When Jesus Says Go

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Lo I am With You Always – Hanna Varghese

I was recently amused to hear a story about a former pastor of this church, from back when it was a three-point charge.  It seems when he first came aboard he felt the need to race from church to church to church, because of the close starting times.  After a few speeding tickets, one church decided to change their starting time to allow the pastor more time to get to where he needed to be.

That seems unfair for the police to do that.  A pastor was trying to do God’s work and even he had to obey the speed limit. But that is life, right?  We follow the rules.  I get exasperated at times by these limitations.

How many of you have the same problem – do the limits on life seem to always get in the way at times!  Think about it.  Eighteen to vote, but twenty-one to drink.  Only $200 out of an off-brand ATM. Even limits on how many questions one can miss on a driver’s license exam….   Maybe that is a good one.  Most of these limits seem arbitrary, but some are not.  There are also limits to things we cannot see – like the physics of cell phone signal, or the available internet speed in the mountains, grrr.   There is even a limit to how physics in our daily lives like waiting for a pot to boil – or if you are making moonshine, how hot the mash can get before the alcohol begin to leach off… Anyone know?  173 degrees.  Yes, I know.

We are all subject to these seen and unseen rules.  But, when we look to the Bible we discover that God thought limits were an excellent way to regulate all his creations.   “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8).  How many of us break the Sabbath weekly?

“Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”  (Genesis 6:3).  Yet, modern science thinks they are close to having us to live forever.  No thanks, I’m not sure I’d want to live more than 120 years – but that’s me.

And then get this, from the Book of Job we learn, “… God fixed the weight of the wind and measured out the waters, … He set a limit for the rain and a path for the thunderbolt, (Job 28:25-26).  I think God wins that one!  We humans haven’t mastered that yet!

From birth to death we learn to exist within our limitations.  How many remember Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry when he famously said this line – “A man has to know his limitations!”

However, I do have good news.  This morning I want to discuss the few times God removes our limitations.  Where God says – do not stop.  The one time when God officially gave us the freedom of excess.  We find this at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew:

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I know many of you likely have this scripture memorized.  For those that are new to the bible, this is the clarion call for our Christian duty.  As Methodist, this scripture is practically our Missions statement – We have been told to go and make disciples of Christ to transform the world.

Unfortunately, I think too often when people read what this scripture, what is called the Great Commission, they can get caught up in the what we are supposed to do and seldom slow down to see “the how” that Jesus was telling us.

We’re lucky when we read this passage because Jesus did not encode it as a parable.  Christ means what he says.  He is informing the disciples that he has all the authority of Heaven and Earth – I am commanding you to demonstrate to others what it means to be my disciples.  For those that follow you, I want you to Baptize them so that the Holy Spirit will come into them.  AND THEN I want you to continue to teach them how to obey all the things that I taught you.  I want you to do this for all Ethnos (all Nations) – that means, all cultures of all people everywhere.  Not just the Jews. And do not worry, for I am Emmanuel – God is with you!

How many of you remember your Baptism?  If you were older like I was, you were probably full of energy.  I was radiating, and I know I had a stupid perma grin on my face for weeks.   Unfortunately, my church did not have a discipleship program – or else I fell through the cracks.  After a year or so after I came to know Christ, I began to have doubts.  I became hesitant to move forward. Instead, I focused on all the ways the church members were not obeying the Bible.  I froze.

Yet, today, when I go back and read this passage I am filled with relief because I know that I was no different from some of those first disciples – that doubted.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Over the years I’ve read this passage many times – and when I got to the words “some doubted” I always dismissed it.  I guess I figured, gee, too bad for whoever doubted; maybe they learned the hard way.

Before I move forward this morning, I want to explain the full translation of the Greek word – διστάζω (distazō).  This word translated as “Doubted!”  But it doesn’t mean what how we use it today.  Right now, my baseball team is doing poorly.  I’m starting to doubt they will make the playoffs.  That means I am beginning to believe they will not.

That is not what it means in the original Greek.  Instead, distazō means to doubt – but it’s a different kind of doubt.  It’s more like to waver, or to hesitate.  These are synonyms.

For Matthew, having doubt was not the same as modern usage of the word as to disbelieve something.  You see, to have disbelief is to fully form a thought.  You are mostly sure about what you do not believe.   Distazō describes a doubt that means a hesitation or wavering. It’s that gap of time we use to form our thoughts.

Our present translation of doubt is not what Matthew intended.  If he wanted to insinuate that some disciples did not know who Jesus was, he would likely have used the word agnōstos – Unknown or forgotten.  But nothing in this passage suggests they did not recognize Christ – they just didn’t know what to think about Christ what they saw him.  They hesitated, they waivered.

How many of you have ever seen the videos of a service member returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan?  If you watch them, you will often see the spouse or children being suddenly surprised.  Usually, they will freeze in place, put their hands to their face, start to scream and THEN run to the person.  I tear up every time I watch those videos.  Anyone else?

When you watch you will notice that some of the family members run straight away to the veteran, yet others freeze first –they hesitate.  Once they realize what is happening they rush towards them.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

Now, let me ask you all a difficult question. What do you think their reaction would be for someone if they previously thought their loved one was dead?  Do you think they might stand there a bit longer and wonder how can this be true?  Wouldn’t they waver before running, hesitate longer, and maybe wonder what they are seeing.

I think Matthew was describing the same thing about the disciples when they first saw Jesus reincarnated.   What is happening? What does this mean?  Can this be true? What do I do next?

You see, some were just like us.  They were conditioned to hesitate because we live with limitations.  Most of us are just like them.  We hesitate, we waiver, we doubt.

I will give you an example to make my point.  And clearly, this example does not fit many of you.  But here you go.  Christ gave us all a command to make disciples.  How are you doing?  Do you GO!  Or do you hesitate?  Do you look for opportunities to be a personal witness for Christ – or do you waver.

Maybe you’re worried that the person is going to be rude or not respond nicely.  Maybe you don’t know what to say.  Maybe you think it’s not the right time or place.

In short – to use Matthew’s definition – do you hesitate, do you waver, do you doubt?

Personally, I am very thankful for verse 17 of the Great Commission.  I don’t feel alone anymore when I doubt or wonder what I’m supposed to do.  Hesitation is a mechanism we use to stall until we have everything sorted out.

We need time to practice what we might say.  Then we wonder, will they like our church.  But guess what – It’s ok.  And that’s not me saying that.

The author of Jude’s epistle –the one some think was Jesus’ half-brother, says that other Christians are to “have mercy on those who doubt.”  – to those who hesitate and waver!

That is because having doubt is often a sign of discernment in our faith.  We are trying to work it all out.  This is especially common for those in their 20’s and 30’s.  It takes time to discover that some of those other earthy “truths” we believe just might be wrong.

Let me repeat what I said before – Doubt is not disbelief.  Some authors call doubt “a bridge from our faith to perfect faith.”[1]   When we have doubts, we need to remember to challenge the truth of our doubts…  think about that one.  We must challenge the truth or validity of our doubts.

Every week I stand up here and say, “Being a Christian is hard!”  I’m purposeful with that declaration because having doubts is part of the difficulty.  The primary reason for doubt is that we live in a world of limitations.  Right?  Scientist thinks we can live longer than 120 years and most of you don’t think the Sabbath is important.  But when I look in my bible I suspect there is a reason it is number four and is ninety-eight words long.  The ones we all try to keep, not to kill, commit adultery, or steal are only four or five words long.  And come later than keeping the Sabbath.  We hesitate and waver on if God means what he says.

Maybe it’s because we are bounded by our reality.  I mean, how can God possibly love us that much?  We don’t experience that much love from anyone or anything else in our lives.  How can God’s capacity for unbounded love for us be real?  How is that much love even possible?

We hesitate when we read verses that talk about that much love.   With all the other limitations on our lives, how we supposed to comprehend how God’s unlimited love working through us, and for us, and even in spite of us.  It’s mind-blowing.

It is especially hard when life is not going the way WE planned it to go.  When we have ailments or maladies or a death in the family – or even our own terminal diagnosis.   We begin to doubt!  We waver in our faith.  We hesitate in our love for Christ.  Not all of us – but most of us!

We are limited by not knowing the big picture. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to our children and to us forever…”  (Deuteronomy 29:29a)

Christ revealed many things to us.  He told us about the lifting of limitations upon us. That because he has ALL authority –we as his disciples can freely baptize and teach new disciples.

Because he sends us to ALL nations – all cultures – we know our mission field is everywhere. It is boundless.

Because he wants us to teach ALL the things that He has given to us – we know our lesson plan is forever full of new wisdom and hope for others in His glory

Because he promised to be with us always, ALL WAYS, so we know that we are not alone.   His presence and promises has no limitations

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7).  He is always right there – no limitations!

There were disciples of Christ who wondered, just like we do, what does it mean to follow him.  They hesitated, they wavered, they doubted.  They were not perfect even in the presence of Christ.  And we are a long way from being perfect.

John Wesley describes God’s Perfecting Grace as a life “habitually filled with the love of God and neighbor” and as “having the mind of Christ and walking as he walked.”[2]  Wow, that is a high but glorious bar to reach!

Maybe there are some of you here that are close to perfection –I know that I have a lifetime more of work to even get close.

In the meantime, Christ has lifted our limitations and has commanded us all to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

I hope all of you will TRY to do this always without hesitation, without waver, and without a doubt.  Many of us will falter because we are sinners.  But HE promised, surely, to be with us always, to the very end.

It is in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we give thanks and praise for this message today, and courage to make disciples of Christ to transform the world!

Amen

 

[1] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/7-ways-to-deal-with-doubt/

[2] http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/distinctive-wesleyan-emphases1

Go and Make Disciples…

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I have been thinking a lot this week about the Great Commission.  In Matthew 28 verses 18b-20, Jesus told us to:

 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

For many of us we struggle to understand how to get started.  This is because we have not been mentored.  Too often as Christians we find ourselves out in the community and we may invite someone to our church or to a gathering.  Hopefully the sermon that week was engaging.  Maybe the hymns were full of enthusiasm.  Perhaps they like what they see and decide to come back.  Now what?

Often discipleship it is dumped onto the Pastor to formulate a plan.  But in reality, these individuals are our responsibility.  We need to be invested in their growth and development in Christ.  If all we are doing is inviting – we are like the circus barkers trying to lure people into the side shows.  We all need to remember that it was “Us” that invited them into a Christian life.  There must be something compelling about our story if they agreed to come the first time.

Here is a short video of my thinking about all this…

Worshipping Unknown Gods

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How many of you would call yourself religious?  I I would suspect that many of you might think everybody should be religious?  This world would be a much better place if everyone would just get more religion.  Right?  I hear many people say that.

Here’s my question.  What do you mean by being religious?    Most of us use the term and assume it means to follow Christianity.  In fact, some folks agree and use that definition to call us a bunch of religious nuts.   I looked up the term “religious” in the Urban Dictionary – Have you ever heard of the Urban Dictionary?  It is an excellent source to see how the mainstream secular society defines things.

They define religions as Completing an action without really thinking it through. Just like how religious people ignore reality to follow a faith.  Ouch, see what I mean.  This morning when we read Paul’s sermon on Mars.   He is talking to all of us that say we are religious!

For those that would like to follow along, I will be reading from the Acts of the Apostles in Chapter 17.  Before we start, let me ask this, how many of you would like to have traveled with Paul?  Interesting. Have you ever read the book of Acts?  I’m not so sure I would have.  In this reading today, we are going to jump to verse 16.  Because in verse 1 to 16 you’ll discover that Paul didn’t randomly wind up in Athens – but he was chased out Thessalonica and then barely escaped Berea.

His companions, Simon and Timothy, were probably exhausted and said – hey Paul, here’s a great idea, why don’t you go on ahead to Athens – we’ll catch up with you.  So that’s Paul did.  He went on ahead to a place he’d never been.

Do any of you travel much?  How about outside about your area code?  What do you all do when you go to a new city.  Do you go sightseeing? Maybe check out the local museums or attractions?  When I was younger, I would travel just to go to amusements parks.  Like Six-Flags in Atlanta or Disney World.

Anyone know where the word amusement came from?  To “muse” is the root word and means to think about something.  Put the letter “a” in front of muse, “amuse,” and it means to not think.  Someone that amuses us allows us to “not think,” like a comedian or funny TV show.  The next time you go to Disney remember they are there to amuse you, so you don’t think about the price of those tickets – right?

Well – this is what Paul did – he went sightseeing, but he wasn’t much amused.  It’s said that the city of Athens at his time had 10,0000 people and over 30,000 gods they worshipped.  It’s said it was easier to find a god than a person.  In Paul’s time, Athens was the home of all Western Europe’s learning and philosophy.

This was a place where people went to muse – to think!  All the important muse’ were from Athens.  Plato, Aristotle, Socrates.  Certainly, this was a place that an important thinker like Paul wanted to visit.

Let’s begin in Verse 16 where Paul’s is wandering the streets waiting for Simon and Timothy to arrive.  Acts 17:16 “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.  

Right away we learn that this trip was not what Paul was hoping.  It says he was greatly distressed?   The translation for distressed does not do this verse justice but think I know what it means.

I have often traveled to places where I was overwhelmed by the debauchery I witnessed.  Places like San Francisco and people walking around naked.  Or in New York in the 90’s with all the porn movie houses right in Times Square.  You see, when you come from a small town like I did and are suddenly in the middle of something like that, you become distressed!

As Luke says. Paul was distressed!  So, Paul went next to find people he would be comfortable with – at the Synagogue.  Acts 17:17-18 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. “A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

We read here that Paul decided to preach the Good News to a group of people that had no clue what he was talking about.  Paul tried to reason with the Epicureans and the Stoics. Who were these people?   These were the same people that we have all around us today.

The Epicureans were what we now call secularist and atheist.  They didn’t believe in any one God.  They thought life should only be for their personal desires   Having a god would get in the way.  Some of you may have heard their famous mantra – “Eat, Drink, and be Merry. For tomorrow we die.”  Sadly, they live for nothing but pleasure.

The other group was the Stoics, and they were Pantheist.  They believed God is everywhere in all things.   “Nature is sacred, trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals.”[1]  They are like the original hippies in this country.  Peace man – Far out.  Groovy!  Ok, confession time, who here at one time said “Groovy”  or “Far out?”

I’m not sure if Paul impressed this audience or made them mad because the scripture next says they TOOK him to the innermost part of the city – to the Aeropagus.  This was a vast marketplace where food and trade were sold.  It was also where you found the legal courts, the theatres, the heralds, the debate societies; everything was here.

Acts 17:19-21  “Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?  I read this as both hostile and curious!

20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)”

Remember earlier, Paul was teaching the Gospel … we are all born sinners that Christ died on the cross for our sins,, and now all we must do is be faithful to him to have eternal life.  Now, suddenly Paul is standing in front of people who had no idea about this new God, let alone his son Jesus.   He was likely wondering how he could explain Christ if they don’t know how the story begins?  The story of creation and sin.  The story of Genesis 1-11.  I think Paul decided to change his tactics.  He chose to use their culture to explain.

Acts 17:22-23 “Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”

What just happened?  Paul decides not to tell the Good News. In fact – he is going to give them some bad news!  For those that worship many idols, he was about to explain  that they were all obsolete.  It is the “Unknown God” that deserves all the attention!

Acts 17:22-29 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

So right here Paul tells them that there is only one God.  One God that makes all other creations.

26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. Hmm, this sounds like a story from the Tower of Babel.  More Genesis.

The Greeks hearing Paul tell about this one God had never heard such a story.  They believed the man was created from the soil and when they died, the returned to the earth.  Sound familiar?  Who in our culture says we just rot and decay when we die? But now it gets exciting because Paul presses in on them…

27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

Paul is telling them – you all have 30,00 idols.  You have no clue who to worship.  But you all do know how it feels to worship blindly, not knowing which god to praise… You are like a blind person stumbling in the dark.   But the real God is standing right next to you “unknown.”  But it gets even better!

28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

See what Paul did right there.  He tapped into the local culture and quoted their poets to make his point.

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, just like your poets claim, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.”

Just imagine all the mouths open and jaws hitting the floor.  But Paul doesn’t care –he comes next delivers a final warning they need to hear…

Acts 17:30  “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  

What does repent mean? Repent – To change how you think, to take another path, to look at life differently.

31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Paul is telling them – look you better pay attention because the time is coming soon when you will be judged by this “unknown god.”  If you want proof – let me tell you more about his Son that rose from the dead!

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”   33 At that, Paul left the Council.  34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.”

Wow – that sure did not turn out like most Theologians and missiologist expected.  Did Paul preach the Gospel?  Did he tell the Aeropagus the Good News?   No – he didn’t.  Did he mention the Cross?  No!  Did he say Christ was the Son of God? No!  Did he mention salvation on the cross?  No!  Did he even pronounce the name Christ or Jesus – No!

Paul did what we all have to learn to do.  He adapted to the culture.  He didn’t race in with Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, when they don’t even know the Father!  How could this audience possibly understand the story of Christ when their god was Loki, or Ra, or Thor who was busy up there making thunderclouds.   No – Paul knew that he had to dial back his testimony to what little they could understand!

But Paul did tell them the truth about their idols.  Didn’t he! Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill was his lesson to the Athenians that they cannot be saved by worshiping random idols.  That the “Unknown God” was the only one true God – and he was getting ready to come back with a vengeance!

I’ve heard many pastors who preach on this scripture say it was Paul’s best Sermon.  I’m not so sure.  I think it was Paul just teaching us how to improvise and witness in a culture that does not know God.

Acts 17:30  “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”

I sincerely believe that every moment we spend with idols that distract us from God is time spent in ignorance.  I will close with last words from Jesus speaking in his Sermon on the Mount.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:21-23)

Perhaps we all need to take a survey of the idols in our lives, and our family’s lives.  We all have idols competing for our time.  The question is, do they serve us? Do they make our lives safer and allow us more time to worship the true God?

Or do we serve them?  These are the questions we should all ask God to help us discern.  Are these idols moving us away from our opportunity to be entirely with Jesus Christ?

Remember him? The one that came to in the flesh was beaten and tortured and died so that we may have eternal life.  Should we find the time to believe in him!

Amen

 

[1] Mikhail Gorbachev

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!