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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.