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Showing posts with label Goals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Goals. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Conquering Excuses


Introduction 
[CLICK HERE to listen to the podcast.]
Imagine how awesome Heaven will be.  We will live with God forever, surrounded by perfect love.  There will be no more pain or sorrow or suffering or sickness or death.  All that was broken will be made whole.  Our affirmatives and shortcomings will all be healed and forgiven.  We will know each other perfectly--including our loved ones who died in Christ.  It is a beautiful vision and it will be glorious!

Luke 14:15-24
15 Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!”
16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”

Explain the Parable 
Some of Jesus' parables are hard to understand. This one is pretty straightforward. God has prepared a feast of all good things and He invites everyone to come enjoy with Him. But when the call comes, people make excuses. They are too wrapped up in the things of this world to accept God's invitation. 

But here's the thing. Few would actually reject God's invitation to the Kingdom Feast if it was obvious it was God inviting them to feast in His Kingdom. People miss out because God's invitation comes every day in a thousand small ways.  I commend you all for getting up this morning to come to church.  This morning, you accepted the invitation to feast in God’s Kingdom in one small way.  Many people choose to do something else on Sundays besides worship the Lord.  They make excuses for not going to church.  They don’t realize they are excusing themselves from a feast with the King of kings.  People make excuses for other things too—for not praying, not reading the Bible, not helping their neighbor.

In a thousand small ways, God invites us to feast in His Kingdom.  And each time the invitation comes, we have a choice to make. Do we accept the invitation or make an excuse.  Your life is a collection of millions of these small choices.  And they add up.  You might not notice the effect your excuses have at the time you offer them.  But one day you will stand before God and look back and you will see the sum of all you did.  I hope you won’t see a mountain of excuses has piled up when it should be a multitude of blessings from God.
 
What Do You Need to Do?
Many of you know it’s time to make a change in your life, but you're stuck. You're making excuses and it's killing you.  What do you need to work on?  Do you need to?  Change your spiritual habits? Ask for forgiveness? Repent of sin? Exercise more? Change your eating habits? Changing careers? 

Excuses are Lies
You know what you need to do.  But you keep making excuses.  I’m here to tell you today, all your excuses are lies.  It’s the Enemy of God whispering in your ear:
  • “I don’t have time.” That’s a lie. you always have time for what's really important to you.
  • “I just can’t do it.” That’s a lie. With God, all things are possible.
  • “I tried before and failed.” That doesn’t mean you won’t eventually succeed.  Don't give up!
  • “I can’t afford it.” If it’s a worthwhile goal, it’s worth spending the money. You just have to decide what’s really important to you.
  • “I’m to old to start."  You're never too old.  There was a man at a church I once served who learned to snow ski at the age of 70 and he volunteered as a chaperone for the church's youth ski trip every winter.  How old were Abraham and Sara when they had Isaac, the child God promised to give them?

Your excuses aren’t valid.  It’s time to throw away all your excuses and just be honest.  The Truth shall set you free—free to be all that God wants you to be, to be your very best self, to be part of God's glorious Kingdom! 

Fear lies beneath many of our excuses.  We lack of faith that change is really possible. Fear makes you freeze, but faith forces you to move.  Have faith!  Perhaps it is impossible for you, but all things are possible with God. If it looks too hard, ask God for help and He will give you someone to help.  He is the God who raised Lazarus from the dead after his body had already started to decay.  And He is the God who died on a cross and rose from the grave on the third day.  God can do anything!

Sometimes, the obstacles to change are more than mental; they are real. That doesn't mean we can't change. We just have to find a way around the obstacle.  Don’t believe the lie that it’s impossible.

If anyone has a reason to make excuses about why it's impossible to do something, it's Nick Vujicic.  Nick was born without arms or legs.  Doctors said Nick would never walk, yet, Nick taught himself to walk using only his hips.  He went further, learning how to swim without arms or legs.  Then he taught himself how to surf and went skydiving.  Nick speaks in front of thousands of people every year, inspiring them to stop making excuses.  Nick has learned that nothing is impossible if you apply yourself, don't give up, ask for help, and find a way around the obstacles in front of you.  [Click here to watch a video of Nici Vujicic.] 

Impossible is Nothing
Don’t make excuses.  Find a way forward.  Go over, under, or around the obstacles in your life.

Do a mental exercise:  What would you do to change your life if you believed that you are able to overcome this excuse you’re making? Don’t have time? What would you do if you had all the time in the world? No money?  What would you do if money wasn’t important? And if you had all the money you needed? Feeling unconfident? What would you do if you were as confident as the most positively confident person you know?break through your excuses. 
Look at the facts. How much time, money, etc. would it really take to make a change? Is it really put your reach, or does it just feel out of reach?

"I don't feel like it…"  Do it anyway. Your feelings come and go. Your excited and pumped one day and then you're tired and unmotivated the next. Keep doing it anyway. You made a commitment. Keep it simply for the sake of being a man (or woman) of your word.  Do it, even if you don't feel like it, even if you're just going through the motions. Guess what, 9 times out of 10, the motivation and feelings come back.  Now, 1 time out of 10, there might be something to that feeling, but don't give up today. Wait till tomorrow to give up.  And after that, wait another day.  Keep putting off giving up.  Chances are, you will find the motivation you need to keep going and you'lee be glad you procrastinated giving up.

"I'm too old," you say.  "It's just too late for me.  I've lived my whole life like this. I just don't have enough time left to change."  Don't say that.  You may indeed be near the end of your life, but with Our God's grace, it's never to late.  In God's grace, the past is the past. God forgives. God gives new life. You can start over today. It's never too late.  I know this is true because when Jesus was dying on the cross, there was a criminal crucified next to him.  As the thief was receiving the punishment he deserved, he turned to Jesus and said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  And you know what Jesus said?  He said, "Today, you will be in Paradise with me."  The thief had only hours (or minutes left to live) and it still wasn't too late.  It's not too late for you either.

Conclusion 
Living as a Christian takes discipline.  It’s a daily discipline of worship, prayer, service, study.
Jesus gives you a tool to motivate you and help you stay disciplined.

It's the vision of the Kingdom feast.  We are all gathered together around the table of the Lord.  A feast of all good things is set before us.  All our loved ones who died in Christ are there.  Every sickness is healed.  Ever broken relationship is mended.  Every life is whole.  There is no more death or darkness or shame or misery.  All is perfect and right and at peace.  And this goes on for eternity!  Hallelujah!

Imagine, everyday, what it will be like when your faithful discipline pays off as we gather around the Lord's table.  This grand vision is the result of the faithful Christian life lived everyday in a thousand small ways.  Now, live your life doing the right thing in all those thousands of ways.  What are the changes you need to make to accept the invitation to God’s Heavenly banquet?  Live your life day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment working toward the grand vision.

[CLICK HERE to listen to the podcast.]

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2020 State of the Communion Address


It is a tradition in the United States for the President to make an annual State of the Union address.  I also make an annual State of the Communion address to our church.  I want to share a few highlights from our ministry together in 2019.  We will also pray for God’s help as we commit ourselves to His Kingdom work in 2020. 

Matthew 7:7-8
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus taught that his followers must seek God passionately with everything within them.  Many people want to know God and know God's will for them.  Many people are interested.  But few people put the Kingdom of God and His righteousness at the very top of the priorities.  Usually, God comes in second or fifth or tenth or twentieth.  Jesus says that will never do.  You must be passionate and persistent in your pursuit of God.  God is the Lord of lords and King of kings.  He will not settle for second place in your heart.  So if you are going to seek and follow Him this year, you must put him absolutely first.  And you must keep on asking and keep on seeking and keep on knocking.

That is what I plan to do as a pastor and follower of Christ this year.  That is what our church plans to do in everything we undertake.  We will be no casual followers of Christ.  He will be our all in all!

Let me review some of the highlights of our ministry from 2019. 

New Members
We received 17 new members in 2019.  – This is the most new members we’ve ever had in one year since I started pastoring Pleasant Grove UMC!  We are so pleased to welcome these new members:  
Scott Dyer
Jordan Dyer
Harry Kelley
Sandy Kelley
Benny Domino
Kristopher Arhart
Ashley Arhart
Amber Arhart
Terry Teasley
Tonya Teasley
Matthew Head
Juilina Teasley
Jessie Teasley
Samuel Head
Abby Stuckey
Jake Davis


Professions of Faith
We also had seven Professions of Faith in 2019.  A profession of faith is when a person stands before God and the whole congregation and professes to believe in Jesus Christ as their savior and Lord and promises to follow him as a member of the Church.  It is the official moment when a person is justified by God or "save" for eternal life.  It is a pivotal time and the core of our church mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Last year the following people made a profession fo faith:
Jordan Dyer
Benny Domino
Tonya Teasley
Matthew Head
Juilina Teasley
Jessie Teasley
Samuel Head



Baptisms
We had eleven baptisms in the year 2019.  SOme were babies who where baptized with their parents seeking God's grace to raise them in the faith until the child makes their own profession of faith.  Others were people of age who had made a profession of faith and were baptized as a sign of their salvation.  Those who were baptized were:


Jordan Dyer
Benny Domino
Jack Ikerd
Tonya Teasley
Matthew Head
Juilina Teasley
Jessie Teasley
Samuel Head
Jazmine Teasley
Adaline Arhart
Ashley Arhart


So far, we have had a grand total of 97 new members at my church in the last decade since I was appointed to PGUMC.  Who will be the 98th, 99th, and 100th new members?  We have also had a total of 43 Professions of Faith and 42 Baptisms since 2010 when I came to my congregation.  Praise God!

Members Who Went to Heaven
2019 was also sad for many as we said good bye to five members died and went to heaven.  We were all shocked when Karla Motley was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away in just a few weeks.  We are grieved at her passing,but find hope because she is with God in heaven and we will see her again if we trust in Jesus Christ as she did.  John O’Brien was a long time member of Pleasant Grove who also passed away.  John was known and loved by many in this church.  John was married to Diane O’Brien who loved and helped care for him when he became severely ill several years ago.  John was wonderful father to his daughters Ivey and Ashley.  His family and our church mourn his passing, but trust that he is with the Lord in heaven and we shall see him again.  Rick Krause was new to our church, but quickly became part of our family.  Despite his crippling health problems, Rick was very active in our church and people quickly grew to love him.  We were shocked when he died the afternoon of Easter Sunday, after he had just been at church to worship the risen Lord with us.  Rachel Mainor was an at-home member of our church who had been unable to attend for many years.  However, when we had a fire at church in 2016, it touch Rachel and she wanted to help.  She contacted the church and made a donation to help our church recover fro the fire damage.  We rejoice that she is at Home with the Lord in Heaven.  And just a few months ago, Sara Brooker passed away.  Sara has touched so many lives in our church and community and even around the state and country.  Everyone new and love this graceful woman.  We are sad to see her god but are happy that she is finally at home with the Lord in Heaven, where she always wanted to be.

Childrens Ministry
We said goodbye to Ashten and Matt Webb last year. Ashten did a great job as our children's minister, but her husband, Matt, took a job in Huntville, Alabama and hey had to move. We were so please to welcome Joanna Scruggs as our new children's minister over the summer. Joanna, Kelly, Eden, and Hank have been members of our church for a long time, but it has been wonderful to welcome them into this new ministry role. Joanna started off by plainning in just one month the best organized Vacation Bible School we've ever had. we avereged around 40 kids each night of the week this past July during VBS. Then she jumped right in, doing a wonderful job, planning our annual Trunk or Treat. We saw nearly 1,000 people from around our commuity come for fun, safe Halloween fun. Many expressed how much they appreciate our church offering this for our community. And of course, Joanna has been doing a great job leading our weekly kids program, planning and leading lessons and organizing volunteers. We are very pleased to have Joanna on staff and look forward to a great year with her and the kids in 2020.

Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis
We had seven people attended Emmaus/Chrysalis spiritual leadership retreats in 2019.  Jordan Dyer, Matthew Head, Grace Mullis, Mattie Maddox, Ashley Arhart, and Amber Arhart.  Mike Marlow attended the adult version, Walk to Emmaus.  Also, we sponsored Rev. Mark Amspaugh from Dalton First Nazarene Church to attend the Walk to Emmaus.  Rev. Amspaugh conveyed his thanks and reported how the experienced has enhanced his ministry.  Would you like to attend Chrysalis or the Walk to Emmaus and grow closer to Christ through this three day spiritual pilgrimage?

Looking Ahead to 2020
Now, I would like to share some highlights for the coming year.  Our focus, as it has been since I became pastor in the summer of 2010, will be to seek the Kingdom of God and His right righteousness in all that we do (see Matthew 6:33).  We will continue to be guided by our long range goals to give hope to the hopeless, build new relationships, and help our community.  The success of everything we do will be measured by these three overarching goals.  We will have several new opportunities in 2020.

Financial Peace University - March 11
A suggestion was made during a finance meeting last year that we offer a course to help church members better manage their finances.  The Bible teaches that all that we have is a gift from God.  Our finances and other resources belong to God and are entrusted to us to use for the good of God's Kingdom.  Therefore, we want to be good stewards and PGUMC wants to equip you to be the best steward of your finances as possible.  Therefore, I have decided to offer Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace university to teach you the financial chronicles you need to achieve your financial goals.  This course is excellent for everyone.  Whether you struggle with money or are already very good at managing your finances, FPU will help you be the very best you can be.

Dave Ramsey's course is also in line with two other initiatives for PGUMC in 2020.  Last year, PGUMC established the early mortgage retirement fund and members have been contributing.  This month, we will make our first extra payment toward the principle of our mortgage with the intention of paying off our building loan early.  We will continue to make extra payments throughout the year as we are able according to the congregation's extra giving to this fund.  Paying off our loan early could save tens of thousands of dollars in interest.  Imagine how much more ministry we can do with the elderly, with children and youth, and outreach in our community when we are free from the burden of a $5,000 per month mortgage.

In December, we also established Sara Brooker Memorial Children & Youth Fund with donations from Sara's estate as from extra contributions from members and a Christmas Eve offering.  We currently have $13,700 in Sara's fund to help with children and youth ministries.  How fitting that Sara's legacy of teaching children and youth about the love and salvation of Jesus Christ will live on through this effort.

PGUMC Car Show – March 21
On Saturday, March 21 from 9 AM - 3 PM, our church will host it's first ever car show.  Following our principle of creating doors where people from the community are welcomed into our midst, this car show will bring people together to enjoy a day of fun and fellowship as we enjoy cool classic cars together.  This is similar to what we do with our annual trunk or treat.  What's new is that the car show will slow the pace down a bit and allow more time for casual visiting and fellowship, so that we can build new relationships and really get to know people from our community.  Please plan to attend, volunteer, help out, show a car, and enjoy this special time.

Pray for the UM General Conference
The United Methodist General Conference which regularly meets every four year will be May 5-15 this year in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  This may be the most pivotal General Conference since the denomination's founding in 1968.

Our denomination is bitterly divided over issues of human sexuality, homosexuality, and transgenders.  Because our nation's ideas about human sexuality have been changing, many in the UMC believe the denomination should change too and allow the ordination of homosexual pastors and same-sex marriages.  Others, like myself, believe that the Bible is clear that we are love everyone but not condone what the Bible clearly defines as sin contrary to God's will.  The disagreement threatens to divide the UMC.  You may have heard or read news stories about this issue.  I want to make a few things clear to dispell any misunderstandings.  First of all, no decisions have been made yet and none can be made until the General Conference on May 5-15.  Even after that, it may take months or even years for any decisions to take affect.  In the meantime, we must calmly pray for God's guidance for our families, our church, and the delegates from all over the world who will meet at the General Conference to debate and make decisions for the United Methodist denomination.  Furthermore, please feel free to ask me any questions you have. This is a complex and emotionally charged issue that requires more time to discuss than we have time for in this short address.  So, let’s sit down together sometime and talk.

Reaffirmation of Faith
As I close this address, I invite you to affirm or reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ and your commitment to serve him.  Please read through the following questions and answer them in your own heart.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

Will you nurture your fellow Christians in the Christian faith and life?

Would you affirm the following commitment?
With God’s help, I will proclaim the good news and life according to the example of Christ.  I will surround my brothers and sisters in Christ with a community of love and forgiveness, that we may grow in our trust of God, and be found faithful in our service to others.  I will pray for them, that we may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.  As a member of God's Church, I renew my covenant to faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by my prayers, my presence, my gifts, my service, and my witness, that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.




Monday, January 15, 2018

2018 State of the Communion Address

Introduction
Near the beginning of each year, the President of the United States gives a “state of the union address”.  This televised speech is made to a joint session of the congress reporting the condition of the country and outlining the legislative agenda and national priorities for the coming year.
For the last three years, I’ve been giving a similar address to my congregation because I think it’s a useful way to report on the condition of our church (our “Communion”) and set the tone for the coming year.  This year, I particularly want to focus on the work of the faithful servants in my church. 
There’s a wonderful hymn in the United Methodist Hymnal that says, “The Church is not a building.  The Church is not a steeple.  The Church is not a resting place.  The Church is a people.  I am the Church!  You are the Church!  We are the Church together!”  What a true sentiment!  The Church cannot function without people faithfully serving in all areas of ministry.  The Church functions best when everyone does their part.  So in 2018, I invite you to grow as a person and grow in your faith by intentional service. 

Philippians 1:3-6
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

The Apostle Paul was Thankful for the Philippians
            These joyous words of the Apostle Paul were written from prison.  No doubt, Paul was thankful for some supplies the Philippians had sent.  In New Testament times, prisons often did not supply all the needs of their prisoners as they do today.  Food, clothing, and other necessary supplies were provided by friends and family on the outside.  Certainly, Paul was thankful that the Philippians made sure Paul had what he needed to live while he was in prison for sharing the Gospel of Jesus, but there was more.
            Paul was thankful for the Philippians spiritual birth, growth, and shared Gospel ministry.  Paul was the Philippians' spiritual father.  His missionary work among them helped bring them to Christ.  Paul was proud of his spiritual children in the same was a father is proud of his kids.  There is a special bond with those you lead to a spiritual awakening in Christ. 
            Furthermore, Paul was also proud the Philippians had not remained infants in Christ.  They were growing spiritually through service.  So he could write with confidence, I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” 
            As a pastor, I am so proud of those whom I have helped in some small way to have a spiritual awakening--whether it be accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, seeing them join my church, discover a new passion for Christ, or awaken to a deeper and truer understanding of faith.  What a wondrous thing it is for a spiritual father to see your "children" grow in faith!
            One vital and indispensable element of spiritual growth is service.  Thus, Paul was thankful the Philippians shared in his Gospel ministry as he says, “…for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ…”  Not only was their service a tremendous help in spreading the Good News about Jesus, it was an important part of their growth in Christ.  No one who becomes a Christian and then does nothing to help with His ministry will grow.  On the contrary, those who do not intentionally serve as if willingly serving Christ himself are likely to grow cold and lifeless in their faith and are even in danger of nurturing bitterness, jealousy, and all kinds of rotten fruit.
            I am so thankful for the many faithful people at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in Dalton who work tirelessly to carry on the ministries of our congregation.  I want to name some of them here as I explain some of the ministry roles in our church.
 
The Church is Not the Pastor
            I wasn't at my church to preach for the last two Sundays.  The first absence was planned as I was serving at spiritual retreat for youth and young adults.  I am so thankful for Kelsey Ikerd who is a bright young lady with a strong faith in Christ and a God-given ability to speak publicly.  I asked Kelsey to speak in my absence because I knew it would be a blessing to my congregation and an opportunity for Kelsey to grow.  I'm thankful she agreed.
            My second absence was not planned.  On January 2nd, I came down with the flu type B.  My wife followed with flu type A and then all three of my children came down one or the other.  I'm so thankful for our music minister, David Crawford, who called me as soon as he found out and offered to lead a special worship service so I could stay at home and rest with my family (and not spread the virus).  I knew David was a capable, dependable leader and that the service would be in excellent hands.  I'm thankful to have leaders like David who care and are willing and able to help.  I'm also thankful for the choir who is so well rehearsed they can adapt and help David lead a wonderful service of prayer and music in my unexpected absence.  I'm also thankful for prayerful leaders like Jason Denson, Sherry Dickson, and Beth Tessmer whom David could call upon to help lead prayers during the service last week while I was sick.  And of course, I'm thankful for Tom Dickson, our worship leader, who is always willing and able to help.
            I am also especially thankful for our church secretary, Angela Stack.  Between Christmas and New years holidays, the spiritual retreat, and then being sick for a week, I missed almost 3 weeks.  Thankfully, the church can survive for a few weeks without me because Angela--with the help of other leaders in the church--can keep things running.  However, I don't think the church could survive very long if Angela was out sick.  She is the real workhouse behind the scenes and I'm quite thankful for her.

Behind the Scenes
            You see a lot happening in the church and, perhaps, you associate ministry with these more visible examples.  However, the greatest majority of the work happens behind the scenes and you may not even think of it.  For example, do you know what an altar guild is?  The altar guild comes in early each Sunday morning to set up our worship space.  Jean Coker and Kay Fetzer arrange and place flowers and other decorations to draw our attention to the beauty of God.  They also change the paraments to colors that symbolize the season of the Christian year and do other important task like set up for Holy Communion. 
            Also working behind the scenes, Frank and Kaye Fetzer spend countless hours each week making sure our facilities are clean and ready to host worship and other important events.  Others like Andy Andrews (our trustees chair), makes sure everything is in working order--either getting someone to come fix it or fixing it himself.  Some who have done a lot of work on our facilities this year were James Greenway (installing more efficient LED lights), Bobby Brooker (fixing lights and light switches and flag poles), Mike Kirk, Jason and Johnny Denson (replacing the mulch on our playground), Dianne O’Brien (taking inventory of furniture and equipment damaged by a water leak), and many
others. 
            Our church is blessed to be in a great location on one of the busiest thoroughfares in our community.  Each day between 10,000 - 20,000 cars drive past our church.  Someone before I ever came here had the foresight to say we should have a church sign that enables us to share messages with the community.  Did you know the Holy Spirit doesn't sneak up each week and put a message on the sign?  Nope.  The Holy Spirit inspires a group of people from our church to do it.  This past year, our sign team included:  Beth Tessmer, the Kevin Roberts Family, Grace Mullis, Mara Cobble, Kyle & McKenzi Marlow, Rene Gallman, the Jeff McDonald Family, Mike Marlow, the Scott Ward family, and Ron & Donna Philips.  Regardless of if it was pretty weather or rain or snow, hot or cold, these faithful servants come out as often as needed to change the message on our sign.  And people in our community noticed.  I hear all the time from people throughout Dalton and Whitfield county how much the appreciate the encouragement, wisdom, and information we share on our church sign.  This is another way we share in the Gospel ministry.
            Many other things happen behind the scenes.  Did you know the offering we collect each week doesn't count itself?  No.  Our Financial secretaries do that.  While you are already sitting down to lunch after Sunday worship, there are faithful servants still at church counting and depositing the offering.  Our financial secretaries are:  Debra Sloan, Jean Coker, and Nancy Ware.  Added to these are our church treasurers Jeff McDonald (who handles reports & and financial planning) and Donna Philips (who signs all the checks at our church to pay bills and paychecks).  Many others serve behind the scenes to manage the business of our church--whether it be as elected church officers, serving on the church council, finance committee, board of trustees, the nominations team, or the human resources team.  There are too many people in these roles to name here.

Ushers
            One vital servant roll in the church that we often take for granted is that of the ushers.  Ushers are often the first people you meet when you arrive at the church for worship.  Ushers are here to greet you and give you a bulletin and help you find your way into the church.  How they treat you--whether good or bad--can set the tone for your whole worship experience to prepare you to draw close to Jesus or leave distracted and unfocused. 
            Ushers also help keep us safe.  As they welcome people with a friendly smile, they also notice whether someone is in a safe frame of mind to be here.  If a problem arises during the service, the ushers are there to help manage the situation.  And did you know that, while we are gathered in the sanctuary, one of our ushers also patrols the parking lot to keep an eye on things and serve as a deterrent to anyone looking for mischief.  The ushers are very important.
            Mike Marlow coordinated our ushers and he is always faithful to make sure we have the people we need who know what to do.  This year, our lead ushers who recruited ushers for each Sunday and helped the Financial Secretaries count the offering after the service were:  Don Douglas, Garry Bingham, Kyle Marlow, Frank Fetzer, Scott Ward, Jimmy Brooker, Johnny Denson, Gary Carter, Perry Motley, Andy Andrews, Steven Yarbrough, and Eddie Brooker.  I'm very thankful for everyone who serves as an usher at PGUMC. 

Acolytes
            Do you know what an acolyte is?  The acolytes light the candles on our altar at the beginning of the service.  However, there is more to this that you think.  The candles on our altar signify the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit.  So, at the very beginning of the worship service, a specially trained acolyte brings the "light of Christ" into the sanctuary and lights the candles on the altar.  Then, at the end of the service, the acolytes don't just blow out the candles.  No, they take the flame from the candles back out of the sanctuary, symbolizing that the light of the Holy Spirit doesn't just stay in the sanctuary; it leads us back out into the world to serve.  So as you leave worship, know that the Holy Spirit goes with you to lead and guide and equip you for our shared ministry of the Gospel.  This year, our acolytes were:  Jeremy Ptak, DJ Seifert, Amaya Childers, Allyssa Childers, Alex Childers, Abigail Mullis, Lindsey Harris, Trenton Hartman, Trevor Hartman, Walker England, Trevor Maddox, and Mattie Maddox 

Children’s Ministry
            One of our most important responsibilities is bringing kids up in the church so they are able to develop faith in Jesus Christ for themselves.  One of our goals last year was to provide exceptional ministry to children.  We've made great strides toward that end.  Last year we saw many milestones as evidence.  Our annual community Easter egg hunt, which normally sees about 30-40 children, had over 200 kids attend.  They came to hunt for candy eggs, but they also heard the life changing story of Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose from the grave. 
            Other milestones were offering one of the best summer Vacation Bibles Schools I can ever remember with about 45 kids in attendance.  We also had an amazing Trunk or Treat with nearly 1,000 people attending.  Many of those came back to share or wrote their thanks on our Facebook page--expressing how much the appreciate the enthusiasm and love we offer our community through our trunk or treat.
           As part of our initiative to offer excellent ministry to children, we have been searching for the right children's minister to lead the ministry.  I am so happy to have Ashten Webb now on board in this role.  I'm very impressed with Ashten's diligent work so far.  She has done a great job in the short time she's been here and has picked out some awesome lesson series for 2018.  Ashten continues to impress me with her ability to think theologically while also understanding how to communicate with children.  I think she is going to do an excellent job so far with our kids and look forward to seeing her excel.
            Of course, we could not do children’s ministry without everyone’s help.  We have many helpers who serve with children in a variety of ways.  On Wednesday nights, DJ Seifert, Allie Motley McClain, Matt Webb have been faithful helpers.  In the nursery, Rachel Ward is our paid attendant, but Laurie Wilson has helped coordinate volunteers to help Rachel.  And this year, Laurie--with the help of her husband Mike--went through and cleaned and upgraded the nursery to make sure it was safe and in the best possible condition to serve parents and our youngest children.  Volunteers who helped in the nursery this year were:  Allie McClain, Andrea Denson, Debra Sloan, Teresa Marlow, Becky Ward, Susan Forester, Tanya Brooker, Rita Wagers, Susan Cooksey, Mary Hartman, JoAnn Ward, Lori Roberts, Amanda Mays, Diane O’Brien, Meri McDonald, Grace Mullis, and Judy Forester.
            Debra Sloan coordinated our children's church volunteers, who each took a month to teach children about Jesus during our worshp hour.  Their faithful service helped parents to focus their own spiritual growth while knowing their children were receiving a worship experience specifically tailored for their age level.  This year, our children's church volunteers were:  Jason & Andrea Denson, Maribeth Reno & Karla Motley, Tanya Brooker & Donna Douglas, Teresa & Andy Andrews, Kyle & Teresa Marlow, Kelly Mullis & Kathryn Brooker, Mike & Cindy Marlow, Lori & Kevin Roberts, Mike and Laurie Wilson, Jeff & Meri McDonald, Amy Crawford & Jean Carter, and Angel Kirk & Sallie Thomas.  Subing in from time to time were Jean Coker, Kelsey Kirk Ikerd, and Debra Sloan.

Youth Ministry
            Amy Harris has been our youth minister for almost 4 years now.  Amy works hard to build relationships with youth, teach them about Jesus and lead them to deepen their faith, and she plans and coordinates special events for them throughout the year.  I'm very thankful for the work Amy does, but I also understand she doesn't do it alone.  Parents, volunteers, chaperones, drivers, helpers all do their part to minister to youth.  I don’t have a list of everyone who has taught Sunday school, sat in on youth lessons, or volunteered as a chaperone or to drive the church van, but if you helped with youth, you have made a difference and I think it can help you grow too if you serve the youth as if you were serving Jesus. 
            It is said that the youth are the future of the church.  I would challenge that statement because I believe the youth are more than just the future.  I believe the youth are the church today!  So let us support them and everyone who works with them with all our heart.  And I invite you to come to Pleasant Grove January 21 for Youth Sunday and you will see some of our amazing youth being the church as they lead us in worship.

Hosting & Hospitality
            Hospitality is listed in scripture as a special gift the Holy Spirit gives to some to enable them to serve the church.  We have many who use this gift at Pleasant Grove in a variety of ways.  One of the biggest is on Wednesday nights when we gather for our weekly fellowship meal.  It is such a blessing to have one night a week when we don't have to focus on cooking and cleaning our kitchens, but instead can come to church to fellowship with our church family and focus on learning about our faith.  We offer an affordable, healthy, home-cooked meal and studies for children, youth, and adults every Wednesday.  But we could not do it without incredible, faithful, volutneers who take a month out of the year to serve.  These volunteers come in early to set up, put out food, serve, and stay late to clean up.  They are a true blessing.  Angel Kirk (and her husband Mike), coordinate our volunteers (and often fill in when they are absent).  I cannot thank them enough for their service.  Volunteers who helped on Wednesday nights were:  Jason & Andrea Denson, Andy & Teresa Andrews, Jeff & Meri McDonald, Diane O’Brien, Kevin & Lori Roberts, Randy & Jean Coker, Mike & Cindy Marlow, Mike & Angel Kirk, Chad & Kelsey Ikerd, Gary & Jean Carter, Ron & Donna Phillips, Stephen & Kathy Yarbrough, Kathryn Brooker, Rena Gallman, Sallie Thomas, Sherry Dickson, Eddie & Tanya Brooker, Angela Stack, Debra Sloan, Maribeth Reno, Perry & Karla Motley, Mike & Laurie Wilson, and Diane & Bill Caylor.  We really could use some more help on Wednesday nights.  So please contact me or Angel Kirk if you would like to help.
            We have other opportunities to show hospitality.  The following people have served as hosts who provide heavy snacks before Thursday morning Bible study: JoAnn Ward (coordinator), Mary Helen Speights, Margie Sosebee, Marsha Ray, Gail Bradford, Kathryn Brooker, Sally Brooker, Donna Douglas, Judy Forester, Susan Cooksey, and Cathy Byers. 
            Others have provided snacks or a devotion for the Elizabeth Circle women's mission group:  Marsha Ray, Judy Forester, Susan Cooksey, Kathryn Brooker, Mary Helen Speights, Kay Denson, Diane O’Brien, Hattie Morse, Donna Phillips, Miriam Storey, Linda Powell, Kay Denson, JoAnn Ward, Susan Cooksey, and Jo Marlow.  
            Another way to show hospitality is on our Bereavement Committee, which provides a meal for families in our church who have lost a loved one.  It's a important time for grieving families to have a chance to visit and comfort one another without the worry of making food.  It's a grace and gift our church provides to those in need because of the following faithful volunteers:  Kathryn Brooker, Donna Douglas, Diane O’Brien, Diane Caylor, Susan Cooksey, Marsha Ray, Barbara Haley, Marie Jordan, Debra Sloan, Angel Kirk, Judy Forester, JoAnn Ward, Jean Coker, Linda Powell, Nellie Felker, Hattie Morse, Cathy Byars, Miriam Storey, Jo Marlow, Kaye Denson, and Mara Cobble. 

The Nitty Gritty
            Now I don't want to bore you anymore with more and more lists of faithful people who have served and, unfortunately, I don't really have time.  And I haven't even gotten a chance to brag on people like Sherry Dickson and Susan Cooksey and all those who help with our sack lunch program or Trunk-or-Treat or Easter Egg Hunts.  I haven't mentioned all our Sunday school teachers who faithfully prepare a lesson each week and then come to teach and disciple their classes.  And I am sure I have forgotten to mention someone or something that I really should mention (like Bobby Forester who runs the sound and slides for almost all our worship services).
            I am proud of everyone who serves and it warms my heart to see people growing in the faith and I am thankful for every partner in the Gospel ministry.  However, my point in all this is not just to show how proud I am of everyone or to try to write the names of everyone I want to thank.  My point is this: this is the Church--it is the people who are growing as they serve as partners in the ministry of the Gospel.  We cannot Be the Church without people who serve. 
            So this is the main thing I want to see my church focus on in the coming year.  In 2018, I would like to see more people involved and serving.  Instead of people looking for excuses to get out of serving, I want to see people looking for reasons and ways they can serve.  If you’re not involved, I want to see you get involved.  If you are involved, I would like to see you become more involved or to become more effective and/or focused in the ways you are involved.  The Church cannot operate without you.  But there's another reason I want you more involved.  I want you involved because this is how you grow in your faith.
            The Church is made up of disciples of Jesus Christ.  A disciple learns by living like their master.  Jesus is our Master and we want to live like him.  How did he live?  Jesus faithfully served, giving everything--even his own life.  In Matthew 20:28 Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  So, we who want to be like him should do as he did.  For if he was not too good to serve, how much more should we be willing.