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

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2020 State of the Communion Address


It is a tradition in the United States for the President to make an annual State of the Union address.  I also make an annual State of the Communion address to our church.  I want to share a few highlights from our ministry together in 2019.  We will also pray for God’s help as we commit ourselves to His Kingdom work in 2020. 

Matthew 7:7-8
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus taught that his followers must seek God passionately with everything within them.  Many people want to know God and know God's will for them.  Many people are interested.  But few people put the Kingdom of God and His righteousness at the very top of the priorities.  Usually, God comes in second or fifth or tenth or twentieth.  Jesus says that will never do.  You must be passionate and persistent in your pursuit of God.  God is the Lord of lords and King of kings.  He will not settle for second place in your heart.  So if you are going to seek and follow Him this year, you must put him absolutely first.  And you must keep on asking and keep on seeking and keep on knocking.

That is what I plan to do as a pastor and follower of Christ this year.  That is what our church plans to do in everything we undertake.  We will be no casual followers of Christ.  He will be our all in all!

Let me review some of the highlights of our ministry from 2019. 

New Members
We received 17 new members in 2019.  – This is the most new members we’ve ever had in one year since I started pastoring Pleasant Grove UMC!  We are so pleased to welcome these new members:  
Scott Dyer
Jordan Dyer
Harry Kelley
Sandy Kelley
Benny Domino
Kristopher Arhart
Ashley Arhart
Amber Arhart
Terry Teasley
Tonya Teasley
Matthew Head
Juilina Teasley
Jessie Teasley
Samuel Head
Abby Stuckey
Jake Davis


Professions of Faith
We also had seven Professions of Faith in 2019.  A profession of faith is when a person stands before God and the whole congregation and professes to believe in Jesus Christ as their savior and Lord and promises to follow him as a member of the Church.  It is the official moment when a person is justified by God or "save" for eternal life.  It is a pivotal time and the core of our church mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Last year the following people made a profession fo faith:
Jordan Dyer
Benny Domino
Tonya Teasley
Matthew Head
Juilina Teasley
Jessie Teasley
Samuel Head



Baptisms
We had eleven baptisms in the year 2019.  SOme were babies who where baptized with their parents seeking God's grace to raise them in the faith until the child makes their own profession of faith.  Others were people of age who had made a profession of faith and were baptized as a sign of their salvation.  Those who were baptized were:


Jordan Dyer
Benny Domino
Jack Ikerd
Tonya Teasley
Matthew Head
Juilina Teasley
Jessie Teasley
Samuel Head
Jazmine Teasley
Adaline Arhart
Ashley Arhart


So far, we have had a grand total of 97 new members at my church in the last decade since I was appointed to PGUMC.  Who will be the 98th, 99th, and 100th new members?  We have also had a total of 43 Professions of Faith and 42 Baptisms since 2010 when I came to my congregation.  Praise God!

Members Who Went to Heaven
2019 was also sad for many as we said good bye to five members died and went to heaven.  We were all shocked when Karla Motley was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away in just a few weeks.  We are grieved at her passing,but find hope because she is with God in heaven and we will see her again if we trust in Jesus Christ as she did.  John O’Brien was a long time member of Pleasant Grove who also passed away.  John was known and loved by many in this church.  John was married to Diane O’Brien who loved and helped care for him when he became severely ill several years ago.  John was wonderful father to his daughters Ivey and Ashley.  His family and our church mourn his passing, but trust that he is with the Lord in heaven and we shall see him again.  Rick Krause was new to our church, but quickly became part of our family.  Despite his crippling health problems, Rick was very active in our church and people quickly grew to love him.  We were shocked when he died the afternoon of Easter Sunday, after he had just been at church to worship the risen Lord with us.  Rachel Mainor was an at-home member of our church who had been unable to attend for many years.  However, when we had a fire at church in 2016, it touch Rachel and she wanted to help.  She contacted the church and made a donation to help our church recover fro the fire damage.  We rejoice that she is at Home with the Lord in Heaven.  And just a few months ago, Sara Brooker passed away.  Sara has touched so many lives in our church and community and even around the state and country.  Everyone new and love this graceful woman.  We are sad to see her god but are happy that she is finally at home with the Lord in Heaven, where she always wanted to be.

Childrens Ministry
We said goodbye to Ashten and Matt Webb last year. Ashten did a great job as our children's minister, but her husband, Matt, took a job in Huntville, Alabama and hey had to move. We were so please to welcome Joanna Scruggs as our new children's minister over the summer. Joanna, Kelly, Eden, and Hank have been members of our church for a long time, but it has been wonderful to welcome them into this new ministry role. Joanna started off by plainning in just one month the best organized Vacation Bible School we've ever had. we avereged around 40 kids each night of the week this past July during VBS. Then she jumped right in, doing a wonderful job, planning our annual Trunk or Treat. We saw nearly 1,000 people from around our commuity come for fun, safe Halloween fun. Many expressed how much they appreciate our church offering this for our community. And of course, Joanna has been doing a great job leading our weekly kids program, planning and leading lessons and organizing volunteers. We are very pleased to have Joanna on staff and look forward to a great year with her and the kids in 2020.

Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis
We had seven people attended Emmaus/Chrysalis spiritual leadership retreats in 2019.  Jordan Dyer, Matthew Head, Grace Mullis, Mattie Maddox, Ashley Arhart, and Amber Arhart.  Mike Marlow attended the adult version, Walk to Emmaus.  Also, we sponsored Rev. Mark Amspaugh from Dalton First Nazarene Church to attend the Walk to Emmaus.  Rev. Amspaugh conveyed his thanks and reported how the experienced has enhanced his ministry.  Would you like to attend Chrysalis or the Walk to Emmaus and grow closer to Christ through this three day spiritual pilgrimage?

Looking Ahead to 2020
Now, I would like to share some highlights for the coming year.  Our focus, as it has been since I became pastor in the summer of 2010, will be to seek the Kingdom of God and His right righteousness in all that we do (see Matthew 6:33).  We will continue to be guided by our long range goals to give hope to the hopeless, build new relationships, and help our community.  The success of everything we do will be measured by these three overarching goals.  We will have several new opportunities in 2020.

Financial Peace University - March 11
A suggestion was made during a finance meeting last year that we offer a course to help church members better manage their finances.  The Bible teaches that all that we have is a gift from God.  Our finances and other resources belong to God and are entrusted to us to use for the good of God's Kingdom.  Therefore, we want to be good stewards and PGUMC wants to equip you to be the best steward of your finances as possible.  Therefore, I have decided to offer Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace university to teach you the financial chronicles you need to achieve your financial goals.  This course is excellent for everyone.  Whether you struggle with money or are already very good at managing your finances, FPU will help you be the very best you can be.

Dave Ramsey's course is also in line with two other initiatives for PGUMC in 2020.  Last year, PGUMC established the early mortgage retirement fund and members have been contributing.  This month, we will make our first extra payment toward the principle of our mortgage with the intention of paying off our building loan early.  We will continue to make extra payments throughout the year as we are able according to the congregation's extra giving to this fund.  Paying off our loan early could save tens of thousands of dollars in interest.  Imagine how much more ministry we can do with the elderly, with children and youth, and outreach in our community when we are free from the burden of a $5,000 per month mortgage.

In December, we also established Sara Brooker Memorial Children & Youth Fund with donations from Sara's estate as from extra contributions from members and a Christmas Eve offering.  We currently have $13,700 in Sara's fund to help with children and youth ministries.  How fitting that Sara's legacy of teaching children and youth about the love and salvation of Jesus Christ will live on through this effort.

PGUMC Car Show – March 21
On Saturday, March 21 from 9 AM - 3 PM, our church will host it's first ever car show.  Following our principle of creating doors where people from the community are welcomed into our midst, this car show will bring people together to enjoy a day of fun and fellowship as we enjoy cool classic cars together.  This is similar to what we do with our annual trunk or treat.  What's new is that the car show will slow the pace down a bit and allow more time for casual visiting and fellowship, so that we can build new relationships and really get to know people from our community.  Please plan to attend, volunteer, help out, show a car, and enjoy this special time.

Pray for the UM General Conference
The United Methodist General Conference which regularly meets every four year will be May 5-15 this year in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  This may be the most pivotal General Conference since the denomination's founding in 1968.

Our denomination is bitterly divided over issues of human sexuality, homosexuality, and transgenders.  Because our nation's ideas about human sexuality have been changing, many in the UMC believe the denomination should change too and allow the ordination of homosexual pastors and same-sex marriages.  Others, like myself, believe that the Bible is clear that we are love everyone but not condone what the Bible clearly defines as sin contrary to God's will.  The disagreement threatens to divide the UMC.  You may have heard or read news stories about this issue.  I want to make a few things clear to dispell any misunderstandings.  First of all, no decisions have been made yet and none can be made until the General Conference on May 5-15.  Even after that, it may take months or even years for any decisions to take affect.  In the meantime, we must calmly pray for God's guidance for our families, our church, and the delegates from all over the world who will meet at the General Conference to debate and make decisions for the United Methodist denomination.  Furthermore, please feel free to ask me any questions you have. This is a complex and emotionally charged issue that requires more time to discuss than we have time for in this short address.  So, let’s sit down together sometime and talk.

Reaffirmation of Faith
As I close this address, I invite you to affirm or reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ and your commitment to serve him.  Please read through the following questions and answer them in your own heart.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

Will you nurture your fellow Christians in the Christian faith and life?

Would you affirm the following commitment?
With God’s help, I will proclaim the good news and life according to the example of Christ.  I will surround my brothers and sisters in Christ with a community of love and forgiveness, that we may grow in our trust of God, and be found faithful in our service to others.  I will pray for them, that we may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.  As a member of God's Church, I renew my covenant to faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by my prayers, my presence, my gifts, my service, and my witness, that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.




Monday, November 18, 2019

Christian Response to Racism


Romans 12:2
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.

A Christian is a person for whom Jesus Christ is Lord of all.  In the Methodist Church, we begin our Christian life with a profession of faith, where we promise to follow Jesus Christ as Lord—to obey Him, follow Him, and live after His example.  If you are already a Christian, I want to remind you of the promises you've made.  If you have never made a promise to follow Jesus Christ, I invite you to make that promise right now.  Here is our profession of faith:

The Christian Profession of Faith
Pastor: On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?

People: I do.

Pastor: Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?

People: I do.

Pastor: Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?

People:  I do.

If you made these promises for the first time today and if they are the true desire of your heart, then I
congratulate you.  You have become a Christian today!  Jesus Christ is your Lord and He saves you from your sin.  If you truly follow Him as your Lord, you will inherit eternal life; you will be with Jesus in paradise for all eternity.  Your sins are forgiven and will not be counted against you!  Hallelujah!

Romans 12:2 explains how Christians are to live.  We are not to copy the behaviors and customs of this world.  Instead, we are to let God transform us into a new person by changing the way we think.  Will you do that as a follower of Christ?  Will you stop copying the behaviors and customs of this world and let God transform you into a new person by changing the way we think?

Over the past several weeks, I've been answering questions people submitted to me.  I have one final question to address in this series.

What is the Christian response to racism? 
According to the Anti-defamation League (ADL.org), "Racism is the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics. Racial separatism is the belief, most of the time based on racism, that different races should remain segregated and apart from one another."

According to Christianity, racism is a consequence of sin in a fallen world.  The consequences are terrible.  They hurt people and our communities.  Christian minister and civil rights champion, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., taught that racism is just as damaging to the racist person as it is to the people they oppress.  King fought to liberate—not only blacks who suffered discrimination, but also—white supremists who were trapped in a wrong way of thinking.

The short answer to the question today is this, it’s what we promise to do in our Christian profession of faith: We must renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin.  We must resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

Satan is a liar and the father of lies.  We’ve been lied to.  The Christian website Answers in Genesis says, “Because of our culture’s racist roots, because of the way the world thinks, because of the influence of Darwinian thinking, we have been programmed to look at the exterior rather than the interior of a person, and to make broad judgments based on what we see.” [i]
We see a black man and we judge his character based on the color of his skin.  We see an Asian woman or a Latino person and we make judgments about their personality based solely on the way they look or the language they speak.  And it’s ludicrous.

In the past, some have even tried to use the Bible to justify their own racist behavior.  However, there is no credible way to show that the Bible condones racism or the idea that one race is superior to another.  On the contrary, what the Bible clearly teaches is:

What the Bible Teaches About Racism
The Bible teaches there is only one biological race.
“All humans are descended from Adam and Eve and so all are related and need the salvation offered by the Last Adam, Jesus. From a biblical perspective, there is one biological race. This is confirmed by scientific studies on the human genome. Biblically and scientifically there is no defense [for] racism.”[ii]

The real differences between “races” is cultural, not genetic. Matches for organ transplants are just a likely between whites and blacks as they are between whites and whites. So the differences we see are literally only skin deep. It is sin and evil that causes people to judge other people by the appearance of their skin instead of the content of their character. Racism is a shallow and corrupt way of thinking and the Christian should have nothing to do with it. We must reject this evil and resist it whenever we see it.

The Bible teaches interracial marriage is OK.
Many godly people in the Old Testament were outsiders to the Jewish people. Moses had an interracial marriage. He was Hebrew and his wife, Zipporah, was a Midianite. Rahab and Ruth were foreign gentiles who interracially married into God’s people and were so notable they were included in Jesus’ genealogy. If it was good enough for Jesus’ family tree, how can anyone argue with it? (Ruth had an whole book of the Bible named after her and her husband, Boaz was considered a righteous man!)

The New Testament does not counsel against interracial marriage either. The only kind of marriage Bible counsels against is marriages between believers and nonbelievers.  2 Corinthians 6:14-15 says, “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever?”

The reason the God's Word counsels against marriage between Christians and non-Christians is because a Christians faith should be the most central part of their identity, the most important core value.  And a person's spouse is to be their most intimate partner in life and someone who shares your most essential core beliefs.  Why would a Christian knowingly choose a life-partner who does not share in their most important core value?  Such a choice would certainly lead to serious conflict and be a hinder a Christians most important mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

However, among many Christians today, we fund unequally yoked marriage is very common.  Christians often choose to marry unbelievers.  Today and in the past, interracial marriage was frowned upon by many while inter-faith marriage was much more acceptable even though the Bible is clear there is no problem with interracial marriage, but inter-faith marriage is strongly discouraged.  And this reveals the racism within our culture.

Which marriage are you more concerned about: Interracial marriage or unequally yoked marriage?

The Bible says in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, make nor female, slave nor free.
Colossians 3:11 says, “In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.”
I.E. it doesn't matter what country you're from or what ethnicity you are. If you are a Christian, we are brothers and sisters in Christ.

How should Christians respond to racism?
Let the Word of God’s change the way you think. 
We need to reject the corrupt ideas of this world--including the wrong ideas we’ve inherited--and assimilate God’s ideas in His Word. We are all brothers and sisters. There is no more “Jew or Gentile, Male or Female”. Our affiliation in Christ far outweighs any differences in skin color, culture, nationality, and even gender.

Live out the Principles of God’s Word. 
James 1:22 says, “Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” Christians need to take God’s Word to heart and live by God’s standards, not the world’s lies. We must love our neighbors the way God loves them.

Build real relationships. 
The Christian's response--your personal response--needs to be real and not just words.  People like to watch news stories on TV and get all worked up.  But this has hardly anything to do with real life.  Mostly, it becomes an excuse to confine your personal response to racism to the intellectual/theoretical realm.  Why do people care so much about what protesters are doing in New York City if we don’t even really know someone of a different race right here in our own town?  I say turn off CNN (and turn of Fox News too).  Those channels are just huge money-making corporations interested in selling you a product to earn money.  All they’re peddling is gossip and sensationalism and anger and sentimentalism.  We “buy” their product; they make a lot of money.  And little to nothing productive gets accomplished.  They make us feel like we are informed and know it all.  But in reality, all they do is distract us from real life and fill us with anger and resentment.

If you really wan to make a difference, then build some real relationships with people who look different than you.  Reach out to people in the Hispanic, Black, or Asian community.  Befriend your neighbor who is from a foreign country.  We need to become friends and neighbors.  We need to build real trust and confide in each other.  This is where real reconciliation and healing take place.

God’s Questions for You
Now that I've taken time to answer your question, God has some questions for you.

Do you truly renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

Are your answers to these questions just ideas and empty words? Or are you ready to really live by them?



Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Afterlife

Revelation 21:1-8
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.
“But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
Revelation 21 gives us a vision of God’s ultimate plan for humanity and all of creation.  Most people are only thinking “What’s next?  What happens after we die? Will I go to heaven?”  But God’s plans are much grander and far reaching.  Ultimate, God will restore the original vision He began when He created the world in Genesis 1.  God will create a new heaven and a new earth, for old heaven and earth will pass away.  And the great shout of Revelation 21:3 will come true: “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  God’s redemption is not just for people.  God will redeem all the animals, the trees, the plants… All creation will be renewed.  We will live in peace and harmony with all the earth—just as it was when God first created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden to live without any fear or shame or suffering.  And Isaiah 11:6 foretells, “In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.”

I had several questions asked about heaven and the afterlife and I want to address those today.  And I think it is especially appropriate today as we celebrate All Saints Sunday, the day we honor and remember our loved ones who’ve gone to heaven to be with the Lord.  For all who are truly Christian--who believe in and follow Jesus Christ--are saints.  We are perfect in God's sight, because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross.

How does God decides when to call people to heaven, young or old?
God is sovereign. That means God has absolute authority and absolute right to do whatever He decides.  First of all, this is because He made us.  Secondly, He rescued us when we were already dead because of our sin.  The only thing enabling us to draw a single breath is the providence and protection of God.  So God has two reasons to claim absolute sovereignty over us.

That being said, God allows us the freedom to live autonomously.  In other words, we get to make our own decisions.  We can choose to live a clean, healthy life, which tends to lead to a long life.  Or we can smoke and drink and eat two pounds of bacon every day for breakfast and cake for dinner and never force our bodies to exercise.  That will probably lead to poor health and an early grave.  It’s your choice; God gives you the freedom how you want to live.  Furthermore, others have a choice too.  People choose to get drunk and drive and crash into innocent people causing untimely deaths.  Big corporations sometimes choose to pollute our earth, favoring short term profit over the long-term environmental health of our planet.  How many cancers and tumors and other life-ending health problems are the result?  Our world is broken because of sin. 

Sometimes, God calls a person Home to heaven.  Sarah Brooker, a godly member of my church, may be an example of God specifically calling a saint Home to be with Him. Sara was a woman who lived a full life and touched so many; a lady who fulfilled God’s will for her life to the last day.  A lady who wanted to go to heaven for the last ten years, but who faithfully endured the sorrows of this life and declining health for the sake of Christ until Jesus finally said the job was done.  Then, and only then, when she realized her work for the Lord was done, she laid her head back and the Lord called her Home.

But we need not assume that every person who dies was personally chosen by God to die at that moment.  That’s a wrong way to think.  God can choose when a person goes to heaven, but more often than not I think it is our own decisions (or the decisions of others around us).  We need to be extra careful when we claim God is the one naming the day and hour of every single person's death.  I’m not going to blame God for the man who dies of a heart attack when that man was repeatedly warned about his unhealthy eating habits, high cholesterol, and lack of exercise.  I’m not going to blame God for the death of a young girl hit by a drunk driver.  Do you see where I’m going with all this?  Let’s stop making God the scape goat for all our suffering and death.  Let’s take responsibility here.  God created the world.  But then we took over and we’ve been ruining this place for thousands of years by our own rotten choices.  I’d rather blame anyone than God for all these tragedies.

And to the original question—how does God decides when to call people to heaven?  I think He doesn’t have to make that decision very often.  I think we usually make it ourselves, in one way or another. And sometimes, when God does specifically call an individual Home, I believe it's an act of mercy.

God’s question for you is:  What do the decisions you make in your life say about when you will be going to heaven?

What do Methodist believe about The Rapture?
The rapture is a term some Christians use to describe a future event when Jesus calls all Christian believers who are alive, along with the resurrected dead believers, up to "the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air".  It is based on 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.”  Some Christian denominations place more emphasis on the rapture and the End Times than others.  My Grandma was more and more interested in eschatological studies, including the rapture, the older she got.  She  hope her and her husband would be spared the pain of death and separation.  She saw the world around her becoming increasingly evil and longed for Jesus' return.  She hopes she and her husband would live to see the day He came back and they would be raptured to meet Him in the air.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen.  She died in 1994 and my grandpa died five years latter in 1999.

Methodist don’t have an official doctrine about the rapture (or many other End Times concepts) other than what we say in the Apostles’ Creed:  we believe Jesus “will come again to judge the quick and the dead.”  We know Jesus is coming again.  It plainly says it in Scripture.  Most Methodists believe and accept the concept of a rapture, but we tend not to be as concerned with the End Times.  We are more concerned with the present.  We want to live our lives for God now, sharing the love of Christ with as many as we can as often as we can in as many ways as we can.  We believe if we do this, we will be ready whenever and however the end comes.

God’s question for you:  Are you ready if Jesus comes for you today?

Will I recognize my family in Heaven?
Yes.  In fact, I believe you will recognize them better then than you ever did here on earth.  1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

Here on earth, we recognize people by mostly by their physical appearance.  My older brother and I look pretty similar and sound even more alike.  Over the phone, we can almost be indistinguishable.  Back in the day before everyone had caller ID, I would often call my mom and she would think she was talking to Nelson.  And being he practical joker I am, I would just go with it and pretend to be my older brother.  And I could make it several minutes before I would laugh and let my mom know who it really was.  My brother used to do the same thing when Mom would mistake him for me.

That will be no mistaken identities in heaven.  Just as God sees into your soul now, we will be able to see deeply into the core of those we love when we get to Glory.  We will see and be seen this way.  And just like Adam and Eve who were naked in the Garden of Eden but were unashamed, we will have nothing to hide in eternity.  We will gladly be completely open and vulnerable, so that people can see who we really are, and we will not be ashamed.  Yes.  We will recognize our loved ones, even better than we know them now.

God’s question for you is:  How do you recognize your family and friends today?  Do you see them mostly for how they look or what they do for you?  Could you look at them in a deeper way and recognize something in them you’ve missed before?

What am I supposed to get out of Holy Communion?
First, Holy Communion is an opportunity to do something Jesus asked you to do.  Think of someone you love who has died.  Suppose they asked you to do something just before they died.  Something simple, a simple ceremony that you should do often to remember them.  Wouldn’t you do it?  Well, Jesus, whom we love, said "take and eat and drink in remembrance of me."

Second, Holy Communion is a chance to commune with all the saints (all believers of Jesus Christ), both living and dead.  As we gather around the Lord’s Table to remember Him and His sacrifice, so to do all the saints gather with us.  How this happens is a mystery, but we allude to it every Sunday as we recite the Apostles’ Creed:  We believe in the communion of saints.

Third, Holy Communion is a chance to commune with Jesus Christ.  Jesus is not dead; He is alive.  And He is with us as we celebrate communion.  Yes, I know Jesus is with us always; but through Holy Communion, He can open our hearts in a special way so we can experience His presence with us.  I encourage you, as you take Holy Communion, to seek to know Christ’s presence with you as you kneel at the altar to pray.

Fourth, Holy Communion is a sacrament God uses to pour His grace into our lives.  Grace is God’s undeserved love and favor.  Through Holy Communion, God strengthens and equips us to live as His people.  Just as food nourishes your body, God’s grace imparted through Communion nourishes your spirit in a special way that you can live as His people.

Conclusion
I hope it has been helpful to ponder the questions with me.  May God bless you.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Questions about Jesus, Baptism, and the Bible


Matthew 7:7-8
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus appreciates people who seek answers.  Christ do for those who don't care, but those who seek, find.  Over the next few weeks, I will answer several questions about religions, heaven, forgiveness, and even racism for people who are seeking answers.  Let me start with a few general questions people have asked about the personality of Jesus, baptism, and the Bible.

Does Jesus have a personality?  Does Jesus have a sense of humor?
Let me start the answer with two points:
1)  People are made in God’s image. Genesis 1:27 – “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

2)  Jesus is God. John 1:1 “In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed. The Word [Jesus]  was with God, and the Word was God.”

So, people are made in God’s image. We reflect His character the way a mirror reflect our face.  We are God's mirrors.  Granted, because of sin, our ability to reflect God's perfect character is broken; however, just as a shattered mirror still reflects an image (albeit distorted and imperfect), we still reflect the image of God (although imperfectly).  People have personalities because God has a personality. People have a sense of humor because God has a sense of humor. 

Furthermore, Jesus was fully God and fully human. This is a mystery. However, it is an essential element of understanding Jesus's character. Jesus was simultaneously God in every way and also human in every way. Jesus was the perfect example of what humanity was design to be.  Therefore it must be true that Jesus has a personality and a sense of humor.  The stories from Jesus' life also bear this out.  The first miracle Jesus performed was at a wedding party--a place of joy and celebration--and he made wine, which is a substance people use to enhance joy at a party.  It seems reasonable that Jesus was at the wedding to party and celebrate with everyone else.

People were drawn to Jesus because he was a real person with an attractive personality.  He had emotions just like the rest of us.  He experienced, sorrow, and anger.  Jesus even showed humor in many of his parables.  We often miss his joke because there is a cultural divide (have you ever watched a comedian from another country and scratched your head because they didn't seem funny, even though everyone else was laughing?  Ever struggled to find humor in British comedy?  There's a cultural divide that affects humor.)  An example of humor is the irony in which Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  We usually miss the humor, but Jesus' original listeners would have caught the ionic humor.

So yes, Jesus had a personality and humor.  An important question for you is this:  do you know Jesus as a person with a personality? Is he a real person to you or is Jesus just a historical figure or a picture you've seen in a stained glass window?  The main point of the Christian faith is that Jesus is not dead, but alive and he wants to have a real personal relationship with you.  He wants you to talk to him like you would to a real person, because he is a real person.  And he must be a real person to you or your religion is just not enough.

What is the difference in immersion and sprinkling as it relates to baptism?
Ephesians 4:5 says, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”  Jesus commanded his followers to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Baptism is how we initiate people into the Christian faith, the family of God, the Church.  There is only one baptism, but it can be celebrated in different forms.

Baptism by immersion is when we "dunk" a person entire body completely under the surface of the water.  It can be done in a baptismal pool, a river, a lake, or any large body of water.  Baptism by immersion is a beautiful ceremony that symbolizes how a person who becomes a Christian has died to their old sinful ways and has been raised to new life as a new creation in Christ.  The person is symbolically buried as they dipped below the water's surface and raised to new life as they are lifted back up.

Another method of baptism that is more common in my Methodist church is sprinkling.  Through sprinkling, the pastor dips their fingers in a bowl of water and sprinkles a few drops of water on the person's head.  Sprinkling as has deep symbolic meaning.  In the Old Testament when God chose the Israelites to be His people, He had His priest sprinkle them with blood and water in a purification rite.  God claimed the Israelites as His very own people, a royal priesthood set apart as holy.  As we sprinkle a person with water through holy baptism, we recognize that God has chosen and purified them to be part of His holy people, the Body of Christ.

Another method of baptism that we see less often in my part of the world (but that is just as valid) is pouring.  Through pouring, a ladle or pitcher is used to pour water over the head of the baptized.  This method recalls how God pours out His Holy Spirit upon those who are baptized into the Christian faith.

In all these methods, we recognize baptism as the sacred ceremony Jesus command us to practice that God uses to pour His grace into our lives.  God does not save us through baptism, but He marks us as His own people and gives us help to grow in the faith.  We want as many as are willing to receive this special help God offers through baptism.  God can and does offer His full assistance regardless of the amount of water we use.  (It has been said that the minimum amount of water necessary for a valid baptism is only three drops--one each for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).  The amount of water used is not important; faith is what matters.

But why do Methodists (and many other Christian denominations) baptize infants?  Infants are not old enough to understand what God is doing or have faith.  However, their parents (or Christian sponsors) are and they bring their child seeking the assistance of God and the support of the Christian community to raise their child until the child is old enough to understand and have faith for themself.  

Infant baptism is not explicitly recorded in the New Testament.  This is because almost everyone in the New Testament became a Christian as an adult convert from another religion.  When an adult became a Christian they were baptized.  In some places, like Acts 16:31-33, the Scripture says a person was converted and baptized along with his whole household.  The text doesn't say who belonged the household, but this could have included children (possibly even very young children).
It wasn't long though (by the late first century) that Christian parents began having children who they wanted to raise within the Church from the very beginning.  They wanted to mark their children as God's chosen as infants.  Obviously, it is more practical to baptize infants by sprinkling than by immersion.  As Christianity spread worldwide, it became much more common for people to be born into Christian families that wanted to initiate them into the church as infants.

Infant baptism is one of the longest ceremonies we practice in the Christian church.  I don't mean that the service is very long.  Let me explain.  When parents bring me an infant to baptize, I sprinkle water on the child's head and God claims the child as His own and pour out His grace ot help the parents and community of faith raise the child to accept Christ for themself one day.  When the service is over and the parents leave, the sacrament of baptism is still proceeding; it is not over yet.  The infant's baptism will not conclude until the day the child grows up enough to understand and accept faith in Christ for themself.  Then they will come back to the church (maybe not even to me or my church; it could be another) and confirm their faith in Christ as heir Lord and Savior.  It may be 10, 20, even 50 years after the water was sprinkled on their head.  And it is in the moment that they confirm their own faith that the baptism that began in their infancy is finally complete.  So infant baptism in a very long ceremony that could take a decade or more to finish.

One more thing I must state, because I encounter this misunderstanding so often.  Many people confuse christening and baptism.  Sometimes people refer to infant baptism as christening.  So they will sometimes tell me, "I was christen as a baby, but now I want to be baptized as an adult."  If you were christen with water as an infant, you were already baptized.  Christening is one part of the baptismal ceremony.  It is the point in the baptism when we give the child their Christian name.  A long time ago, parents didn't not officially name their child until their baptism.  Then, during the ceremony, the priest asks, "What is the Christian name you give this child?"  And the parents would reply, "Bobbi Sue".  The act of naming the child is christening.  Then the infant is baptized by sprinkling water on it's head in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  God pours out His grace on the child, the parents, the sponsors, and the community of faith that the child may grow up in the Christian faith and one day accept it for him or herself.  God has baptized the child and there is no need to ever do it again.  In fact, as a Methodist minister, I am forbidden to re-baptize a child.  To do so would not make sense.  Sense God is the one who baptizes, to re-baptize would like claiming God didn't do it right the first time.  An initiation only needs to happen once.  We can confirm the initiation or remember the baptism, but we don't re-baptize.

Is the Bible the Word of God to humans or is it humans’ words about God?
I suspect the root what's at the root of this question is the concern (or challenge) about the Bible's divine inspiration and/or reliability. This Bible is inspired by God and it is reliable.

To answer the question (and underlying concerns), I should start by saying the Bible is (in a sense) both God's Word and humans' words about God. Hear me out. The Bible is a collection of the stories about people's experiences with God. It was written by many different people over thousands of years. However, the Bible is inspired by God. What we have in the Bible is exactly what God wants us to have and He uses the Bible to speak to us.

Different parts of the Bible were written in different ways. Exodus 32:18 says God inscribed terms of His covenant with Israel (summarized in the Ten Commandments) with His very own finger. In most places, though, the Bible was not written directly by God. It was written by people. Sometimes God dictated a prophecy directly to a prophet and said "Go say this!" or "Write this down and don't you change it!" But the majority of Scripture was written by regular people whom God inspired. People are flawed, and sometimes their flaws sneak into Scripture. (Example, sometimes people in the New Testament mix up quotes from the Old Testament).  Furthermore, peoples cultural ideas are not necessarily good or perfect (or even Godly) just because they are in the Bible.  However, God uses flawed humans (and their ideas) to communicate His Word to people.  As one old expression goes, "God can draw straight lines with a crooked stick."

The Bible is the Word of God.  It is the most important way God communicates with people today.  God inspired people who wrote the Bible and He also inspired the people who collected and compiled it.  Everything we need to to lead us to faith and salvation is within the Bible's sacred pages.  It is the primary source of all Christian faith and practice.  It is different from all other books in that God speaks directly to us through it when we read it—even to you personally.  You can certainly find help from many other books, but none of them can speak to you the way God can speak to you through the Bible if you read it through eyes of faith and an obedient heart.

Conclusion
I always appreciate receiving questions.  you can email me more at ReverendChrisMullis@hotmail.com and I will try to answer them.  Let me conclude with a few questions for you to ponder and answer for yourself.
  • Do you have a real, personal relationship with Jesus? He is a person with a personality. You can talk to him and relate to him as such.  You must.  How could you delve deeper into a real relationship with the person, Jesus?  Will you?
  • Have you been baptized? Baptism is the initiation ceremony of the Church, the Body of Christ.  Jesus commanded us to be baptized and through baptism, we receive the grace of God through the Holy Spirit to continue to grow in our faith.  I would love to baptize you if you are willing.  If you live far away, I encourage you to seek a Christian community of faith to baptize you.
  • Do you read the Bible in order to let God speak to you? Do you study it with others?  The Bible is the Word of God.  It is the primary way God speaks to His people.  Are you listening?  Are you reading?