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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell… The Art of Losing

1 Peter 5:6 – So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

            Jiu-jitsu is a martial art that uses grappling to defeat an opponent.  Unlike other martial arts like karate and kung fu that teach kicking and punching, jiu-jitsu teaches students to wrestle an opponent to the ground and choke them or twist their joints until they submit.  When a student establishes a proper choke or joint lock, their opponent submits by tapping them so they will release the hold and not injure the opponent.  The “tap” is the most important move in jiu-jitsu.  It allows students to spar at full power without getting hurt and clearly defines when a person submits and the match is over. 
It doesn’t take long for jiu-jitsu students to let go of their ego.  You can’t hang on to your pride for very long when you are getting “tapped out” on a regular basis by people who are smaller and weaker than you.  Even the best jiu-jitsu artists tap out thousands of times in the course of their training.  Tapping out is a great way to learn.  When you tap, you go back and figure out what you did wrong and try again. 
            What is true for jiu-jitsu is true for life.  No one likes to lose.  No one likes to admit their mistakes.  It damages your pride and humbles you, but that’s a good thing.  Losing and admitting our faults are the best ways to learn.  The Disciples messed up again and again in the New Testament and, by God’s grace, it was OK.  They learned from their mistakes and went on to do better.  Through these flawed, mistake-prone people, Jesus established his Church and changed the world forever.
            Since Christians are the Disciples’ spiritual descendants, we should give ourselves and others the freedom to make mistakes, fail, and try again.  We have to change our attitudes so that losing isn’t seen as the end.  It’s just a chance to learn and improve.  Selfish-pride and ego should have no place among God’s people.  Lighten up on yourself and others too.  Seek to be and do your best, but understand that the road to your best will most likely lead through many failures along the way.  If you don’t make a few mistakes, you are playing it too safe. 
            So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.  Of course, I’m no expert and certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…

God loves you and so do I,



Monday, May 23, 2016

Jesus, the Name Above All Names

Philippians 2:5-11
 
Introduction
I’m terrible with names, but after six years I’m finally starting to learn everyone’s names at my church.  For me, that’s an incredible miracle and I give glory to God for it.  Names still slip my mind, but it’s not that I don’t know them.  It’s just absent mindedness I think.  I will look right at someone I know very well and the name just won’t come to me.  I think it’s a disorder! 
I even started pronouncing Andrea Denson’s name right; but the only problem is now I call all Andreas, Undrea!  I finally figured out Barbara (older) and Becky (younger) Haley.  I knew your names were Barbara and Becky Haley for years, but I couldn’t keep straight which one was which!  And I’ve even had fun meeting new people coming to our church like DJ Seifert who joined Pleasant Grove last Sunday and his mother, Susan Stone (who by the way in my head I keep wanting to call Sharon Stone!  So Susan, please forgive me if I ever call you Sharon.  I know who you are, but I’m also an absent minded duffus sometimes!)
And I’ve finally figured out all the Brookers—at least the ones that attend Pleasant Grove.  I think I know who all belongs to who—even the ones who don’t have the last name Brooker anymore.  Of course, I still meet people out in the community sometimes who say they are part of the Brooker family and it catches me off guard because I wasn’t as familiar with them.
            It seems like every church I’ve gone to there are families and names that stand out.  In my last church, it was the Woodwards.  At the one before that, it was the Busbins.  In Lithia Springs, it was the Andrews family.  At East Cobb, it was the Dobbins family and the Ragsdales and others.  These have all been strong, proud families with a rich heritage in their communities.  We all have pride in our family names, but the families that have made the best impact on their church and community for God have been the ones who recognized the Name above all names—Jesus Christ.  The best families pattern themselves after Jesus’ example.
 
Philippians 2:5-11
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
 
            Philippians 2:5-11, is one of my favorite passages in the Bible.  We ought to commit it to memory because it teaches us the attitude of Christ we should imitate.  Though he was the Son of God—deserving respect and admiration, the only person who ever lived who was actually worthy of straight out worship—Jesus was not at all presumptuous.  He was just the opposite.  The Scripture says he was, “humble” and “obedient” and that he served as a slave and even died like a criminal taking our place.  So we who call ourselves Christians should have an attitude like his.
Philippians 2:3-4 says, Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”  That’s pretty straightforward.  It’s hard to do, but not because it doesn’t make sense.  It makes perfect sense; it’s just hard to do. 

Don’t be selfish.
Jesus was very clear that his followers were not to be selfish.  He put it plainly and even took it to its ultimate conclusion saying it like this, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”  This saying of Jesus is listed at least five times in the Gospels; I think that proves Jesus was serious about it.  I know he was, because he lived it.  Jesus didn’t ask his followers to do something he wasn’t willing to do himself.  For his entire earthly ministry, Jesus gave unselfishly.  In the end, he literally gave his own life for our sake.
Giving up your life in order to save it seems contradictory, but Jesus spoke the Truth.  I have seen this Truth played out again and again.  People who surrender their life to God and serve sacrificially are blessed and fulfilled in ways that selfish people never experience. 
What applies to individuals is also true for churches.  I see it all the time, because fewer people are going to church these days.  When a church starts shrinking, the church folks get worried.  They think, “If we don’t do something, our church isn’t going to survive.”  So they try a couple things to save the church’s life.  Some try to increase attendance—invite more people to come.   Some try to “stop the bleeding” of people leaving the church. 
At first glance, that seems like the thing to do, but take a closer look.  Isn’t that “survival” attitude really just a selfish motive in disguise?  Isn’t that just the church trying to “cling to its life?”  What does that have to do with sharing the Gospel?  What does that have to do with showing the sacrificial love of Jesus to others? 
Churches in survival mode try to walk softly and make everyone happy so they will stay.  They are less likely to speak the Truth, because it might offend someone and drive them away.  The irony is people leave “survival mode” churches anyway, because people can tell when the church really isn’t genuinely interested in them and how the church can serve them.  People can tell that churches in “survival mode” are really just interested in the butts and the bucks—getting more butts in the pews and more bucks in the offering plates.  That’s not the Church Jesus calls us to be.  If we want to be the “Church” Jesus wishes us to be and if we want to be the people Jesus calls us to be, we need to let go of our life in service of others. 
The Truth is people (and churches) who care enough to set aside their own personal interests for the sake of others find true life just like Jesus promised.  These are the people who grow in the faith.  These are the churches that flourish.  It seems like an incredible contradiction, but it is a Promise given to us by the Son of God in Holy Scripture. 

Don’t try to impress people.  Be humble.
Jesus wasn’t trying to impress people, but people were impressed by him.  It was just a natural side effect.  You can’t help but take note of someone who willingly gives up everything in order to serve others.  The people who impress me the least seem to be the ones who brag about themselves the most. 
When I was at my last church, we were auditioning drummers for our praise band.  This one guy came in and started talking about how good he was.  He said he got his drum set for free because he was sponsored by Ludwig, a company that makes drum sets.  I was really excited, thinking, “Wow this guy must really be good.  We’d be lucky to have him in our band.”  But when he stopped talking and started playing it was awful!  He played way too loud and he couldn’t keep a steady tempo—he kept speeding up and slowing down at random times. Needless to say, he didn’t get the job as our drummer! I’d rather not have a drummer than have a bad one!
                 On the other hand, the Christians I have known that impressed me the most, weren’t even trying.  There was a guy at my last church who anonymously gave $50,000 to the church.  He didn't want any recognition or for anyone to know who he was.  He also said the church could use the funds anyway they wanted.
                 It’s not about money.  I know a lady who ate lunch with her elderly mother in the nursing everyday for years before she passed away.  She didn't do it for recognition, but for love.  There are others I know that deliver cookies to people who can’t get out of their homes much  and others who faithfully check on their neighbors everyday.  There are people who kneel in prayer for others when no one else sees.
No one knows all the things sacrificial Christians do.  People may not even know their names, because they don’t go around telling everyone about their good deeds.  There are no plaques hanging in the church in their honor.  They’re not seeking glory.  They’re just giving out of genuine love.  And that’s impressive, because that’s the same attitude Christ had.  One Day, God will elevate people with that attitude to a place of honor the same way Philippians 2 says God elevated Jesus to the place of highest honor because he laid down his life for a world of lost sinners on the cross. 

Conclusion
In this life, we are proud of our families.  We are proud of our children. We are proud of our parents and grandparents.  We are proud of our church.  We may even be proud of our names.  But One Day, all these things will pass away.  Do you realize that in heaven it won’t matter if you’re a Brooker or a Mullis or a Denson or a Caylor?  In Heaven, the only name that will matter is Jesus.  Jesus is the Name above all other names.  He is the Lord and Savior of the world.  And One Day, the Word of God says, “at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 
Why wait?  Why not start now?  Why not give your full allegiance to Jesus from this day forward?  I challenge you today to lay down your life before Christ.  Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.  Make Jesus truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.  Then you will truly know the blessings of God in your life, in your family, in your church, and in your community.
            If you’d like to accept the challenge, then say a simple prayer.  Say, “Jesus, I give you my life.  I am yours.”  Would you say that prayer today? 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Help Our Community

Matthew 5:14-16

Introductions
Pleasant Grove is on a mission from God to tell people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to do it.  That means whatever we do, we are telling people about Jesus. If we are teaching kids at school, we are telling them about Jesus; if we are making carpet in a carpet mill, we are telling people about Jesus; if we are are visiting someone who is sick and in the hospital, we are telling them about Jesus; whatever we do, we are telling people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to do it. And our long range goals are 1) give hope to the hopeless, 2) build new relationships, and 3) help our community.  
Last week, we discussed how God wants us to follow Christ’s example and build new relationships.  Today we consider goal #3 – help our community.  Listen to what Jesus said about the effect true believers have on their world.  

Matthew 5:14-16
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
Shining A Light vs. Bragging
Jesus said, “Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  People take notice when Christians are sincerely kind and helpful. They shine like a city on a hill.
But some people will say, “Wait a minute!  I thought we weren’t supposed to brag about our good deeds?”  Matthew 6:1 does say, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” Remember though, Jesus sais that to Pharisees because they only did good deeds because they liked to make themselves look good.
There is a subtle difference between shining your light and bragging.  It is your motivation.  Bragging tries to make you look good.  Shining your light points people to God and glorifies Him.  So we must Help Our Community for the right reasons.  Not to glorify ourselves or our church, but to bring glory to God and for the love of His people.

Jesus Helped Communities

Jesus traveled all over the land of Israel.  Everywhere he went, Jesus helped the communities he visited.  It was a natural outgrowth of who he was and the Kingdom he represented.  Jesus is the Son of God and He represents the Kingdom of God.  There is no sickness or death or suffering or poverty in the Kingdom of God.  All these evils flee when the Kingdom of God comes near.  So it makes sense that whenever Jesus was present: demons were cast out, the blind regained sight, the lame could walk, and the hungry were fed.
Of course, the miracles were a blessing in and of themselves.  But imagine how the blessings spread out and had a rippling effect like a stone thrown into a pond.  Just take for instance the effect of a healing.  Imagine how that blessed the families of those who were healed.  Now there was an extra wage earner in the family at a time when every bit of income mattered.  The family no longer had to care for the sick person; the sick person could contribute.  And that person who’d been healed would have such a fresh perspective on life.  They would be a more enthusiastic member of society, a better citizen, and one that gave glory to God in everything they did.  Imagine the economic impact of just one healing on a community.  Now there is one more person who can work, defend the city, buy and sell goods, take care of his family, raise children, and help others.  And of course, everyone who knew of the healing would find new hope and a better attitude.  So you see, whole communities where blessed when Jesus came to town.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement led a great revival of Christianity in England in the 1700s.  Wesley preached all over England and people turned to Jesus in droves.  People did away with drunkenness and vulgar language, became better citizens, harder workers, kinder, and more charitable.  Most scholars believe such social reforms as child labor laws, the abolition of slavery in England, the value of education, and prison reform where a direct result of so many people actively following Jesus during John Wesley’s time.  A whole nation was changed because Christians got serious about their faith and did what Jesus called them to do.

Helping Our Community

Proverbs 11:11 says, “Upright citizens are good for a city and make it prosper, but the talk of the wicked tears it apart.”  If we live an active, healthy, Christian life, we will be a blessing to our Community.  It will be a better place to live because Pleasant Grove UMC is in it.  We can help our community believe in itself.  We can help our area be cleaner, safer, and healthier. We should be good to our community because Jesus has been good to us.

What can you do to help our community?
One thing you can do to help your community is support local businesses.  These are the people who live here in our community—your friends and neighbors.  Their success contributes to the success of our whole community.  Our church makes a conscious effort to buy local whenever we can.  For example, you know the fabulous Pleasant Grove t-shirts we have offered.  We were buying them online from a company in Fairfax, Virginia.  Then Donna found a local business who could make the same shirts—The Trophy Hut.  It was a no-brainer for us.  We want to help our community.  We want to support the local economy.  So we bought our shirts locally.  And we try to buy locally whenever we can.  I hope you will too.
Another thing you can do to help our community—pray for it.  Prayer changes things.  It changes people, situations, and it even changes us.  If you want to fall more in love with your community, pray for it.  Do you want have a more positive view of your community?  Pray for it.  Do you want to see better schools and neighborhoods?  Pray for them.  Prayer will change things and it will change you.
When you walk or drive around town, pray for the houses and businesses you pass.    Pray for the churches in our community – not just PGUMC, all churches. (Remember, any church that is telling people about Jesus is part of our team.)  Pray for our community leaders and politicians—especially as they face a tough election this month.  Pray with people. You know just about anyone--Christian or not--will tell you they will pray for you if you ask. It's just a nice thing to say, but not necessarily something everyone follows through on. If you want to really help someone and leave a deep impression of them for Jesus, pray with them--right then when they ask. It doesn't even have to be a fancy prayer--just a sentence or too in normal, everyday language. People might forget if the preacher prays with them, but they won't forget if you do. SO when someone says, "Hey, I'm gonna be late because my son is sick. Please pray for me." Say, "Alright, do you mind if I do that for you right now over the phone." They will never forget that you prayed with them.
Help your community by participating in local community events.  Can I suggest one that happens this month?  Come out for the Family Promise Duck Race in downtown Dalton on May 21st.  It’s a fundraiser for Family Promise to help fight homelessness.  But it’s more than that.  It’s a community event designed to bring people and churches together.  So come out and help your community at the Dalton Depot on Saturday, May 21st starting at 3:00.
Last, but certainly not least, if you want to help you community, live your Christian faith with integrity.  Jesus said we “are the salt of the earth.”  Salt gives flavor.  It preserves food so it doesn’t spoil.  In the same way, Christians who truly live the way Jesus calls us to live add flavor and life to our community.  Our holy living counteracts the wicked deeds of others that threaten to spoil our neighborhoods.  If every Christian truly followed Jesus and forsook the evil ways of our world, our community would experience a tremendous revival and would be beacon of light—a true city on a hill shining for all the world to see.

Invitation
Jesus said, “Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  The most luminous example is Christ, himself.  His final act of selfless love was to lay down his own life for the sake of others.  He laid his life down for you.  It was not just that he died (though that was the ultimate expression of his love).  Think of all Christ laid down for you.
Success.  A man of Jesus' ability could have gone far in this world.  Think of the money, power, influence, he could have achieved.  Yet he gave all that up and chose the life of a wandering preacher, trying to help people.  He didn’t even have a home.
Marriage.  Jesus gave up the joy of having a wife.  We had a wedding for Kathy and Stephen Yarbrough yesterday and we have another one this Saturday for Amanda and Ken.  Weddings are a time of joy and we just assume that most people will experience the joy of marriage at some point in their life.  Jesus sacrificed that dream for you.
Children.  What about children?  My son will graduate high school this month.  What a joy it has been to see Gavin grow from an infant to a young man.  Jesus never got to do that.  He chose instead to sacrifice his life for our sins—for my sins, for your sins.
Mother.  Since it is Mother’s Day, how appropriate to consider the tremendous sacrifice Jesus made in terms of his mother, Mary.  As Jesus was dying on the cross, he looked at his mother.  He must have considered the awful sacrifice they were both making.  They would not be able to spend the next 20 or 30 or 40 years together as mother and son.  Mary would not get to watch her son grow older and pass through the normal stages of life as every man should.  Jesus would not be able to help care for his aging mother.  He would not be able to sit at her bedside as she took her final breath.  Instead, the cross reversed those rolls in a way they should never be reversed for a family—the child died before the parent.  And so as Jesus was dying on the cross, he handed over his responsibility to the disciple, John.  Speaking of John, Jesus said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son.”  And to John he said, “Here is your mother.”
I cannot fathom the heartache and suffering of the crucifixion.  It was horrible for anyone, but especially because Jesus didn’t deserve it at all.  He was completely innocent, the most beautiful person who ever lived.  All he did was bring truth and justice and love into our world.  And they crucified him.  
Yet because of the cross, our sins have been forgiven.  We can find a new life.  We can leave behind our old way of living.  And I pray that we will.  I pray you will not just casually say, “Yes I believe and want to be a Christian.”  No.  I want you to give yourself to Jesus as whole heartedly and sacrificially as he gave himself to you.  As Jesus said, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must lay down his life, take up his cross and follow me.”
That’s what our community needs.  That’s what will truly help.  Not a bunch of casual church people who aren’t much different from anyone else practicing southern hospitality in our Bible-belt neighborhoods.  That kind of religion won’t change much.  But if we will become followers who truly put our allegiance to Jesus and his way of life above everything else, well…  That would truly help our community.  That might actually change the world.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell... Graduation

            My son Gavin will pass another milestone this month.  He will graduate from high school.  In fact, we have six of our youth from our church graduating from high school—Nikki Hollis, Julia McDonald, Gavin Mullis, Kyle Roberts, Max Wilson, and Tiffany Crawford.  My how time flies!  It seems like just yesterday that Gavin was learning to walk.  I’m so proud of Gavin and all our young people who have grown into fine young men and women.
            The next few years will be tremendously exciting and formative for our graduates.  They will become more independent, making the majority of their decisions for themselves.  I pray that the faith and values we have taught them together at PGUMC will guide their whole life and especially in the next decade as they experience the tremendous transformation of the young adult years.
            If I could offer one final bit of advice for our graduates, it would be the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.
 

            This is true wisdom for all of us.  So much of life is beyond our understanding.  Even what we do grasp is only a partial picture.  We do not know what the next day may bring or all that God is doing through our current circumstances.  It is often only after many years that we are able to look back in retrospect and glimpse what God was doing. 
Therefore, as we progress through life, the most important thing is to follow God’s will for us the best we know how.  We must walk by faith—trusting in the Lord.  Since we cannot understand it all, we must have faith that God has a master plan as we step through each door He opens for us.  If we seek His will above all else, God will open up the right doors for us.
We do not yet know what our life will be.  However, if we trust in the Lord with all our heart and don’t depend on our own understanding, if we seek His will in all we do, He will show us the way.  And maybe one day, we will reflect back on our life and see the beautiful journey we walked with God and our hearts will smile.  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…
 
God loves you and so do I!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Build New Relationships

Acts 2:38-40

Introductions
Pleasant Grove is on a mission from God to tell people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to do it. 
Our long range goals are 1) give hope to the hopeless, 2) build new relationships, and 3) help our community. 
Last week, we discussed how God wants us to follow Christ’s example and give hope to the hopeless.  Today we consider goal #2 – build new relationships.  Relationships are all about connections between people.   

Jesus and New Relationships
Jesus’ came to build new relationships.  His example shows us how to act.  Jesus built new relationships with sinners.  This was a totally new concept because up to that time, religious people sought to keep clear of people who sinned and were “unclean.”  Jesus intentionally reached out to build new relationships with these outcast people. 
Jesus also built new relationships with the rich.  We often highlight that Jesus reached out to poor people, but it was not just the poor.  Jesus realized that those who are wealthy need salvation too.  He said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven.”  The rich are just as lost and broken as the poor and so Jesus actively sought to build new relationships with the wealthy.  Perhaps you remember the story (or the song) about Zacchaeus the tax collector.  Zacchaeus grew wealthy through his trade, but Jesus went to his house for dinner and Zacchaeus repented of his sins and became a follower of Jesus.
Jesus also built new relationships with the Pharisees and religious people of his day.  Though they often disagreed with Jesus, were jealous of his influence, and often sought to destroy him, Jesus tried to build relationships with the religious leaders of his day.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee who came to visit Jesus in the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of John.  By the end of the story, Nicodemus became a follower of Christ.
You see, the whole reason Jesus came to earth was to help all of humanity build a new and right relationship with God.  Jesus knew sin had severed our relationship with God.  He came and died on the cross so our sins could be forgiven.  Now, we are able—if we choose—to have a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ that is free of sin, shame, and guilt.
The Church’s first sermon made it clear that the blessings of Christ are for everyone.  Listen to what the Apostle Peter (the leader of the Disciples) said in Acts 2:38-40. 

Acts 2:38-40
38Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” 40 Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” 

The NT Church and New Relationships
The key verse for us today is verse 39 – “This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles.”  So the relationship Christ offers us with God is for young and old and even the Gentiles.  Gentiles were by definition those who were outsiders—people that religious folks weren’t supposed to associate with.  Yet God made it clear that the Good News was for Jews and Gentiles alike.  In Acts 10:38, Peter said, “God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean.”  This meant the church had to intentionally build new relationships with the Gentiles who were previously outsiders.  Throughout history, the Christian faith has been at its best when Christians stepped outside their comfort zone and intentionally built new relationships. 

The Church Today
The church today needs to intentionally build new relationships.  It is important work that takes effort and concentration.  There is something innate in any organization like a church that creates a potential for exclusion.  Think about how groups form in a church.  Groups of like-minded people come together for mutual support and study—this is how Sunday school classes and Bible study groups are formed.  This is natural and healthy.  In fact, it is highly necessary for proper spiritual growth of each individual.  Deep bonds grow between individuals in small groups as they spend time together loving, supporting, and encouraging one another through thick and thin.  Soon, people in the group know each other so well and are so close that people who are not part of their group and look in at them from the outside might feel somewhat excluded.  They may be tempted to call the group a clique (which is defined as a small, exclusive group).  Now, most likely the church group never intended to be exclusive.  They never got together and said, “Hey! Let’s don’t let so and so be part of our group!”  They just grew close together naturally through time spent together. 
So how do you combat this feeling of exclusiveness that newcomers/outsiders sometimes feel?  You fight it in two ways.  First, the established groups have to intentionally go out of their way to make sure and invite, include, and help newcomers become a full part of the group.  That’s hard, because it takes work and time for a person to assimilate into the group.  A second way is to form new groups for new people. 
Looking at our church’s Sunday school classes and small groups, I can see how groups have formed in just the way previously described.  So we not only have classes for our children, but we also have numerous classes for adults of all ages.  These are classes that formed along the way as people of like minds and like circumstances came together for mutual support.  When new or younger people came along, new groups formed.  That’s great!  But it sometimes helps to form new groups for new people (like our young adult Sunday school class).  As we have new people come in, we must form new relationships and new groups to continue to provide the small support groups that are vital to the spiritual health of every person who is serious about becoming a disciple of Christ.  Numerous studies have shown that one of the best ways for a church to grow and be a vital congregation is to establish new Sunday school classes for new disciples.  Is God calling us to build new relationships by starting a few new Sunday school classes?  (By the way, it doesn’t have to be a Sunday class.  It can be a breakfast group or a lunch group meeting during the week; it could meet on a Saturday evening.  As long as you are meeting for study, prayer, and mutual spiritual support, you are doing it right.)
We also need to build relationships with other churches in our community.  We are not in competition with the other churches in our community.  There are plenty of people to go around.  Do you realize that between 50-80% of your neighbors in this community do not actively go to church anywhere?  That means if there are 5 families on your street, 4 probably don’t go to church anywhere.  So you see, we could probably fill up every church in this community to full capacity and still have people left over who aren’t in church.
We need to stop seeing other churches as our competition and look at what is our real competition—camping, the mall, the movies or parties that keep people out late on Saturday nights, the ball games that kids play instead of going to church, the belief that there is no God or that He doesn’t really love me, the disdain for churches that really only care about themselves instead of really taking what they teach seriously.  All of these things are our real competition.  Other churches are not!
So we’ve got to get over this jealousy we feel when we see that another church is growing by leaps and bounds.  Good!  Praise the Lord!  I love it when I hear that about the "cool new church that everyone is joining", because that means more people are coming to Christ.  They are helping us fulfill our mission.  Remember, our mission is not to have the greatest church in the whole community.  Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ!  Let’s care more about that than anything else.  Let us care only about that!
            We also need to build relationships with people in our community.  We need to build new relationships with Hispanic people in our area.  We have a group of 30 Guatemalans that meet for worship here at Pleasant Grove every Sunday.  I believe God has given us a unique opportunity.  I talk to pastors and other Christian leaders all over Georgia who wish they could build new relationships with people in the Hispanic/Latino community, but they don't know how or have tried and failed.  And here at Pleasant Grove, God has handed us the opportunity on a silver platter and we need to take advantage of it.
As individuals, we need to build new relationships with our neighbors.  I challenge you to build at least one new deep and meaningful relationship with someone in the community and see how it changes you for the better as well as them.
            I think we also need to build new relationships in the broader mission field.  Lori Roberts is heading up a group to select a foreign missionary for our church to sponsor now that Nick and Heidi Griffiths have come home from the mission field in Kenya.  I would like to see us partner with and build a relationship with a new missionary. 

The Most Important Relationship – You and Jesus
A relationship with God is the most important relationship you can have.  The whole reason Jesus came was to build a personal relationship with you.  And so we have to ask ourselves, do we have that personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s not just: “do I know about him” or “do I know the facts the Bible says about him: or “do I know all the correct doctrines about Christ.”  It is: “Do I know Him?”  Do you get up in the morning and talk to Him the same way you would talk to you husband or wife, your children or you parents or your best friend? 
Well, Jesus is here.  He is here to extend His hand to you and say, “Yes!  I want a relationship with you!  Will you reach out to me and build one with me?”  Some may need to begin building that relationship for the very first time.  Some may have been Christians for many years.  But you know, a relationship has to be tended.  If you don’t tend it, you will drift apart and lose touch.  Maybe today, you need to decide to start re-building a relationship with Christ.  And then as Christ fills your heart with his love, perhaps you will be inspired to build a relationship with someone new.