JAMES 2:14–17 ESV

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

We’re almost done with our emphasis on the life and ministry of John Wesley. Today we look at sanctification, which is the work of grace that sets us apart for God and aside for ministry. God is making us holy and it is holiness that allows God to use our faith to bring hope to others.

Our text from James this morning is clear in its definition of what genuine faith looks like. To be blunt, if works do not accompany faith, then faith is dead. I’ve always said it like this, works are a natural consequence of faith.

Friday night, my daughters and I hosted eight people over night in our home, all while Ashley was away on the Walk to Emmaus retreat (I’m crazy,I know). Rev. Larry Vinson, his wife Heather, and their 6 children were coming from vacation and headed back to Indiana. Larry and I are in the same doctoral program through Wesley Seminary.

Larry and Heather and I sat up after the kids went to bed and talked ministry into the late hours of the night. When I told him what I was preaching on, Larry provided great insight into James 2. He said this:

“When I was overseas, we were trained to know our job so well that we became unconsciously competent. Unconsciously competent meaning that we should know our job well enough that we could do it without thinking, even in our sleep if we had too. We should become unconsciously competent when it comes to our faith. In other words, our works that demonstrate our faith should be as natural as breathing.“

Ministry for Christians should be as natural as breathing. I love that. If we truly trust in Jesus Christ, then there is a genuine change that has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen in our lives. Grace is transformative by nature. So where we once tended only to ourselves, so now we tend to the things of God, which are personal devotion and outward ministry. Works are natural.

The James text testifies that there are those who think their faith is only a matter of believing in a truth. There are others who believe that they just simply need to do good things. But for those who have welcomed Jesus into their hearts and fully trust in His grace, they have a welling up within them that can’t wait to get out. In fact, you could say that the works they do for Christ Jesus are a kind of eruption that takes place.

God’s desire is to put a love within us that is divine. For a divine love to move into a human space means that change is inevitable. When we look back at what John Wesley was trying to achieve in the early parts of his spiritual life, we see that he had a mere intellectual faith. He was ascribing to a truth. He founded his life on that truth, but he had yet to let that seed of truth drop from the branches of his belief and down into the soil of his soul.

Once Wesley began to trust in God for all things, there was an eruption of power and presence in both his personal devotion and his social witness. John’s personal devotion drew him closer to God. John’s social ministry began to bear fruit. Now Wesley had an authentic faith that led to an authentic witness. The power within moved outward. It has no other place to go. And as the power and love of God erupted outward, it created a firm foundation of faith for others to stand on.

I want to use an image this morning. My girls are in a phase where they are fascinated by lava (don’t ask). Check this out…


Now, lava stirs beneath the surface, building up heat and energy, and once it reaches a certain point it explodes and erupts out, above the surface, and flows outward. That lava makes its ways into places that are low and need to be filled and as it stops and fills and cools, it becomes hard. This is how much of the land we walk on was formed.

Look at how genuine faith spills out because of all that is stored up within. We have the life-changing, soul-shaping grace that is ours through faith and trust, and it can’t wait to get out. And so it gathers and builds up like a powerful fire and spews forth grace into the world. Through the faith of God’s children, we make land for others to stand on; we give them hope and a place to call home amidst the chaos of life.

The lava can’t help but flow. This is what it does. We can’t help but have compassion; we can’t help but show mercy; and walking humbly with our God is natural and right (Micah 6:8). Faith without works is no faith at all. Because for Christians, our works are as natural as breathing. And that naturalness is what John Wesley referred to as Christian Perfection, meaning, that God is perfecting His love within you, making it so that it is Jesus who is living in you and loving through you, for the redemption of the world.

And so we worship, drawing closer to God, and experiencing the fire of His love inside of us. And we work, not with our own efforts, but out of the overflow of transforming grace, bringing others to faith in Christ Jesus.

So, let Jesus build up within your heart. Let the fire of His love change and transform you. Then let the grace of God that has given you life erupt into the lives around you. Let it flow, like a river of mercy, for the whole world to see. Amen.




“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

We’ve been through a lot with John Wesley, and honestly we hope that many of you feel a lot more “Methodist” than you did before. But, you are at a Methodist Church and we wouldn’t exist if we didn’t believe that this is a most excellent way of pursing Jesus Christ.

But for all our talk of pursing Christ, we base our faith on the truth that God is the one in pursuit of us. One of John Wesley’s greatest contributions to theology was his articulation of the nature of God’s grace. Wesley preached that God’s grace pursues us, justifies us, and transforms us.

Wesley referred to grace’s pursuit of God’s beloved as “prevenient grace,” meaning that God’s unearned love for us exists before we know it or accept it, wooing us to Christ. Then, once we receive God’s grace and understand its affects we are justified in heart and mind, coming to believe for ourselves that Jesus is the Son of God, the One who ransoms us from sin and death and saves us to God. Finally, with this change of heart and mind, we then journey with grace on a path of transformation, whereby we are made holy through our relationship with the Holy Spirit. We call that sanctification or holiness.

And all of that is Wesleyan-Methodist holiness in a nutshell. But to illustrate, I want to show you a clip from a popular movie, Les Miserables. Many of you may have seen the musical, whether on stage or on screen. But the original novel, written by Victor Hugo, is absolutely fascinating, being an in-depth look at redemption during 19th century France. The book is packed with Hugo’s issue with the social and religious issues of his day. For 1,500 pages, he pens the need for social reform and the need for religious depth. Hugo cared about the poor and this work is his contribution to that passion.

What you are about to see is a man named Jean Valjean, a convict who can’t shake his criminal past. He is offered a place to stay and food to eat by a local bishop. Early in the morning, we find Valjean doing this…


Jean Valjean finds that he cannot earn grace. Grace is given. He has tried to fix his life over and over again and it doesn’t work. It is only by the grace of God that the Bishop offers that he is forgiven and set on a new path. Jean will then use his gratitude toward God’s grace as his life’s currency from this point forward. Listen to the words of the actual novel by Victor Hugo:

The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice: “Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man.”

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of ever having promised anything, remained speechless. The Bishop had emphasized the words when he uttered them. He resumed with solemnity: “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

We need more people who will offer God’s grace to the world. Like the Bishop, we need to purchase people’s attention through God’s work in us, then let the Blood of Jesus Christ be applied to their lives through faith.

John Wesley thought he was offering grace to the world. But he was only reaching a small amount through the lofty pulpits of the Church of England of his day. When he met George Whitefield, a man he groomed and discipled at Oxford, things changed. Whitefield had taken his preaching to the streets, literally. Thousands of farmers, miners, and laborers were listening to the gospel, making decisions for faith, and Wesley wanted in. After experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit in such a way, Wesley would write in his journal over the next several days:

I left London and… in the evening I reached Bristol and met Mr. Whitefield there. I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me an example on Sunday; I had been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church… [the next day] At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking…to about three thousand people.”

Wesley’s word “vile” is in reference to his stepping outside the walls of the church and reaching a crowd that was traditionally looked down upon. In other words, his ministry would be to the Jean Valjean’s of the world. Wesley would now spend the rest of his ministry among all people, especially the poor. He would focus on bringing salvation to anyone, at any cost.

That same attitude is reflected in a prayer that was adapted by Wesley for use in a service of re-commitment. Wesley was asking for all Christians to be employed by God for the transformation of the world. And so this is what makes us Methodist, a lay led movement of Jesus-centered, Biblically holy, preaching, singing people who tell of the glory of God through their lives.

In your bulletin this morning, there’s a card with the covenant prayer on it. I want us to say it together. Follow my cadence and let’s affirm this loudly and with confidence:


I am no longer my own,

but yours. 

Put me to what you will,

rank me with whom you will;

put me to doing, put me to suffering;

let me be employed for you,

or laid aside for you,

exalted for you, or brought low for you;

let me be full,

let me be empty,

let me have all things,

let me have nothing:

I freely and wholeheartedly

yield all things

to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

you are mine and I am yours. So be it.

And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.



Click here to listen to Sunday’s sermons by both myself and Rev. Derek Porter, our Senior Pastor at Smyrna First UMC…

1 PETER 1:13-16 ESV

13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,

15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,

16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Last week, our theme from Adam Hamilton’s book Revival! was that grace is a free gift and that holiness doesn’t come from striving. Pastor Derek and I wanted to make the point that the grace of God is something that is given, not taken. Therefore living holy for Jesus is a work that Jesus does in us first, and through that work we are enabled to live faithfully.

Now, in regards to our text today, the apostle Peter is writing to a people who are ravaged by persecution. The Roman Emperor, Nero, was actively looking for things to pin on Christians, being that they were viewed as a threat to the social, religious, and political life of Rome.

Because Christians’ feared for their lives, their hope was in the return of Jesus Christ. But to long for the return of Christ in order to save them from this present darkness, they must first be associated with Christ. To be associated with Christ is to be in right relationship with Him and that means that they must be holy. Beginning in the Old Testament, God has called people to holiness, or a ‘sacred otherness’, because it is only when the Holy God is living in them that they share in communion with Him.

Holiness means that God’s character lives within us, ruling our hearts, and then out of that holy character comes holy actions and holy activities. Now holiness is not boring, stiff behavior. There is joy in holiness; a joy that expresses itself in worship, in praise, in love, and in giving. There is peace and contentment that surpasses even the worst of circumstances.

In this case, the worst circumstances were the dreadful persecutions of the emperor Nero. The emperor had just blamed the Christians for the great fire of Rome, was feeding them to wild animals for entertainment in the arena, and even putting them on crosses and lighting them on fire in his garden by night so that he could enjoy it in the evening.

Peter had every reason in the world to instruct believers to hope in Christ and be found in relationship with him. His encouragement to them is that they should long for holiness, to be associated with God in the most intimate of ways so that they would experience God in both power and peace.

John Wesley knew the joy of holy living, of a life of holiness and the importance of longing for it. During his days as a professor at Oxford, he led a small group of college students who met regularly, studying the Bible, learning the classics, and praying together often. Their structured and methodical meetings led to a term that deemed his later following and our denomination today as “Methodists.” But that methodical campus ministry led to the small group reaching out to young and old, doing ministry and visitations to people in the surrounding area, and even motivating them to put their funds together to hire a teacher to educate local children.

This wasn’t something Wesley and his students did because they needed to check off the to do’s of Christian living. This was an expression of the overflowing love that came from living in the love of Christ. They were living holy because the holy God was living in them. God was literally using them to grow in grace and care for others. This is what it means to be holy, to live a life of sacred otherness. They did what God instructed and they did it out of love in their hearts.

But the key is in recognizing that all this is possible by staying in the word of God, in prayer with one another, and in ministry to those around us. Wesley’s group wasn’t the first group to do this and neither are the Methodists of yesterday, today, or tomorrow. This was the life that came right out of the book of Acts, from the lifestyle and worship of the first apostles.

John Wesley and the early Methodists were experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit as the first apostles did. Listen to Acts 2:42-47 (ESV),

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

That is holiness!!! Sharing in life-changing fellowship with God and one another. And this should be our longing, too. We should long for this way of living, for these movements of the Holy Spirit. And a huge part of that longing comes through prayer. Are we praying for the Spirit to move? Are we praying for God to move in us? Are we asking Jesus to enter into our community and heal the brokenness that we experience every day? We need people who will live holy. We need prayer warriors. We need teachers of the Scriptures.

Hear it again, but this time, with a longing for holiness: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Long for holiness. Pray for the movement of the Holy Spirit. Stay in love with God through fellowship, worship, and study. Come, Holy Spirit. Amen.



1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.

3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.

4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.

5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Pastor Derek and I have been excited to see so many take an interest in the church wide series. Many small groups and Sunday classes are reading “Revival!” by Adam Hamilton, and some are attending the Wednesday evening class and the Sunday afternoon class. The book is about what cultivated revival in both England and in the individual heart and life of John Wesley. The big takeaway is that the personal revival of Wesley led to the corporate revival of England and beyond.

Remember, that John Wesley is the founder of the Methodist movement—a group of faithful Anglican believers, from all classes, who banded together to spread scriptural holiness throughout the world. The few turned into the many, and today, Methodism exists in several different denominations and has a global impact. Our greatest emphasis is on holiness of heart and life. What set Wesley and his Methodists apart from other Christians was that they believed that the perfect love of God was meant to manifest itself fully within believers through the power of the Holy Spirit, enabling Christians to live extraordinary lives of grace. Methodists are responsible for creating small groups and Sunday school, camp meetings and revivals, and we have always had an extremely strong emphasis on education.

All of this, and so much more, stemmed from the life of one man who had been a Christian all his life, but had yet to experience grace in its fullest definition. It wasn’t until Wesley was in his 30’s—after having been raised in the church, trained by his extremely disciplined mother, been to seminary, and then ordained—that he experienced grace in a transformative way.

After a few years of failed ministry in the US, Wesley wandered into a Bible study back in England, where someone was reading the preface to Martin Luther’s commentary on the book of Romans. Luther, the one responsible for the great reformation of the Church in the 16th century, says in that write-up that God’s grace is something that God brings about in our lives, rather than something we achieve. Grace is given, rather than earned or taken.

Wesley had spent his entire life ‘working’ for the Lord, striving to achieve the things the Scriptures taught and revealed. But when Wesley began to trust in God’s work alone, rather than his own efforts, his heart was stricken with a warmth that brought him the freedom to believe, to truly trust in God’s grace rather than manufacture it through a try-hard-life.

Wesley learned of the liberating presence of God in that moment. The conditions of his life are what led to such an understanding and acceptance. No longer did he need to earn the Lord’s favor in order to feel forgiven. Now, he was free to work for the Lord out of the joy he had in knowing that God had forgiven him and loved him. God’s forgiveness of Wesley’s sins was now a fact, a fact that he could stake his life and soul on.

All the while, England was burdened—weighed down by many societal cares and moral failures. Wesley’s culture needed the same liberation that he had experienced in his own heart. The conditions were perfect for revival, for renewal, because there was a withering that had taken place, and Wesley was fired up and ready to water the entire country with the grace of God.

Some great questions to consider at this point are: what are the conditions of my life? Do I need a redefining of grace in my life? Have I spent my entire life believing in God but not trusting God? Am I burdened by all I think I am supposed to be doing for God, but getting very little out of all my trying?

This is where our Scripture for this morning is so important. It speaks directly to the try-hard-life. Jesus speaks to the church in Ephesus, telling them that they have tried very hard and lived very well. Their theology is right. They have followed all the rules and regulations to the ‘T’. But something is missing. They are missing the reason behind it all, the cause of having their faith-house in order. They have forgotten their first love, the thing that all their ‘trying’ is built upon. Love; love for the people that Jesus gave His life for.

Like Wesley, the Ephesian church was doing all the right things but they were forgetting that everything they were to do was based in what God had done. He gave Himself for others. God was graceful, offering His life to save souls and offering His power to transform them into holy people.

Wesley was frustrated. Ephesus was frustrated. Many of us are sitting in here today, and deep down we’re frustrated. Maybe we don’t really believe the things that come from this pulpit or from the Scriptures. Maybe we believe in the truth of the Gospel but we don’t yet fully trust it completely.

If this is the case, then we want to call on you to rest in the fact, in the reality that Jesus has died for you, and for me, and for them; and that fact, that reality seeks to liberate you from trying and trying and trying and coming up short. Jesus wants to take away your frustration; your doubt; your fear; even your efforts.

Hear Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (11:28-30 ESV).

John Wesley had to unlearn what he had learned. John had to trust in God’s wisdom, in God’s efforts on John’s behalf. The Ephesian Church had to unlearn what they had learned. They had to stop judging people without caring for them. Both John Wesley and the Ephesians needed grace, for their own hearts and for the people they were to serve.

Do you need grace today? I hope it has been redefined for you, that you see and know that God has worked and is still working on your behalf. Do you believe in God’s grace but are failing to trust it? I hope that you will rest in grace today, letting Jesus’ work on the cross effect your soul, rather than you trying to manufacture your faith. Let God work in you. Let God do the work, and when He does, you will work for joy, knowing that He has empowered you with a holy and perfect love. Amen.


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MATTHEW 25:14-30 ESV

“”For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

A couple of weeks ago we asked the question, “Who do you love?” The simple answer is, we love God. But once we’ve established that, we then ask the question, “What do you love?” Or better, what does God love? You see, once you love God, then you start to love the things that God loves. So, what does God love? Ultimately, us.

Everything that God has done has been for His glory. And it is God’s will to share that glory with the ones He made in His image. We were made for glory, but in order for glory to dwell within us, sin has to be removed. Their isn’t room for the sin of this world and the holiness of God. So, Jesus Christ has come to rescue us from a life where sin takes up all the space. The space in our lives was created by God, for God to dwell in. We are complete when we have God. Think of it like this: we are saved from sin and to glory. This is what God wants. He loves us, and everything He has done in Jesus Christ has been for us.

What God wants for those who understand His love is for them to participate with Him in His passion for saving others and revealing His glory and love to them. In short, God wants people to get it, to understand deep within their soul that they are loved and valued by God, meant to share His glory; they are saved for the purpose of experiencing real love for God and for others.

The Scripture text for today has a lot to say about understanding God’s love for ourselves and God’s love for others. But it also tells us what happens when we connect to God out of anything other than real love.

Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven, and in that talk He tells a parable of what people can expect from God. We learn from the story that God has employed each of us who love Him to use our gifts, whatever our abilities and capabilities. He recognizes that some people are good at this and others better at that. The point of it all is that we take the goodness God has given us, in whatever measure, and we invest it out of our love for Him.

God’s desire is to use our investment, therefore this is what we should want, too. A side question here is, “Am I using my gifts, no matter how big or small they may seem, for God to use?”

But what happens when our connection to God is based in something other than love? Our text reveals through the third servant that we can be connected to God through something other than love. For this person, it was fear. The servant knew God enough to understand what he was asking, but because of his fear of God, he cowered away from his responsibility. To God, this was unacceptable and the servant was held accountable for their disobedience. And what a consequence they received, being removed from the glory and presence of God.

When we love God and we love what God loves, we engage in a lifestyle and in activities that draw us closer to God. For servant 1 and servant 2, they engaged in the use of their gifts, what we often call ‘ministry’ in the Church, and they drew closer to God. They were rewarded for their engagement, for investing their lives and gifts for Him.

Side question: what things do you do that draw you closer to God and make your faith feel more alive?

Fear is a paralyzer, turning our love-driven faith-lives into statues of what could have been, rather than what God wants for us right now. During the storm, I was so proud of my girls, as they heard the news reports all weekend and constant conversation on whether or not the power would go out or we would have enough food. Its quite an eye-opening experience to hear mommies and daddies talking about trees falling on our homes and being stuck without much help.

On Monday, many businesses and churches closed down for the sake of safety and unknown concerns. It was smart and we still stand by that decision. But Monday afternoon, as the rain picked up and the wind blew harder, Laney and Maggie set up two chairs in front of the fireplace, one with a guitar and the other with a microphone. As they sat next to each other, picking the strings and singing into the mic, they were happy and at peace. And honestly, so was I. I stopped worrying about whether or not the storm would be bad and starting trusting that God was in this, regardless. The girls looked at me and said, “Look, Daddy. We’re playing ‘Sunday’.”

My girls chose to love God in the midst of the unknown. Worship is what they loved because it drew them closer to Who they love—God. Its so important that we understand that fear isn’t a genuine connection to God. Only love is a connection that invites glory into our lives.

If you are afraid today, we invite you to love God through giving your gifts in someway in order to connect to God. Let go of your fear and take hold of the gifts and blessings God has given you so that you can experience the glory of God in your soul. The Lord wants to light you up with life—His life, in you.

Who do you love? What do you love? Love God. Love the relationship He’s given you through Jesus. Let go of your fear. Take hold of His glory. Amen.


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“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.””

“Who do you love?” That’s the question we want to pose to you today. We live in a society where everything competes for our attention and really our loyalty. Right now, we’re living in the most significant sporting season of the year, as soccer leagues and post-season baseball compete with the beginning of both college and professional football. And the basketball and hockey fans are gearing up for their seasons, waiting for baseball to end and the football hype to go away.

In the technology world, Apple is announcing their latest iPhone on the 12th and Samsung has suddenly moved up the launch date on their competing phone to compete with Apple’s announcement. It’s ridiculous, right? And all of this in the wake of foreign wars and natural disasters that leave people helpless, homeless, and hopeless.

And then there’s Jesus. In our text for today, He’s just created a lot of buzz through statements He’s been making and works He’s been doing. As a result, a large crowd has gathered to hear more. They’ve congregated on the beach, leaving little room for Him to speak. So, He gets on a boat and pushes out just far enough away from the shore for everyone to see and hear Him.

In order to teach them about faith, He tells them a parable about a sower who is spreading seeds, and there are various circumstances that are making it difficult for the seeds to grow. The point of the parable is to show the importance of cultivating our lives so that we do not find ourselves being robbed of faith, shallow in faith, or having faith suffocated.

But, something else is going on here. This discourse isn’t just about the parable. It’s also about the importance of the disciples learning who they really love. If they are going to do God’s work, they must love God and love others enough to step out and spread Jesus’ salvation message to others. He’s saying this for their benefit, something Jesus reveals later in the chapter. The disciples are to take the truth to the people and explain it them. He is cultivating them to be teachers and preachers, who sow the seeds of salvation to a world that is robbed, shallow, and suffocating. And so Jesus puts it to the disciples, essentially saying to them, “Who do you love? Do you love them so as to tell them the truth?”

Will the disciples choose to love the world God came to save or will they keep within themselves the best kept secret in the universe? Do they love God enough to obey Him? Do they love the people enough to save them from a thieving, shallow, suffocating world? Who do you love?

This text reminded me of something my dad, Wesley, did back in the early nineties. He wanted to sign me up for tackle football in our hometown. So he loaded me up and took me down to the Park and Rec center, only to find out that there was no tackle football for the 9 and 10 year olds. My dad knew in that moment that this could be the reason why our middle school and high school football teams were suffering from terrible slumps season after season. There was no culture of football being instilled in the lives of the kids as they were growing up.

So, being the man he is, he asked the director what it would take to start the program. She laughed because the task was too big to undertake. The equipment was too old, there were no jerseys, and besides all that there were no coaches and no kids. That didn’t stop Wesley. He told her to give him a little time.

Dad went home and got on the phone. He called his former football buddies from high school and asked them if they would be interested in coaching. They said yes. He called up his friend groups and literally begged them to let their children play. They said yes. The coaches put in money, the parents put in money, the Park and Rec put what little money in that they could scrounge, without a budget, into the program, and all of a sudden there was football for kids for the first time in two decades.

My dad loved his community and together with the other coaches, they used their love for the game to give their community an opportunity to teach children and their families about athleticism, teamwork, and character development. This was an investment into something bigger, giving people a chance they never had until this. Who do you love?

And so, who do you love? Do you love people enough to go out into a boat and yell up to the folks on the shore? Do you love others enough to take the good seed that you have and spread it in places that seems almost pointless? Will you work outside your family, your friends, and your small group?

Do you love God enough to trust Him with this mission of spreading the gospel? Do you love God enough to follow Jesus to those seemingly pointless places? Who do you love?

Now, I want to address those of you “on the beach,” those of you who are struggling with your faith. Are you on a path where you are vulnerable to God’s good news being taken away from you? Are you surrounded by hard places and shallow soil, and it looks like you might not stand a chance? Are you surrounded on all sides by things pressing in on you, choking out your faith, and taking away any chance of receiving believing faith?

We want you to be on good soil. We are offering you better soil than you have. We want for the seed that the Sower has to fall on a place where it can thrive. But in order for that to happen, you have to come and place yourself before Jesus. He will provide good soil for His life to grow in you.

Who do you love? Today, we can sow and we can be sown, but that will be up to you. Who do you love?


MARK 10:35-45 ESV

“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.””

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series as much as Pastor Derek and I have enjoyed preaching it. Our GET IN THE GAME series started with DRAFT DAY, understanding that God has drafted us onto His team; then we learned about TEAM DEVELOPMENT, about how God is equipping us for His redeeming work; then last week we talked about COMPLETING THE PASS, how we are to use our discipleship for disciple-making.

Today, we look at SECOND STRINGERS, and to just go ahead and give it away, we’re going to take a look at how we are not the star players in this game of bringing salvation to the world.

Our text for today is extremely interesting. We find the disciples walking with Jesus, as He is making His way to Jerusalem. He has just told them what is to happen to Him, that He is to be betrayed, handed over to the enemy, tortured, killed, and then resurrect on the third day. This was a lot of information to process all at one time and the disciples just didn’t quite it.

So, two of the disciples, the brothers James and John, ask something of Jesus that seems strange and comes off as awkward. They ask Jesus if they can sit in the places of honor, to His left and His right, at the end of days, after all is said and done. When I read this text, my first response was, “Here they are, walking with Jesus, the One who has come to bring forgiveness of sins; the One who is making room for the outcasts, the unloved, and the forgotten, and His disciples—in the midst of ministry, this ongoing rescue mission—have forgotten about the very ones they’ve been sent to serve, and then have the audacity to ask for honored seats!!!”

I mean, they’ve witnessed things we would give anything to see. They’ve seen miracles, exorcisms, resurrections and then they ask for honor?! How does this happen? Are they ungrateful? Are they blind? Are they selfish? Only after exhausting some of these questions can we come to the truth that, even though they’ve been with Jesus, they still don’t get it. They don’t really understand what they’re doing or know what they’re asking.

Many of us live our Christians lives, praying and giving, serving and singing, reading and studying, and we find ourselves falling short or losing perspective. Its not hard, actually. But our falling short is typically a result of one misplaced idea, that we are somehow doing the work that changes minds and transforms heart.

The truth of the matter is that we are not the star players in God’s game of redemption. Let me illustrate. In football, there is a term for the different classifications of players called “strings.” If you are one of the best players on the team, you are considered to be on the “first string.” These are the players that the coach depends on the most because they get the job done. The substitutes or next best players are called the “second string.” These are the players who go in to relieve the first string if they are tired, hurt, or the score is really high and they don’t want to risk injury to the star players.

One common function of the second string players is to practice with the first string, as they line up against the star players in order to run plays and give the best players the chance to hone their skills. In high school, I was a second stringer. Every single practice, my job was to give the first string my best, so that they could practice and grow in their gifts and abilities. I found out pretty quickly, though, that it was just something the coaches said in order to let the first string beat the snot out of the underclassmen. I’m kidding.

But seriously, it was my job to open up the first string players abilities by giving them opportunities to succeed. The second string served the first string. In ministry, we are not the first string. Jesus is. It is Jesus Christ who came in order to do the work that no on else could. It is the Son of God who has saved the sinner, transformed the heart, and rescued the soul. We are the second string, in service to God’s first string, Jesus Christ.

But when we try and take the limelight, when we exercise our discipleship for the wrong reasons or try to be the star, we act in our imperfections or our pride. What we should want is for Jesus to work, to touch the heart of the sinner and so bring them salvation and glory. As second stringers, we know that glory. We’ve tasted it because we serve God’s best, Jesus Christ, and we open up opportunities for Jesus to have His saving influence in people’s lives.

I love this passage in Luke, as it helps us understand the service of the second string disciple. Luke 14:

“Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”” (Luke 14:7-11 ESV)

There’s at least one very important thing we need to take away from this, and that is that James and John then, and now us today, should want others to have the glory that we’ve tasted. All of our work and all of our worship should so direct us to introduce others to the saving truth and love of Jesus Christ. We should want this for them. And that means that we should take the lower chair, the furthest spot, so that they can be close to Jesus. For those of us who know God’s love, we should want it for others and so give them a chance to experience it.

We are the second stringers, the one’s who’ve been drafted, developed, and completed for the sake of serving others. We serve and love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we serve and love others as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). This is the mission of God, the ministry of Jesus Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, summed up for us as we play second string to God’s best, Jesus Christ, the First String star–player in God’s game of salvation. Amen.



“In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet: “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.'””

I hope this has been helpful, looking at the ministry of the prophet Haggai and God using him to call the people of Israel back to making God a priority. My selfish ambition behind moving through this book with you is that you will see the importance of moving God back to the proper place in your life.

100% of the time we can ground the source of our issues in the fact that God is not at the center of the situation. With Jesus Christ at the heart of any matter, we can respond well to the good, the bad, or the ugly. For the Israelites in our text, life was not going to get better until they tapped back into their spiritual lives and God was made central.

Our text this evening deals with God’s desire to bring peace. By the end of these 9 verses, it would seem that God is almost excited about what is about to happen. He and His people are working together, building the temple and making it into something worth celebrating. God has reminded the people that the silver and gold of this world belong to Him and that these things will serve His temple by making it majestic. The house of worship that sat in ruin will now surpass its former glory. It is going to stand out and be known as the house of God.

But this will take their participation. The key terms and phrases we read in the passage are important to point out and they go like this: be strong; work; I am with you; my covenant; my spirit; fear not; these things are mine. Let’s quickly look at how they connect.

The first key term is be strong. In order for this work to pan out, to be completed, the people will need to do what they failed to do the first time. They will need to be strong and be strong in their faith. From the top down, the Lord is calling the people to engage. It will take everyone pitching in to combat the temptation to halt or stop the work.

And what are they being strong in? Their faith and work. This is the second key term. They must work in faith and it will take strength to do it, and the strength that they will work in this time, unlike last time, is the strength of the Lord, for He has declared that He is with them.

This is the third key term We’ve heard this before, in the last chapter. When the Lord is with us there is focus, there is perseverance, there is a strength beyond ourselves that gives us perspective and purpose. The people lacked that before. Remember how when they lost the fear of the Lord, the fell and faltered in their responsibilities. But when the fear of the Lord returned, they found perspective and purpose.

The fourth key term is God’s covenant. God made a promise to bless the nations using the people of Israel. But they can’t bless the world if they are not a light that witnesses to God’s glory. How can they be a worshipping people if they have dropped their faith and let God’s house stay in ruins? And so, God is reminding them of the promise He made and is stirring them to engage their end of the covenant, to be a faithful people.

The fifth key phrase is my spirit remains in your midst. God will not leave nor abandon His people. He will remain with them, in their very presence, as they work, as they worship, as they live according to His redemptive purpose. This plays into the sixth key term fear not. Because God will remain with them, they have nothing to be afraid of, for God is their strength and portion. When they run into trouble, they have but to lean on God for what they need and He will provide.

And receiving what they need is the seventh key term, as God claims the materials that are needed to make the temple a greater glory than it was in the former days. God will make this people’s witness and worship brighter than in the days before it. He has claimed the silver and the gold and all the resources that are required. He declares He will shake the nations, as if to say He will turn them upside and shake the riches of the foreign lands to fund and fix the temple properly.

Want I want for you to take away from this text tonight is that God will provide you with the peace of heart and mind to live your life successfully, according to God’s definition of success. The peace that surpasses all understating that we read about it in Philippians 4.7 is a peace and comfort that allows us to live as a witness to God’s redemption in our lives that can be others redemption if they’ll be receive it.

In Haggai, God is restoring His temple so that the world may see His glory. For us today, God is restoring the temple that is His faithful followers so that the world may see God’s glory in us. God will furnish for you and in you what is required for you to be restored and for others to be restored because of you.

You may be here tonight and need to be restored. You are a temple that has experienced rot or ruin. I want you to know tonight that you can come to Jesus and begin again. You may be person who thinks you have little or nothing to give this world, for whatever reason, and I’m here to tell you that God wants to shake the nations of this world upside down to empty their pockets in order to adorn you as a holy witness, a walking temple, that shines forth His glory to someone who needs His presence and peace within themselves.

I hope that you will be revived and restored, in your own very important way. I pray that you will welcome God into your life and see His power and glory through a vibrant and strong relationship with Jesus Christ. The Son of God desires to make you whole. Let Him complete you today. Let the peace of God come upon you. Let the Holy Spirit give you life. Amen.


“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

In our text this morning, we’re dealing with the Christians that are found in Philippi. There were houses churches all throughout, supporting Paul’s mission and ministry through giving, but these churches didn’t all get along. Part of Paul’s mission was to spread the gospel in such a way that it mobilized Christians into churches and communities of believers that could further the message.

But, if the communities couldn’t get along, then sharing the same vision, mission, and mindset would sabotage the success of spreading the message of salvation throughout the world. And even worse, if they couldn’t put the good of others first, as we read in vv3–4, then they would be missing the character of Jesus altogether, and the gospel they would share as a result would be void of power.

So, today we want to focus on team development. Using our football theme for this series is intentional because we are starting new routines that include new opportunities. For some its back to school and work, for others its adjusting to the routine of family life and traffic patterns. But for us in the Church, this is a time for us to hear the call to GET IN THE GAME; to re-engage our spiritual disciplines and our mission-mindedness.

Last week we talked about DRAFT DAY, how God desires to equip you and use you for a redemptive purpose in the world. Today, we talk about team development because once we have the players on the field (or the people back in the church), its our time to become a redemptive force in our community.

We become a powerful force for God when we are engaged in our spiritual lives. If you are growing, then you are reflecting more and more of Jesus to those around you. If you are involved, then you are working for the formation of other people. What we want to see for our church is a team that shares the same mind of making disciples who make disciples.

The mission of the United Methodist Church is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” In order to do that, we have to share that vision as a team. We have to put the salvation and transformation of those around us first.

Friday afternoon, I put together a video that I think will help us out. I spend time with Coach Alan Nicely, our director of missions and evangelism. That is how we know him. But to the rest of Smyrna, he’s Coach Nicely, the 32 year Cobb County educator, 28 year football coach, 7 of which he was the head football coach for the Campbell High School Spartans. I want you to listen to Coach talk about team development and see how perfectly it translates into Christian discipleship and ministry.

Among all the important things Coach said, there’s two things I want you to take away from his message, if nothing else: 1) fundamentals—the basic, ground level things that undergird all that we do; and 2) love one another. Loving one another is the essential, foundational piece of everything we do as Christians. When we love one another and practice this fundamental characteristic, we prove Christ to be in our hearts and alive in the world. The love of Jesus Christ overcomes all manner of evils and sins.

I can’t help but think about the hate and the evil of racism that took place in Virginia this past weekend. Folks, if we want to show the world Jesus Christ, then we must open up our arms with a supernatural power and unleash God’s presence through our words and actions. Our mission to make known the saving knowledge of Jesus can’t happen without us being grounded in the fundamentals, founded on love, and developing as a team each and every day. This message depends upon you knowing your Bibles, praying often, and raising your children to know the transforming love of God! These fundamentals are what grow us into the image of Jesus for the world to see and know.

So, will you join us in the mission to making disciples, of transforming the world? Will you be developed as a team by learning and practicing the basics so that Christ is known? Will you get in the game, and play your role in God’s mission to the world? I pray you will and I hope you will come talk to us about it. There’s more to come next week. Amen.


HAGGAI 1:12–15 ESV
“Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord 's message, "I am with you, declares the Lord." And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.”

Last night, we began in the book of Haggai. The prophet was raised up to tell God’s people that they needed to resume the construction of the holy temple or their lives would continue to experience discontent. The people had focused all their energy when they returned home from captivity on building back up their lives, but they neglected God’s sanctuary. Haggai’s message was clear: restore the temple and you will be restored to peace.

As we look at the text for tonight, we see a complete 180º turn in the people. As the text tells us, the Spirit stirs Haggai, then stirs the governor, then stirs the high priest, and then stirs the people to obedience. The work of the temple resumes! The people listened to the words of the prophet and obeyed the Lord’s call. The Spirit stirred the people from the top down.

The real proof is found at the end of v12, when it simply says, “And the people feared the Lord.” This wording is important because it signifies that the people have regained perspective. The reverent fear of the Lord is what sets the proper perspective for approaching and worshipping God.

In Proverbs 1:7 we read, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The people of God had little fear or reverence for God, which is why their houses were extravagant and the temple was unfinished and empty. They were foolish to ignore the importance of putting God first, of having Him at the center of their lives and of their livelihoods. But through the stirring of the Spirit, the fear and reverence for God was restored, and the work of the temple resumed. And when the people resumed their work for God, God resumed His work in them.

As Christians, we believe the the Holy Spirit is moving, always and everywhere. God’s presence is available and His power is accessible. But we must listen to the Spirit’s call, whether through the scriptures or through the activity of God around us, if we want to tap into what God is doing. God is stirring up peace in the hearts of those who will love Him and obey His word. Peace is our for the taking, if we will put God first.

The stirring of the Spirit that we read about in our text is something that we can tap into if we will be about the work of the Lord. We must not wait till things get bad and let the ruin start its awful, destructive process. That work, that stirring, is essential and God desires we live with His Spirit as a people who are stirred to action. That action or activity happens through all sorts of ministry. Whether we are table to teach, share, guide, or volunteer, we will be able the Lord’s work. Of all the ways to contribute to God’s stirring up in the world, it is prayer that is central to all of it. Through prayer, we connect our hearts to God and we store up treasures and peace on behalf of those we pray for. Prayer is an essential characteristic of God’s stirring Spirit.

Now, all of this talk about stirring and what that means for us tonight reminds me of something funny but familiar to all of us: cooking. I’m probably going to make you hungry, but bear with me as we look at how the Holy Spirit stirring in our lives is akin to what is required when cooking certain things.

Just this morning I asked my mama about a good recipe that requires stirring. Her grandmother had the most amazing chocolate pie recipe. Growing up, mama would double Nana’s pie recipe. She would make one that we all could eat warm, right out of the oven, and then put the other in the fridge and cover it with foil for daddy to eat later when he got home. Mama liked it warm and daddy liked it cold.

That pie is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. That good crust with the rich chocolate filling and the fluffy meringue topping. In the end, its that good chocolate that makes that pie what is.

Making the chocolate just right is important. You gotta get the mixture right—the cocoa, the flower, the milk, the eggs, the sugar, the butter, the vanilla flavoring. Everything has to be stirred and mixed and put in at the right time. But most importantly, you have to stir that chocolate or you’ll burn it. If you burn it, the pie is ruined. The scorched taste will permeate the whole dessert. You have to keep that chocolate moving, bringing it to the right thickness, and then pour it into the pie crust.

My friend Kristen is an outstanding cook. She told me about all the things she has to keep stirring when she’s in the kitchen. I’ll quote her here: “You have to stir the old fashioned boiled chocolate icing until it cools or it will lump. You have to keep stirring gravy to keep the lumps out. Anything you put milk or cream in will curdle if you don't stir it. Scrambled eggs will burn to the pan. The old fashioned caramel candies have to be stirred for almost an hour, and it's thick and hard to do if you’re not strong. I have to stir my Alfredo sauce constantly until the cheeses all melt. It takes a long time.”

The people of God abandoned their work because it got hard, they stopped stirring, in other words. The recipe of their lives didn’t pan out because they had both a missing ingredient and a missing ethic. 1) God was not central and the focus of their lives, and 2) they didn’t stir themselves to work hard for God.

The Spirit of God came and moved within the people but this was God’s way of getting their attention and showing them what life could be like. Once the work resumed and their spiritual life began to make sense again, God reminded them of a very important point. He says in v13, ““Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord 's message, "I am with you, declares the Lord."”

God did not abandon His people the way His people had abandoned Him. For God to show such mercy by saying He would be with them, shows that He was quick to turn His heart to them, even in the midst of their sinfulness. Look at how Paul tells us in the scriptures of God’s love for us, even when we are sinful and neglecting Him, as Paul says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).

My challenge for us tonight is that we would be stirred back to believing, active faith; that we would be stirred into a powerful, Spirit-filled worship of God; that we would be stirred into Christian action for a lost and dying world. From the top down, the Spirit of God seeks to stir up salvation in the hearts of those who do not know Him; and for the ones that do, He desires to stir up a mercy and grace that would be shown and shed on the hurting and wandering who are outside these very walls tonight.

I would bring back last night’s challenge to make this point. Consider your ways, reexamine your life, reevaluate your faith, and be stirred to action by the ever-moving Holy Spirit of God. Pray and pray often, as is the proper activity of a believer of God and follower of Christ. Ask you pastor or Sunday school leaders who it is that you can be praying for. Join them in the sometimes lonesome-task of lifting up the hurt and the needs of a community you are in the midst of. Put Jesus back at the center and be stirred. Amen.