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Monday, July 6, 2020

Jesus’ Power Helps Us Be Good Friends


Today, I'll finish studying the themes and passages from each day of VBS. 
So far, we’ve learned:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things.
Jesus Power Gives Us Hope.
Jesus Power Helps Us Live Forever.  
Today, we learn:  Jesus Power Helps Us Be Good Friends.

John 15:12 says, “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.

Jesus also said that everyone would know we are Christians by our love.  He didn't say they would know we are Christians by the way we dress or how we speak or where we go to church or even by the stances we take on political issues.  He said, they will know we are Christians by the way we love each other.

It is essential that Christians love each other and stick together.  You cannot live out your faith in  People were created to be together.  One of the hardest things during this pandemic is the isolation.  We were not meant to be stuck at home all by ourselves.  We were not meant to be unable to hug or even shake hands. (That's why it is so awkward when we get together and we don't know whether we should or not.  We need some form of social greeting that doesn't require physical contact, but we also need physical contact.)  God designed us to be together.
Jesus all by yourself.

Think about it.  When Jesus came as the Son of God, filled with the power of God, he didn't need any help to fix the problems of the world.  He could have snapped his fingers and fixed them all by himself.  But he didn't.  Instead, he chose 12 disciples to work with him. It would have been easier to do it alone.  Why get 12 people together with all their problems and personality conflicts.  You know, James and John were brothers; you know how siblings can be.  One time I was driving with my two daughters when they were younger and the older one screams, "Dad!  She breathing!"  And I said, "Thank God!  That means she's alive!"  (What she meant was, she's breathing too loud and it's getting on my nerves!")  Don't you know James and John were probably always getting on each others nerves--not to mention the 10 other disciples.  Why would Jesus put himself through all that?  Why not save the world all by himself?  I guess it was essential for the work to be done together as a group effort.

Jesus established the Church to be a family of believers united to support one another with friendship as we tell the world about Jesus.  We see several pictures of the church working and living together in divine unity--especially in the book of Acts.   

Acts 2:42-47
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Acts 4:32-35
32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.

Light in the Darkness
The early Christians were vastly outnumbered.  Most of the people around them did not believe in Jesus or even care to show love, kindness, or goodness.  This small group of Christians—only about 5,000 people in a city of over 200,000 was a bright light in a dark, dark world.  “This small band of believers needed to stick together and support each other.”[i]

Maybe it was easier for there earliest Christians to stick together than it is for us.  There wasn’t a pandemic on the loose.  Or was there?  COVID-19 isn't the first pandemic the world has faced.  There have been many plagues that have ravaged the world in former times--bubonic plague, the black death, and others that we can't even name.  Many of these were far deadlier to humanity than COVID-19.  I was watching a documentary the other day and they said the black death killed as much as 80-90% of many of the community it struck.  Can you imagine?  That would be horrible!

The early Christians had deal with these devastation.  They stuck together through them.  In fact, many scholars believe that the way they stuck together through the various plagues contributed to the rise of Christianity throughout the world.  It contributed in two ways.  First of all, Christians survived the plagues at higher rates than non-Christians.  Think about it. when everyone around you is dying and people were frightened, they would hide in their homes and abandon their friends and family.  Christians didn't abandon each other.  And because they cared for one another--even being willing to die for each other--they had a better chance of surviving sickness than others who had no on to care for them.  A second reason plagues helped Christianity become more prominent is because non-believers saw how the CHristians love one another, and even how they reached out to care for and love non-Christians.  In the face of death, when everyone was abandoning each other, Christians stuck together and even cared for others who were not Christians.  And this showed non-believers the Christians faith was authentic; and many non-believer began to believe.

Today, Christians have many more tools to help us stick together.  Even though we have been told to isolate ourselves, we have phones.  We can so easily call one another to check on each other.  We also have text and email.  In a few seconds, we can send a message to someone.  We have programs like Zoom, where we can all gather in a virtual room for a video conference where we can see and hear each other.  And this is not even mention social media and how it can be used to help us stay connected.

Are we using our technology to stay connected?  Is sticking together as the family of Christ a top priority in our lives?  What are you doing to stay connected?  What will you do in the days ahead?

Alone, Christians are vulnerable.  When Christians stick together, we are unbreakable.

Jesus’ Power Helps Us Be Good Friends
Since Jesus wants us to be good friends, His Holy Spirit helps us to be good friends.  If we are willing to follow the Spirit’s guidance, we can make friends, be friends, and bring our friends to Jesus.  Let me give you 5 simple tips about how to make good Christian friends.[ii]

First of all, pray about it.   Pray for God to show you who should be your friends.  Yo never know whom God may place in your path today who needs a friend.  And you never know how that friendship may grow and bless you.  Pray that God would send you people to befriend.  And also pray about the depth of the friendship. Not all friends are created equal.  Some will be more casual and some will be deeper relationships.  And you need to know the difference and know that it's alright to have different kind of friends.  Pray for the wisdom to know what kind of friends you have.  And of course, pray for your friends.  Pray God will bless them and care for them.  And pray that your friendship will grow.

Second, be honest. Don't try to pretend to be someone you are not.  Just be yourself.  Your true friends will accept you for who you are.  Be authentic and have integrity.  And tell your friends the truth, even if it is a hard truth.  They might not like it at first, but--if they are a true friend--they will appreciate your honesty and see that you offer it in love.  My friendship with my best friend began 24 years ago when we worked together in a youth program.  He was the youth director and I was a volunteer in the program.  He asked for feedback from all his volunteers about his job performance.  I thought he was doing a terrific job, but also saw a few things he could do better.  I praised him, but also offered my constructive criticism.  Eddie really appreciated my honesty and told me some time later that it showed him I was a true friend.  That friendship grew from that point on and has lasted through many good times and hard times until we are now more like brothers than friends.  Honesty is the foundation of the best friendships.

Third, be selfless.  It’s not about you. We tend to befriend people we enjoy being around, but it would be self-centered if that were the only thing that made up our friendship.  Ultimately, friendship is about selflessly giving to your friends.  Jesus said, "There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:13)  Great friendships are build when both friends give selflessly expecting nothing in return.

Tip number four:  be vulnerable.  Vulnerability creates an instant connection. When we open up with our friends, we put ourselves in their hands and a true friend takes that responsibility seriously.  They appreciate that we have trusted them and they will also trust us.  Being vulnerable helps weave your life into your friend's life.  Now, it is important to remember tip number one when you begin to open up to your friends.  Remember, friendships come in different levels.  Friends must earn each other's trust to go to deeper levels of vulnerability.  Pray to know your friendships.  Don't be completely vulnerable with someone who hasn't earned your trust.  That isn't wise.  But then only way to earn trust is to be given a chance. So, start opening up slowly and move to deeper levels as a friend earns your rust.

Lastly, have fun!  Fun is more than entertainment.  We bond with our friends as we have fun together.  It helps to weave the chords of our lives together.  You don't have to be having fun all the time.  But having fund together has to be part of the equation.  It is something that makes friends truly friends.  That's one of the reasons why it is so essential that church members get together regularly for fun and fellowship.  It's not just something extra we do--like being in a social club.  Fun and fellowship weaves together our lives and bonds us as one body--the body of Christ.

Make a Friend.  Be a Friend.  Bring a Friend to Christ.
Now when it comes to making friends,  you must both reach in and reach out.  I suggest that most of your friends should be people who have the same deep core values as you.  Therefore, if you are a Christian, seek strong Christian friends; they will help encourage you to follow Christ and grow in His love (and you will do this for them too).  Your Christian friends will be the people you can count on the most.

However, we should also reach outward to non-believers.  Jesus gave us a mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  We can only do this as we reach out to be friends to non-Christians.  When we have a solid foundation of Christians friends to keep us strong and on the right path, we can be confident to be friends to even those who don't share our same values.  In doing so, we can grow and learn and we can help our new non-believing friend grow and learn too.  And perhaps our friends may see the special faith we have and desire to pursue it as well.  Then they will grow to a deeper level of friendship as they learn to share our faith.

So, make a friend. Be a friend.  And bring a friend to Christ.  How will you be a friend this week?




Monday, June 29, 2020

Jesus' Power Helps Us Live Forever


We are studying the daily themes and passages from the Rocky Railway VBS curriculum from Group Publishers.  The theme is “Jesus’ Power Pulls Us Through!”  So far, we’ve learned:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things
Jesus Power Gives Us Hope 
Jesus Power Helps Us Be Bold
Today, we learn:  Jesus Power Helps Us Live Forever! 

Romans 8:11 says, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

Today’s message is the most important one of this whole series.  It is the very cornerstone of everything Christians believe and do.  It is the Good News that Jesus died, but that he also rose from the grave.  The full story of Jesus death and resurrection is found in the Gospel of Matthew in chapters 26-28.  I will highlight a few passages from those chaoters.

An Uncomfortable Truth
Does death make you uncomfortable?  Does it scare you?  Many people don’t like to talk about death.  I get it.  Death is scary.  Death is sad.  Death is something we all want to avoid, but none of us will be able to avoid it forever.  Death is part of life—at least it is part of life in a broken world. 

Romans 3:23, 3:10, & 6:23
You see, Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard.”  There is no one alive who hasn’t sinned.  We are broken, corrupt, sinful people.  Name one person you know who never sinned.  You may name some really good people, maybe even a “saint”, but even they have done things they shouldn’t.  And the problem with labeling a person “good” or “saintly” is that we use human standards.  (Maybe someone says you are really good at basketball.  But if they put you on the court against Michael Jordan, they would see you are really terrible. Right?)  Well, when we view people next to the holiness of God, we see we are terribly flawed.  Romans 3:10 says, “No one is righteous—not even one.”


And Romans 6:23a says, “For the wages of sin is death…”  Death is the consequence of sin.  This was not God’s original plan.  However, humanity is consumed with the selfish desire to be independent of God and in control of our own destiny.  We don't want God's Kingdom to come.  We want our own personal kingdoms to persist.  Our selfish insistence to be independent of God leads to all kinds of hurt and pain and evil and suffering; and ultimately it leads to death.

Jesus' disciples didn’t want to talk about death either.  Every time he brought it up, they wanted to change the subject.  So he used the Jewish Passover celebration to illustrate it for them. 

Matthew 26:26-30
26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

27 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. 29 Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

30 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

The Old Rugged Cross
There’s an old hymn we sing called “The Old Rugged Cross”.
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross
The emblem of suffering and shame

“You see, not everyone believed that Jesus was God’s Son.  Some people thought he was a liar.  They got so angry that they arrested Jesus.”[i]  They put him on trial, but it was not really a fair trial.  They tortured him and sentenced him to death. “They forced him to carry a rough wooden cross to a hill called Golgatha.  There, they nailed his hands and feet to that cross and left him to die.  In that time, only criminals were put to death on a cross.  But Jesus never sinned—he was God’s pure and perfect Son!”

The hymn “tells us the cross was an emblem—a picture—of suffering and shame.  Jesus suffered for our shame.  We may feel ashamed of the wrong things we do, the bad choices we all make.  Even though we do a lot of great things, we all have sin."

The old hymn goes on…
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain

“Slain means that someone was killed.  Jesus was the dearest and best.  1 Peter 2:22 says, “He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone.”  When we do something wrong, there’s usually a punishment, a consequence.  When we sin, the ultimate consequence is separation from God.  Forever.  Imagine being separated from God’s love, forgiveness, goodness, power, and joy forever.”

“Even though Jesus never sinned, he willingly dies for you.  He loves you so much that he took the punishment for your wrongs.  It was the only way to heal our friendship with God.  Jesus took your punishment.” 

So I'll cherish the old rugged cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down

"Sometimes we value or treasure or cherish our accomplishments.  A thousand ribbons and awards or good deeds can’t wash away our wrongs.  We can never do enough good things to earn our way into heaven.  The Bible says it this way.  Ephesians 2:8, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”  We are powerless to save ourselves.  Only Jesus can save us.  So, we have to lay down all our pride, our treasures, everything at the foot of the cross  Because Jesus is the one who’s really important."

And I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it some day for a crown

The Resurrection
Thankfully, “Jesus story didn’t end at the cross.  Remember, Jesus is God’s Son, with God’s power!  And that power is stronger than death!  Three days after Jesus died, something incredible happened."

Matthew 28:2-6
2 Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

5 Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.

"Jesus power beat death—on that day, for Jesus.  And today, for you and me.  The Bible promises this:  For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Because of Jesus, we can cling to the cross—the promise, hope, love, and power it represent.  The last line of the old hymn says we’ll exchange our trophies for a crown."


Revelation 21:3-4 give us a vision of the eternal life we’ll have when trust Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  It says, “3 Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

Conclusion
As we close, I ask you: do you trust Jesus?  Will you lay down all your trophies?  Will you cling to the old rugged cross and put all your hopes in the man who died f  If so, then he will raise you to new life too.
or you there and rose to new life?



[i] Rocky Railway Bible Adventures Leaders Manuel, page 30

Thursday, June 25, 2020

What's Happening This Week?

Welcome to The Leaf!
Highlights For June 25, 2020:
Youth Yard Sale
Our New Website
VBS = Family Fellowship Events
Onsite Worship Open to All
Sunday School Plans
Finance Report

A SHORT Word from Pastor Chris

Jeremiah 23:24 - "Can anyone hide from me in a secret place? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?” says the Lord.
Our God is with us always and knows everything about us.  
How do you feel knowing God is with you?  
What does He see when He looks into your heart?


Youth Yard Sale June 24-27
Wednesday & Thursday is by appointment only.
Friday - Open to the public 8am - 3pm
Saturday - Open to the public 8am - 1pm 
Contact Amy Harris for more info at 706-271-6587 or AmyHarris821@yahoo.com

Pleasant Grove Has a Brand New Website - PleasantGrove.cc
Click Here to check it out.  PleasantGrove.cc is your one stop resource to:
--Reserve a seat for worship
--Find online worship & devotions
--Donate online
--Find resources like podcasts, blogs, and other tools
--Get to know more about our staff


VBS is Now Family Fellowship Events
We've changed VBS to be three fun events for all ages.  
We will have games, ice cream, and socially distanced fun.
It's time for our whole church family to see each other.
We want everyone to participate.
"Everyone" means you!
YOU! YOU! YOU!
Open for All Ages.  
We Want You (yes YOU) there!
June 29 | 7:00pm - Family Chalk Night
July 13 | 7:00pm - Music, dancing, & trains!
July 15 | 7:00pm - Ice Cream, water games and a dunk tank!

Onsite Worship Is Now Open To All Ages
Choose the 9 AM or 10:55 AM onsite service.
Enter your information and how many seats you need.
Click “Reserve Seat”.  
Seating is limited so reserve your seat today!
(Call Angela if you need help - 706-217-7933)


Sunday School Plans
Sunday school classes will begin to reopen onsite on July 12.
This will be at the discretion of each Sunday school teacher.
Class members should plan to social distance, wear masks, and disinfect their classrooms after each use.
Contact your Sunday school teacher to discuss and develop a plan.


Finance Report
Thank you for your generosity!
Our total budget for June is $32,000.
We've received $25,229 so far this month.  
We need $6,771 more to meet our June budget.

4 Ways to Give Your Offerings
Mail It - 2701 Cleveland Hwy, Dalton, GA, 30721
Drop It - A secure drop box is on the wall outside the church office
Draft It - Call the church office to set up an automatic bank draft 706-217-7933
Online - Go to www.PleasantGrove.cc and click the donate button in the top right corner

Giving Online at PGMC is Safe and Secure.  We use PayPal, the best online payment tool available. PayPal's powerful network securely processes more than 1 billion transactions each month. Paypal's fraud tools get smarter with every transaction.  It's never been safer to give online at Pleasant Grove.  
Office Hours
Church Office Hours:  Monday - Thursday 8:00 - 11:00 AM.  
Home Office Hours:  Monday - Thursday 11:00 - 3:00.  
Pastor Chris - 770-634-2423  |  Angela Stack - 706-217-7933