Numbers 11:18-23, 31-32 (NRSV)

I have wailed this year.

I have wanted to be in the church building. There is nothing like gathering for Sunday morning worship with other Christians. The singing and the fellowship are wonderful. Then the focusing on the Scripture for the day really helps.

Then I realize the Israelites wailed. Look what happened to them! What would it be like to wade through a stack of quail three feet high that goes on for 24 miles? For the Israelites who stayed in the wilderness, and not in the camp, were slain with a great plague. The trimming of Israel in the wilderness happened when each person had nearly 500 pounds of quail in their possession. If that is the result of wailing, then I do not want it!

I thank God for the opportunity this year has given us. How many more people have been able to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ because we have online worship, outside worship, and watch parties at our houses for the worship services?

God, you are wiser than we are. We have wailed against you this year. Forgive our bawling for how life was back in Egypt, pre-COVID-19 church life. Thank you for providing means for the Gospel to be heard. Trim the United Methodist Church so we can be a holy people, devoted to you. Trim me, a sinner of your own redeeming, so I may be the man you have created me to be. In the Name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

Are you APEST? Shepherd

Ephesians 4:1-16

We have heard about shepherds in the Bible. There are several things we know about shepherds and their sheep. The sheep knows the sound of the shepherd’s voice. The Lord is our shepherd. The shepherd protects the sheep from predators and dangerous land. We owe much to Jesus for the knowledge of how he is the good shepherd as John 10 records Jesus’ words.

Over time, Christians have grown to see shepherds described as another word. We call them pastors. We have grown to see the pastor as the one who does ministry for the church. Yes, as Elders and Local Pastors have been trained in theology and the practice of ministry, we do see them as the pastors of the church. We see the paid professionals as the ones who do ministry for the church. We see the paid professionals as the ones who comfort us in our mourning, visit us when we are in the hospital, and preaches every Sunday.

As we think about shepherds, we can discover that our church has people who live as pastors. Yes, our congregation has people who have the gift of shepherding. We have lay people who visit our home-bound members. We have men and women in our Sunday School who will listen when we are hurting. We have people who make sure we know we are loved within the congregation. In other words, we have people who are doing the ministry of a shepherd because they have the spiritual gift of being a shepherd.

The ministry that the shepherd does is increase the love capacity of this congregation. All this work is thanks to the Holy Spirit giving us this gift of shepherding. Through time other people have had this spiritual gift.

A. Peter was commissioned by Jesus to be a shepherd (John 21:15-17)

  1. Feed my lambs (21:15) – Jesus’ command to Peter
  2. Tend my sheep (21:16) – Jesus’ command to Peter
  3. Feed my sheep (21:17) – Jesus’ command to Peter
  4. Peter loved Jesus, so he feed Jesus’ lambs. Peter loved Jesus, so he took care of the sheep that were given to him. In other words, Peter made sure the Christians knew about Jesus. Peter tended the sheep by providing instruction about faith in Christ. Peter continued to feed the sheep by showing how to lay down his life as a follower of Jesus. All the while, Jesus was making sure Peter increased the love capacity of the believers.

B. Peter gave instructions for shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-5)

  1. Exercise oversight – as God would have you do it (5:2)
  2. Be an example to the flock – place others above self (5:3)
  3. Accept the authority of your elders – respect those who have faith in Christ
  4. Clothe yourselves with humility – remember, you are also following the chief shepherd – Jesus
  5. Peter’s instructions remind the leaders of the church, the shepherds, to increase the love capacity of the church. Without our ability to love one another, it is difficult to relate to Jesus. It is through Jesus’ death on the cross that we see the love Jesus has for us. Jesus gave up his life for us. As Jesus’ people who have the gift of shepherding, we love all of those who come into the flock. When we who are shepherds do this work, then the new disciples know they are not alone in this world. Yet, the shepherds are not the only leaders of the church. Shepherds are important. Shepherds get to work with other leaders so we can build up the body of Christ.

C. Shepherds work alongside the other gifts

  1. Apostles are sent to an area so that God’s ways can be known
  2. Prophets remind Jesus’ people to live God’s ways
  3. Evangelists recruit people to Jesus
  4. Shepherds guide new Jesus’ people to food (the Gospel), shelter (being part of a congregation), and the basics of the faith
  5. Teachers train Jesus’ people to live holy lives and how to live with the gifts of the Holy Spirit
  6. Remember the early church and the Chinese church of this past century? They used the gifts of the Spirit to build up the body of Christ. These five gifts enable the church to be the church. If we forget the apostles, the prophets, and the evangelists, then we will not be a church for long. Just as Jesus welcomed sheep from other folds, so do we. In looking at shepherds, we discover that they can have upwards of 1000 sheep in their care! The more sheep a shepherd has, the more love the shepherd can give. We cannot limit ourselves to only the sheep that we have now in our flock. Shepherds work to increase the love capacity of the congregation. The more love we give, the more sheep we can have in our flock.

Our culture as a church can be one of cooperation among the leaders. Our culture as a church can be one of bringing in more disciples. The more Jesus’ people we have in our flock means the more love we can give. The more people we can love, we might find ourselves growing to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ!

Knowing that God has blessed First United Methodist Church with spiritual gifts, it would be good for us to know our spiritual gifts. Many of us received an email from the church with a link to a “Spiritual Gift Inventory.” Others have received a paper copy of a “Spiritual Gift Inventory.” Take some time today to pray and to complete the inventory. Once you complete the inventory, let me know what your gift is. It will be good for us to work together in the gifts God has given to us.

As we continue to be First United Methodist, we want our leaders to be living in the gifts God has given us. These gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher are given so we do the work of ministry. All of us can love as Jesus loved us. Let us do this work together.

Are you APEST? Evangelist

Ephesians 4:1-16

There are some commercials that get on our nerves. Many people like their cars and trucks. But, when that one car dealership commercial comes on the television, it gets on our nerves. They have that saying, “For the people.” Then there is the tone and pitch of their voice. We remember the car dealership. But we hate the commercial.

If you have ever thought that is what is an evangelist does, then you have not understood what an evangelist does. We are glad for the apostles who are sent to make sure the Good News of Jesus Christ is available in an area. We are glad that a prophet has told us how to live the ways of God. What is an evangelist?

As the word “evangelist” has been used in the past ten or twenty years, we think it is someone who supports a particular political party. That description is not even close to how Ephesians 4 and the rest of the New Testament describe an evangelist. Knowing that an evangelist is not an obnoxious car dealership, or a supporter of a political party helps us to know what an evangelist is not.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we realize we need not be obnoxious or support a particular political party. We are leading a life worthy of the calling by which we have been called. We are living in the humility and gentleness that allows us to have patience with one another as bear with one another in love. We are maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Just as God’s ways are higher than our ways, our living the ways of God allow us to give hope to this world.

A. Spirit of the Evangelist

  1. Philip in Samaria (Acts 8:4-13)
    a. Proclaimed the Messiah
    b. Performed signs – healing people and casting out unclean spirits
    c. Simon the magician believed and was baptized, amazed at the miracles
    d. Peter & John came along and shepherded the people of Samaria
    e. Correcting Simon when he tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit
  2. Philip on the road between Jerusalem and Gaza (Acts 8:26-40)
    a. The Lord sent him to the wilderness road
    b. Proclaimed to the Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus
    c. The Ethiopian eunuch believed and was baptized by Philip
  3. The spirit of the evangelist works so people know Jesus Christ. Do we have any evangelists among us? Is there a spirit of evangelism with us? We pray that God provides us with people like Philip. We want people ready to speak about Jesus to strangers. We want people who show the power of God through miracles. When people get baptized and become disciples, we want the new disciples to be handed over to shepherds and teachers.

B. Promoting the body’s growth

  1. We have found how attractive, good, and beneficial faith in Christ is
  2. Promote – able and willing to speak about Jesus
  3. In elementary school I remember going around Harlem Springs selling whatever the school fundraiser was. A couple of times during those years I was the top salesperson. I think I even sold some gift wrap to a classmate’s grandmother! I wanted to sell these items because I knew it would benefit the school. Now, we are about promoting Jesus. Jesus has been good to us. He loves us when others give up on us – that is attractive. Jesus tolerates us and helps us to live holy lives – that is good. Jesus enables us to work with other Christians – that is beneficial. The evangelist honestly knows Jesus, believes in Jesus, and is glad to talk about Jesus. In other words, the evangelist recruit persons to become disciples of Jesus

C. Creating a culture for growing disciples

  1. As the apostle tells why God sent them to an area,
  2. And as the prophet keeps drawing attention to God’s ways,
  3. The evangelist speaks of how God loves us, even when we fail him
  4. Then the evangelist helps the newborn disciple
    a. Meet the shepherd – reinforces the love of God by caring for the newborn disciple
    b. Meet the teacher – clarifies how disciples live holy lives
  5. It is not an impersonal life like adding the next piece to the widget and sending it down the line. Being a disciple of Jesus is about having a loving relationship with God and having a loving relationship with other disciples. Growing mature Jesus people does not happen overnight. The truth of how Jesus works in our lives is what the evangelist talks about and the rest of the church lives.

Do we have any evangelists among us? Do we have the spirit of evangelism in us? If we do not, then let us pray for people to bold in telling strangers, family, and friends about Jesus. We have found how attractive, good, and beneficial faith in Christ is. May God provide us with willing disciples who can promote the good news of Jesus Christ.

We are not looking for people to be obnoxious about the faith, so our community is turned off to Jesus. We are not looking to support a particular political party so as to miss the good news of Jesus Christ. We want and need leaders in the church who can work with the other spiritual gifts. We want and need leaders who can be used by God to grow mature, holy disciples of Jesus Christ. Will you be one of those leaders, an evangelist, who tells others about Jesus?

Are you APEST? The Prophet

Ephesians 4:1-16

In 1949, the Cultural Revolution happened in China when Mao Tse-Tung led the Communist takeover of China. The communist tried to obliterate all religions in China. This purge affected the Christians. Church buildings were shut down. Pastors and seminary leaders were jailed or executed. Foreign missionaries were banned from entering the country. Christians were not allowed to have public worship of any kind. The Church went underground.

Yet, an amazing thing happened to the church in China. In 1949 there were roughly 2 million Christians in China. Without the trained and ordained leaders, the Chinese church did not dissolve. By 2016, Alan Hirsch relates that when he was finishing the second edition of The Forgotten Ways, there are estimates of 120 million Christians being in China! How did the Chinese Christians grow to have 120 million disciples in 67 years?

The simple answer is that they used the gifts Jesus had given them. The same gifts that the early church had and the same gifts we can live with are the gifts Jesus gave to the Chinese Christians. Some of them were apostles, some were prophets, some were evangelists, some were shepherds/pastors, and some were teachers. The Chinese Christians are continuing to make disciples today.

Just as the Chinese Christians discovered how to grow disciples, we too, can discover how to grow disciples. For when we grow disciples, we promote the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

A. Foundation of the church – apostles and prophets (2:20)

  1. Jesus is our cornerstone
  2. Apostle – the sent one who ensure God’s work is being done in an area
  3. Prophet – tells the truth of how life will be when we live in Christ together
  4. We are with the saints (holy ones) & members of the household of God
  5. Apostles & Prophets equip the saints for the work of ministry
  6. Are you a prophet? Do we have the spirit of prophecy in our midst? When we have the spirit of prophecy working in our midst, then we get to be called to the ways of God. Sometimes we say, “We have never done it that way before.” Sometimes when we say that statement, we are saying we have never done it God’s way before. That is when the spirit of prophecy calls us to live God’s way. We are not the only ones to be called to live God’s way.

B. Examples in the early church

  1. Agabus (Acts 11:27-30 & 21:10-14)
    a. 11:27-30 – predicted a famine in the world & this led to Paul & Barnabas collecting relief for the Christians in Jerusalem
    b. 21:10-14 – foretold Paul’s arrest and being handed over to the Gentiles
    c. Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:9) 4 unmarried daughters prophesied in Caesarea
  2. Anna and Simeon (Luke 2) – when Jesus was presented in the Temple
    a. Simeon – said that he saw the Lord’s salvation
    b. Anna – she told all who were looking for the redemption of Israel that they could find it in Jesus
  3. Yes, prophets can be men and women. These people are willing to speak about God’s ways. The prophets remind us of the redemption we have in Jesus. The prophets tell us to keep after God’s ways, no matter how tough life gets. Are you a prophet? Is there a spirit of prophecy in our midst? If there is not, then let us pray that Jesus will provide us this gift of the Holy Spirit. We can find out about prophecy as we look at Jesus’ life.

C. Example from Jesus’ life

  1. Fulfilled prophecy – from Isaiah, the Psalms, and Moses
  2. Was prophetic – told his disciples three times that he would suffer, die, and rise again from the dead
  3. Jesus even told us that He will be coming back again!
  4. Along the way, Jesus rebuked his disciples, corrected the religious leaders, and set people free from sin and illnesses. This life is evident in those with the spirit of prophecy among us. We will be gently rebuked if we are doing what is against the ways of God. We will be corrected when we are interpreting the Scriptures incorrectly. We will be able to point people away from sin and the captivity of illnesses when we have the spirit of prophecy among us.

D. Caution!

  1. There is a way to be with the spirit of prophecy
    a. Revelation – from God through the prophet
    b. Interpretation – the congregation interprets what God is saying to them
    c. Application – the congregation lives the ways of God as revealed by the prophet
  2. We can know that the prophets are prophets when they pass the test
  3. If prophets are taking advantage for their own benefit, then they misunderstand the nature of the spirit of prophecy
  4. Are you a prophet? Do we have the gift of prophecy among us? Then let us make sure that the prophet is revealing to us God’s way of living. When we know it is God’s way, then all of us get to understand what God is telling us and we get to live God’s way.

Yes, we are wondering how did the Chinese church grow to be over 120 million people in the past 71 years? They did it is God’s way. They did not need the building to make disciples. They were filled with the gifts of the Spirit and they have a network of Christians throughout the nation. The Chinese Christians focus on being built together as the Body of Christ where they are.

They know they are sent (apostles) to inform the world of God’s love and God’s redemption through Jesus Christ. They are continually called back to God’s ways by the spirit of prophecy given to them by Jesus. It is upon this foundation that their evangelist, shepherds, and teachers can continue the work of producing mature disciples.

During this pandemic, we have not been inside the building. It is alright that we are not in the building. We can grow disciples without being in the building. We can grow disciples once we discover the forgotten ways of Jesus.

Will you pray with me?

Jesus, we are your disciples. Send the spirit of prophecy among us so that we can work properly, promoting the growth of your body, here in Pennington Gap. We want our lives to be used in bringing glory to the name of God. Rebuke us, correct us, and set us free from sin and illness so we may grow more disciples. May your Holy Spirit move in us so that our community may know God. Amen.

A Recent Devotion

Matthew 16:21-28 (NRSV)
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

At one time and for all people, Jesus will come with the angels. We realize to see Jesus; we place ourselves as followers of Jesus. Jesus underwent great suffering. We can undergo great suffering. Jesus was killed. We can be killed.

We do not like that last part. We do not want to be killed. Are we willing to lose our life? Or do we prefer to keep the life we have? Which way do we live as a follower of Jesus, a disciple? We like our life and we like to keep it. Therefore, we do not live as Christ’s followers. The divine things we could be setting our minds on are blocked by our keeping our own life.

Jesus, we have been stumbling blocks to you. We like our life just the way it is. We have been unwilling to suffer and be killed. Then we wonder why our nation is in the condition it is in. May your Spirit guide us as we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow you. Help us to lose our life so we and our nation will be ready when you and the angels come to earth. Amen.

******* I wrote this devotion for the Holston Conference’s Devotion. This devotion was made public by the Holston Conference on August 23rd.

Are you APEST? The Apostle

Ephesians 4:1-16

How has the church grown over the last 2000 years? What started with 120 disciples gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem now has, as the Pew Research Center estimates in 2015, 2.27 billion disciples. We know the Holy Spirit provides the growth for the church. But how does the Holy Spirit of God grow the number of disciples?

Jesus’ people have been growing in numbers because faith in Christ is attractive, good, and beneficial to this life. To know that God desires to be with his creation means we will want to be with God through faith in Christ. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, yet because we are forgiven through the blood of Jesus, we are remade into God’s image. As we believe in Jesus, we have the benefit of the Holy Spirit helping us to live, despite the suffering and problems of this world.

As we are in this church, we have also found how attractive, good, and beneficial faith in Christ is. We also know that despite the growing number of disciples of Christ in this world, our church is not seeing the same growth. I cannot explain the ways in which we have been declining. We know that we are not the same congregation we were 15 years ago. I can point us to the Holy Spirit and how He has helped the number of disciples to grow in the world.

In his book, The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch, reflects on questions raised at a missional church conference. On page 4, the speaker asked three questions. First, how many Christians were in the world in 100 A.D.? Second, he asked how many Christians were in the world in 310 A.D.? Hirsch records the answer to the first question as being no fewer than 25,000. Hirsch then answers the second question by saying 20,000,000 Christians. Then comes the third question, how did the number of Christian disciples grow in a 210-year time span, within the Roman Empire?

I believe the answer to that third question can help us grow disciples here at First United Methodist Church. For the same way of being a disciple then is the same way we can be a disciple of Jesus today. The Spirit of Christ fills us so that we can be disciples and so we can grow disciples. We grow disciples by living with the gifts the Holy Spirit has given us.

A. Live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called (4:1-6)
a. We live with humility & gentleness
i. Patience, bearing with one another in love
ii. Do all to have the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
b. One Spirit = One Lord = One God
c. Paul is reminding the church in Ephesus to be like Christ. When we read Ephesians, we are being reminded to be like Christ. We bear with one another in love because sometimes, we are unbearable. We strive to be united, because sometimes we are untied. We work for peace, because sometimes we leave each other in pieces. We are disciples of Jesus Christ. Let us live like disciples of Jesus Christ.

B. Christ has given us gifts (4:7-10)
a. Christ has given us grace – unmerited reward
b. Christ has given gifts to his people
c. We are Jesus’ people. We have what Christ has given us. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to the believers. This Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. What the Spirit has given to one set of believers is the same gifts He gives to us.

C. What are the gifts? Are you APEST? (4:11-16)
a. Apostle – literally, the sent one who makes sure God’s work is being done in an area
b. Prophet – tells the truth of how life will be when we live in Christ together
c. Evangelist – reminds the world of the love of Christ and asks people to come to Jesus
d. Shepherds/Pastor – works so that young Christians grow up to be like Jesus
e. Teacher – ensures Christians know how to live in a world that does not like or want Jesus
f. Are you APEST? Are you working to build up the body of Christ? Or have we fallen prey to the winds of doctrinal change sweeping through this American land? If we are disciples of Jesus Christ, then we work together, properly, so the body of Christ is built up in love. If we are not loving one another, then we are tearing down what Christ has built here at First UMC.

D. The Apostle
a. Sent one – by God (confirmed by their life and the witness of others)
b. The Twelve
c. Paul
d. Some say we have not had any since Paul
e. Yet, God gives gifts to his church. When God gives gifts to the church, the church grows. The only way to stop the church from growing is to deny that God sent the gifts. The Holy Spirit fills a person, the apostle, so the apostle knows they are sent to make sure the Christian faith is deposited in an area. This apostle ensures the Christian faith is just like the Christian faith in every part of the world.

Are you APEST? Are you an apostle? If we do not have an apostle among us, then we ask God to make that gift available to this congregation. For us to continue to live as disciples of Jesus Christ, then we need all five gifts to be evident in our midst. We need an apostle to take us where God is sending us. We need a prophet to constantly remind us to be faithful to Jesus. We need an evangelist to carry people to a relationship with Jesus Christ. We need a shepherd/pastor to assist us in being disciples of Jesus. We need a teacher to help us understand God.

We remember that God gave growth to the church between 100 and 310 AD. We want that same growth in our days. Therefore, we decide to live as Christ’s disciples.

God, send us the gift of an apostle. Help us to have the unity of the Spirit. Build up this part of the body of Christ so we can be built up in love. In the Name of Jesus, I pray. Amen,

To God Be the Glory

Romans 15:1-6

She was only six weeks old when she became permanently blind. Yet, the Encyclopedia Britannica figures that Fanny Crosby wrote between 5,500 and 9,000 hymns! I do not think these numbers include the poetry that she wrote. Fanny Crosby was born in 1820 and lived until 1915, being 94 at her death.

Fanny Crosby did marry. Her husband, Alexander van Alstine, did transcribe her poetry and hymns for her. Fanny was a remarkable woman. United Methodist Communications and the General Commission on Archives and History record that it was in 1850 that she was converted to Christ at Chelsea Methodist Episcopal Church in New York. She then hoped to win 1,000,000 individuals to Christ with the hymns God gave her to write!

As we can tell, Fanny did not do all she did on her own. Jesus was with her during her lifetime. Her husband and many other people were alongside her during her life. Blindness was not a weakness for Fanny Crosby. The gifts God gave to her were such that the Body of Christ, the Church, was built up. Maybe that can be our goal as we live as Christians.

A. We please other Christians to build up the church (15:1-2)

  1. People will stumble in their faith
  2. We cannot be known as the church that shoots its wounded
  3. We can be known as the church that helps those who have stumbled in their walk with Jesus
  4. When we please our neighbors, other Christians, we build up the church
  5. To God be the glory! Why would we want to please other Christians?

B. Christ did not please himself (15:3)

  1. Jesus could have kept out of the public eye
  2. Jesus did not do such
  3. Jesus healed, taught, and raised the dead – pleasing other people
  4. Then on the cross, Jesus took insults aimed at us
  5. To God be the glory!

C. We can have hope (15:4)

  1. There is steadfastness in the Scriptures – God’s steadfastness!
  2. There is encouragement in the Scriptures – by faith men and women served God
  3. God worked through the events of the Scriptures to bring hope to generations past
  4. To God be the glory!

D. The purpose of our life together is to worship God, together (15:5-6)

  1. What is Paul writing about in Romans? Jews and Gentiles being in Christ
  2. God wants us to be in Christ with every Christian
    a. In this church
    b. With the churches in our community
    c. With Christians around the world
  3. Christ, after all, is our head
  4. We get to glorify, worship, God together
  5. Otherwise, we may only be glorifying ourselves
  6. To God be the glory!

What does the hymn say? Fanny wrote: “So loved he the world that he gave us his Son.” That first stanza continues with, “opened the life gate that all may go in.” even the refrain contains this direction: “let the people rejoice!”

The second stanza contains the truth that every believer receives the promise of God. Each of us as individuals get to believe in God through Jesus. This central stanza means we all can respond to the grace of God and be pardoned. That is not the end of the story.

We realize in the final stanza “great things he hath taught us.” Which leads us to expect as Christians that our rejoicing through Jesus has “but pure, higher, and greater will be our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.” We get to have joy because of our faith in Jesus. We have hope because we believe in Jesus.

So, what do we do? We help one another. We who are strong in faith help those who are not as strong in faith. Together we give glory to God!

If you have harmed another Christian in this church, then you go, today, and make things right those you have harmed. If you have done nothing with a Christian from this church who has fallen away from this church, then go to that person, today, and see what you can do to strengthen their faith.

It is through our living in harmony with other Christians from this church that we can glorify God with one voice. We are united together because of Jesus Christ. As we help each other be united in Christ, then we can have one voice. It is then that we bring glory to God. Until First United Methodist has one voice, we cannot bring glory to God.

Joy to the World

Psalm 98

Do you remember what I asked you to do this past week? I remember! I have been praying that I will meet three people in Lee County who are not Christians. Now, this prayer is not I meet members of our congregation. We will meet each other and will find encouragement from each other for our faith in Jesus.

I am praying that I meet three people in Lee County so they can know Jesus and the joy he brings to us. If you started to pray for three people and one of them has talked to you about Jesus this week, then praise the Lord! We want our family, friends, and neighbors to know the joy that the Lord brings to us.

We sing “Joy to the World” because the Lord has done marvelous things. We sing “Joy to the World” because we know Jesus is coming again. We sing “Joy to the World” because we want our family, friends, and neighbors to know that there will be joy when Jesus comes back.

We know about this joy because of what Jesus did when he was on earth the first time. The death of Jesus was not a defeat. It was a victory for all humanity. We get to be with God because Jesus died and rose from the grave. This victory is finalized when Jesus returns.

A. What has the Lord done? (98:1-3)
a. He has victory – over all who oppose him & all who ignore him
b. The nations of the world will know this
i. Stanza 1 – earth will receive her king
ii. Stanza 3 – “No more let sins and sorrows grow”
c. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to his people
d. Go ahead, praise the Lord! We find ourselves singing “Joy to the World” during Advent and Christmas. However, from what I can understand about Isaac Watts, this hymn was not meant to celebrate Jesus’ birth. There is truth in having joy at Christ’s birth. When we stop to consider how God has victory, we realize it is not only in the Christ’s birth that we find the Lord winning. When we take a moment to ponder the fact that wickedness is still happening in our world, we realize there is a victory to come.

B. What are we to do? (98:4-6)
a. Make a joyful noise!
b. Sing our praises to the Lord with musical instruments accompanying us
c. Go ahead, praise the Lord! There is joy in you because of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. Our King is coming, we can be joyful. Notice I did not say “we can be happy.” Being happy is a feeling. We know that feelings come and go. Joy is in our memory from our first believing in Jesus. Joy is in our hearts because we know we are loved by God. Joy bubbles up in us and stays with us no matter what we are going through. Joy points us to the truth that is confirmed in us by the Holy Spirit as we believe in Jesus Christ. Are we the only part of Creation to experience this joy?

C. The rest of Creation comes together for joy! (98:7-8)
a. Even the sea – the ancient symbol of chaos
b. All the sea creatures
c. The world/land – yes, the ground we walk on
d. All that live on the land
e. I cannot wait to see the floods clap their hands and the hills sing for joy
f. Go ahead, praise the Lord! Romans 8 tells us that the whole of Creation is groaning until it obtains “the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” This is the hope we have in Jesus and his return. Our hope is for the redemption of our bodies and the redemption of Creation. How will we know that our hope has been fulfilled? Why will our joy be lifted to the Lord?

D. The Lord is coming and will be with us! (98:9)
a. Jesus will be here on earth, with us!
b. What does that mean?
i. Judge the earth – the one who can redeem us is the only one who can judge us
ii. Judge with righteousness – Make sure relationships have been fulfilled
iii. Judge with equity – only the one who knows our hearts can make sure we get what we deserve – he knows whether we believe that He is the Son of God
c. Go ahead, praise the Lord! We will be able to see and be with Jesus. We make our relationships right with other church members, with our family, and with our former friends. For every foul word and misspoken word, we get things right with all our relations. God’s righteousness is such that he makes everything right in our relationship to him. The nations get to prove this fact. We get to prove this fact with one another.

Yes, we sing “Joy to the World” at Advent and Christmas. It points to so much more than Jesus’ birth. We have not known Jesus’ presence like the early disciples did. We can still have joy. The Lord Jesus came the first time to let us know how God is redeeming the world.

Jesus is coming to earth the second time to judge us. The question will be, have we turned to the Savior? If we have turned to Jesus, then the righteous thing to do is for Jesus to welcome us to himself. If we have not turned to Jesus, then the righteous thing for Jesus to do is turn us away. There is joy for the world in knowing that Jesus wants to be with us.

Go ahead, praise the Lord! When you praise Jesus, make sure you are praying for three people to know Jesus. When you praise Jesus, make sure you are finding the words to say to point three people to Jesus. When you praise Jesus, make sure your joy includes getting things right with the people in your life.

May the joy that Jesus gives us be heard in all we say and do as Christians.
May the joy that Jesus gives us be heard at Advent, at Christmas, and even this week. Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

“And Can It Be”

Acts 16:25-34

O brother! I can imagine that John and Charles Wesley had quite a life together. They were raised by Christian parents. They studied together at Oxford. They even went on a mission trip together to Savannah, Georgia. Then in May of 1738, both had the Spirit of God move in their hearts. From that time in 1738, they knew they were Christians.

Yes, we heard that correctly. Even though they were raised in a Christian home, even the home of an Anglican priest, they did not have faith in Christ. They went through all the requirements of being a Christian. Or at least they went through the steps recognized by the Church of England to be called, “Christian.” Both John and Charles were ordained priest in the Church of England!

Through encouragement from their Moravian friends, Charles was able to pray for and receive an assurance of belief. The Moravians thought that a Christian could know that the person had faith in Christ. On May 21, 1738, Charles Wesley had a “strange palpitation of heart” that was for him that assurance. Yes, Charles had faith in Christ.

Another story that describes becoming a believer in God through Christ is Acts 16:25-34. Here we find Paul and Silas in prison. They had prayed for a slave girl to be delivered from a spirit of divination. In the Name of Jesus Christ, the spirit came out of the slave girl. Being a slave meant the girl had masters, or owners. They did not like what Paul had done. The owners of the slave girl whipped up the crowd and had Paul and Silas thrown in prison. That is where we find Paul and Silas.

A. Being broke out of prison (16:25-26)

  1. Paul and Silas are praying and singing to God!
  2. An earthquake so violent that it shook the prison’s foundation happened
  3. The doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were unfastened!
  4. Over the years, I have read this passage and had thought it was only Paul and Silas’ chains that were unfastened. It was all the prisoners in the prison who had their chains unfastened! Isn’t that what Jesus does for everyone? Our chains are broken because Jesus broke the power of sin in our lives. We who are Christians can sing praise to God because of this truth. We also pray for ourselves so we may know this truth. Then, we pray for those who have not yet believed in Jesus.

B. It was a desperate time for the jailor (16:27-30)

  1. The jailor thought all the prisoners had escaped
  2. To keep the jailor from killing himself on his own sword, Paul loudly shouted to the jailor that the prisoners were still there
  3. After getting to Paul and Silas, the jailor asked what he must to do be saved
  4. Does it have to be a desperate time for us to believe in Jesus? In this case, it was a desperate time. When our world is shaken, we get to discover what we must do to be saved. Paul and Silas were prepared to answer the jailor’s question.

C. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (16:31-35)

  1. This is the word of the Lord
    a. Turn to the Lord and be saved (Isaiah 45:22)
    b. Whoever believes has eternal life (John 6:45)
    c. “Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts” – 1 John 5:10
  2. The jailor took Paul & Silas to care for their wounds
  3. The jailor and his entire family were baptized!
  4. The jailor fed Paul & Silas in his house, & all in his household rejoiced that the jailor had become a believer in God
  5. There are people prepared to help you become a believer. We Christians are those people. We believe in Jesus Christ and we want you to know about Jesus! We are praying for you to believe and be saved. We want your household to be baptized in the Name of Jesus.

I am indebted to Richard P. Heitzenrater’s The Elusive Mr. Wesley, Volume 2 [(Abingdon Press, Nashville’ 1984), p. 63] which has Charles Wesley’s journal entry for May 21, 1738 . We learn more about Charles’ “strange palpitation of heart” in that entry. We also learn about the Moravians’ influence and guidance for Charles when he has the assurance of faith.

There were people around Charles who were prepared to help him believe in God. We also have had people who helped us to believe in God. Now, it is our time to help our friends and neighbors to believe in God. It is not the programs that we do that causes people to believe in God. It is not a visit from the pastor that causes people to believe. It is an invitation from you that helps your family, friends, and neighbors to believe in Jesus Christ.

For us to be ready to invite our family, friends, and neighbors to believe in Jesus Christ, we are going to pray for three people by name. Get a piece of paper and write down three people you know who do not believe yet. It could be a family member. It could be a friend. It could be a neighbor. For whom will you pray?

We pray that we would have the words to say. We pray that they would believe. We pray that these people would gain an interest in the Savior’s blood.

“It is Well with My Soul”

Psalm 46:1-3

On his eighth birthday, he was handcuffed and taken to the child and adolescent psychiatric ward. The medicine did not seem to be helping keep his moods stabilized. He had caused a scene at his elementary school. It was not a good time.

I remember that day. The night was not restful. As a matter of fact, it is one of the few nights in my life where I woke up screaming and soaked in sweat. And for the next twelve years, our son spent about half of his life in and out of psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric residential treatment facilities. My wife and I tried every therapy and sought out every therapist and psychiatrist to get our son the treatment he needed. We prayed for our son to have peace.

All the while Maria and I have been pastoring churches. All the while Maria and I have been trusting the Lord to get us through it all. We can say that God is our refuge and strength. We can say that God is a very present help in trouble.

When I was thinking of hymns to express our faith, this hymn is one that comes to mind. When Laura mentioned this hymn is one hymn that 1st UMC is familiar with, it was confirmation that we all need a reminder that God is with us.

A. God is our refuge and strength (46:1)

  1. All life begins with God
  2. To live our lives, we discover God is our refuge
  3. To get through life, we discover God is our strength
  4. God has proved himself over and over
  5. It is well with my soul. Why? Because God has proven to me that he is my refuge and strength. God can be your refuge. God can be your strength. I hope God is proving to you that he is with you during trouble.

B. We will not fear, though the earth should change (46:2-3)

  1. Fear can grip us, quite firmly
  2. Because God is a well-proved help, we need not fear
  3. The earth change? Still no fear!
  4. The mountains shake in the heart of the sea? Still no fear!
    a. The waters roar and foam
    b. The mountains tremble
    c. Ancient view that the mountains kept the waters of chaos (below) at bay and kept the waters from above (the sky) from falling
  5. It is well with my soul. Why? Because God has proven to me that he is my refuge and strength. Riots, financial hardships, and COVID-19 have shaken our world. But we need not fear. God is with us.

C. The Spafford Story

  1. Horatio G. Spafford – lawyer, Christian, SS teacher, real estate investor
  2. Anna Lawson Spafford – wife, Christian, mother (14 yrs. younger than Horatio)
  3. October 8, 1871 – Great Chicago fire destroyed Spafford’s law office and much of his real estate investment
  4. Financial Panic of 1873 – devastated Horatio’s investments
  5. Sailing to Europe on the SS Ville de Havre – to get away and rest
    a. Horatio must stay behind because of a business deal
    b. November 22, 1873 – in the North Atlantic
    i. Struck by the Loch Earn
    ii. Anna is hit by floating debris, but survives
    iii. Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie perish
    iv. On December 1st, Horatio receives a telegram from Anna: “Saved alone what shall I do”
    v. Around December 11th, Horatio sails over the spot in the North Atlantic where his daughters perished
  6. Wrote – “It is well” on that date
  7. Horatio & Anna have three more children, a son & 2 daughters
    a. Their four-year old son, Horatio Goertner Spafford, died on February 11, 1880
  8. In August 1881, the Spafford’s move to Jerusalem and start the American Colony
    a. One work they did was help children of all religions around Jerusalem
    b. The “American Colony Hotel” still operates in Jerusalem
  9. It is well with my soul. Why? Because God has proven to me that he is my refuge and strength. Yes, Horatio had every reason to fear. But he kept on believing in God. It took the strength of God to live in their grief. It was the refuge that God provided that allow Horatio to continue living.

What about us, is it well with our souls? We have all faced troubles. Sometimes, we may have blamed God for our troubles. Other times, we may blame other people for our troubles. Yet, the troubles still happen.

We can notice that God has been with us through many troubles. That is the way God is. God strengthens us. God is proven to help us in our troubles.

Will you trust God to give you strength? Will we seek refuge with God? Can we prove that God is our help? I know God is my help. I seek refuge with God. God has strengthened me. What say you?