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Showing posts with label New Creation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New Creation. Show all posts

Monday, January 3, 2022

2022 State of the Communion Address

Introduction
It is our tradition at Pleasant Grove at the beginning of each new year, to have a State of the Communion Address where we look back at the accomplishments of the previous year and look forward to some goals and initiatives for the coming year.  My hope is this will give us a chance to pause and remember and celebrate what Christ has accomplished through us (for it is too easy to forget).  A further hope is to give some direction for our ministry in the coming year.

 But before we get into those details, I want us to hear God’s Word, for all that we believe and do is founded upon God’s Word and I believe God’s Word will give us much needed perspective in our task today.  

1 Corinthians 5:17-21
17 …anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Ambassadors of Christ
Paul’s words in this Scripture remind us who we are.  When a person becomes a Christian, they become a totally new person.  In fact, the transformation is so significant, it can be described as the old person dying and a new person coming to life.  Jesus described it in John 3:3 as being born again. 

This dramatic distinction between the old self and the new self may be easier to realize when a person becomes a Christian as a teenager or adult, because they are more self-aware.  Many people in the church, thankfully, grow up always knowing and following Christ.  For them, they cannot ever remember a time before they were Christian.  This is nothing to worry about.  In fact, it is my hope for all children raised in our church that they will never walk down the wrong road in life and have need for a dramatic conversion experience where they get back on the right road (as the Apostle Paul needed to do).  I pray that my kids, your kids, the kids of my church will always walk the right road.  Of course, we all need little corrections along the way, but it is not necessary for us to start out as scoundrels and convert to become Christians.

The point is, anyone who is a Christian has a drastically different purpose in life than a non-Christian.  A non-Christian believes they are free to choose their own path and do whatever they want in life.  Ironically, they are actually slaves and not free.  Their sinful nature, selfish pursuits, and the corrupt world work together to trap them in a downward spiral to death and eternal damnation.  Though they seek pleasure and fulfillment, it is always fleeting and elusive, because all people were created for a relationship with God and we cannot be at peace without it. 

Christians realize the great gift God gave the world through Jesus. Humanity was lost in sin, completely separated from God, utterly hopeless.  But Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sin and make it possible for people to reconcile with God.  And the Christian has chosen to “die to self”—to abandon selfishness and instead live for God by following Christ’s way of life to take up a cross every day and follow Jesus.  Ironically, by giving up our selfish ambitions, we discover True Life, by fulfilling our divine purpose to live in harmony with God.  And so a Christian’s purpose is the same as Christ’s purpose.  We are here in this world to serve as ambassadors for Christ.  He continues to reconcile the world to God through us.  God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”

 And so, at the beginning of this New Year, I ask all of you–if you are truly a Christian–to remember your purpose.  You are not living to please yourself.  You are here as Christ’s ambassadors, reconciling people to God.

This is our purpose at Pleasant Grove.  It’s not about our traditions or our events or how many people we can get to come to Trunk or Treat.  It’s about reconciling a world of lost people to God through Jesus Christ.  We are Christ’s voice pleading with the world:  “Come back to God!”  That was the purpose that guided our work in 2021 and I hope will guide us in 2022 as well.

Looking Back at 2021
2021 has been a whirlwind.  It has gone by so fast.  I’m truly dumbfounded.  It still feels to me as if it is January 2021!  I know it is now 2022, but it truly seems like I was just sitting down to make plans for 2021 and now we’re making plans for 2022.  Where did the year go?  And yet, so much has happened over the last 12 months, I have to look back to remember it all.  And if I’m being completely honest, ministry has been really hard this year.  

The first year of the Pandemic was an adrenaline rush.  2021 began with such great hopes that a vaccine would finally rid us of COVID.  And we made good progress, but I think we’ve all been disabused of the notion that COVID is just going to go away.  We are going to be living with it for a while.  

And so in the midst of it, we’ve been laboring to resume important ministries like in person Sunday school, Bible study, children’s ministry, choir rehearsal, and others while dealing with quarantines, new variants, fewer volunteers, and inconsistent attendance.

I realize this has been hard for everyone.  It has been especially hard for the leaders of our church.  Leaders put forth a brave face, but those closest to them know how they struggle.  I myself have talked with my wife many times about my frustrations with ministry this year.  And I’ve shed tears in the church office as in front of Angela as I’ve lamented.    Leading in 2021 was frustrating.  We see where Pleasant Grove needs to go and we’re focused on leading the church there, but there are so many obstacles to navigate along the way, and people are scared, anxious, frustrated, and uncertain.  Many people have drifted away from their commitment to Christian habits and have lost their focus on Christ’s call to be His ambassador with Pleasant Grove.

And in truth, I sometimes felt as if many people either didn’t care or they were disappointed with me for not doing enough when in fact I was doing all I could.  I’ve been expending exorbitant amounts of extra spiritual energy to reboot ministries that were shut down for over a year, even as some were expressing their own frustrations and concerns, comparing our efforts to what other churches were doing and what people thought we should do or what their pastor should do.

Despite these frustrations, we have made great strides in 2021 to resume essential ministries.  And I want to point these out so they aren’t overlooked.  Starting back was far more important and much harder than shutting down, but not necessarily as exciting for people who tend to note more sensational events.

Do you remember that at this time last year, many of our ministries were still not meeting in person?  All of our IN PERSON Sunday school classes were on pause or were only meeting on Zoom.  There was no Thursday morning Bible study, no children’s church.  Only the youth were gathering, carefully with masks and social distanced, for Pizza with Amy.  We were still not allowed to do pastoral visits to people in the hospitals or nursing homes.  Funerals were still limited to 50 or fewer people.  We were not meeting for dinner on Wednesday nights.  Almost all our activities, besides Sunday morning worship, were still shut down.  And our in-person Sunday morning worship attendance on this Sunday, last year, was 33 people.  That’s combined—including both the early service and the regular service.  33 people.  Our average in-person attendance in now regularly back up close to 100 people.  

One year ago, we still didn’t even have hymnals available in the sanctuary, because we were still cautious about transferring the virus through touched surfaces like hymnals. 

So throughout the entire 2021 year, we’ve been rebuilding, rebooting, regathering volunteers and attendees, figuring out how to do it all again with ongoing restrictions.  And it’s been a lot of hard work, but so rewarding to see everyone gathering together again. 

We’ve resumed regular, weekly children’s church and Wednesday night children’s ministry under the leadership of our new children’s minister-Tiffany Tankersley.  Tiffany has been working diligently, despite falling down some steps and breaking her face in the first few weeks after she started the job!  Tiffany has working to ramp up our in-person kids programs, almost building them from scratch, while she’s also endure like 3 reconstructive surgeries on her face! It’s been a blessing to have Tiffany on board—to see her genuine passion to teach our children about Jesus’ love.

Our Sunday school classes have resumed meeting every Sunday, in person.  We resumed our Thursday morning Bible study with 10-15 people and have completed studies of the books of James, Jonah, and will soon finish the Book of Psalms.  This year, I was able to do some hospital and nursing home visits for the first time since COVID, though these are still sometimes restricted when new COVID variants emerge.  And I am sending cards to shut-ins ever week. 

The choir was blessed to resume weekly rehearsals for fully vaccinated members in May.  We began by sitting out in the sanctuary, socially distanced, and have eventually worked our way back up into the choir loft, where it feels so much better to sing in a sea of beautiful choral voices.  What a blessing it was to the choir to be able to sing together in person again.  And it was quite a blessing to everyone in worship as well.  Consider, that in December 2020, the Christmas cantata was done virtually.  Everything was pre-recorded and we watched it on the screens.  A few weeks ago, we were blessed to have the choir back, sitting in the choir loft, blessing us with a beautiful live Christmas cantata.  

I want to thank David for his leadership of our music ministries in all this.  I know it was stressful and took a lot of thought, prayer, and extra work on top of the normal workload of leading music ministries of our church. 

In September, we resumed our Wednesday night fellowship meals after a 17-month break forced by the pandemic.  Angela Stack and Angel Kirk worked together to gather volunteers to setup, serve, and clean. And you don't just flip a switch and restart a ministry like that.  Some people might think: "Well, you just get all your old volunteers and start back."  No, after 17 months, you don't have any volunteers any more.  You have to contact every one and build the volunteer list from scratch. 

The resumption of all these ministries took place in the midst of concerns about new COVID variants, like Delta and Omicron, that made us second guess ourselves and sometimes forced us to pause or backtrack.  Throughout 2021, it seems like it was 2 steps forward and 1 step back.  Progress like that is slow and frustrating, but it is progress to be proud of.  Remember, 2 steps forward and 1 step back  is still forward progress and if you do it consistently for a year, you make a lot of progress.  Looking back, we see have moved so far forward!  Don’t you ever forget it!  And be proud because 2 steps forward and 1 step back is 3 steps. So we have work 3 times as hard this past year than we normally do.

We also saw new people joining our fellowship!  Praise God! Hallelujah!  Our first new member since the beginning of the pandemic was Connie Reed, who transferred her membership to Pleasant Grove on May 9th, 2021.

We also received:
· Robert and Melissa Starling and their boys, Garrett and Ellis
· Chris and Ashley Ewton and their infant son Ben
· And we baptized Kelsey and Chad Ikerd’s baby, Julianne

2021 saw 5 new church members, 2 people gave their life to Jesus, 1 rededicated their life to Christ, and we had 6 baptisms!  Praise God! Hallelujah! 

And I can’t let it pass without saying that through out all of this terrible pandemic, the people of PGMC have been faithful to give generously to our church.  Your faithful giving allowed us to keep doing ministry in a crazy time and surge ahead.  

In July, we launched Operation Mercy Drops to award three kinds of grants to help and honor people in our community: 
1. Merit grants to honor people who are serving,
2. Service grants to help community organizations making a difference, and
3. Hardship grants to help people in need.

So far we have awarded five $1000 grants and one $500 grant.  A total of $5,500! This program has been recognized nationally by the United Methodist denomination as an innovative model for how to be the hands and feet of Christ.  And we did it in the midst of a pandemic.  I want to thank this church for stepping out in faith to do it.  I want to thank Salena Weed, Kelly Scruggs, Rita Wagers, and Mike Wilson for directing the program.

I also want encourage you to sponsor someone. (Details are available at www.pleasantgrove.cc/omd.)  We specifically want you to nominate people or organizations you want to reward.  This is not just to help people who have a hardship.  We want you to think of people or organizations that deserve to be recognized.  The program only works if you nominate people to receive an Operation Mercy Drops grant. 

So, 2021 was a challenging year, but it was year of great ministry by PGMC.  Don’t be discouraged.  Don’t lose heart because it’s hard.  We are doing great things in the name of Jesus and we will continue to do great things in 2022.  So let’s look ahead to this New Year.

Looking Ahead to 2022
I want you to know I am committed to be your pastor for the foreseeable future.  I know we are United Methodists and UM pastors are only officially appointed for one year at a time.  However, we are still in the midst of a pandemic and the UM denomination will be navigating a denomination split some time in the next couple years (possibly even this year).  These are extraordinary circumstances unlike anything we or the UMC have ever experienced.  So far, the North Georgia conference leaders have been generous to allow pastors and church more leeway to remain together with their congregations until things settle down.  I have requested not to be moved.  Our HR Committee has also made this request to the District Superintendent.

I want you to know, I have no plans to move to another church until at least 2025.  I have talked with our HR Committee about this and also my District Superintendent and he was supportive.  He even recommended I discuss this with our church to make a plan.  I understand that no one can predict what the future holds.  It is all in God’s hand.  However, we make plans and we work to implement them until God changes them and shows us a different way.  

The point is, I want you to know, I am committed to pastor this church as long as you will have me.  I’m saying this now because I know I’ve been at Pleasant Grove a lot longer than is customary for a UM pastor.  Some may be thinking, “Well, Chris isn’t going to be here much longer.”  Well, I am planning to be here, as long as you will allow me.

I also want you to know, I don’t plan on just coasting by either.  I’m as excited and energized by the opportunity to lead this church as I've ever been.  I hope you will be excited to let me and work with me for several more years.  We have a lot to do and I believe God wants us to do it together.  So let’s get to it.

One of the things I believe we need to focus on this year is more outreach to shut-ins.  There are many people in our church family who are not able to come to church regularly because of age or health restrictions.  They often feel lonely and disconnected from the church and the life in general.  Ministering to them has been especially challenging through this pandemic, but we have got to do better to reach out to them, encourage them, and include them.  I am committed as the pastor of this church to do better.  Last year, I was able to resume some visiting, and I also began writing notes to shut-ins every week.  I will do more this year.  I want to start taking communion to shut-ins.  As a pastor and United Methodist Elder, I am the only one at our church authorized to consecrate the sacrament and share it with shut-ins.  I plan to.

However, our shut-ins deserve more than just the pastor’s attention.  This church is their family.  You are their family and they have known many of you much longer than they've known me.  They need you to call them, visit them, send them notes, and show them your love.  If we all help with this, there are more than enough people at our church to serve these members of our church family.  I want you to pray about this.  How could you help share Jesus’ love to our shut-ins?

I asked all our ministry leaders to share one thing they want to focus on in 2022.  David Crawford shared that he wants to focus on bringing in more college students who have a passion and talent for music, but (like many college students) are not as involved in church.  David wants to bring them in to sing with our choir to be a blessing to the church, but also to bless these students with a church family that will love them like Jesus.  I hope you will pray for this effort and support it wholeheartedly.

Our tech minister, Jeremy Barfield, said his main goal for 2022 is to expand the tech volunteer base and train more folks to serve in various ways in tech. We need more volunteers.  Can you help with this?  Or, can you invite someone to our church who would like to learn about this kind of ministry?

Tiffany’s goals with our children’s ministry are to participate in more outreach events.  She wants to plan more outings for kids and get kids involved in active outreach and serving.  She wants to plan ahead for church events like Valentine’s Day, Easter, Trunk or Treat, and Lunch with Santa, and plan some summer outings and VBS. 

Amy's goals with our youth are to establish more adult volunteers and chaperones to make more youth trips and supervision possible.

My goal is to take communion to shut-ins to share this special sacrament with them so they can draw strength from Jesus presence in the bread and wine.  I also want to use YouTube, social media, and other online tools to teach and preach the Word. 

And I want to help lead this church through the challenges of this ongoing pandemic and the coming split of the United Methodist Church into two separate new denominations:
· one that allows same-sex marriage & the ordination of self-professing homosexuals pastors
· and a traditional denomination that teaches a biblical view of sexuality in line with orthodox Christians around the world and throughout history.

The UMC is scheduled to hold a global general conference at the end of August this year.  If they are able to meet, they will vote to split the denomination and there will be many important decisions for our congregation to make.  However, no one knows right now if the General Conference will be able to meet.  It is a complex gathering with a few thousand delegates from all over the world into one building and 40% of the delegates will be coming from including places like Africa and the Phillipines who are still facing travel restrictions due to the pandemic.  If they are not able to meet like planned, a messy denominational split may proceed anyway or it may be postponed.  Either way, these will be tricky waters for our church to navigate.  I hope I have your trust to lead you through it all.  Please pray for me and our church and our global denomination in the midst of it all this year.

Now, I can think of no better way to begin our new year together than by celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion.  In this sacrament, we remember the sacrifice Christ has made for us to wash away our sins and reconcile us to God and each other. And we remember our purpose to be His ambassadors pleading with the world:  “Come back to God!”  And we also receive His nourishing grace to help us in the task.



Monday, April 20, 2015

I've Been Made NEW!

Copyright April 13, 2015
Galatians 6:14-16

Introduction
            My wife, Kelly, went shopping together last night.  I got a new pair of shoes and she got a new smart phone phone.  Her old iPhone finally bit the dust and wouldn't turn on anymore.  I'm so proud of her.  She finally ditched the iPhone and opted for the better android system with a brand new Samsung Galaxy s5!  So she's is learning how to use a new phone today and I'm wearing a new pair of shoes.
            There’s just something about getting something new.  Isn’t there?  Doesn’t it feel great to own a brand new smart phone or put on a new set of clothes?  And who wouldn’t love to sit behind the wheel of a brand new car? (You can even buy air fresheners scented with that “New Car” smell to trick into the good feelings that come from owning a new car.)  There’s just something great about new things.
            Of course, lately the thing that has been in vogue in home decor is the “distressed.”  Do you what this is?  It’s where you take a new piece of furniture and rough it up so it looks like it’s an old piece of furniture.  There are all kinds of pointers on how you can do this.  One method calls for you to use a chain to flog the wood until it is sufficiently “distressed.”  All this reminds me of a fashion trend for denim jeans when I was in high school.  It was the style to wear jeans with holes in them.  So some kids I knew would actually buy a new pair of jeans and cut holes in them.  Then they would wash over and over again to give them a worn appearance.  Clothing stores caught on pretty quick and soon were selling their own jeans that came already tattered.  Most parents were just dumbfounded with the whole thing! 
            But you know what I think’s really cool.  It’s when you take something old and make it new again.  There’s nothing like a classic car that’s been restored to be like new!  Or how about a piece of truly beautiful and interesting antique furniture?  I recently had the privilege of refinishing an old phonograph.  This is one of those old wind-up record players back from before they invented radios.  This particular phonograph was built in 1917 and has been in my family all my life.  It existed as a dilapidated piece of junk with chipped wood and broken parts. But it always fascinated me and I had the chance to bring it back to life.  Now it is NEW again and it is beautiful to me. 

            I think my love of making old things new springs from my understanding of what Christ has done for me.  You see, Jesus is making me NEW.  Ever since the day I gave my life to Christ, He has been renovating me.  He has been changing the old person that I was into the NEW person He wants me to be.  And that’s what I want to talk about with you today, because it is far more important than classic cars or old furniture.  I want to share how you can be made NEW. 
The Bible teaches that what marks a person as a Christian is they have been made NEW.  They have new desires.  They have a new way of thinking.  They have a new purpose in life.  And these changes are so real and dramatic in a person’s life, that the best way to describe them is to say, “They are a NEW person.”  Jesus even used the term “born again” as if to say the person they used to be was dead and they have been born again—a new person.
            Over the next few weeks, we will study what it means to be made NEW by God.  Let’s start today by looking at Galatians 6:14-16.

Galatians 6:14-16
14 As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. 15 It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. 16 May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God.

Exegete the Passage
The Apostle Paul wrote these words to Christians living in a city called Galatia to bolster their faith in Christ.  Some false teachers were confusing them they by teaching the Galatians needed to believe in Christ and…  I.E. Believe in Christ and be circumcised.  Believe in Christ and follow the Jewish law… 
This is false because no external thing we do can save us.  It is only Christ who saves us and to tag on any additional stipulation as a requirement for God’s grace is an offence to the absolutely free gift of God’s grace.
The Galatian Christians were often persecuted for not being circumcised by both Jews and Romans.  You see, Roman authorities officially recognized and allowed for the practice of the Jewish religion; whereas, Christianity was not sanctioned and often severely persecuted.  Circumcision was the religious mark of a Jewish person.  Some thought that by being circumcised they might fall under the Jewish umbrella and thus be protected from persecution from both Jews and Romans.  Couldn’t these Christians just go along with the crowd, be circumcised and keep being good Jews?
We face similar temptations in our own time.  Though we aren’t pressured to be circumcised, we are pressured to be like everybody else around us.  Most non-Christians will tolerate Christians so long as we don’t cause a fuss (as long as we remain pretty much like them).  But if we really become a NEW person and take a stand on something that is contrary to popular opinion, we face ridicule and ostracizing.  For instance: we do not support gay marriage because it is clearly contrary to biblical teaching.  However, popular opinion disagrees with biblical teaching.  An active, growing, and vocal majority in our country advocate for gay marriage.  And when Christians refuse to go along, when we stand on solid biblical teaching, we are ridiculed, ostracized, and possibly even penalized.  There is a great temptation among many Christians to avoid all that and just “go along with the crowd.”
Paul says, “No!  All you need is to believe in Christ.  All the other stuff doesn’t matter.  Religious ceremonies can’t save you.  The approval of others can’t save you.  All that really matters is that you believe in Christ.  For when you do, you will be transformed into a new creation.”  The key verse for us is - 15 It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation.
A NEW Allegiance
When you truly believe in Christ, it means you have chosen to follow Him.  You have become His disciple.  Disciples forsake everything else and choose to follow their master.  You think about the Disciples we read about in the New Testament.  They left their homes, their jobs, their families, everything to follow Jesus.  And Jesus transformed them into new people. 
In the same way, when we chose to follow Jesus, we put Him and His teaching above all else in our lives.  Jesus said, If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26).  Jesus is not advocating a life of hate--especially for your family.  The point is:  Our love and devotion for Jesus must be so strong, so committed, that it surpasses all our other commitments.  It means, that we will always choose to follow Christ even at the expense of these other natural, familial obligations. And the truth is, when you give your heart to Christ, you will actually become a better father, mother, husband, wife, son or daughter or friend.  You will become a better person, because when you choose to believe and follow Christ, he transforms you into a New Person. 
A NEW Creation
            What does it mean to be made NEW?  I will be talking about this over the next few weeks in worship.  But let me just give you a summary today.  When Jesus makes you NEW, it  means you will have a heart.  Your desires will change.  The sinful, selfish things you used to desire, will be replaced by things that are good, wholesome, and fulfilling.  You will find peace because your heart will desire things that are good for you, things you were originally designed to have.  And God will give you the desires of your heart and you will be fulfilled.
            When Jesus makes you NEW, He will give you a NEW mind.  He will help you a new way of thinking where you see yourself and others as He sees you—as the beautiful, unique, wonderful masterpieces He created.  Instead of seeing your flaws and weaknesses as mistakes, you will start to see them that God has transformed them into your greatest attributes--for in your weakness His glory shines through most clearly.  False pride will disappear and be replaced by a true knowledge of who you are and who you belong to.  You will find the confidence that comes from being a child of God.
            When Jesus makes you NEW, He will give you a NEW purpose.  Jesus will give direction to your life.  You will find a true sense of purpose, knowing that your life matters.  You will no longer chase after meaning in your days—jumping from one cause to another, and losing your identity every time your life’s purpose changes.  You will have an eternal purpose that transcends your age, gender, where you live, or your station in life.  It will be a purpose that brings everlasting rewards you will celebrate for all eternity.
            Lastly, when Jesus makes you NEW, He will give you a NEW eternal destination.  You see, those who have not been made NEW are dying.  They are headed down a road to destruction.  Their destination is eternal separation from God, the source of life.  It is a Hell of eternal torment, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  But those believe in Christ, whom Christ makes NEW, have a NEW destination.  They will have eternal life in heaven with God and all His saints.  It is a glorious place of eternal joy where there will be no more sickness or sadness or death.  All the injustices of this world along with the worries and suffering and evil will be swallowed up and forgotten forever in the wondrous glory of God.           

Invitaiton
            If you would like to experience all these good things, why don’t you decide to follow Christ today?  Don’t cling to your old life any longer.  Let go of the past and embrace the glorious NEW future Jesus wants you to have.  Pray to Jesus and ask to be His disciple today and He will make you NEW.