Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reviving a Dying Church

Because of the unexpected passing of their pastor, I am now ministering again at Naylor United Methodist Church (UMC) in Naylor, Georgia, at least temporarily until the Bishop and the District decide what they want to do with this congregation.  Even though I am no longer affiliated with the Methodist Church because of administrative and some doctrinal issues, I volunteered to fill in because this is a church I dearly love -- people I consider some of my best and closest friends.

I knew the church had declined in recent years through death and through membership transfers, but it was hard to truly grasp the magnitude of that decline until I walked through the doors on my first Sunday back in the pulpit.  While Naylor Methodist Church had always been a small congregation, averaging only 8-15 in worship each Sunday, their regular worship attendees had now fallen to just four, with two of the four over 75 years of age and the other couple the children of one the church matriarch.

There are many definitions of a declining or dying church.  Naylor UMC exceeds these definitions.  I left that first Sunday with a heavy heart.  What can be done to save this congregation?  To save this church?

Nothing breaks my heart more than to see a church slowly decay and die -- to see the doors of a church shuttered, never to open any more.  I have seen this time and time again in our area as smaller congregations finally gave up and just passed away. 

When I left the church that morning, I couldn’t help but think about the Christian witness of that church in the Naylor community over the years.  That church was founded in the late 1800s, and for over 125 years, this church has represented and presented Christ to that community.  Those empty pews had once been filled with vibrant worshipers.  That altar and chancel rail had once been filled with lives being transformed and hearts being changed, as repentant sinners came to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior and faithful saints cried out to God for help in their circumstances.  This church had given Bibles out to every home in Naylor.  They had passed out water to strangers on hot days, allowed homeless travelers to spend the night in the sanctuary, and ministered to friend and family and stranger alike.  Closing these doors forever is just not something I am comfortable with.

What can be done to revive a dying church in a rural community of 500 people?  What can be done to make this church a light for Christ again in Naylor, Georgia?  I honestly don’t know.

But, I believe in a God who has the power to do the impossible.  I believe in a God who can transform the hardest heart and heal the sickest sinner.  Who can raise the dead to life, and who can raise churches as sacrifices of praise to Him, as well.

In near-by Valdosta, about 9 miles away from Naylor, there are several large congregations of various denominations, congregations with over 1,000 members on the rolls and multiple services.  One idea I had was to put out a call for Christian missionaries who were willing to leave these large congregations -- who find themselves just a face in a crowd on Sunday mornings -- and ask them to consider coming to Naylor UMC where their gifts and talents could be used to revive a dying congregation, to build a new church from the ashes of the old.  One problem we have at Naylor UMC is that we just don’t have the people to do the ministry of the church, and if we can get more people, then the church can begin to heal and to expand and to grow.  If we can get a committed group of believers to bring their gifts and talents from their large congregations to put them to work in our church, I believe this would help this little church start to grow.  A new influx of energy, gifts, talents, and people can only help this congregation.

Can Naylor UMC be revived?  Does God want this church to be revived?  I don’t know.  But we’re going to try.  And I’ll let you know how it progresses.

If anyone has any ideas or suggestions on what we might do to revive this church, please comment below or send me an email.

Pastor Greg

Monday, March 19, 2018

55 Maxims for Christian Living

[Borrowed from Reddit Christianity]
"Fr. Thomas Hopko was an Orthodox priest and prolific teacher, speaker, and writer. He served as the dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary before his retirement."
This is his list of "55 Maxims for Christian Living." "I think these suggestions are useful for everyone. Even if you aren't a Christian or are a Christian for which some of these don't make sense, I think we can all find ways in this list where we could be better."
  1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  2. Pray as you can, not as you think you must.
  3. Have a keepable rule of prayer done by discipline.
  4. Say the Lord's Prayer several times each day.
  5. Repeat a short prayer when your mind is not occupied.
  6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
  7. Eat good foods in moderation and fast on fasting days.
  8. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  9. Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day.
  10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
  11. Go to liturgical services regularly.
  12. Go to confession and holy communion regularly.
  13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings.
  14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings to a trusted person regularly.
  15. Read the scriptures regularly.
  16. Read good books, a little at a time.
  17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  18. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  19. Be polite with everyone, first of all family members.
  20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
  21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  22. Exercise regularly.
  23. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  24. Be totally honest, first of all with yourself.
  25. Be faithful in little things.
  26. Do your work, then forget it.
  27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  28. Face reality.
  29. Be grateful.
  30. Be cheerful.
  31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  32. Never bring attention to yourself.
  33. Listen when people talk to you.
  34. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  36. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  37. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis, figuring things out.
  38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
  39. Don't complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  40. Don't seek or expect pity or praise.
  41. Don't compare yourself with anyone.
  42. Don't judge anyone for anything.
  43. Don't try to convince anyone of anything.
  44. Don't defend or justify yourself.
  45. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  46. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  47. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  48. Do nothing for people that they can and should do for themselves.
  49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
  50. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  52. Focus exclusively on God and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin.
  53. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God's mercy.
  54. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  55. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.

Saturday, March 17, 2018



I.  Introduction
            -- turn in your Bibles with me and let’s read Romans 9:1-4a

Romans 9:1-4a New International Version (NIV)

 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel.

            -- yesterday, I received a forwarded email from an old boss -- he has just taken over as the head of a large organization in the Air Force, with thousands of people working for him -- it’s a new job -- a new challenge -- and it brought him into command over areas that he was not familiar with
            -- one thing we do in the Air Force when a new boss takes over is give them “immersion” briefs -- we put together a briefing that gives our new boss a picture of what we do -- what our job responsibilities and duties are, how we get the job done, and then how those duties fit into the overall structure of the organization
            -- for instance, when we get a new boss over our squadron at work, my office puts together a briefing to explain to him what the Environmental section does -- we talk about the laws and the regulations we have to follow, and how we help make sure the installation completes its mission while taking into account its environmental responsibilities
            -- we’ll introduce each person that works in the Environmental office and explain what they do and how they do it -- and then we’ll give him a book with more detail on our daily activities -- so, these immersion briefs are really just a snapshot of what we do and how we do it -- and they’re intended to help new commanders get up to speed and understand the purpose of the various sections they may not be familiar with and identify any current issues that are going on

            -- in the email my former boss sent out, he says that he had just completed all the immersion briefs for his new command -- everybody that worked for him -- all the lower-level chiefs and commanders had briefed him on what their various sections do and how they do it
            -- this email was thanking them for all they do and for taking the time to explain to him how everything worked
            -- but then he made a statement that I found profound -- he said he wanted more information from them -- they had told him the “what” and the “how” -- now he wanted the “why”
            -- he wanted to know why they did what they did -- not the laws and the regulations that drove them -- not the technical aspects of how they accomplish their jobs -- but the personal reasons they were doing it
            -- he wanted to know what made them excited about going to work and doing their job every day -- he wanted to know what drove them -- what gave them the purpose and passion to get up and go to work and strive to do a good job -- the “why” of their sections and positions

            -- I started thinking about that after I read his email and started working on this message -- as you know, we’re going through this sermon series, “Purpose and Passion,” on the purposes of the church -- the reason we are here this morning -- the reason why Christ created the church
            -- as we’ve said, the five purposes are worship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship, and discipleship -- so far in this series, we’ve looked at worship and ministry -- this morning, we are going to turn to the third purpose of the church -- evangelism
            -- I started thinking about all the sermons on evangelism that I’ve heard -- they’ve always seemed to focus on the “what” and the “how” -- they always talk about the reason we evangelize, which brings us back to our foundational verses for this series
            -- Matthew 28:18-20 says, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you to do” -- and we said that Jesus’ command to us to “go and make disciples” was the reason we evangelized -- it was the reason the church reached out to those around us -- because Jesus told us to go and do that
            -- all of us have heard many sermons with that message -- go out and tell others about Jesus because that is what He has commanded you to do
            -- and, we’ve also heard many sermons that got into the “how” of evangelism -- how do you evangelize? -- how do you witness to others? -- how can you share the good news of the gospel of Christ with others in a way that is open and honest and not scary for anyone?

            -- so, we’ve done a good job at understanding the “what” and the “how” of evangelism -- but, rarely have we looked at the “why” -- and I think this is important -- I think this may be one reason why most Christians never witness to another person on a regular basis -- why most Christians aren’t actively sharing their faith with others
            -- we know “what” we are supposed to do -- we know “how” to do it -- but we’ve never really thought about the “why,” other than this is what Jesus wants us to do -- the “why” of evangelism has never been personalized in a way we can understand -- it’s never been truly internalized -- and, because of that, we’ve missed the real reason Jesus wanted us to share the gospel in the first place -- the same reason that made Jesus choose to go to the cross in the first place

            -- evangelism is not about getting more people into the church -- it’s not about just fulfilling a command that Jesus gave us in the Great Commission -- the “why” of evangelism is greater than that -- the “why” of evangelism should be what makes us passionate about telling other people about Jesus -- the “why” of evangelism should be what makes us get up out of bed every morning and say, “Who can I witness to today?” -- that, I think, is what we’re missing in the church
            -- so, this morning, I’m not going to go into the “what” or “how” of evangelism -- I can point you to messages or resources that can help you with that if you need a refresher
            -- this morning I want us to consider the “why” of evangelism so that it might make a difference in the way we look at this command of Jesus and this third purpose of the church

II.  Back to Basics -- What is the Gospel Anyway?
            -- Let’s start by talking about what the gospel is -- when we talk about witnessing to others about Jesus, what exactly are we referring to? -- I think this is important for us to wrap our heads around because it gets right to the heart of “why” we should evangelize
            -- the word “gospel” literally means “good news” -- and if there is good news, then that naturally presupposes that there is also bad news, right?
            -- the bad news is what makes the gospel good -- so what’s the bad news?

            -- the bad news is that we are sinners -- all of us -- I’m a sinner -- and you’re a sinner -- and every other person, except for Jesus Christ, that has ever lived is a born sinner -- as it says in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”
            -- the reason we are all born sinners goes back to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden -- when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in disobedience to God’s command, they committed the first sin -- and that sin changed them and us -- it changed who they were on the inside -- and they passed the effects of that sin on to each and every person who came from them, including you and me -- it’s almost like sin corrupted their DNA, so it got passed on to every other person ever born -- this is what we call the “original sin” -- it’s a way of describing and acknowledging this sin nature within ourselves that each of us is born with
            -- that’s why you don’t have to teach babies how to sin -- that’s why you don’t have to teach babies to be selfish -- they’re made that way -- they’re born that way
            -- the important thing to remember is that we aren’t sinners because we sin -- we sin because we are sinners -- and there’s nothing we can do about it -- we can’t change ourselves -- we can’t even do good things because all the good we do is tainted with the darkness of sin
            -- the fact is that we’ve all broken God’s law -- and, because of that, each of us in guilty and deserve to be punished -- we have earned God’s wrath and punishment because of our sin -- and the place of God’s wrath and punishment for sinners is Hell -- as sinners, this is the fate that awaits each and every person

            -- but, thankfully, we have the good news that counters the bad news -- the gospel of Christ
            -- while we cannot change ourselves or pay the penalty for our sin, Jesus could -- and so, God chose to send Jesus to earth to show us how to live without sin -- how to live in relationship with the Father -- and then God chose to send Jesus to the cross of Calvary, where He would take upon Himself every sin ever committed -- even your sins and my sins -- and He paid the penalty for them with His body and His blood
            -- Jesus was our perfect sacrifice who atoned for our sin -- who paid the penalty and took on the wrath of God for us -- He suffered in our place so that we might know the forgiveness of sin and might be saved from the danger of Hell -- and He proved that this was true and that He had conquered sin and death when He rose from the dead on the third day
            -- this is the good news -- this is the gospel -- this is the message that we need to get out to everyone we know -- because this is the “why” that should be driving us into the streets proclaiming the great news of salvation and the forgiveness of sins

III.  The “Why” of Evangelism
            -- the thing is our “why” for needing to do evangelism is so much more than doing it because Jesus told us to -- our “why” for needing to do evangelism is so much more than it just being a purpose of the church
            -- our “why” of evangelism has a face -- right now, just turn and look at the person sitting next to you -- that’s the face of evangelism -- that’s “why” we do it -- it’s about saving a person
            -- it’s about realizing that every person you pass today -- if they don’t know Jesus and haven’t trusted in Him in faith for their salvation -- every person you see is going to go to Hell
            -- you know that nice cashier you always chat with in the store? -- the mailman you wave at every day? -- that person who takes your order at the restaurant or stands in line behind you at the bank or passes you in their car on the way to work? -- all of them -- each and every one of them are going to go to Hell and suffer for all eternity unless they believe in Jesus -- unless they hear the good news and turn from their sins and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and salvation
            -- 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 says, “God will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus -- they will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power”
            -- now ask yourself, “do you want that to happen?” -- if your friend was about to make a big mistake in their life that would harm them, wouldn’t you tell them? -- well, this is the biggest mistake that someone can make -- this is not just a momentary event -- this is forever
            -- do you want them to go to Hell? -- can you bear the thought of them experiencing that? -- that’s what we need to really absorb -- that’s what we need to get in our heads and our hearts
            -- this is not a life or death decision -- those are easy -- this is an eternity decision -- this is forever -- and once the door of death closes, there’s no turning back -- there’s no second chance
            -- we see in the face and the eyes of our neighbor the “why” of evangelism

            -- you know, I hate to admit it, but there are some people I just don’t like -- there’s some people at work that if I never saw again, it wouldn’t bother me -- I’d be just as happy going about my life never seeing them or hearing from them again -- and, if you’re honest, you’ve probably got people in your life like that, too -- check your Facebook page or your phone and see who you’ve got blocked -- that’s the person I’m talking about
            -- but, even though I don’t like those people -- even though there’s something about them that turns me off or that causes me to want to avoid them -- I could never wish Hell on them -- never, in my heart of hearts, could I wish that they would suffer unending torment

            -- look back at the passage we opened up with -- Romans 9:1-4a

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel.

            -- this is the heart cry of the Apostle Paul -- who had been persecuted by the Jews -- beaten -- stoned -- whipped -- arrested -- thrown in prison -- Paul had more reason than any other to hate his fellow Jews who had done that to him
            -- Paul says in verse 2 that he had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” -- great sorrow and unceasing anguish about what? -- about the fate that awaited his fellow Jews -- about the fate that awaited all who did not come to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and salvation
            -- Paul was so concerned for them -- so filled with sorrow and anguish for them -- that he went on to say in verse 3 that he wished it were possible for him to give up his salvation and be cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers -- in other words, Paul was willing to go to Hell for them if that meant they might be saved -- Paul understood the “why” of evangelism -- he understood the implication
            -- now, of course, Paul, couldn’t do that -- he was a sinner just like us -- he couldn’t pay the penalty for his owns any more than we could, much less pay the penalty for others -- but Jesus could and did -- and that’s the good news we need to make sure everyone hears
            -- Jesus offers freedom and redemption and salvation to all who are willing to take it -- to believe in it and to believe in Him -- who repent of their sins and who receive Him as Lord and Savior -- that’s the good news we need to be sharing

            -- folks, this is serious -- this isn’t just a “fill the church with more people” message -- this isn’t a “we’ve got to do this -- it’s a command in the Bible” type of thing -- this is more serious than that
            -- this is not even people’s lives we’re talking about -- we’re talking about someone’s eternal destination -- this is the “why” of evangelism -- this is why Jesus gave us the command to go and tell others about Him
            -- as Mark Dever said, we can’t wait for those people to realize they are sinners -- we can’t wait for them to feel a sense of need -- we know the truth -- we have the good news they need, even if they don’t know it -- Dever wrote, “We are there as heralds to tell them about a God that made them and a God to whom they must give an account. They have sinned against this judge, and he is good and will punish them, and so they need a savior.” []

IV.  Closing
            -- in the Bible, especially in the Book of Acts, we read of how the disciples dispersed out from Jerusalem and how, everywhere they went, they told people about the good news of Jesus Christ -- about His atoning death on the cross and His resurrection -- of the need for repentance and belief in Jesus for salvation
            -- why? -- why did they do this? -- it wasn’t because they were trying to start churches -- it wasn’t because they were trying to make a church larger -- they did it because they knew the “why” -- they knew what would happen to those people who never repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus in faith for salvation -- they knew that those people were going to suffer in Hell forever
            -- why did Paul desire so much to witness to the Roman Emperor Nero? -- was it just because he wanted to preach to the ruler of the world? -- because he wanted Nero to stop the persecution and the evil things he was doing? -- no, Paul just wanted the opportunity to tell another person the good news about Jesus -- especially a person like Nero who was so obviously in need of redemption and salvation and who could influence so many more if he became a Christian
            -- the “why” of evangelism is wrapped in our love and concern for the eternity of others -- what happens to us when we witness is not important -- if they reject you -- if they embarrass you -- if they belittle you -- it doesn’t matter -- that is a light and momentary affliction compared to the fate that awaits them
            -- Paul and Jesus’ example says that even if they persecute you -- even if they hate you -- even if you don’t like them or don’t like what they are doing -- love them anyway
            -- tell them the good news of Jesus anyway -- make them understand, because this is the most important decision in all of eternity -- as one person said, “it’s better to have never been born, than to not be born again”

            -- let me close by sharing with you a story about D.L. Moody -- Moody was just a regular guy with a regular job -- he wasn’t a trained preacher -- he didn’t go to seminary -- he was a shoe salesman who became an evangelist -- he preached all over the world, and when he preached, the Spirit moved the people and many came to know and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior through faith
            -- one time, when D. L. Moody was evangelizing in various cities throughout Great Britain, some clergymen were jealous of his powerful preaching and wanted to know his secret -- They said to him, "Mr. Moody, we would like to have a word with you -- You come here to London -- you have a sixth grade education -- you speak horrible English -- your sermons are simple -- and yet thousands of people are converted -- We want to know, how do you do it?"
            -- Moody proceeded to invite them in and asked them to look out the window and tell him what they saw -- They mentioned some things going on outside, such as some children playing in a park, and some couples walking -- then they asked Moody what he saw.
            -- According to the account, as Moody looked outside, tears began to roll down his cheeks and onto his gray beard -- one of the ministers, very curious to know what caught Moody's eye that would so affect him, asked, "Mr. Moody, what are you looking at? What do you see?"
            -- Moody replied, "When I look out the window, I see countless thousands of souls that will one day spend eternity in hell if they do not find the Savior."  [ Recounted in Lane T. Dennis, "What Do You See?" Share the Good News (September/October 1999), 3. Quoted in Philip G. Ryken, The Message of Salvation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 293-294.]

            -- Moody understood the “why” of evangelism -- and it made the difference in how he presented the message -- it made the difference in how people heard the good news when he presented it
            -- we need to understand the “why” of evangelism, too -- we need to look past the “what” and the “how” of the Great Commission and remember the “why” -- you’ll find it in the face and eyes of everyone you come into contact with this week -- and, when you find it, it will change how you hear Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” -- it will change what you do -- it will change the world
            -- let us pray

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


In our community, there is a young man who is a known drug user.  Despite coming from a good family, this young man succumbed to the temptation of drugs and became dependent on them, starting with marijuana and gradually progressing to harder and harder drugs.  He has been in trouble with the law from time to time for the possession and use of drugs, and has had trouble holding down a job because of his dependency.

This young man’s family tried everything they could to help him with his problem.  They bailed him out of jail countless times.  They sought him when he was lost and away from home in a drug stupor.  They rescued him from the crack houses and other dens of iniquity where he had gone.  And, they kept putting him into rehab program after rehab program, just to watch him leave the program early and never succeed in breaking the habit that was harming his body, soul, and spirit.

Finally, they reached the point where they felt they could do no more.  The only thing left for them was to hold the young man responsible for his actions, to force him to fully bear the consequences of his sins.  They told the young man that they loved him, but they could no longer support him or his habit.  As long as he was on drugs and not working, they would not let him into their lives.  He could not live with them.  He was on his own until he decided to make a change, an action known as “tough love.”

Sometimes, it takes drastic actions such as tough love to reach someone with the truth of their situation.  While it is hard for the families involved, tough love may be the only way to open the eyes of the wayward sinner and help them to see the destructiveness of their lives and their need for deliverance.  Hopefully, the tough love of this family will help this young man turn from his current ways and seek the help that leads to true deliverance from his addictions.

We see the first evidence of tough love all the way back in the Book of Genesis.  In Genesis 3, we read of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.  As you probably know, God had created Adam and Eve and placed them in a garden of paradise called Eden.  Here they lived in perfect harmony with God and with all creation, a condition that reflects the true meaning of the Hebrew word, Shalom.  But, it didn’t last.

One day, Eve was in the garden when she was confronted by Satan.  The Bible tells us he was in the form of a serpent, although the Hebrew meaning of serpent in this passage may actually refer to a being of light, a direct reference to the fallen Lucifer.  Regardless of the form he assumed, the Bible tells us that Satan tempted Eve to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, in direct disobedience to God’s instructions.  Eve listened to the half-truths of the devil and reached out and ate of the fruit, and gave of it to her husband, Adam.  In that instance, their eyes were opened and they died spiritually -- the first sin -- the original sin.  Disobedience and darkness had marred the paradise of Eden and the entire human race for all time.

God felt the separation from man as sin put up a barrier between Him and His beloved creations.  In Genesis 3:9, God calls out to Adam, “Where are you?”  Obviously, God knew where Adam was, physically and spiritually.  He is God, after all.  This cry was a pronouncement of the separation and distance that had sprung up between Him and Adam and Eve. 
This cry was also the first expression of grace given to a sinner in Creation.  By crying out, “Where are you?”, God was offering Adam and Eve the opportunity to confess and admit their sin and then to repent of their actions.  Grace reaches out to us in our sin and leads us to confession, to the point where we can recognize the truth of our situation and own up to it, much as a drug addict must eventually own up to his addiction if they are to seek healing.

The following scene in the garden is heart-wrenching, as God hears the confession of Adam and then pronounces the consequences of their sins on both Adam and Eve and the serpent.  Their lives would never be the same again.  Their relationship would never be the same again.

And then we see the act of tough love from God to Adam and Eve.  In Genesis 3:22, God said, “The Man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  And in Genesis 3:23, we read that “the Lord God banished him [Adam] from the Garden of Eden.

I always found these verses particularly interesting.  First, the issue with the tree of life.  God’s original command to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17 was that Adam could eat of any tree in the garden, but not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  This was the only tree Adam could not eat from.  Meaning that prior to their disobedience and sin, Adam and Eve could have freely eaten from the tree of life.  It is only after their sin that God seeks to prevent them from doing so.  Why?

This brings up the next interesting point:  The purpose of banishing them from the garden of Eden was an act of grace, an act of tough love, meant to help Adam and Eve and not to harm them.  The key relates to Adam and Eve’s association with the tree of life and with their sin.  Before the fall, Adam and Eve were allowed to eat of the tree of life.  But, their relationship with God at this time was a perfect relationship.  Sin had not entered into the equation and marred the relationship.  There was no harm in eating of the tree of life since they were in perfect accord with God and in shalom with Him and all creation.

However, now that they had sinned and taken darkness into themselves, Adam and Eve’s relationship with God and creation was stained.  The sin had corrupted them, affecting their very soul and spirit.  They could not be made whole again without divine intervention (i.e. the atoning death of Christ, who was promised in Genesis 3:15).  So, what would have happened if Adam and Eve had continued to eat of the tree of life while sin reigned in their body?  They would have lived forever in a state of sin.  They would not have the opportunity for redemption and cleansing from their sins.  They would be immortally sinful.

By casting them out of the garden, by showing them “tough love,” God poured out His grace on Adam and Eve.  He eliminated the potential of immortality without redemption by excluding them from the tree of life.  He put them in a place where the consequences of their sin would be felt daily, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  No longer would they live in close relationship with God and in perfect harmony with nature.  Now, the consequence of their sin would result in disharmony.  But, this was part of God’s grace. 

God’s tough love in casting them from His perfect garden was a means of grace in terms of leading Adam and Eve to repentance and redemption.  Their hope was centered on the One who was promised to come and deliver them, who would crush the head of the serpent and redeem them from the curse of their sin.  By casting them out and forcing them to accept the responsibility of their sin and to bear the consequences for the rest of their mortal lives, God made it possible for Adam and Eve to find true salvation through the promised Messiah.

Tough love was God’s original means of grace to Adam and Eve.  And tough love, despite how hard it may be for families of addicts, is a way of giving grace to our loved ones so that they, too, might recognize their need for repentance and redemption, however it may come.  If you find yourself in a situation where tough love is required, know that God sometimes allows pain into our lives so that our eternity might be redeemed.  This is why tough love was given to Adam and Eve, and this is why tough love should be given to those in our family who need it.

Pastor Greg

Monday, March 12, 2018


1. "Hey! It's my turn to sit in the front pew!"
2. "I was so enthralled, I never even noticed your sermon went 25 minutes overtime."
3. "Personally I find witnessing much more enjoyable than golf."
4. "I've decided to give our church the $500 a month I've been sending to TV Evangelists."
5. "I'll volunteer to be the permanent teacher for the Junior High Sunday School class."
6. "Forget the denominational minimum salary. Let's pay our pastor so he can live like we do!"
7. "I love it when we sing hymns I've never heard before."
8. "Since we're all here, let's start the service early!"
9. "Pastor, we'd like to send you to this Bible seminar in the Bahamas."
10. "Nothing inspires me and strengthens my commitment to the Lord like our annual stewardship campaign

[Borrowed from: Mikey's Funnies]

Saturday, March 10, 2018



I.  Introduction
      -- turn in Bibles to John 13:3-15

John 13:3-15 New International Version (NIV)
3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

-- a few years ago in Atlanta, 11-year old Sade Law would get out of school and climb on a bus that would carry her to an after-school program -- as she traveled along Peachtree Street, she looked out her window and watched the city go by -- and one day she noticed a homeless man living under a bridge along her route
-- almost every day she would see him, sitting on a milk crate and reading the newspaper or sleeping -- and something stirred inside her -- God placed a burden for the homeless on her heart and Sade went into action -- at school, when she was told to pick a topic for a class project, she chose the issue of homelessness -- in October of that year, Sade volunteered at both a soup kitchen and with Atlanta Urban Ministries -- and she launched a food and clothing drive at her school to help the homeless in Atlanta
-- but still, the man under the bridge weighed on her heart -- and she continued to see him through her window almost every day as she traveled down Peachtree Road -- the man under the bridge was Billy Watson, a plumber and carpenter who had been homeless and in prison off and on for 14 years -- Billy wound up on the street because he was an alcoholic and couldn't hold onto a job -- by the time Sade spied Billy under the bridge, Billy was living without hope -- he had no family -- no friends -- no job -- no food -- no home -- he lived under the bridge and looked for food in dumpsters
-- despite all she was doing to help the homeless, Sade wanted to do something for the man under the bridge -- her mother didn't want her to approach the man directly, so they found an advocate for the homeless who worked in a ministry in Atlanta and he agreed to carry supplies to Billy -- Sade prepared a care package for Billy with a blanket, a pair of boots, jeans and other clothes -- and, she also included a note from her to the man under the bridge -- the note ended with this thought:  "Please take care of yourself and be safe.  I will pray every night that God will watch over you and that something will happen good for you.  You do deserve good things to happen for you!  Please don't give up."
-- Billy read that note and his heart broke -- because of Sade's influence, Billy told the advocate that he wanted to go to a hospital to deal with the alcoholism -- but, he stayed only long enough to get sober and then went back under the bridge again, relapsing with alcohol -- on Thanksgiving of that year, Sade and her mother carried plates of food to the bridge for him -- they got him to agree to go back to the hospital again -- and this time he stayed 
-- Billy completed the program and was released to a residential recovery program in Sandy Springs -- he now shares an apartment with three other men who also are recovering alcoholics and he plans to stay in the program as long as needed -- and then he's going to find a job and start his life over
-- Billy has visited Sade and her mother several times -- they talk on the phone and Sade encourages him to continue with the program while he encourages her with her school work
-- Sade's project on homelessness took first place in a DeKalb County Social Studies Fair -- but for Sade, the most important prize is this:  She reached out to a man she noticed from a bus, and that man doesn't live under a bridge anymore.

      -- this morning, we are continuing in our sermon series, “Purpose and Passion” -- we have been looking at the five purposes of the church and of Christians -- as you remember, there are two scriptures in the Gospel of Matthew that give us these five purposes:

            -- the first passage is Matthew 22:37-39 -- “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” -- this is worship
            -- this passage goes on to say, “love your neighbor as yourself” -- that is ministry

            -- the second passage is Matthew 28:19-20 where Jesus gives us the Great Commission -- “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” -- that’s evangelism
            -- “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” -- that’s fellowship -- bringing others into the church community
            -- “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” -- that’s discipleship
            -- so, the five purposes are worship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship, and discipleship

            -- last week, we looked at worship -- this week, we’re going to be looking at ministry -- what is ministry? -- what does ministry look like? -- how can we be ministers for Christ where we are?
            -- one of my mentors in the church was Tommy Newberry -- he was pastor in the South Georgia conference and did a lot of work with Emmaus, Chrysalis, and Kairos -- he loved to ask people the question, “where do you minister?” -- one guy he asked responded by saying, “I’m not a minister -- I work on HVAC systems -- I repair air conditioners” -- Tommy just grinned and said, “I didn’t ask you what your vocation was -- I asked you where you minister”
            -- the point Tommy was trying to get across is that every Christian -- every believer in Jesus -- is called to be a minister to others -- to show God’s love to them in tangible ways -- to be the hands and the feet of Christ to others -- to love our neighbors as ourselves
            -- that’s what we’re going to talk about today, so let’s get right into it

II. What is Ministry?
      --so, let’s start by answering the question, “What is ministry?” -- what do we mean when we say that everyone is to be a minister?
      -- ministry is nothing more than treating your neighbor as you wish to be treated -- nothing more than serving people in the name of Jesus Christ -- as our verse says, it is loving our neighbor as ourselves
      -- ministry comes in all various shapes and sizes -- ministry is meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters without seeking to evangelize -- without seeking to preach -- without seeking reward or recognition -- ministry should be service to others without religious ties
      -- in other words, ministry is helping other people without trying to evangelize them or convert them or get them to come to church -- ministry is just showing the love of Christ to other people simply as an expression of our love for Jesus

      -- now, that doesn’t mean that if the people ask why we are serving them, that we shouldn’t tell them -- that’s perfectly okay -- but it does mean we should not force the message on them -- as these people experience the love of Christ through us, the opportunity to share with them the good news about Jesus and the plan of salvation will come -- but the goal of ministry should simply focus on "making a friend and being a friend" and loving that person in the name of Jesus
      -- think about Jesus -- Jesus ministered to lots of people in various places and at different times, but usually He did so without preaching to them
      -- yes, there were times when He taught about the Kingdom of God and shared the good news of His coming with others, but that wasn’t the reason He ministered and did good things for people -- He did it because He was moved by compassion at their plight -- He didn’t do it just to get the opportunity to preach to them
      -- so, throughout the gospels, you see Jesus ministering to others -- healing the sick -- casting out demons -- washing the feet of His disciples -- making breakfast for them -- all without preaching or teaching -- He did it just as an expression of His love
      -- we need to follow His example -- we need to minister without condition and without ties -- I have seen some churches that make church attendance a requirement for help -- I’ve seen churches tell people that they couldn’t get a handout or money or school supplies unless they came to a church service or took a class -- this is not the right way to minister

      -- let me give you an example of what true ministry looks like -- when we were at Morven, we had a missionary visit the church -- he and his family had moved to Pakistan to share God’s love with the people there -- one time, as they were flying from the U.S. back to Pakistan, they ran across an elderly Muslim woman in a wheelchair who was having a hard time negotiating through the airport with her luggage -- no one was helping her and she was having problems -- so this missionary family leapt to her aid -- one of the kids carried her luggage -- the other kid grabbed the wheelchair and started pushing her towards her gate -- and all the while, the woman is saying, “Why are you doing this? Why are you helping me? -- What do you want?”
      -- they said, “We’re Christians -- we don’t want anything from you -- we just want to help you because Jesus loved us and we want to show His love to others” -- the woman couldn’t believe it -- no one else in that airport offered to help -- not even her fellow Muslims who were passing her by -- but, because this family ministered out of love without trying to share their faith, they were able to tell her about Jesus -- that’s the right way to minister

      -- the point I’m trying to make here is that ministry has to come from the heart -- it’s not a means to an end -- you’re not doing it just so you can get someone to come to church or tell them about Jesus -- you’re not doing it because you think you have to do good deeds in order to be saved -- you do it simply out of love and gratitude to Jesus, expecting nothing back in return

      -- 1 Peter 5:2 -- serve not because you must but because you are willing, as God wants you to be -- we minister and serve because we want to help people -- not because we want anything from them or because we think we’ll get recognized or applauded for what we have done

III.  What Does Ministry Look Like
      -- when we use the word ministry, a lot of people just think of church -- of what the church does -- but ministry as Jesus calls us to do it -- ministry as just loving our neighbor to ourselves -- is usually not done in a church setting
      -- ministry happens any time we reach out to another person in love with no other desire but to love and serve that person however they need
      -- in the passage we opened with, we read how Jesus took upon Himself the position of a slave -- how He humbled Himself before the disciples and took a towel and a basin and washed their feet -- He showed us how to love others by His example
      -- look back at verse John 3:14-17

14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

      -- Jesus says that we should wash one another’s feet -- He didn’t mean that literally, that we should constantly stop other people and wash their feet -- but He meant it as an example -- that we were to humble ourselves and to serve and love people however they needed it
      -- in Jesus’ day, people needed their feet washed because the roads were dirty and their feet would get filthy -- people in our day need their lives washed for the same reason, because we walk through a world that is dirty and filthy -- and Jesus is calling on us to wash them -- to cleanse them -- to show them His love by loving them just as He loved the disciples
      -- Jesus is calling us to minister to those around us, no matter where they are

      -- that means that ministry occurs while you go about your day -- anywhere you go, you can minister God’s love to someone else
      -- ministry can be teaching school -- helping a neighbor build a porch -- stopping to help someone change a flat tire -- it can mean feeding the poor or helping the homeless -- it can mean taking a kid hunting or fishing -- or just being there with them at school events when no one else is there
      -- ministry looks like love -- it is simply being there for someone else, just like Jesus would -- do you know what the number one problem people say they have today in America? -- it’s not crime or violence -- it’s not low wages or no money -- it’s loneliness -- even with Facebook and Instagram and all those social media sites, people are more lonely now than ever before
      -- they have a lot of friends online, but no friends to be with them -- one way you can show God’s love to someone else is just by being there -- we call this the ministry of presence -- not doing anything -- just being there with someone else -- just noticing them -- just listening to them -- that can do more to change a person’s heart than anything else

      -- the key to ministry is learning to open your eyes and open your ears and open your heart to see the needs around you -- every single day you are invited to serve God in a hundred different ways -- it doesn't have to be feeding the poor or witnessing to strangers or helping the homeless or ministering to lepers in India -- it might be something as simple as helping a neighbor paint a house -- mowing someone else's grass -- giving someone a smile at the grocery store -- bringing buggies in for a tired buggy boy
      -- it doesn't matter what you do -- what does matter is that you do something -- don't just stand there -- do something
you step forward into new areas of ministry that you haven't done before

IV.  Closing -- Challenge to Go Forth and Do Ministry
      -- when John Wesley would ordain and send people out to minister in the church, he would tell them, "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can."
      -- the Bible sums this up by simply telling us to love our neighbors as ourselves

      -- we need to redefine ministry in our lives -- ministry is not just done by pastors or by church leaders -- it’s not just done in church settings -- but, ministry occurs when you simply love someone like Jesus would
      -- we need to get back to the concept of every believer being a minister -- of every believer being called to serve and love            
      -- I like what some churches in China do -- when someone joins the church, they welcome the new believers to their community by saying "Jesus now has new eyes to see with; new ears to listen with, new hands to help with, new heart to love others with"
      -- that should be our prayer -- to have new eyes to see with -- new ears to hear with -- new hands to help with -- and new hearts to love with
      -- there are opportunities for ministry and service everyday -- all you have to do is step up and do what He asks -- to serve and love God by loving others in His name

      -- we’re about to close in prayer, and as we do so, I want to challenge you -- I want you to leave here and love somebody this week -- it doesn't have to be in a big way -- just something small -- but I expect everyone in here to do some act of ministry this week
      -- next Sunday, we are going to have the opportunity to share what we did this week -- not to gain the praise of men but to see if there are areas where God is calling our church to do more
      -- so, let’s close and then we’ll sing the final hymn -- and, as we do so, I want to invite you to commit to loving others as God love them -- and to respond to God’s word as you feel led
      -- let’s pray

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Diary of a Mad Southern Driver or "Why am I so offended?"

Every morning I get mad.  Every morning.  Without fail.  And it’s not that I get mad at things my friends or family do to me. I get mad at strangers -- people I don’t even know. Let me explain.

In the mornings when I leave my house, I come to an intersection with a four-lane divided highway.  I have to turn right.  There’s two lanes, so this should be easy, right?  But, no.  Invariably, when I pull up to the stop sign, there’s always a car coming from my left, heading the same way that I need to go.  So, I watch and wait for them to politely slide over into the vacant inner lane so I can turn into the outer lane.  That way, neither of us has to wait on the other, and both of us get to our destinations as quickly as possible.  But, this never happens.

For some reason, people don’t want to move.  They’re in their lane.  They’re happy there.  So, it doesn’t matter to them if someone else could be granted entry into the highway, perhaps someone who is already running late to work and watching the seconds and minutes tick away as this car slowly comes down the road in “my” lane, without any consideration or kindness.  And, as I watch them drive by, I find myself getting angry.  How dare they?  How dare they ignore me? Not consider my plight? Think themselves better than me?  Every day.  Every single day.

It reminds me of a Key and Poole comedy skit I saw one time where they couldn’t get into a parking place at the store because someone was sitting there, blocking traffic, while waiting for another car to back out.  When the car finally parked and they could get by, they yelled out the window, “Selfish!  You are selfish!” And I remember thinking, “That’s right!”

So, every day, I find myself getting angry first thing in the morning.  And that anger carries on with me throughout the day.  It puts me in a bad mood, affecting how I greet coworkers, how I do my job, how I respond to others on my commute.  I think about how selfish that other person was, how inconsiderate they were, and it makes me angry.  How dare they ignore my needs?  How dare they not conform to my wants and wishes?

Thinking on this, it makes me wonder just who the selfish one truly is in this scenario.  I was reading a devotional about the martyred saints under the altar from Revelation 6:9-11:

Revelation 6:9-11 New International Version (NIV)
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters,[a] were killed just as they had been.

The devotional writer made this point, which really struck home to me:

“In contrast to [the martyred saints under the throne], we seem to care more about getting justice for the petty inequities we suffer.  A traffic ticket, a snide remark, or an accusation of bad motives [or an “inconsiderate” driver] can set us off on a holy crusade.  How poorly these causes compare to the cause [and true suffering and hurts] of these men and women who had entrusted themselves to Jesus”

In his book, “Unoffendable,” Brant Hansen makes the point that Christians should be different from those around us who are quick to take offense at everything.  The root of being offended, he says, is selfishness.  Wanting our own way.  Wanting others to do what we want.  And, when that doesn’t happen, we become offended, indignant, angry.  Sound familiar?

Sometimes, when we look into the mirror, we see someone we don’t like, or, at least I do.  I find it curious that this same issue with drivers refusing to move over happens to me almost every morning.  It’s never the same car twice.  It’s always someone different.  But, it happens every time I head to work.  And, it’s not like I live in a metropolitan area.  There might be one car every five minutes on this road at the time I leave for work.  But, every time, they choose to stay in the outer lane and keep me from pulling out, starting the chain reaction of anger and irritation driven by my own selfishness.

Every morning.  It’s almost like Someone is trying to point out a flaw in my life.  It’s almost like Someone is saying, “Here’s an area of your life that you need to work on.  Here’s an area of your life where you are selfish and not loving.” 

To quote Brant Hansen, “You can choose to be ‘unoffendable...’ It’s the taking of offense, and the very presumption that I’m somehow entitled to be angry with someone, that I’m talking about...

“Not only can we choose to be unoffendable; we should choose that. We should forfeit our right to be offended. That means forfeiting our right to hold on to anger...Forfeiting our right to anger makes us deny ourselves, and makes us others-centered. When we start living this way, it changes everything.”

Selfishness.  Being offended.  Getting angry because I have been slighted -- “my” rights have been ignored.  I’m afraid it’s become a way of life for me.  Maybe for you, too.  It is common, after all.  If you don’t believe me, just check out any social media site and you’ll see what Brant is talking about.

My prayer for this week is that I become aware of these opportunities to change.  That I begin realizing that these drivers who are “offending” me are actually the means of grace God is using to touch me and change me.  My prayer is that I turn the selfishness around.  That I learn patience and love.  That I learn to live my life “unoffendable.”  That I stop letting anger lead my day, and let selflessness become an attribute I clothe myself with each morning.

It starts tomorrow at the stop sign. 

Pastor Greg