Humility Through Grace

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Who all remembers these lyrics:

“Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
Cause I get better looking each day.”

That was by Mac Davis back in the eighties… He was quite the superstar. He sold lots of records, played in large clubs, and even had a TV show. Anyone remember his show? I loved it as a kid. I think it came on right after Hew-Haw, but I could be wrong.

Anyway, he tells the story about one time the owner of a club put him up in a hotel and in a huge hotel room called the “star suite.” And said he woke up at 8 am that first morning and realized he was all alone. He was on top of the world but all alone! That morning he wrote the song to poke fun at himself and his loneliness. You see, back in the early eighties humility was still considered a virtue. Today, we live in a world where an individual is measured not by their virtue, but their identity.

We are living in what is called a Post-Modern society. This is a bit confusing to describe, but the most significant change has been in the definition of morality. The Bible is less likely to be looked upon as the source of morality. For many, it has become just another book that sits on the shelf. Right next to the Harry Potter and the Self Help and Diet paperbacks.

Morality is now defined by. However it best fits into a communal consensus. More importantly, morality is now hostage to one’s personal identity. In the past our identity was measured by the goodness we could do. Even the Mafia opened inner-city food banks. They were criminals but still understood the importance of a morale core somewhere deep inside them.

In today’s world, one does not need morality to have an identity. You see, the post-modern culture has completely changed how we obtain our identity. We are now living in a culture that is redefining God. Our Government has separated all function away from God. This is formally called secularism. The absence of God!

The broader secular world has immersed us in a new mantra – that each of us needs to be our own genuine selves. We’ve been indoctrinated into believing that if we work hard enough, work long enough hours, make enough money, put our kids in the best schools, climb that ladder of success then we can finally stand tall and say “look at me.” “This is who I am.”

In this secular age, identity is defined by what we’ve accomplished. Not who we are! If you see a man in a nice suit or in luxury car you’re likely to think to yourself – that person is successful. But if you see a homeless dude coming out from under a bridge, few of us would call that person a success. What was the difference between them? It was how they looked at us! See, we are all guilty of this redefining individual worth.

In the secular age, this measure of success is used to form an identity. Today, success is the yardstick by which a post-modern culture allows you to define your own identity. Society is teaching our children that “’only they” can decide what is right for themselves.

Let me borrow an illustration from the pastor Tim Keller. How many here have seen the movie Frozen? I have granddaughters, so it’s mandatory. I’m highly entertained by Disney movies, but it’s no secret that the Disney message is intended to condition children to the current culture. Let me read a few words from the song Elsa sings:

I don’t care, what they’re going to say (this is pride)
It’s time to see what I can do. To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free! (this is moral relativism)

If you have seen the movie, you likely left feeling it had a great message, that love sacrifices self for the good of another. And that message is a good one – it almost follows Jesus’ teaching. But the song I just quoted, (Let it Go), is nowhere close to the same lesson as Christ taught. And, it was the biggest hit of the movie.

To show you my point – we can read  blogs on the internet to see what girls thought this song meant. And most understood it exactly how I feared – one said.

To me it means to walk away from a society (that’s self-preservation) which judges people and expects everyone to be perfect (that’s moral relativism), it means follow your own path and to live your life by how you want to live and not to worry about what other people think of you and your life choices (that’s Pride with arrogance. And it’s wrong in so many ways – Our Life choices affect more than just ourselves.)

In the secular world, your personal identity is critical and pride the most essential attribute. Humility doesn’t mean temper pride – it merely means be kind to other people and try not to be arrogant. Pride is good!

Let’s pause for a moment now and think about how most of us were raised. I want to turn now to what that dusty book on the shelf says about identity, humility, and Pride. The entire gospel it seems discusses the danger of Pride. Christ talks about pride more than any other topic.

In Luke 14:8-10 Jesus teaches us that “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place.

And from Ephesians 2:8-9, the Apostle Paul says this about humility and pride:  8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Do you all see the contrast here as to how scripture says we, as Christians, come by our identity? In the secular world, one cannot be both Bold and Humble. It’s impossible to have a character that fits both. The Bold secular’s fake humility!

As Christians, we don’t work for an identity. Christ gives it to us freely! Through the means of Grace, our character comes from God – not by how hard we work. We are given a new status, our new selves, renewed in the spirit of our minds. THEN we get to work.

But here, at this point in my conversation with each of you, let me ask you all a question. How many here are genuinely humble? How many of us will truly descend into places where the people who need help exist?

How many of us say we are willing to march in a protest for some social justice cause, maybe get arrested, but we don’t because we don’t want to stir up trouble. How many of us are willing to forgo our material comforts, like air conditioning, and good food, to be with those that are without? I am going to tell you about some people that walk among us today who will.

We have an entire generation of young adults – those that were born between 1984 and the year 2000. They are often called the Millennials. There are thousands of jokes about millennials. They all still live at home with their parents, they don’t want to work, they need their naps each day. They will cry if you hurt their feelings. Does this sound about right? We joke about the snowflakes. Here are some more.

They were told if they finish college there will be a job waiting. They think the founders of this country were privileged slaveholders. They believe Native Americans were targeted and wiped out by white colonial expansion, and that Christopher Columbus is responsible for Genocide. They do not believe in American exceptionalism.

When people hear that list of attributes, some have little respect for this cohort of whiney snot-nosed kids. After all, someone must work hard, keep us all safe, keep the economic engine running. Right. We have our Pride. And who are they to minimize all the right things we have done. Look at what all we have done! USA! USA! USA!

That right there – is pride talking. I have a lot of pride in my country, but sometimes our Pride makes us unable to have a conversation with that generation. Ego trumps humility! In fact, some of you here would probably just as soon that those people not come inside this church. Well, don’t worry. They won’t. Few have an affiliation with any church. And that is by their choice, not ours!

This morning I want to talk about some things you may not know about this demographic of young people. I was guilty of telling the jokes and dismissing the most important growing generation. Until I started to talk to them. And then – I began to listen.

Social-scientist have taken to calling them the New Copernicans. For those that do not remember who Copernicus was – he was Polish scientist that went against the church and said – No the universe does not revolve around the earth. You see, like Martin Luther, Copernicus was at the same time trying to tell the Catholic Church – you have it all wrong! The New Copernican’s are telling today’s churches, you and I, that we are not doing it right. But before we judge this cohort let me tell you a bit about their history: This list is from David Seel’s book The New Copernicans, Millennials and the Survival of the Church. I also added a few.

  • They were born at the same time as the first personal computer (1981)
  • MTV started in the mid-80’s. Cable television became our babysitters (Mine)
  • Hooking-up became acceptable and had no moral implications – 1990’s
  • The World Trade Center was attacked in 2001
  • Iraq War was fought, and no WMD’s were found, though they were promised.
  • Facebook launched in 2004
  • Wall Street Collapsed in 2007
  • The first Black President elected in 2008
  • Black Lives Matter movement started 2013
  • Wikileaks exposed massive government breaches of personal privacy
  • Same-sex marriage legalized in 2015.
  • The Methodist Church is in chaos – 2016

These social events shaped the mindset of these new Copernicans. Do you realize this generation has never lived in an America free of crony capitalism – instead they grew up during of the longest periods of economic recession. Most had soccer moms who were anxious wrecks and became helicopter parents to protect them. To them, the entire world was unsafe.

They look at the older generation and blame them for all the things that have gone wrong. Are they wrong? They see what they inherited and are not happy. For these New Copernicans – they do not see the Church as solutions to the problems. The church was supposed to be about emulating Christ – feeding the poor and tending to the sick. But they did not see that happening. So, guess what? They left. They turned their back on our false promises.

But here is the good news. These New Copernicans did not become Atheist. Most social scientists say they self-identify as “religious none’s” – because they do not know what to believe. They are highly spiritual, and most will drift off and try various a New Age spiritual journeys. They are going to go and find another way to rectify what they see as injustice all around the world. Since we didn’t do it. They will!

They also do not believe a traditional job day is essential to happiness. Instead, they find pleasure in social justice causes and helping others – sounds like the missionaries we send out around the world.

They are more likely to recycle and repurpose material-goods – just like so many of our elders did during the depression. They do not believe they need to own a car if public transportation is available because burning fossil fuel is harmful to the environment. And, unlike the millions of homeowners of the great housing bubble of the 1990’s, most won’t buy a house if they cannot be responsible and pay for it. Wow!

They are not worried about being comfortable – they’d rather spend more time looking for how they can transform the world into a better place.

Wait – isn’t that exactly like what our Methodist mission is? To transform the world by making disciples of Christ? They are doing what Christ said to do without even knowing about Christ!

From Luke 10 we read – 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals, and do not greet anyone on the road.

Who are the lambs and who are the wolves?  This sounds like those millennials who aren’t worried about a regular job. Instead, they volunteer in shelters.

5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

Sounds like a millennial moving from cause to cause. Protest to protest. They will gladly accept your charity – because they plan to stay as long as they are needed for the fight! They fight for what they think is unjust. Even though we may not.

10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you.

Almost every week we hear about these children of God in the streets! You don’t have to be on their side – but you have to admit they are doing something!

Do I believe that everything they are doing is right and wise? No way. Do I think that they don’t fully grasp some of the more complex problems in the world that we also need to be mindful of? Yes.

You know what else I know? That generation is not planning on coming into our church. Why should they? Is there an example here that they can follow?

I’d say yes – but how do they know?  Have they stood next to us as we feed and clothe the homeless?  Have they been beside us as we climb under the bridges looking for those that are sick and crippled?  Have they been to the jail when we went in there and happened to visit their brother or sister?

Did they find us at the Library this Friday at 6:30 because we are concerned about Opioids in the town?

If they are not seeing us out there – why would they want to come and see us in here?

All of our local churches need to rethink what is right outside our doors, in our community, waiting for us to show we care. Those churches that value this generation are growing. We ignore them at our own peril.

In closing, I will remind you what Jesus told his disciples –

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)

God gave us his Son, who died on the cross so that we could be free from our sin of pride. So that we could be living examples of what he did to transform the world.

And he said – do this in remembrance of me.

Let us all do what we can to honor his call – to live for the Glory of our God, his Father.

Amen

Is the Church Dying

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Pleasant Hill AME

Good Morning

I recently heard about three Pastors that took the day off and went fishing.  As they were sitting in the boat, one Pastor said to the others, “You know, we don’t have anyone else to talk to, I think it would be good if we confessed to one another to unburden our souls.  We should confide with each other our struggle with sin.”

“Okay,” said the others. “but, you go first!”

So, the first Pastor said, “I have a terrible gambling problem.  I sneak off to Vegas sometimes and gamble church money.”

“O my, said the second.”  He paused and then continued “Well, I am a terrible cheater.  I cheat on my taxes and other finances and even misuse church money at times.”

“Oh my, said the third pastor.”  Then he got quiet.  The first pastor tells him it is his turn, but he waves him off and says, “Oh, you two don’t want to hear my sin.”

“You must!” declared the other two.

“Well, okay,” said the third as he started to grin.  “I am a terrible gossip, and I cannot wait to get off this boat!”

Wow – one Pastor that Gambles, one that Cheats, and another that’s a big Gossip – Good thing it’s only a joke, Right?!  But actually – we do hear about this from time to time, don’t we?  Those that are supposed to be exemplar Christians and community leaders that have public scandals. Indeed, we are all broken people!  Amen?

Let me tell you a true tale about a Pastor that demonstrated poor judgment.  Some of you may already know this story.  This fellow is what I would call a Super Christian.  This man was an ordained minister and was called by those that knew him “a fanatic.”  In fact, he every morning at 5am and he and about ten other men would gather for a daily ritual.  They would all pray, and then they would literally go through a list of twenty-two questions. They did this every day.  They would ask themselves things like:

Can I be trusted?

Does the Bible live in me?

Do I disobey God in anything?

Is Christ real to me?

This group was very serious and highly devout.   I am not saying there is anything wrong with this, I’m only trying to demonstrate how serious he was in his Christian practice.

Eventually, this minister he got appointed to a church in Savannah, Georgia.  As part of his charge, he would travel to some of the outlying towns.  But, because he was such a fanatic and demanded extremely rigid rules be followed, he was literally run out of several towns, (one time he was shot at).

Then something troubling happened; the minister fell in love with a woman in his congregation.  Unfortunately for him, she was already engaged.  He tried to be cautious, but it was evident to everyone that they were becoming an item.  This went on for quite a while, and he even tried to persuade her to dump the fiancé and marry him.  Remember now, this is the head minister of a large church in a large town.  Eventually, the fiancé got fed up and drug the woman off to another state at getting married.  When they came back to town, you know what that minster did?  He ostracized her in church and called her a bad Christian.  His mocking got so bad that the husband took him to court for defamation and abuse of church authority.   He was found guilty by the court.  But instead of sticking around he fled the country.

Wow – that’s quite the story.  Does it sound like someone who was living through the Faith of Christ – even though he’d asked himself that question every day?  Does anyone recognize the story I just told?  Well, the year that the minister skipped the country was 1737, and he went from Georgia back to England.  His name was John Wesley, and his “Holy Club” was known for being so methodical in their religious fervor – that they were called the Methodists!

By the time John Wesley returned to England he was beaten down and embarrassed.  It would be another year before he famously has his real conversion and says, ‘I felt my heart strangely warm.”   You see, John Wesley didn’t come to truly know Christ until long after he began his journey.

What about us?  Are we really Christians?  Do we bear the marks and carry the cross?  Jesus told his disciples – “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:38).  What does this mean?  Many might be surprised to learn that many people do not really understand how to be a Christian.  They think they know.  They try to show that they know.  But they don’t know.

Sometimes it’s simply because they have not been exposed to someone that truly loves Christ.  When you meet someone that loves God with all their Heart, Mind, Strength and Soul – you know it.  And if you’re wise– you learn to let some of that rub off on you as well.  I’ve been doing some visiting with members of this congregation – and I met some people that truly carry Christ in their heart.  I like being near those folks.

When we look at the church the problem of folks not knowing how to be good Christians is not a new one. The Apostle Paul had a similar problem.  He was in a Roman prison far away from the churches he had established.  He wrote a letter to the Ephesians who were having an identity crisis.  Evidently, there were other evangelists teaching his new flock a message opposite to his and misrepresenting Jesus’s redemption and sacrifice.  Many of those new converts, were confused and being ridiculed by others – even family members.

Paul’s network of churches was in chaos, and people were confused about how they should act, and behave, and worship.  When we think about our modern age, this story sounds familiar?  Isn’t this what we’re observing in our own communities and all over the country.  People are confused about Christ or being ridiculed by others for what they believe.  We are being ushered into what is commonly known as the age of Post-Modernism.  This is a time in our history when secularists are teaching that everyone should be free to believe whatever they want to believe.  That only the individual can know the real truth that is right for them.  It’s all very sad.  Our society is unraveling. And it’s mostly happening with the young.

Now, with all this happening we also can see that Christian church attendance is plummeting.  I guess that makes sense.  I mean, if I am the only person that can judge what is good for me then why do I need the church?  Who is God anyway?  Sadly, this false teaching and thinking are growing and growing.  And at the same time, Mainline Protestant churches are closing by the thousands.

A study done by the author Donald House says this about the United Methodist Church; “By 2030, an estimated 30 percent of the denomination’s churches — or about 10,000 congregations — will have closed.”[1]  What is going to happen to this church in the next twelve years?  Will it be part of that ten-thousand?  Why do you think people have stopped coming to church?  I really would like to blame it on all the negative influences from in a growing secular world.  But how is it these dark and often evil forces are growing so strong.  Why are the churches not strong enough to hold off Satan’s work?  What is happening behind our doors that are failing to stop the decline?

I’d like to read you a short piece by Dr. Richard Krejcir who has a Ph.D. in Theology from Fuller Seminary. This is from an article he wrote titled Why Churches Fail: (I have shortened some of the sentences for clarity).  He says:

I tracked over 1,000 churches for over 10 years. I looked for the marks that caused people to leave. I found the top four reasons why a churchgoer leaves their church.

  1. 1. The number one reason why people stop coming to any given church, (This church) was reported by over 91% people… The most significant factor or the main reason being conflict and gossip!
  2. The number two reason that people leave a church is hypocrisy and judgmental attitude and actions of people. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of people who left a church stated they experienced [other] church people being judgmental to them, the [witnessed] hypocrisy, especially by pastors and leadership, or [experienced] hurt by church members.
  3. The number three reason why people leave a church is that they wonder, “where do I fit in?” They experience a lack of hospitality and concern or care from the leadership or people in general. Sixty-six percent (66%) reported that if people do not feel they belong, they leave.
  4. The number four reason why people leave a church is the unwillingness to deal with sin. This creates strife and factions in a church for which sixty-two percent (62%) of people reported to be the reason they left… The unwillingness to resolve conflict… and not seeking Christ first and foremost cause[s] the majority of conflicts between the people in the church and the pastor.

Let me repeat these four reasons a Church fails:

  1. Conflict with others in the church and Gossip
  2. Others in the church being judgmental and hypocritical
  3. Lack of hospitality and not feeling welcome
  4. The church does not address Sin and lacks the leadership to avoid conflict

To be a bit blunter – let me ask a delicate question.  Considering the four reasons people quit church – why have people stopped coming here?  Why would someone not want to sit in one of these pews?  Our first instinct is probably to say that our congregation is getting older and some members have moved away.  That would be fair. But If that is the case, why are there two churches growing like crazy in this town with people driving in from all over.

I am not critical of anyone here.  I am only asking the hard questions that need to be asked – out loud.   Last year I reached out to some people that stopped coming to my home church over on the other side of Franklin.  Would you know, every reason I listed earlier was among their complaints?  Let me give you one example. My wife’s friend started coming to church, with her three kids – then she stopped.  She later told my wife that not one person had ever once greeted her.  And that included during the passing of the peace!  You know what’s sad – there were only about twenty people in attendance. For her, it was the lack of hospitality.  Another member told me she got tired of being rudely dismissed anytime she brought up an idea.  I know that lady, and I’m fairly certain she presented some new ways to grow the church, and the leaders of the church were intimidated.

Change is hard – but do you know what’s easy – always doing what we do because that’s how we always did it. Using your bulletin insert, I’d like you to ponder of the four reasons I stated for why people stop attending church.  Ask yourselves, are any of these factors affecting this church.  However, regardless of what you discover, the larger picture is that it’s time for all Christian churches get back to the basics. We cannot let secularism interpret Christ for us.

Remember, I told you earlier, this was the problem Apostle Paul had that he describes in his letter to the Ephesians.   Most Scholars believe this letter was intended for all the churches in the area surrounding Ephesus.  That Paul wanted his letter to the “Ephesians” to be a refresher on how to be good “Christians.”  Specifically, Paul expected them to use his letter as a handbook – so to speak. It’s a guide for Pastors and leaders every bit as much as it is for the laity.  I would encourage you all to read all of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.  It contains 2442 words.  That is about the same length as my sermon this morning.   In my big study bible at home the paragraphs in Ephesians from 4:17 – 6:9 is labeled – Instructions for Christian Living.   At least read Ephesians from 4:17 – 6:9. Then, ask yourselves – am I living as a Christian as defined by one of Christ’s chosen Apostles.  Are we living as believers of Christ first, then Methodist second!

Now then, with that background, I want to discuss how the Methodist Church is trying to deal with the rapid decline in membership.  They have put together a program that allows churches to decide if they want to survive, or if they want to gracefully close their doors.  Someone described it as a hospice for churches.  It is called the Church Legacy Program.  Some of you have heard about it.  In fact, this church has chosen to participate in the legacy program.  A team here has identified some great ways to grow this church’s vitality.

I am happy to report that this church made a choice to thrive and survive.  You all want a legacy of life for this historic congregation.  But, here comes the… caveat!  If you don’t take this program seriously – this church is not going to thrive.  I know there are members here that are very busy with deploying the Legacy Program.  Yet, every person in this room should be asking about the program.  More importantly, every single person that calls themselves a member or constituent of this church should be asking How Can I Help?

You may or may not be aware that all Leadership Council/ Ad-Council meetings are open to everyone.  Everyone in the community.  But only members in this church gets a vote on church business.  Those meetings should be so crowded that you need overflow seating.  Anyone that wants to see this church survive should be there.  Even if you don’t want to speak or maybe you don’t like getting involved in these things.  It’s your church!    In most of the churches, I have served there are always the same handful of folks that do most all the work.  Change must come from the inside!  We can no longer keep doing things like we always do.  There is room for all of us to help grow the church.  I was visiting one of the older members of the charge, and she asked – tell me how I can help – I can still talk on the phone.  God bless her!

Please, do not hear my words as condescending.  I am simply trying to reinforce that the survival of this church will come from within this congregation.  No one else is coming to rescue you.  I’m it!  My role is to make sure you have everything you need, including my enthusiasm, and sweat equity.  Ten-thousand beautiful churches, many just like this one, are going to close by 2030.  We can’t let this be one of them!

The Apostle Paul gave us a handbook for Christian living, and the Legacy Program gives us a plan for survival.  We need to bring those two things together.  All the programs in the world can’t save any church if the folks inside are struggling.

I have discussed a lot this morning.  In closing let me recap.  Being a Genuine Christian is hard.  Even John Wesley stumbled before he got started.  True church vitality begins inside our doors with those genuine Christian traits we learn and foster as they flow out the door into our community.

We will soon be celebrating a Homecoming.  During this week I’d like you to take time and visualize all those people who will show up; the former members, and the absent member, and all the guests.  What kind of homecoming will they be attending?  Are they be coming to a celebration, or is it a dress rehearsal for a wake?

I close today with the words of the Apostle Paul.

(Ephesians 4:1-6).  “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

I keep reminding you that being a good and faithful Christian is hard.  We are all broken people.  Our only job is to get a little less broken each day.  If we do that, this church is going to be okay!

Amen

 

 

[1] https://www.faithandleadership.com/legacy-ministries-dying-churches-give-congregations-way-end-well

One can see and still be blind.

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Not a detailed posting here.  I think I will begin adding some devotionals to the Facebook sites.  I will add them here.  Notice I did not say “daily” devotional.

For today let me provide this…. It comes up a lot and we all struggle when we ask WHY is God putting me through X,Y and Z.

When we read the story of the Blind man in John 9 we learn that in those times disability or trouble was considered the product of sin – even from an earlier generation. Wow – gives paying it forward a new meaning. ouch.

But Jesus was clear. After he healed the blind man he told the Pharisees (John 9:41) Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. 

This is the problem we all face when we look at issues and very troubling disabilities – we think we see. But usually we are blind to how God is working through us! “Trust and obey…. ” hmm – that would make a good hymn for Sunday!