Sermon January 23, 2022: Tool #3. Daily Following (Epiphany 3)

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If you prefer to worship at home at this time or simply wish to listen to the service or sermon again, please click on the link below to watch the entire worship service as a video on your home computer, tablet or smartphone:

Link to Video:

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/669018931

Screencast-o-matic: https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/c3V0e9VDnRN

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If you would prefer not to view the video, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP: Please recommit your life to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord with this prayer:

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. 
Help me to realize your worldview.
Lord, I obey. Help my disobedience. 
Clarify my reality. Focus me; guide me. Prune me.
Lord, I follow;  help me to stay on the path. 
Thank you for the path, for guidance, for providence and protection.
I humbly ask for wisdom and for knowledge in every human situation. 
Lord, help me to flourish as a part of the vine. 
May this be true for me! Amen.

HYMN 378 Amazing Grace
IL DIVO – Amazing Grace (Live Video)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYMLMj-SibU

(Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer − WESLEY COVENANT PRAYER

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN 347 The Spirit Song
Spirit Song (with lyrics)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWEDBaFy0SI

(Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: Tool #3. Daily Following
Text: Mark 1:17, Matthew 7:13-14, John 8:31-36, John 15:1-8
Series: Christmas Story Connections – We’re In This Together

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.
Saturday Video AudioSermon Audio Wesley UMC

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SERMON NOTES

Mark 1:17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.”

Matthew 7:13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

John 8:31 Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, ‘You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.

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HYMN 338 Where He Leads Me
Where He Leads Me (I Can Hear My Saviour Calling)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9FqFC0WA-o

(Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

BENEDICTION: Please recommit your life to the service of Jesus as Lord with the words of The Prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
Amen

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT

I’m wanting to answer the question that was often on our minds back in December. Why can’t people be like this, the way they are at Christmastime, all year long? Why can’t people be interested in God, be coming to worship, be gathering together, feel kindness and love toward their neighbors all year long the way they do at Christmas?

And the best way I can answer that question is this: if you’ll make a commitment to be a Christian all year long the way you are a Christian at Christmas, it will last all year long.

And I mentioned tools that will help us to keep that commitment. New Year’s resolutions, they last, supposedly, just a couple of weeks. What are the tools that can help us to keep this commitment?

The first one is to have some form of daily devotion, and the key point of a daily devotion is we surrender to Jesus Christ. We say, in one way or another, “Thy will be done.”

The second thing, as I suggested last week, is daily directions. Let Jesus give you directions about what you’re supposed to do today. And by the way, write them down because if you don’t write down the directions, it’s so easy to forget what Jesus tells us.

But today we’re going to deal with what I would call daily following because Jesus says to us, just like the other disciples – and this is the key to being a Christian all year long – not just simply to believe, not just simply to surrender, but to follow Jesus Christ. How do we do that? How do we become followers?

Well, people who are followers follow Jesus on a path. We started the service with this, the five-finger prayer:

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
Lord, I obey. Help my disobedience. I’m imperfect. I need God’s help to do what God wants.
Lord, I follow. Help me to stay on the path. Because you see, when Jesus leads us off and we follow, it creates a path.

Now, the Gospels talk about following. The book of Proverbs also talks about the fact that there is a wise path and there’s an unwise path. And it also talks about the need to stay on the path. Jesus has not just simply given us directions, go here, go there, go here, go there, go here, go there, Jesus creates a path.

And you get up in the morning, and you could walk on that path, the path that’s been created by Christians over all the centuries who have followed Jesus. There’s no reason why we need to invent something new every day. There’s no reason why we need to create something the world has never seen before. We can follow Jesus just like the disciples followed Him in the pages of the New Testament.

And we can be thankful that there is a path. We can be thankful for guidance. We can be thankful for providence because God provides for us. The 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Why? Because God will provide. And not only that. God gives us protection. We’re on a path.

Now, the picture in front of you is a road in the nighttime. You can’t see all the way down that road, but you know something? It’s enough to see the next 100 feet to allow us to follow the road. If we can see the next 100 feet of the path, that’s enough. Because as we move forward, the light will show us more that lies ahead.

Think for a moment about the disciples in the days of Jesus. Every morning, Jesus had the habit of seeking direction from God. Jesus literally said, “I don’t do anything unless the Father tells me. I don’t say anything unless the Father tells me.” So every day Jesus would be surrounded by crowds of people wanting His help. That’s what draws the crowds. They believe that Jesus can actually help them.

But the disciples are sitting and waiting because they don’t know what’s going to happen. They have to wait for Jesus to tell them. Friends, you and I are in the same position. We don’t know what Jesus is going to do today. But if there’s a path, if there’s a pattern, we can assume that we can do most of what we did yesterday and still be on the path. Because Jesus is not continually demanding that we switch or change directions. We are building consistently on what Jesus Christ asks us to do.

Now here’s the problem that we all face. W. Edwards Deming said it many years ago: Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets. In nature, nature is made up– creation is made up of systems that interact with each other. And every system is organized to do certain things in a certain way and get a certain result. So if you’re getting results that you don’t want, if problems are rising up that are not what you like, it’s not because you live in a world that is in total chaos. The system is producing the results that are programmed into the system.

If you want different results, change the system. Paul talks about this in Galatians. “As a man sows,” Paul says, “so shall he reap.” You don’t put corn in the ground and get beans. So here’s the reality: if beans are growing out in your field and you wanted corn, maybe you should have sowed corn. If you want corn in the future, it’s time to sow it now.

Friends, we do not live in a world of chaos. And what that means is if you and I change what we do, it changes the way the world functions. Now, we don’t have control over everything but we have some control.

But what do we change? If you go into a computer software program, you have the hardware, the machine that does the work. But the machine is told what to do by software. It starts out as information, and information causes the machine to act. When carpenters build a house, it starts out as a blueprint, and that information becomes translated into actual things that happen in this world. If you’re getting bad results, it’s because in the system you’ll find there’s bad information. Back in the old days, I would print directions off of Yahoo maps and I would have them on the front seat of my car, and I would hold the directions in one hand and read them and try to turn left or right based on what the directions said. Friends, if the directions are wrong, you’re going to get lost. Quite often, problems in the results are because there’s bad information in the system. If the map is wrong, your destination will be wrong. If your directions are wrong, you’ll wind up where you don’t want to be. If there’s bad information, you’ll get bad results. Imagine a cookbook that left out essential ingredients. Imagine a cookbook that had you set the oven for the wrong temperature. Imagine a cookbook that told you to do it wrong. How could the recipe ever come out right?

This is the great power you and I have, friends. If we fix the information that the system depends upon, the results we get will change. There’s a principle from computer software, garbage in, garbage out. If bad information comes in, you’re going to get bad results out. Fix the bad information by loving the truth. At one time, everyone in the world believed that the Earth was flat. Here’s the sad reality. There are still people who believe the Earth is flat! But bad information is what causes us to have bad results. So let’s change the information we have and love the truth.

At the beginning of the Gospel, Mark chapter one, Matthew chapter four, Jesus looks at Peter and Andrew as they’re fishing by the side of the road, and he says to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.”

Imagine just for a moment what it means to “follow me.” You can imagine Peter saying, “Lord, could we have breakfast first?” Well, not if you’re going to follow him. You don’t get to have breakfast till he stops for breakfast. Andrew thinks, “Lord, why don’t we go down that right road? It looks smoother.” Well, Andrew, if you’re going to follow, you no longer get to choose the road. You need to let Jesus make the choice and follow Jesus.

Now, as I said two weeks ago, sometimes Jesus will look at you and say, “You can choose.” I talked about how I would worry about whether I was disobeying God’s will when I picked out what dry cereal to eat for breakfast. There are many, many things Jesus just simply says, “You could choose that.” But the reality is if Jesus wouldn’t vote no, you cannot be a follower and vote yes. If Jesus stops, you cannot be a follower and keep going. If Jesus turns to one side or the other, you cannot be a follower and keep doing what you prefer. Because, of course, when we say, “Thy will be done, not mine,” we really mean it.

And so the question for followers is this, not only what would Jesus do, but what did Jesus do, and what did Jesus tell us to do? Because when we do that, we remain followers.

Now here’s the problem. One road will always look easier. I know I much prefer to go downhill than uphill. The problem is going downhill is not always the best way to go. Chesterton once said the problem with Christianity is not that it’s wrong, not that it’s a failure, but that it’s difficult. And because it’s hard, it’s not been tried. Sadly, the path that Jesus chooses quite often is uphill and we’re always looking for something easier.

In fact, that’s always the temptation. Jesus said in Matthew 7, “Enter by the narrow gate for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction and those who enter by it are many.” Friends, the common thing that every temptation has is it looks easy for the moment. But Jesus says, verse 14, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life.” And as Chesterton said, for that reason those who find it are few.

Now, I know our have changed since March of 2020, haven’t they? How they changed? It’s gotten harder, and the temptation to take an easier path is always pulling at us like gravity. Friends, the path of following Jesus can be hard at any time, but of course, also during this time when things are difficult. It may be uphill, but – here’s the whole point – it’s worth it because if we do what Jesus asked us to do, the world around us begins to change and we start to get different and better results.

For example, you’ve heard this saying before, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble …” because you can always learn. “But what gets you into trouble is what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Have you heard that saying by Mark Twain? Friends, you need to watch out for what you know for sure that just ain’t so because– by the way, Mark Twain never said this!

Here’s how Jesus said it, John 8:31, “If you continue in My word,” the words of Jesus, the words he said as the disciples followed them. And because they were following, they heard his words. “If you continue in My word,” Jesus says, “you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Friends, the truth is the information that changes everything, and it will set us free.

Part of being a disciple is a desire to seek the truth. Because unless we do, we’ll be led astray by things that we think are true, but they’re simply not. And I know you know there’s a whole lot of that going on all around us. The words of Jesus will keep us aware of the truth.

And not only that, they have another benefit. John 15: 1 talks about this being a part of the vine, being a part of the living thing that is following Jesus. “I am the true vine,” Jesus says, “and my Father is the vinedresser,” the gardener in other words. “Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes …” God keeps us focused on what matters, and God does this by pruning.

Now, you’ve heard me say this before, but it’s worth saying it again. One of my pet peeves is when preachers talk about how painful pruning is. Take a look at this verse. “Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, He takes away.” That’s a branch that’s dead. Pruning is not painful because pruning takes away what we don’t want. Pruning takes away what we don’t need.

I’ve been a type 2 diabetic since 2003. If I woke up tomorrow morning and God had pruned 50 pounds from my waistline, I would no longer be a diabetic! Friends, I guarantee you, if you could wake up tomorrow with those 50 pounds gone, you would say, “Me. Me. Me!” You’d be in the line for that pruning! You’d pay good money for that. You wouldn’t want it back. What a wonderful thing it would be if God would take away what’s dying or causing me to die, and set me free from it. That’s pruning.

But you may not have noticed this in John 15. John 15 very clearly points out what God uses for pruning shears. Here’s what God uses for pruning shears: verse 3, “You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you.” Here’s the pruning shears, friends. And if you let the word go through your life, if you let it go over what you’re doing, it will prune from you what should not be there. I don’t think I’m exaggerating the meaning of this verse. The words of Scripture will grow in your mind and in your heart, and all of a sudden, when you’re tempted to do something you should not, those words will rise up and stop you from doing what you know in your heart you shouldn’t do. If you give in to that temptation, those words will rise up to remind you that you need forgiveness and help. The way that God prunes us to help us to live is by letting Jesus’s words happen to us. And as they do, we will abide in Jesus and he will abide in us. Let the words of Jesus become true for you.

And just like the disciples listened to Him as they walked along with him, listen to his words every day. Because if you skip just a couple verses to verse 7, there’s a beautiful promise, “If you abide in me” – oh, don’t forget the next phrase; please say it along with me – “and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it will be done for you.”

Now, how is it that God can make that promise? Well, see, here’s the thing. If you let God’s words abide in you, it will change what you ask for. That brand new $100,000 Lamborghini will not be something you pray for. It’ll change how you pray. It’ll change what you pray for. It’ll change everything about what you’re seeking. If you let God’s words abide in you, you’ll begin to pray according to those words, you’ll begin to pray according to God’s words will, you’ll begin to pray prayers that God will be eager to answer.

“If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this, my Father is glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” Now, you remember, way back at the beginning, Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men, fishers of people.” A lot of our prayers are going to be for people around us that they find faith and join us and follow. That’s the fruit that we’re talking about here.

So, friends, please remember, there is a plan. There is reason and order in the world around us. And for you and I, as followers of Jesus Christ, there is a path. Jesus Christ created the path.

And the fact that there is a path makes it much, much easier for us to follow. We get up in the morning, and we say to ourselves, “What would Jesus do? What would Jesus have us to do?” And the path that’s described right there in the Bible is right there for us to follow that day. We don’t want to over-function, to do more than Jesus would do. Certainly, we don’t want to under-function and do less than Jesus would do. It’s enough for us just to function and to do what Jesus would do.

I’d like to ask you to think just a moment and imagine that you’ve decided, as I quite often do, that it’s time to drive to Salem to get a Joe’s Pizza. (Joe’s Pizza, by the way, is the most powerful temptation I struggle with all the time.) Here’s the reality of a road. If you can find your way through Kinmundy and turn left on Illinois Route 37, you just have to follow the road to where you want to go. Where a bridge is needed, you’ll find a bridge. Where there’s an obstruction, you’ll find the road will curve around it. Not only that, the road will be smooth.

Now, you don’t have to use the road. If you want to, you can drive across country. But, friends, I don’t recommend it, especially when it’s muddy. How are you going to get your car through the creek? You have the freedom to get to Joe’s Pizza in all different kinds of ways, but the smart way is to take the highway. I had a cousin who lives in Kansas who, when they would come and visit in Illinois, they’d always ask me, “Is that a good road?” And I would say, “Well, of course, it’s a good road.” And they said, “No, you don’t understand. In Kansas, most of the roads are dirt roads, and they get muddy, and they’re not good roads all the way through the year.” What we want to know is the direction you’re giving us, telling us to take. And they literally called this the hard road. The hard road is the good road!

Friends, when Jesus makes a road, He helps us to get from where we are to where we want to be. When Jesus makes a road, He helps us to get from where we are to where He wants us to be. And you and I would be wise to keep this in mind. If we want to get from here to there, we need to let Jesus build us a road and then take the road. Now, it may be a little farther than going across country. But it will be easier, and we’ll get there sooner, and it will be safer. From where we are to where we want to be, let’s let Jesus build us a road and then follow along.

Let me mention one other thing that you know very well. A lot of us commute from where we live to work. We follow the road, of course. But have you noticed that, on your way home, automatically, you’re thinking of other things. You make the right turn. You make the left turn. And all of a sudden, there you are, pulling into the driveway. You found your way home without having to think about it!

And all of a sudden, you remember that you meant to stop and get a gallon of milk. If you and I follow the road that Jesus gave to us, it’s going to build up in our mind a habit. It’s going to build up in our mind a tendency to automatically stay on the road. If we let Jesus build a road, following Jesus on that road can almost be – well, you see the picture on the screen – like having an autopilot that keeps us on track. Let Jesus provide you with a road to follow him!

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, we don’t always know what to do. We don’t always know which way to go. But Lord, the path that you lay down for us to follow is trustworthy and reliable. And we pray that you will help us to see the path and, Lord, choose to follow you. And if every day is the same, if every day is filled with blessings, if every day is filled with answered prayers, Lord, we’re happy to receive and be thankful for those gifts. We ask you to help us to stay on the path. In Jesus’s name, Amen!

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources
Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

(If you wish, you can listen to the Prayer of St. Francis being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ )
 

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