good.  Not a single one." (paraphrase of Romans 3:10).  We might think of someone who is especially good, but that's only because we are comparing them to ourselves.  But if we place them next to a holy God, all their imperfections and sins are immediately clear and we see they are far from "good."  
            Jesus said, "[God] sends rain on the just and the unjust alike." (Matthew 5:45)  And he also taught that we would have to wait until God's sorts out all the weeds from the wheat at the end of the age.  We have to accept that Some things will not be settled in this life.  Your faithfulness in this life may not be rewarded until you get to Heaven, but God will bring justice according to His perfect wisdom in eternity. 

Are You Ready to Think Different?
            Jesus changed the world—he changed eternity—by his death and resurrection.  Because He chose the cross instead of the sword, you can be forgiven, redeemed, healed and live different, holier life than you have been living before. Long ago, God chose you to be different and holy.  Chose to follow Jesus today and let His grace enable you to think different so that you will act different and be different.