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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Act Different

            Long ago, God chose you to be Holy and different--to think different and to act different.  Thoughts and actions go hand in hand.  The way you think about things changes the way you act.  But sometimes, the way you act can change the way you think.  Today I want to share how God's Holy people are supposed to act different than the rest of the world.  Listen to what the Word of God says. 

Ephesians 4:17-32
17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Characteristics of Ungodly People
            The Ephesians passage list some characteristics of ungodly people.  It uses the word "Gentiles", but in the context Gentile just means anyone who doesn't follow Jesus Christ.  Gentiles are the ungodly and the passage begins saying they have a dark mind.
            The recent violence and terrible tragedy in Las Vegas has been on everyone's mind.  We don't understand why someone would shoot all those people.  They are still investigating to find a motive.  The shooter doesn't seem to fit any of the usual profiles.  So far as authorities can tell, he wasn't an Islamic terrorist, a white supremacist, a radicalized black lives matter protester, or anything else.  All we know is his actions prove he had a dark mind.  And we say, "How can anyone doing something like that?  I would never do something like that!"  But we must recognize, the same darkness that was in that man is in every human heart.  We are sinful, fallen creatures.  We may never pick up a gin and shoot someone, but we do other things that hurt people that don't make any sense because we are broken inside.  Christians are those who admit we are broken beyond repair and desperately need Jesus to heal us and save us. 
            The ungodly have a dark mind and hard hearts and they have closed their minds against God.  They refuse to let Him be Lord and continue to seek their own selfish designs.  Ephesians says they have no sense of shame, live for pleasure, and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
            The point Paul is making is not to say how bad the ungodly are and compared to Christians. Paul is saying this is how you once were, but now Christians aren’t to be like that anymore. We are to be different.

Christians Act Different             Ephesians tells how Christians are to act different.  Christians are to stop telling lies.  We have to be honest with each other, even when the truth is awkward or difficult or goes against generally accepted beliefs.
            And the passage says "Don’t let anger control you.  Notice, it doesn’t say don’t get angry, but don’t let your anger control you.  Anger is a natural emotion--especially in the face of evil and injustice like we saw in Las Vegas.  Anger can motivate you to act when you need to act, but don't let anger control you.  Do loose you temper and let anger make you do or say something you shouldn't.
            And the passage says to quit stealing.  Work hard and give.  Notice, it's not enough just to stop stealing.  Christians act different by going even further and being generous, which is actually the opposite of stealing.
            Christians should be different because we don’t use foul or abusive language.  Now, if you've grown up in church or among polite people, you might shake your head in agreement.  Don't cuss.  But Christian differentness is so much more than refraining from profanity. 
             Saturday morning, I stopped by Ace Hardware to pickup something I needed for my "Dry Bones" truck (which I was entering in a car show at Grove Level Baptist Church).  I don't have time to tell you all about Dry Bones, but here's a couple pictures.  (Maybe I can share the story of Dry Bones at another time.)
            Anyway, as I checked out, the cashier asked if that was my truck outside.  "Yes ma'am," I said. 
            "Do you mind of I come out and take a look at it?"
            "Sure." I said and we went out and she looked it over.  She immediately exclaimed, "Man!  That's cool as heck!"  Only, she didn't say heck.  So we were walking around it and got to the back tailgate where there is this big wooden cross and she repeated, "Man! That is cool as heck!"  (Only she didn't say heck."  And then she looked over at me and saw I was wearing a Christian t-shirt, my Pleasant Grove church hat, and a cross necklace.  And she said, "And your a Christian."
            "Yes ma'am."
            "And you go to church."
            "Yes ma'am."            "And I just cussed in front of you."
            And I said, "Yes ma'am, but don't you worry about it.  I'm not offended and God loves you."
            I don't think God is too terribly upset with that lady for her choice of words.  It's a small thing.  On the other hand, I had a Christian who was a member of a church I used to pastor years ago make some abusive remarks on a Facebook post Saturday afternoon.  The ironic thing is she considers herself a ultra-devote Christian which is why she blasted the UMC and people who attend it because she thinks we aren't "holy" enough.  And I think God was much more disappointed in her comments than He was with the fact that the lady in Ace used a 4-letter word to express her admiration of my truck.
            Act different.  Speak life and hope as verse 29 says:  “…Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”  Verse 31 hints at what real foul language is.  It says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.”
            We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard. We have acted like ungodly people at one time or another. However, the Word of God teaches us to let the Holy Spirit of God invade our hearts and change us so we act different.
            Verse says, “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”  Christians act different. We are kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.  Some will say, "Yeah, but I know some non-Christians who are kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving."  The difference is why Christians act these way.  We are different because Jesus Christ acted that way toward us first.  Christians act different because of what Christ did for us when we didn't deserve it.

Christians Act Different Because We Never Give Up
            Good people will eventually run out of goodness within them.  Christians never will because our source of goodness is not us--it is beyond us; it is in our eternal Lord, Jesus.  In Christ, there is always hope. 
            The symbol for Christianity is the cross.  The cross is not a decoration or piece of jewelry.  The cross is an instrument of torture and death.  Our Founder was crucified on it.  And everyone--including Jesus' closest followers--thought it was over and done and all hope was lost.  They saw him die; they saw him put in the tomb.  But then on the third day, Jesus rose from the grave.  There is always hope!  And everytime we look at a cross, we are reminded--the is always hope!  Never give up!
           The Holy Spirit works within Christians to change us and make us act different.  You don’t have to change all at once.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the great degree you feel you need to change your actions to live up to Jesus' example.  Remember, following Jesus is a journey.  You make it one step at a time.  Don’t get overwhelmed and give up, just let the Holy Spirit change you little by little, day by day, and soon you will start to look back and see just how far you’ve come.  Trust Jesus to take you from the person you are now to the person God wants you to be.

Are You Ready to Act Different?
            Spend time talking to Jesus.  Is Jesus your Lord? Your all in all?  Is He the most important priority in your life?  When Jesus is your all in all, you think different and act different.  When Jesus is your all in all, there is a fire down deep in your bones that drives you to love God and love your neighbor.  You might get tired sometimes, but then the Lord fills you with new energy, and renewed drive, and bold courage, and relentless ambition, and Holy Ghost power, and Spiritual energy, and YOU GET OUT THERE AND CHANGE THE WORLD!  Pray to the Lord today and tell Him you want to follow Jesus from this day forward and ask for the Holy Spirit to fill you and lead you.  Amen.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Serving - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

            I don’t really like shopping for clothes.  I know there are some people who do.  There are those who have a really good time browsing through store after store, trying on clothes, picking out the ones they like, and spending their money.  Those people are crazy!  
            Shopping is not for me.  It’s just draining.  I can work hard all day outside in the hot sun doing something I enjoy and not get tired, but I’m exhausted in less than an hour if my wife makes me go shopping.  
            Something similar happens when people serve in the church.  You serve with more passion and dedication when you serve in ways you enjoy, but serving becomes a chore when you serve in ways God hasn’t gifted you or when you have a bad attitude.
            God gives every Christian special abilities so we can serve others.  A person is truly blessed when they discover their gifts and learn how to use them to serve.  There is no greater joy than serving others in ways God designed you to serve.  It is a double blessing because you are blessed and so are the people you serve.
            However, there is another vital factor at work—your attitude.  A bad attitude can spoil the blessing of any act of service—even something you normally enjoy.  I sometimes see this when people serve out of a sense of obligation rather than love.  People often feel guilty because they think they ought to serve in some way, but they don’t really want to or aren’t able.  They may serve anyway, but they do it grudgingly.  Other times people refuse to serve and resent having been asked to do something they couldn’t or wouldn’t do.  Either way, there is a bad attitude afloat and it stinks worse than dirty sock left in the backseat of a hot car.
            This is not the way God wants it to be.  God sent His one and only Son to redeem us from guilt and shame.  The last thing God wants to do is guilt us into serving.  God asks us to serve so we can be part of the rich blessings He plans to give—both to those who serve and those who are served.  And God wants us to serve—not because we feel we have to, but—because our heart is overflowing with love and gratitude for Christ.  God gives us the freedom to decide how we serve so we can serve out of love and with a cheerful heart. 
            The Word of God tells us to have a cheerful heart.  One verse in particular comes to mind.  Although the context of this verse is financial giving, the same principle applies to our gifts of service.    2 Corinthians 9:7 – “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”” 
    I encourage you to give your time, your talents, your treasures, (everything really) with a cheerful heart.  Don't miss the joy, the blessing, the wonder of cheerful service for it is a sweet, sweet aroma to the Lord.  It is the way the Church was meant to be.  Of course, I’m no expert and certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…

Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Think Different

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

Holy Different

            I'm so proud of my son, Gavin.  He's never been afraid to stand out from the crowd.  He's always been smart--he graduated 3rd in his high school class.  He's independent.  He's attending the University of Alabama, Huntsville and doing well.  Last year, he used a bike to travel between classes across campus, but Gavin's never been afraid to be different.  This year, he decided to trade in his bike for a unicycle!  So if you're ever at UAH and you see a college kid riding a unicycle to class, it's probably my son!
            I want to talk to you today about being different.  Colonel Sanders wasn't afraid to be social security check was only $105. Instead of complaining, he did something different.  He thought restaurant owners would love his fried chicken recipe, use it, sales would increase, and he’d get a percentage of it. So, Sanders drove around the country knocking on doors, sleeping in his car, and wearing his white suit.  Can you imagine how strange people must have thought Sanders was?  They did.  His idea was rejected 1,009 times before someone finally said yes.  The rest is history.
different.  He was over 65-years-old before he became famous for fried chicken.  He got mad when his
            This blog is the first in a series called “Different”.  Did you know God wants us to be different than the rest of the world?

1 Peter 1:1-2 1This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.

I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

May God give you more and more grace and peace.

Holy Different
            This passage tells us some important things about your relationship with God.  First of all He chose you.  It wasn't a mistake.  He made a deliberate decision and chose you on purpose.  And He chose you long ago.  If you're like me, you get so busy that days and weeks just seem to run together.  And as busy as we are, I don't know what you thought was going to happen today.  But thousands of years ago, God already knew you would be reading these words right here, right now.  And He chose you.  And lastly, this passage tells us that God's Spirit chose to make you holy; and that is the crux of this blog.
            We use the word holy a lot in the church, but what does it mean?  Holy means “set apart for the special, sacred purposes of God.”  Something that is holy is not to be used for unholy purposes(You don’t use a communion chalice for your morning coffee).  When you are holy, you are different.  When you are holy, you are special.  When you are holy, you stand out.  Diamonds are so valuable because they sparkle.  Diamonds are really just rocks, but they stand out from other ordinary rocks because of the way the catch and reflect light.  Like a diamond, you need to sparkle and shine for God.  Stop trying to blend in to the crowd. 

But I Don’t Want to Be Different…
            An interesting thing happens with most teenagers that causes their parents a lot of anxiety.  Doctors and psychologists tell us that teenagers are biologically engineered to start separating from their parents and create their own identity.  From the time they are babies to the age of about 13, most kids adore their parents and want to be just like them.  But then they become teenagers and start to pull away.  All of a sudden, they stop admiring their parents and start to think they are boring and old and uncool.  And parents often get so frustrated because it feels like their teenage kids are going off the deep end, rejecting everything they've worked so hard to teach them.  And this is natural, because teenagers are trying to establish their own identity apart from their parents.  They want to be individuals.
            Ironically, rather than becoming “individuals” with their own “separate” identities, teenagers most often try to be like all their friends.  They trade mimicking their parents for mimicking their friends.  They want to wear the clothes their friends wear, listen to their friends music, hang out with and act like their cool friends.  And this is a natural part of growing up and almost everyone goes through it to some degree.  It isn’t until teenagers mature a bit more--usually once they get into their 20s--that they really start to figure out who they are apart from anyone else and find their own individual identity. 
            Unfortunately, many people ever really grow out of the human desire to “fit in”.  Most people want to adhere to “social norms.”  We want to be in fashion, we want to "fit in" our community, we want to be accepted by everyone else.  Most people still define themselves in relation to others.  They want to "keep up with the Joneses."  What does that expression really mean?  It means you want what they have, because you think what "they" have is what you really want or need.  Very few people stop to think what they really want without regards to what other people have.  Even fewer stop to think about what God really wants for them and trust that what He wants is really best.
            I have been accused of being different--even weird.  I'm fascinated with science and experiments and a couple years ago I was at the beach in South Carolina with my extended family.  I was staring at the ocean wondering if I could distill some sea salt out of it.  And I thought, "I bet I can."  So I got an empty milk jug and washed is out and collected a gallon of sea water from the ocean.  I put it in a  pot on the stove back at our condo and boiled it down until there wasn't any water left; and lo and behold their was about a quarter cup of salt left in the bottom of the pan!  I was so proud as I showed it to all my uninterested relatives.  My brother-in-law, Joey, looked at me and said, "Chris.  Your weird."  Haha!  And said, "Hallelujah!" because I own it! I know I'm different.  That's how God made me and I'm learning more and more to just be who God made me, because God wants us to be different.  It's OK to be weird!

God wants us to be Different.
            Truitt Cathy was different and he founded a different kind of fast food restaurant.  He said, “We should be about more than just selling chicken. We should be a part of our customers’ lives and the communities in which we serve.”  Now, if you try to eat lunch after church at a Chick-fil-A, you will be disappointed, because they're always closed on Sunday.  You'll have to settle for something else.  Chick-fil-A makes a statement by being closed.  You can't help but see it.  Sunday afternoons is one of the busiest times of the week for a restaurant, but Chick-fil-A intentionally stays closed and you can't help but see it.  And you don't just see it on Sundays.  Go in there on a Monday when they're open and you get a sense of it too.  I mean, it's just a fast food restaurant like any other, but it's also different.  Something about the way they carry themselves and the way they serve and the way they take pride in what they do.  Chick-fil-A is different.  It's almost like they're holy.            In the Old testament, God chose the children of Israel to be his holy people.  He wanted them to be different, to stand out.  So he gave them all kinds of rules that would make them a separate, different people.  Resting on Sunday was one of those rules, but there were also rules about how to dress and what kind of food to eat.  And all these laws--though they were a burden to follow--marked the Israelites as a special, holy people.
            Things have changed for us since Jesus came, because Jesus made all food clean and said we are saved by grace and not by following rules.  But we are still supposed to be holy and different. People should be able to look at us and think, "They look like other people, but there's something different about them, something special."
            Jesus told us the most important way we would be so different.  In John 13:35, Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  Do you love people in different way?  A holy way?  God's way?

God Chose You, but Do You Choose God?

            Long ago, 1 Peter 1:2 tells us, God chose you to be holy.  How long before you humble yourself, bow down, and choose to follow God?  For when you choose God through faith in Jesus Christ, Peter says you, “have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.”  Then you are holy and forgiven and you will have more grace and peace.  People will begin to see you are Holy Different and you will live a Holy and Different life, a better life, and you will have eternal life. And you will know you are loved and your will love people like Jesus loves.   Are you ready?  Make the decision to be Holy Different today!

Monday, September 11, 2017


            The picture you see here is of me holding my first child, Gavin.  I was only 24-years-old.  As you can see, Gavin was crying and I was a little bit stressed out as a new father unsure how to comfort him.  My life back in 1998 was a lot different than today.  I was not a minister back then; I had not yet accepted the call.  I was working at 1888 Mills in Griffin, GA--a textile mill that manufactured towels.  It was a secular job like most people reading this blog might work.
            Even though it was not a job "in the ministry", I viewed it as a ministry.  Everyday, I went to work with the attitude that I was a minister in Jesus' Kingdom.  I believed I represented Jesus to everyone I interacted with.  So, whether it was a salesperson, a designer, a customer, a line worker, a plant manager, or even the janitor, I tried to love them and interact with them the way Jesus would.
            My attitude was shaped largely by a talk I heard while attending a spiritual retreat called The Walk to Emmaus.  The name of the talk was P.O.A.B. and it is the inspiration for what I want to share with you today. 
            What is P.O.A.B?  P.O.A.B. is an acronym for the Protestant Christian doctrine known as the "Priesthood of All Believers."  We believe that every Christian--every person who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior--is a priest in God's Kingdom.
What is a Priest?
            The concept of priesthood goes all the way back to the Old Testament.  God chose and set apart certain Israelites for the special work of a priest.  Today, priests serve much as they did back then.  A priest has two main functions.  First, a priest is God’s representative in the world--communicating God’s Word, shedding light on God’s will for people, and pronouncing God’s forgiveness and healing grace.  Second, a priest also acts as the people’s representative to God—interceding for the people. 
            In the Old Testament, only men from the tribe of Levi were ordained (or set apart) for the holy work of priests.  Furthermore, a priest could not have any physical defects or be unclean in any way.  However things have changed for us because of everything Jesus did.  Jesus redeems us and sets us all apart as holy, perfect, and ordained for an important purpose to serve as his priests.  Christian priests include ordained pastors, but also every other Christian who has experienced the love, acceptance, and forgiveness of God. We are all called into the priestly ministry to help others experience the grace we have experienced from God.
            Jesus is our great high priest and our perfect example of our priestly role.  Notice how Jesus fulfills the two main functions of a priest.  First, Jesus is God’s representative to us. He is the Word of God made flesh. Jesus is the perfect representation of God’s love, forgiveness, and grace. Jesus was born, lived, and died and rose from the grave to show and prove God's love for us and to make a way to reconcile us with God.  Second, Jesus is our representative to God. Jesus shared our humanity and because he lived as one of us--knowing all the troubles, suffering, and temptations of our daily life-- Jesus understands us and can intercede for us to God.  Furthermore, Jesus sacrificed his own life for our salvation.  John 1:29, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
            Today, all believers--everyone who is a true Christian--shares in Jesus' priesthood. This concept is called the priesthood of all believers (or POAB). But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what the Word of God says. 

Slides – 1 Peter 2:9b-12
…for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

10 “Once you had no identity as a people;
    now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
    now you have received God’s mercy.”

11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

Look yourself in the mirror every morning and say, “I am a royal priest!”
            In the Christian church, we often use two terms that can be confusing--clergy and laity.  Clergy are Christians who are set apart to work full time as professional servants of Christ.  This is important, because most people have to work a regular secular job to make a living.  Not everyone has time to spend years training and then devote their life to the full-time work of leading the Church.  Besides, Jesus needs most of us to be out in the world serving Him where people need Him most.  However, Jesus also needs some people to devote their time to administering the Church, training the laity, and sending them out to do the work of the Kingdom.  That is what Clergy do.  If you are not clergy, you are laity (or a lay person).  Laity are Christians who serve Christ but make a living in other ways. 
            Both laity and clergy have vital roles to play.  Each role has strengths which offset the other's weaknesses.  For instance, most people do not have the time it takes to prepare a sermon each week.  It can take as much as 20-25 hours to research and properly prepare for 20-25 minute sermon.  And then there are people to visit, relationships to build, administration, planning, visioning, training, etc.  Clergy are usually paid to focus on all the many tasks of leading the church so they don't have to work a separate, secular job that would take up too much time.  But clergy have limitations too.  Clergy tend to spend the majority of their time working with other clergy and people in the church who already know Christ.  You can't evangelize someone who already knows Christ.  Another limitation is that there are relatively few clergy compared to laity.  And that leads into the great strengths of the laity.
            There are so many more laity than clergy.  Consider my church--Pleasant Grove UMC.  Suppose there are 150 people in my congregation on a given Sunday.  If each layperson visited just one person that week (just one person), then the Church could reach 150 people for Christ in one week.  How many people do you think one pastor could visit in a typical week (especially given that they must also prepare a sermon, do administrative work, and keep up with all their other numerous tasks)?  The numerous laity of the Church can reach out to more people than the limited number of clergy.  Furthermore, laity spend most of their time with people in a secular job, school, or other places where non-believing/non-church going people are who need to hear about Christ.
            So when clergy and laity work together capitalizing on each other's strengths, they are a powerful team of priests ministering for Christ.  Clergy focus on researching, planning, training, and leading the laity and the laity go out into the world to do the real ministry of the Church.

POAB has a Mission
            The Priesthood of All Believers has a mission.  Part of our mission is to make Christ real for people.  Most non-Christians think about God in abstract terms--as if he were some spirit or distant deity.  However, Jesus came to make God real for people and offer a personal relationship with Him.  We are called to do the same--to invite people into a real, personal relationship with the Living God through Jesus Christ.
            Legend has it that during World War II, a church building in Strasbourg was destroyed. After the bombing, the members surveyed the area to see what damage was done. They were pleased that a statue of Christ with outstretched hands was still standing. It had been sculpted centuries before by a great artist.  Taking a closer look, the people discovered both hands of Christ had been sheared off by a falling beam. Later, a sculptor in the town offered to replace the broken hands as a gift to the church. The church leaders met to consider the offer and decided not to accept it. They felt the statue without hands would be a great illustration that God's work is done through his people.  For they said, “Christ has no hands to serve but ours…”  You are to be the hands of Christ serving those around us.
            Part of our mission is to be channels of God’s grace.  Remember that!  Grace not judgment.  The Church has gotten a bad reputation for being full of judgmental people--people who think they are holier that everyone else and who look down on everyone else.  And unfortunately, there are many Christians who have that attitude.  Don't ever forget that we are called to be channels of grace, not judgment.  We are sometimes called to make judgments about what is right and wrong and to stand up for what is right, but that is wholly different than being judgmental (and if you've ever seen the difference, you will know it almost immediately).  However, we are no better than anyone else. We are just sinners saved by the grace of God and we should never forget it.  Therefore, let us offer to others the same grace Christ offered to us.  Let us focus on grace and mercy and love 10 times more strongly than anything else.  For Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.” (John 13:35)
            Part of our mission is to proclaim the goodness of God – to be light in the midst of darkness, promise the midst of problems, and overcoming the deadly attitudes of selfishness, cynicism, fatalism, and hopelessness that are so widespread in our world today.  There is enough hatred and darkness and pessimism and sarcasm going around in our world.  Don't be part of the problem.  Whether you are on Facebook or Twitter or speaking to your friends and co-workers, seek to be a positive, uplifting influence.  Be the Light in our dark world. 

The Characteristics of the Mission
            The mission of the Priesthood of All Believers has several characteristics.  Our mission is personal.  In other words, it starts with you.  What was it that Jesus said?  "Before you worry about the spec of dust in your neighbor's eyes, first take the log out of your own eye.  When you get the log out of your own eye, you will be able to see more clearly to get the speck of dust out of your neighbor's eye."  Let Jesus get ahold of your life first.  Repent of your own sin.  Open yourself up and let the Hoy Spirit change you.  Then you can go out and be His priest for others.
            Our mission is spiritual.  Don’t ever forget there are spiritual forces at play behind the scenes.  Look deeper at what may be happening in your life and others.  The Bible tells us we are engaged in a mighty spiritual conflict and the spiritual forces of darkness are at war with your soul.  Pray, study, work hard and refuse to become complacent for we are engaged in a spiritual war.
            Our mission is service oriented.  Don’t get big head because you are a royal priest.  Remember what Jesus did and said; John 13:12-15 – “12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.
            The mission is a team effort.  We can’t do this alone.  We weren’t meant to.  Even Jesus had 12 disciples.  Our mission requires teamwork between clergy and laity.  There’s only one of me, but there are many of you.  Plus, you are more out in the world where people need Christ than I am.  Let's all work together to do the work of our Lord.
            The mission calls for our very best.  Remember, you are Christ’s representative.  Doesn’t he deserve you very best effort?  Sometimes people serve the Church with the attitude "Well, I'm not getting paid for this so I don't have to do a spectacular job.  Beggars can't be choosey, right?"  And you know, what am I as a clergy to do and say?  I'm not paying you as a volunteer so it's not like I can cut your pay or something if you don't do a good job.  But what is that saying when it comes to Christ?  He gave His all for you--not even withholding his life.  Are you now then going to say to Him, this mediocre job I've done is good enough?  Heaven forbid!  Give Him your very best!

Be a representative for Christ
            About 10 years ago, my sister called and asked if I could do a funeral for a friend of hers.  You see, her friend had a daughter who was not really living what most would call a "godly" life.  She worked as a stripper.  And she messed around and got pregnant out of wedlock.  And then the pregnancy didn't go well and the baby was born after on 20 weeks (a healthy pregnancy is supposed to last 40 weeks).  The baby survived for a couple weeks in an incubator in a hospital NICU near McDonough, GA.  The mother and grandmother at least had that much time to spend with Augie (that's what they called him as they named him after St Augustine).  If Augie had been born just a week or two later, it might have survived, but 20 weeks is just too early.  The baby died and since they family was not involved in church and had no pastor, they asked if I would do the service and it was my honor. 
            I thought long and hard and prayed a lot about what to say.  What do you say in a situation like that?  I thought maybe I could try to put some kind of positive spin on it, but that just seemed trite and dishonest; besides, how can you do that for a family that is not active in church and may not grasp the complicated concepts of the Christian faith and hope.  I felt God was telling me to say something different.  So as I spoke at the hospital chapel where the funeral was held, I simply said something like this.  "I am here as a representative for my King, Jesus Christ.  I don't understand why things like this happen and I can't give you any answers, but I know that God loves you and He wanted me to be here today to represent Him for you.  I can't imagine the pain and sorrow you feel, but my God does because He also lost a son.  You His Son died on the cross because He loved us so much.  And so, I am here today to represent my King and express His love to you in your time of grief.  He knows your pain and He cares about you."
            God calls us all to represent Him, wherever we go and in whatever situation we find ourselves.  God calls Christians today not to be passive participants in the problem, but to be active partners in the mission—to Be the Church!  We have the opportunity today to make our lives modern-day translations of the Gospels.  (You know some people will never crack open a Bible and read the Gospel, but if you live for Christ they can look at you and read your Gospel).  Each of us has a personal and nontransferable mission: to make Christ real in our lives and share His grace so other may know God’s salvation.  Will you answer the call to serve as God’s Royal Priest?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Home - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell…
Hebrews 13:14 – For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.
My Uncle, Gilbert Bigham
Recently, I had the privilege of traveling to Clinton, SC with Mom to visit some relatives.  My 97-year-old uncle, Gilbert Bigham (my Grandma Wingo’s brother and last living sibling), has lung cancer. So Mom and I went to see him.  While there, we visited several other relatives and heard many stories about our family history.  I saw where my Grandpa Wingo grew up and stopped by Bellview Baptist church (the church my ancestors helped found by donating land).

Relatives on my Grandma Wingo's side, (Going Clockwise):
Ann Campbell (Grandma's sister Daisy's daughter),
Kenneth Hamilton (Grandma's sister Hannah's son) and his wife,
Elizabeth Beaty's husband and Elizabeth (Grandma's sister Hannah's daughter),
Harold and Joan Smith (Grandma's sister Ruby's daughter),
and Georgia Mae Brewer (Grandma's sister Hannah's daughter)

I have a rather large family.  Grandma was one of eleven siblings and one adopted child.  (So you can imagine how many cousins and aunts and uncles we have.)  Unfortunately, I didn’t see many of my relatives as I was growing up.  While most of my extended family lived in the Clinton and Laurens, SC area—and many still do—my grandparents were more like Abraham and Sara from the Bible; they moved away from home to make a new life. 

My Grandpa's Childhood Home
Bellview Baptist Church - Laurens, SC
First, my grandparents moved to Savannah, GA where my mom was born while Grandpa built ships for World War II.  Then, Grandpa went to Europe to fight the War.  Afterwards, my grandparents moved to Ohio and lived in a few different towns before settling down in Marengo.  Mom persisted in her parents’
migratory methods.  She graduated high school and moved to Washington DC where she worked for the FBI and met my dad.
I was born in Maryland and lived in two different towns in that state—North Beach until I was 6 and then Silver Springs.  The school kids in Maryland joked about the “southern” accent I inherited from my parents until I was 8 and my family move to Macon, GA.  It was closer to my Dad’s family, but miles from anything I was used to.  Now, the school kids said I sounded like a “Yankee”.  We moved one more time, just far enough that I had to change schools.
Now, I’m not whining.  I was used to all this moving.  It was sad to leave friends and homes behind, but it’s just who we were.  Looking back know, I realize this was a legacy that went back a long way in my family—at least to my Grandma and Grandpa Wingo.  What urged Grandma and Grandpa to wander away from Clinton, SC when everyone else stayed?  Was God leading them to find a new “Promised Land” like Abraham and Sara of the Bible?  I don’t know, but I realize it prepared me for the life I live as an itinerant Methodist preacher.  Since Kelly and I married 23 years ago, we have moved from Macon to Marietta to Lithia Springs to Griffin to Forsyth and now we live in Dalton.  And if the Lord is willing, we will have many more cities and towns to call our “home” over the next 40+ years. 
            People often ask, “Where’re you from?”  Well, you tell me.  Where am I from?  Where is my “home”?  Is it where I was born or where I first went to school?  Is my home where I met my wife and got married?  Is it where I graduated from high school or college or seminary?  Is my home where I live now or where I’m going next?  Or is “home” in Clinton, SC where my ancestors came from or Ireland or France where their ancestors came from?  Well, my life and my faith have taught me this: “Home” is not some place you go back to; “Home”—our real Home—is where we are going.  With Jesus help, we shall get there one day.  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…
Remember, God loves you and so do I!
The Wingo Brothers - Robert (my Grandpa) is second from the left