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

Monday, March 16, 2020

I AM the Gate

Introduction
Today, we continue the Lenten message series “I Am” based on the seven I Am statements Jesus made in the Gospel of John where He told us who He is and about His mission and character.  We’ve already studied two statements: 
  1. I am the Bread of Life.
  2. I am the Light of the World.

Today, we will consider a statement that is very relevant to the Coronavirus outbreak we are facing in our world right now.  Jesus said,

John 10:9
Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.

The Root of All Evil
You may have heard it said that “money is the root of all evil”.  That’s actually wrong.  The Bible says in 1 Timothy 6:10, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  Money is an inanimate object.  But love is an action of the human heart.  When one loves money, it produces all kinds of evil and suffering.

Love is the most powerful force on the planet.  When love is used properly as God designed, it produces tremendous good.  When love is used improperly against God’s will, it produces evil.  God designed us to love Him and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  And when we do this, it produces all kinds of goodness.  But the problem is, more often than not, people do not love God or their neighbor.  Instead, we love ourselves and our own selfish desires or we love things like money or power or pleasure.  And when we love wrongly—the wrong things for the wrong reasons—it causes of all kinds of evil.

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, teaches there was a time in the beginning when the world was perfect and people were lived in perfect harmony with God their Creator.  Genesis says the first people, Adam and Eve, lived in a garden paradise where there was no sickness or suffering or death.  And God gave them a choice to love and obey Him and remain in this paradise forever or to not love and obey Him and suffer sin and death and separation.  Sadly, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and they were cast out of the Garden of Eden.

Ever since the day Adam and Eve disobeyed God, all humanity has suffered from evil: Plagues of sickness, misfortunes of all kinds, untimely deaths, a planet that always seems ready to destroy us and be rid of us.  And always we have a nagging anxiety in the back of our minds that one or all of these things or something we haven’t even thought will one day come knocking down the door of our lives.  In the end, we know there is one thing that is surely true: Death will come for us all.

I Am the Gate
It’s a dark, hopeless picture.  But please, don’t turn me off or tune me out.  This is a message of great hope!  (And with all that’s going on around us in our world, we need hope right now!)  It is into this dark, dangerous world that Jesus came and said, “I Am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.”

Though Adam and Eve turned their backs on God, and though people have done the same throughout all history, God has never turned His back on us.  God loves us even though we are sinners.  1 John 4:10, “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.”

The consequence of sin is death.  It’s just a fact of life.  But Jesus came to pay the price of sin for us.  Though we are the ones who sin, Jesus takes the consequences of our sin for us.  And instead of the death we deserve, Jesus gives us eternal life.  John 3:16, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Jesus said, “I Am the Gate.  Those who come in through me will be saved.”  Jesus lived in an agricultural society.  Sheep and shepherds were as common a sight for them as cars and the internet are for us.  So when he talked about sheep and shepherds and sheepfolds, everyone knew what he meant.

You see, it was very dangerous for sheep at night.  There were predators lurking in the countryside—wolves and such—that would try to sneak in through the darkness and grab sheep and drag them off to their death.  There were also thieves lurking who would try to steal sheep.  And the fact is, sheep just aren’t that smart.  And often they just wander off and get lost.  So, the shepherds built sheepfolds for protection.  They piled up stones to make a circular wall.  There would be one narrow opening in the wall (only one) through which the shepherd could herd the sheep.  Once inside the ring of the sheepfold, the shepherd would lay down across the entrance and become the actual gate of the sheepfold.  Nothing could enter or leave the sheepfold without going through the shepherd.  This made sure the vulnerable sheep stayed inside and the bad things of the world stayed outside.

Jesus said, “I Am the Gate.  Those who come in through me will be saved.” 
We’re not sheep.  But spiritually, we are a lot like sheep.  We are incredibly vulnerable. 
In good times, we may feel like we are invincible (or at least we are mostly safe).  But then a little virus comes along—something so small it can only be seen with a microscope—and suddenly we are filled with fear, because deep down in our hearts we always knew we were cursed and death is chasing us.  Even without COVID 19, we have all seen glimpses of our vulnerability.
When a young friend with his whole life ahead of him is maimed or dies in a motorcycling accident,
When a young mother loses a child only a few days after it’s born,
When a wife is struck down by cancer,
When a famous basketball player we admired dies in a helicopter accident.

And suddenly we are reminded of the fragility of life.  There are a lot of “wolves and robber” roaming around in the darkness.  And if you’re still out in the darkness, you are in great peril!

Come into the Sheepfold
Jesus bids us to come.  In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  Jesus invites us to come into the safety of the Sheepfold.  He is the only way in.

And we need not worry whether we are good enough for Jesus to let us in.  The fact is, none of us is good enough.  The fact that we aren’t good is the reason we need His help in the first place.  In fact, it is a requirement for entrance into the safe place that everyone who enters recognizes and admits that they aren’t good enough.  We must confess that we have sinned and that we deserve to be lost out in the darkness, but we are begging for God’s mercy.  And when we do this, 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

Now, some people are too proud for all this.  Some people are like that stubborn sheep that just won’t listen to the Shepherd.  “I don’t need God,” they say.  “I can manage fine on my own.”  When the Shepherd beckons them to come in where it’s safe, they run the other way.  When the Shepherd comes after them to fetch them, they run even faster.  In pride, they jeer, “You can’t catch me.  I do what I want, when I want.  Go back and tend those other dumb sheep.  That’s not me.  I’m smarter than that.  I don’t need you.” 

Any other shepherd would get frustrated and give up.  They would throw their hands up in the air and shout, “Fine then!  Stay out here and die you stupid sheep!  I don’t care!”  But Jesus is not like other shepherds.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  We’ll talk about that next Sunday.  Jesus never gives up.  As long as there is even one stupid, stubborn sheep still wandering lost and vulnerable in the darkness, Jesus will keep searching and chasing them. 

Invitation
Maybe Jesus has been chasing you.  Maybe this pandemic that’s got us all hunkered down in our homes has got you thinking, realizing the precariousness of all life.  What if death comes knocking at your door?  What then?

Friend, I don’t want to alarm you, but I need to tell you the Truth.  Death will eventually come knocking at your door—maybe not because of this virus or even this year, but—Death comes for us all at some point in life—whether it is now or tomorrow or 70 years from now.  It is inevitable. 

But we don’t have to be afraid!  Jesus says, “I Am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.  Through Jesus, there is eternal life after death.  But I don’t want you to think it’s only living in Paradise after this life is over.  It is that, but it is so much more!  It’s also living, truly Living, in this life.  It’s being free from the fear of Death even in this dangerous world.  It’s discovering what Truly Living is.  It’s finding the true meaning of life and living into the purpose for which you were created.  It give you the courage to love the people around you, even when it’s dangerous because you know nothing can separate you from the love of God.

So I invite you and Jesus invites you to come in to Him and be saved.  But there’s only one way in:  You must recognize you need God to save you from your sins, confess your sins, and ask Jesus to save you.  Won’t you do that today?

Prayer for Salvation
Friends let’s pray together.  If Jesus has already saved you, then I praise God for it.  You pray for those who are still left in our world who haven’t turned to Jesus yet.

And if you’re just not sure today if you are saved, if your not sure that if you died today that you would spend eternity with God in Paradise, then I invite you to pray with me right now this prayer.  This prayer is meant to guide you to ask Jesus to save you from your sins and welcome you into the safety of His Sheepfold.  You pray with me.  Repeat these words with me:

“Lord Jesus, forgive me of my sins.  I know that I am a sinner.  I know that I have not lived the way You want me to.  I’ve stubbornly tried to be in charge of my own life and to do things my own way.  Lord Jesus, please forgive me.

Today, I believe that You are the Great I Am.  I believe that you died for my sins.  I’m so sorry that my wrong behavior cost you so much.  And so, I make a commitment today to let you be in in control from now on.  Lord Jesus, please let me come in and be part of your flock.  Help me to love the other people here the way You love me.

Thank you, Jesus, for saving me today.  I will try my best, with Your help, to live the way You want me to. Amen.”

Closing
Friend, if you prayed that prayer, I’m so happy for you.  You are now saved for eternal life!  Whatever happens in this life—whether now because of this current crisis or many years from now because of some unforeseen trouble—you can be sure that God loves you and will welcome you to His side when this life I over.  But even greater than that, you can now begin to truly Live right now. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

How to Pray for 30 Minutes


Introduction
A couple weeks ago, Judy Forester came to me after church and said she was really concerned about so many things that are going on in our world--problems in our denomination, divisions in our nation.  It just seems there is so much darkness in our world.  And so Judy asked, "Is there some way we could have a day of prayer and just ask people to pray for all these things?"  I said, "Absolutely!"  And so, we have designated February 27 as a day of prayer and fasting.  This Wednesday at our , Ash Wednesday service, I will share a little about the spiritual discipline of fasting.  Today, I want to teach you how to pray for 30 minutes.

1 Timothy 2:1-4
1 I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.

Why Pray?
Before I begin teaching you how to pray for 30 minutes, I need to convince you that you must pray.  At its heart, prayer is communion with God. Prayer is the lifeblood of Christianity. Prayer is not just something Christian's do, it is the soul of who we are.  Christians believe we were created by God for a real, personal relationship with God.  If you’re not praying, you’re not communing in an active, real, and personal relationship with God. 
Can you be real friend if you never talk to or spend time with your best friends?
Can you be a good husband or wife if you never talk to or spend time with your spouse?
Can you be a real parent if you never spend time with or talk to your children?  (Sure, you can create life and give birth, but you cannot be a legitimate parent unless you have a real, personal relationship with your kids.)

Prayer is the way we spend time with God.  As with most vibrant relationships, our prayer relationship with God usually involves talking.  You don’t have to use fancy language or try to make a speech.  You don’t even have to talk like the preacher when he prays on Sunday morning (actually, please don’t!).  You have to realize, the kind of prayer a preacher prays on Sundays in church is different from the prayers we offer when we are all alone and talking to God.  Prayers said at a church service are public prayers; they're for everyone and it requires the worship leader to pray on behalf of everyone.  But when I’m all by myself and praying, I’m just talking to God like a kid talks to their mom or dad. 

Sometimes, prayer is not talking at all.  It’s just being with God—maybe sitting quietly or reading a book together, watching a movie, listening to music, or riding in the car.  Friday and Saturday, my wife and I took a trip to Ashville, NC just to get away for a couple days.  It was a three-and-a-half-hour drive.  Do you think we talked the entire time? (Some people might be able to do that, but not me or Kelly.  We are relatively quiet people and that would frankly drive us crazy.  I’m so glad I married someone with whom I can just be quiet.)  Sometimes, spending time with God through prayer is just being quiet together or listening to what He has to say as you prayerfully read your Bible or listen to some music or take a walk together. 

How to Pray for 30 Minutes
Alright, enough explanation about prayer.  How do you do it?  And how can you do it for 30 minutes?  The following is one way you can pray for 30 minutes.  It’s adapted from a formula offered online by Athens First United Methodist Church.  If you struggle to pray for extended periods of time, perhaps this could help you.  I encourage you to give it a try.  In your bulletin, you will find an outline to help you follow this 30-minute plan for prayer.  The formula is broken down into sections that include: Praise, Reading Scripture, Meditation, Confession, Intercession, Listening, Recording, Petitions, Praying for Family, Praying for the Church, Praying for Government Leaders, and Giving Thanks.  If you pray each section for 2 and a half minutes, you will end up praying for 30 minutes.  You will need a few things to follow this formula:  A Bible, A Notebook and a pen or pencil, A quiet place where you can be a alone and uninterrupted for 30 minutes.

Praise
Start by praising God.  Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.”  This is a great way to begin 30 minutes of prayer.  Call out to God. Praise Him for creation. Think about His love and wisdom and praise Him.  Think about the wonder of God’s creation and how they testify to the glory of God. And praise God for who He is.  Just revel in the wonder of the God of the universe.

Read Scripture
II Timothy 3:16–17 says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good.”  Read a psalm of praise to the Lord. Here are some suggestions:  Psalm 100, Psalm 23, Psalm 121, or Psalm 34 (or pick another one you like).  Pray through a Bible passage using the words as your prayer. Ask God to help you understanding as you read His Word. Let the Scriptures fill your mind and impact your heart. 

Meditate on God’s Word
Psalm 119:11 says, “I treasure your word in my heart.” Take a few minutes to meditate on the Scripture you have just read (or on other passages that come to mind).  Mull them over again and again in your mind.  What is God saying to you through them?

Confess
I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Take some time to evaluate specific attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions that God brings to mind as you pray. Confess your sins to God and humbly ask for His forgiveness and cleansing. 

Intercede
I Timothy 2:1 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.” Pray to the Lord on behalf of others. Pray for renewal in the hearts of believers. Pray diligently for the needs that come to mind.

Listen
Next, quiet your heart and be still before God. Psalm 29:2, 4 says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name; worship the Lord in holy splendor… the voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”  Ask God to speak to you. Be quiet and listen.

Record your Prayers and Insights
Now, take out your notebook and something to write with.  Take a few minutes to write down some notes that come to mind.  Write down the insights and direction God gave you during your prayer time. You can even write out a prayer or something you think God wants you to do.  It takes a little bit longer to write words than to say or think them.  Writing forced you to slow down and dwell with God as He organizes your thoughts.

Petition for Daily Needs
Philippians 4:6–7 says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
So spend a few minutes sharing your personal requests with God.  What do you need?  What are you worrying about?  Talk to God about it.

Pray for Family
Psalm 133:1 says, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”
We want our family to live together in unity.  So, pray for your family. Pray for families in general. Ask the Lord to strengthen marriages and uphold family relationships.

Pray for the Church
1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Pray for Pleasant Grove United Methodist church and all who seek to know the Lord there, and pray for our church leaders.  Go over the prayer list found in the bulletin.  Pray for the United Methodist Denomination as we prepare to tackle some very divisive issues at our next General Conference in May.  And pray for the universal Body of Christ, which is made up of believers all over the world of all different denominations.

Pray for Government Leaders
1 Timothy 2:2 says, “Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”  Spend a few minutes to pray that God will give our government leaders wisdom and understanding. Pray for local, national, and international concerns. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  We need God to heal our land.  So pray for it.

Give Thanks
Now it’s time to finish your 30 minutes of prayer.  You may now find that 30 minutes is not enough time.  If your schedule allows it, you can keep praying.  God would love that!  But, when it’s time to finish praying, think about the good gifts God has given you and express your gratitude for His care and provision. Praise God for all He has done and for all He will do.  As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Closing
If you follow this simple formula, praying each section for about two-and-a-half minutes, you will end up praying for 30 minutes.  It’s not that hard.  Perhaps the hardest part is making the time and committing to do it. 

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and it begins the 40-day season of Lent—a season for Christians to devote themselves to prayer in preparation for the Easter celebration coming up in April.  Perhaps you can use this formula to pray for 30 minutes each day throughout the 40-day season of Lent.  You might find you like it so much, you want to make it a regular part of your day even after Lent is over.  I challenge you to give it a try.

Prayer is the lifeblood of a person’s relationship with God.  You can know about God (just like you can know about a famous athlete or celebrity); but prayer is spending time with God.  It is essential for every Christian to be devoted to prayer.  Let’s begin today.

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?