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Showing posts with label Mission. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mission. Show all posts

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Kingdom with a Mission


Introduction
Those who follow Jesus Christ--who fall down before Him and worship Jesus as Lord and Savior--are God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood.  We are citizens and kings and queens in the Kingdom of God.  We live in this world, which is not our home, as royal ambassadors.  Often, we find we live in hostile territory, for the people and systems and attitudes and philosophies of this world are opposed to the Kingdom of God and His rightful rule.  So, Christians trust in Jesus and we endure the trials of this life, even as we live with the dignity and confidence of God’s royal family.  We trust what Jesus said.  Jesus promised He was coming back and when He comes, the Kingdom of God will come completely.  This world and all it’s brokenness will melt away and God will make Heaven and Earth perfect once again.  There will be no more sin or sorrow or suffering or death.

It’s a wonderful vision of hope.  We long for the Day.  Unfortunately, Christians sometimes grow so comfortable with the hope that Someday Jesus will come and fix all the brokeness around us that we forget we have a job to do while we are here.  “Someday,” we think, “God will make all things right.  Someday, we will go to heaven.  Someday, we will sit on thrones and rule in the Kingdom of God.”

But Jesus gave us a mission to accomplish today.  We are not to stand idly by waiting for Someday to come.  In fact, Jesus had harsh words for all those who do nothing during the wait.  We are on a mission to spread the Kingdom of God all around us.  This is not optional.  It is what true followers of the King do.  It is how we live.

Jesus’ Disciples wanted to know when the world as we know it would come to an end and the Kingdom of God would be fully realized.  They wanted to know how they would know it was coming (Matthew 24:3).  Jesus gave them some clues. He said fear mongering, devastating wars, religious imposters, and natural disasters would all precede His return to usher in the full Kingdom of God.  He warned sin and persecution would be rampant in the world.  We already see some of these these signs in the world around us:  hurricanes and wildfires, political leaders and media outlets telling blatant lies, the Bible being scorned and forgotten, pastors caught up in scandals, and heresy being taught in the church.  

But Jesus also said in Matthew 24:14, “The Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”

So the faithful have important work to do.  The signs of the times ought not to dissuades us from our important work.  To the contrary, it should make us more determine.  Our mission is urgent.  We don’t know how much time we have left--years, days, or hours?  But this we do know:  Jesus is coming again and we are closer now to Jesus second coming than we ever were before.

People need to be careful.  So many people--especially “good people” (and this includes a lot of people who go to church) have the mindset that everything is just going to be ok in the end.  That feeling of false-security makes so many complacent and lazy.  For if you feel like you don’t have to do anything but sit back and wait, then you’ll forget about God’s Kingdom and His mission.

Jesus warned His Disciples (and us) about that very danger.  And that’s the subject of my message today.  As a king in the royal priesthood of God, I share three warnings Jesus gave for everyone waiting for his return.  The warnings are found in three parables Jesus taught in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew about what His followers should do while they wait for His return.  These are some of the last lessons Jesus taught before he was arrested and crucified. 

Read Matthew 25
Parable 1 - The Parable of the Ten Virgins - Matthew 25:1-13 
Parale 2 - The Parable of the Three Servants and the Master's Silver - Matthew 25:14-30
Parable 3 - The Parable of the Sheep and Goats - Matthew 25:31-46
The overall theme of all three parables is this:  Jesus is coming, but no one knows when.  Therefore, we can’t waste any time.  We need to get ready and stay ready, because we don’t know the day or the hour He will return.  You can’t wait until the last minute to get ready.  You must use all the time you have to prepare for the coming of the King.

Jesus’ First Warning - Make Sure You Spirit is Ready.  (The Parable of the Ten Virgins - Matthew 25:1-13)
In order to be ready spiritually, you need to have the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  I preached a whole sermon series on these recently.  You can read them on my blog or watch videos of the sermons on my church’s Facebook page.  

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  These are the virtues the Holy Spirit wants to grow in us.  Now, you can’t grow these yourself.  They are a product of the Holy Spirit.  They grow in us as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit.  We can’t make them grow, but we can create in our hearts an environment that nurtures their growth.  

Growing the Fruit of the Spirit takes time.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  That’s why it’s imperative that you don’t wait.  You need to start now!  Jesus said it’s urgent, because you don’t know when He might return.  We you be ready?  Will you have enough oil for your lamp?  You see, you can’t borrow it from anyone else.  

Our mission then (besides making sure we have “oil in our own lamps”) is to make encourage our friends, our family, our neighbors, everyone to open their hearts to the Holy Spirit too that He might grow in their lives love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  We can’t give them these virtues, but God can and He will if they will turn from their sins and turn to Jesus Christ.  We must urge them to, because the Kingdom of God is near!

Jesus’ Second Warning - Make Sure You Invest Your Resources in the Kingdom
(The Parable of the Three Servants and the Master’s Silver - Matthew 25:14-30)
The Kingdom of God has a mission.  We want everyone to repent of their rebellious sin and turn to God.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the rightful ruler of all.  We want everyone to willingly bow before our King and know the joy of His love.  This mission--to make disciples of Jesus Christ--is our number one priority.  It comes before everything else.

We are blessed with many different resources--time and money (of which there never seems to be enough), but also our talents and abilities (reference Last Wednesday’s talent show).  All these things are given to us by God and He expects us use them in the Kingdom’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  It doesn’t care how much you have.  Some have more ability than others, some more time, some more talent.  But we’ve all been given something to invest.

We won’t be judged on how well we did so much as whether we tried.  God knows our ability and our limitations.  He is not upset when we try and come up short.  What disappoints God most is when we are too afraid to try or (worse) too distracted by other things to invest ourselves fully in God’s Kingdom.  What will you do when you come face to face with the great King of kings and must reveal what you did with all He gave you in this life?  Will you say with trembling voice, “I was so afraid to use what you gave me so i buried it and kept it hidden away.”  Or worse, will you find you must confess with fearful tears in your eyes, “I wasted most of my life and most my time and most of my money and most of my talent chasing the fleeting things of this world instead of investing in the Kingdom’s noble goals.”  And where will all your trophies be then?  What will you have to show for all your striving.  Nothing.  And there you will stand, empty handed before the Lord of lords.  And what of your friends and neighbors, your family, and those you worked with?  What will you do when they testify against you, “She knew King and she never introduced me!  He saw me running towards destruction, and he never cried out to warn me!  They knew how to be saved and they never told me!”

Jesus’ Third Warning - Make Sure You Show Compassion to Those in Need.  (The Parable of the Sheep and Goats - Matthew 25:31-46)
God has been so patient and compassionate with us.  Jesus’ amazing grace saved us from our sins and restored us to a perfect relationship with our Creator God.  He brought many of us out of very miserable situations; some of us are still in the process of being rescued.  He makes us kings and queens in His royal priesthood when we trust Jesus.  It’s all too magnificent to believe!  We have so much to be thankful for this week!

We may be tempted to set back and just enjoy basking in the glory of it all—to spend all our time feasting in the Kingdom.  There are times for that.  Thanksgiving is a feast to celebrate all for which we are thankful.  Chief among all our blessing is the gracious gift of salvation is Jesus Christ .  And every Sunday is an occasion for us to come and worship—to sing praises to the God of our salvation, to join with our brothers and sisters in the royal family of God and glorify his name and lift up our hearts in joyous adoration.

However, we can’t be lazy or complacent in God’s Kingdom.  There’s too much at stake.  Jesus is coming soon and we better be ready.  There’s too much hurting and suffering in this world.  There are so many others who need compassion and saving too.  To forget or neglect them is the ultimate insult to the Savior who gave everything to come rescue us when we absolutely didn’t deserve it. 

So, Jesus’ final warning to the royal family of God is to make sure you show compassion to those in need.  And I want to make sure you know this about Jesus’ warning.  He specifically instructs His followers to show compassion to certain people.  In Matthew 25:35-36 he said, “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
Jesus clearly wants us to focus on helping people who are in need—people who are hungry and thirsty, people who are considered strangers, people who are naked (not adequately clothed and are vulnerable), people who are sick (physically or mentally), and those who are in prison.

Now, most folks who go to church regularly don’t mind sending a card to a friend when they’re sick.  We don’t mind going out to lunch with someone from our Sunday school class after church.  And we love it when a new family visits church on Sunday—especially if they seem like a nice family who has it all together.  But what about feeding a hungry stranger down at the City of Refuge on a Monday night?  Or how would you feel about sitting down to eat with a complete stranger who stopped by the church for a Wednesday night supper even though they looked dirty or smelled like cigarette smoke?  And when was the last time you visited someone in prison?  Have you ever?  Have you ever even written a letter to someone in prison?

At the end of the Age, when Jesus comes back, some people will inherit the Kingdom He prepared for them and others will be cast into hell and Jesus says the decision will be based on how we treat—not the rich, not the well-to-do family who visits our church, not our friends we feel comfortable around, but on how we treat—those who are hungry and thirsty, who are strangers to us, who are don’t have adequate clothing, and those who are sick and in prison.

Invitation to Join the Mission
Those who believe in Jesus Christ, who have been saved by His grace and bow to Him as Lord, are on a mission.  Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ—to share the Good News about God’s Kingdom throughout the whole.  We have plenty to share it with right here in Whitfield County.  There is a time for celebrating and a time for work.  For many, this week will be a time of resting and celebrating Thanksgiving.  Sunday worship is also a time to celebrate.  I hope you enjoy the rest and celebration.  But then remember, there is a time for work too.  And we serve in a Kingdom with a mission.  When the feast is over, when the celebration is done, it’s time to get back to the work of the Kingdom.  I invite you today to make a commitment to join the mission—to intentionally choose to:
· Make sure your spirit is ready
· Make Sure You’re Investing Your Resources in the Kingdom
· Make Sure You Show Compassion and Love to Those in Need

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Breath of Life (Dry Bones)

Introduction
            I heard someone describe getting old like this - put Vaseline on your glasses so you can barely see, earplugs in your ears so you can barely hear, weights on your arms and legs so you can barely move, and rocks in your shoes so every step hurts; this is what it feels like to be old.
            Being old is relative.  At 43, I don’t think I’m old, but I’m not young either.   As a pastor, I’m considered young. The average age of a pastor in the United Methodist Church is around 55.  Most of my colleagues are older than me--some much older.  I was only 36 when I came to PGUMC.  Hal Brooker came up to me and said, "Now I feel old.  This is the first time my pastor is younger than me."  (I think I'm a year or two younger than Hal.
            At the same time, I don't feel wet behind the ears as a minster.  I’ve been a minister for 17 years.  Many people don't become a pastor until their 50s or 60s so many of my colleagues who are 10, 20, or 30 years older than me are a lot less experienced as a pastor than me.  So I can feel both old and young at the same time as a pastor.  But to my kids, I’m just old!
            At what age do you consider yourself old?  That's a hard question to answer.  Many people’s bodies start to feel the effects of age at 37 or 38.  That was true for me as I started noticing my muscles and joints aching.  AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) grants membership at 50.  Is that old?  One survey showed most people defined old age as 68.  Really?!?!  Another survey defined old as 80 (I bet the people in that survey were probably 70!)  It seems everyone thinks old is what happens to people who are older than them.  No one wants to be old.
            So since it's so hard to define when old age starts, let me give you a few signs of old age:

If you fall asleep watching TV or reading the paper, you might be old.
If you become forgetful, you might be old.
If you groan when getting up from a chair or out of bed, you might be old.
If you say ‘back in my day’, , you might be old.
If you choose clothes for comfort rather than style, you might be old.
If you repeat yourself, you might be old.
If you have no idea what is in the music charts, you might be old.
If you insist ‘things aren’t as they used to be’, you might be old.
If you repeat yourself, you might be old.
If you choose places to eat because they play quiet music, you might be old.
If you have an afternoon nap, you might be old.
If you repeat yourself, you might be old.

            It seems few people want to be considered old.  Sometimes, it's because of vanity.  People are too proud to give up their youthful beauty or strength.  But often people don't want to grow old because it’s painful and limiting and causes health problems and, ultimate, we are afraid of death.
            If God allows us to live long enough, we will all grow old.  And the fact is every day we live, we are growing older.  The Good News is, God can breath life into our bones at any age, and ultimately even in death we find Eternal Life.

 Ezekiel 37:1-14 1 The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. 2 He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. 3 Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
4 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6 I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

7 So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. 8 Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

10 So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ 12 Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’”

Explain the Passage
            The people of God were called Israel.  They were 12 tribed scattered throughout the Holy Land.  They were a united Kingdom under King David and King Solomon.  But then there was a civil war and the nation split into the northern kingdom of Israel (10 tribes) & the southern kingdom of Judah (2 tribes).  The Bible tells us that not a single king who ruled the northern kingdom of Israel was good.  They were all evil.  And God warned Israel for many generations to repent, but they would not.  He even warned that they would be conquered and destroyed if they did not, but they still would not turn back to God.  So finally, the Assyrian army swooped down upon them and destroyed their kingdom.  Their cities, their homes, their temples, everything was destroyed and the people we dragged away in to captivity throughout the Assyrian empire, never to return home again.  The northern kingdom of Israel was completely obliterated, and has not revived again to this day.  The Israel--the Jews--we know of today consist of the 2 remaining tribes of Israel--Judah and Benjamin.  The other tribes of the northern kingdom are know as the 10 lost tribes of Israel because they have gone extinct.
            Ezekiel was a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel during this destruction.  And God showed him this vision of the valley of dry bones during this time as his people were mourning the loss of their national identity and culture.  It was a vision God gave to tell the people that even though they were dying, God would one day bring all 12 tribes back together again.  This is a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled; we are still waiting for it, but God will fulfill it in the Last Days. 

God Asks Ezekiel (and all of us) the Question
            A question like that reveals a lot about your faith.  Do you believe God has the power to turn bones into living people again? Do you believe in God? Do you trust Him?  When everything seems hopeless, do you believe God will come through?  Even as you are growing older and your body and health are failing and there's nothing you can do about it, do you trust God?  Do you trust God even as you face death?
 
God told Ezekiel to preach to the Dry Bones.

            That doesn't make any sense to preach to dead bones.  They can't hear.  They won't do anything you tell them to.  What's the use?  It took a lot of faith and obedience for Ezekile to preach that sermon.  But Ezekiel trusted that God knew what He was doing.  Ezekiel obeyed and we're still talking about it today.
            Sometimes we look at our church or our community, our family, our friends,and we think sharing the gospel with them or inviting them to church is about as hopeless as preaching to valley of dry bones. What’s the use?  We think, "They're not going to listen."  But if God ask you to do it, you do it.
            Ezekiel trusted God. He said, “Lord, I don’t know if these bones can live again or not. Only You know. But if You tell me to preach to them, I’m gonna preach.”  Ezekiel preached and the Lord brought life to the dry bones.
            If God asks you to preach to Dry Bones you better do it, because you just don't know what God wants to do, but God knows. You have to trust Him. If God aske you to invite you neighbor to church, you better do it.  If God encourages you to warn your sister or brother, daughter or son that they're going down the wrong road, you better do it.  God knows what He's asking.  If God ask you to be a preacher, you better do it.  God asked you for a reason--even if you don't know what it is yet.  If God asks you to preach to dry bones, you better do it. 

Sometimes I Feel Like I’m Preaching to a Valley of Dry Bones.
            Sometimes, the church seems to be full of nothing but whining and complaining. “I don’t like the food on Wednesday nights… I wish we sang different music...  Louder... softer.. faster... slower...  No body called me when I missed church…"  Sometimes, the church seems like it's lost its focus. Sometimes people act like the Church of the Living God is hospice care for the dying.  Friends, I believe in hospice care. It’s a God send to people who are dying and I encourage you to use hospice if you or someone you love is dying.  However, the Church of the Living God is not someplace we go to be comforted while we wait to die. It’s a place we go to COME ALIVE! So COME ALIVE!
            And while you're at it, bring all your friends, all your family, everyone you can to come and meet Jesus in His church and COME ALIVE!

Closing
            Oh, how I long to hear the bones rattling and shaking!  Oh, how I long to see dead, lifeless people rising up to new life!  Oh, how I long to see people getting excited about church!  Oh, how I long to see the young, the old, the middle aged, EVERYONE standing together as an army of God--ALL FOCUSED on our MISSION: Making disciples of Jesus Christ!  Oh, how I long to see Pleasant Grove Giving Hope to the Hopeless, Building New Relationships, and Helping Our Community!             Can these Bones Live Again? Oh, Sovereign Lord, only You know the answer to that.  But I know You have the power to do it! 
            “Dry bones!  Oh you dry bones!  You better listen!  You better listen to the Word of the Lord!  This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again!”  You better get up!  You better get up and get busy serving the Lord! 

Amen?  Amen!

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.

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.