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

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The State of the Communion Address


Introduction
Taking a que from the tradition in our country for the President to make an annual State of the Union address, I have started making an annual State of the Communion address to my congregation.  I want to share a few highlights from our ministry together in 2018 and share our vision for 2019.  But first, let’s hear the Word of God and remember our purpose as Christ’s followers. 

Matthew 28:18-20
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

We Have  A Mission
In this passage, Jesus reminds his followers of three essential ideas.  First of all, Jesus is Lord.  He says he’s been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  In other words, everywhere.  He has the right to command everyone and everyone ought to obey.  This is even more true for anyone who claims to follow Jesus (to be a Christian).  Obedience is not optional.  It’s essential.

Second, Jesus gives his followers an important command—go and make disciples of all nations.  We are to tell people about Jesus Christ and urge them to follow Jesus as Lord.  New disciples (followers) are to be baptized—a sign that they have made a complete new start as a new person committed to following Jesus.

Third, we are to teach new disciples Jesus’ commands, his way of life, and encourage them to obey Christ as we ourselves obey him. So there is growth as disciples.  We don’t stay as baby Christians—we grow in our faith and our obedience and communion with God through Jesus Christ.

The Church is not a social club.  It’s not a place we come to be entertained by beautiful art or good music or an engaging message.  The Church is the body of Christ on a mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ and teach them to obey the Lord of heaven and earth.  It’s an important mission.

At Pleasant Grove, Our Mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  We have three over-arching goals as we do that.  They are 1) Give hope to the hopeless, 2) Build new relationships, and 3) Help Our Community.  These are the goals we focus on as we make disciples of Jesus Christ. 

4 Reasons Why I love Pleasant Grove
I’ve been the pastor of Pleasant Grove for more than eight years now.  Eight years is the longest I’ve lived anywhere in my life.  My family and I have loved it here so far.  Everyone has been so kind to us.  I want to share briefly about four reasons I love Peasant Grove.

First of all, Pleasant Grove is big enough to do a lot of good ministry.  I have served smaller churches where we struggled to have the people, facility space, and resources to serve God the way we needed to.  Pleasant Grove has lots of capable, willing people, an abundance of facility space, and the resources to do great ministry.

But another reason I love Pleasant Grove is we are still small enough to have a sense of intimacy.  I have been to larger churches and they have their own kids of strengths, but you can lose the sense of intimacy our church members have with one another.  We know each other’s names.  We have time to talk to each other, care for each other, get to know each other.

And because of that, there’s another thing I find really meaningful at Pleasant Grove—the way people love one another here.  We are all different.  We come from different backgrounds.  Some have lived in this areas their whole lives; others are new comers to the area.  Some are older; some are younger. However, I’ve witness a deep caring and unconditional kind of love here.  You accept people who are different.  You love them despite their struggles.  You accept people as they are, but also help them grow in Christ to become who God wants them to be.  I see this Christ-like love in the people of Pleasant Grove all the time, and it makes my heart smile!

But there’s another thing I love about Pleasant Grove.  The people here are always willing to learn, change, and grow.  As long as I’ve been with you, you’ve always been willing to try new ideas, new music, and new ways of doing things.  You’ve embrace new people, new leaders, and new technology.  I know change hasn’t always been easy, but you’ve had the courage to try and and open hearts to embrace whatever works to further the Kingdom of God.  And that blesses my heart.

Highlights from Last Year
Let me share some highlights from our ministry last year.  Last year, we started using a new model for planning events.  Susan Cooksey and Sherry Dickson teamed up to co-lead a planning team of volunteers worked so well to plan many excellent activities to help us make disciples as we give hope to the hopeless, build new relationships, and help our community.
  • We had an excellent Super Bowl Sunday with the barefoot kicker from Tennessee, Ricky Townsend, as our guest speaker.
  • The youth served an excellent steak dinner for Valentine’s Day so that everyone could enjoy a special meal with their special someone. 
  • Near the end of 2017, we hired a new children’s minister, Ashten Webb. In 2018, she did a great job getting to know Pleasant Grove and leading our children’s program. We had several very successful children’s activities. 
  • We hosted a community Easter egg hunt, with over 200 people attending. 
  • VBS was one of the best organized I can remember, with as many as 50 kids attending. Our volunteers had a fun working it and we got great feedback from those who came. 
  • Trunk or Treat is always a huge hit in our community and we had about 800 people attended this year. Plus, we did some things to help minister to those who came—more than just give them candy and a hotdog. We invited them to church, gave them a pamphlet about community resources in our area, and also a newsletter with a Gospel lesson and information about our church.

One of the things I was very pleased with last year, was how many of our events built on previous events. For example, our movie nights over the summer and our summer bouncy blowout lead into VBS. People from VBS were invited to our Wednesday nights kids program. Each event led into the next one and helped build momentum.

New People
Since our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, one of the most exciting things for me has been to see so many new people coming to Pleasant Grove.  Since last summer, we’ve had at least 27 new people start attending PGUMC regularly.  And they’re also getting involved.  Many of these have started attending Bible study, Sunday school, Wednesday dinner and youth & children’s programs.  Many of our newest people have even gotten involved to help plan some of our events like trunk or treat.  Here are some of the statistics:
  • 12 new people joined our church last year
  • 3 people were baptized – Finley Rebecca Ward, Amaya Childers, & Brooks Blalock
  • 3 people gave their life to Christ through a public profession of faith – Abigail Mullis, Amaya Childers, & Walker England
  • Six members of our church died last year and went on to glory.  It’s never easy to say goodbye to people we love at Pleasant. However, we can find comfort in knowing they are at Home with Jesus in heaven now.  And we can celebrate the way they helped shape our church.  So, we are thankful for the six of our saints who passed away in 2018:  Patricia Pellom, Dot Kuhne, Arnold Locklear, Jerry Albertson, Ann Brooker, & Don Douglas. 

Looking Forward to 2019
We have a lot to be thankful for from the past year.  And we also have a lot to look forward to in the coming one.  We’ve already made a great start for 2019.  Susan Cooksey and Sherry Dickson and the planning team did some great work in November planning the activities we want to do this year.  We already have event coordinators and a list of volunteers for each program.  And Sunday, we bathed each event in prayer.  Now, we need to continue to pray for the teams who are planning them.  Hanging on the walls, you see what we are working toward and who is helping with each event.  Pray for them and support them.  It’s gonna be a great year!

And invite people to come!  Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  All these events are opportunities to invite people through the door of our church, to feel the love we all feel here, and to meet the Lord Jesus Christ who fills our hearts with love.  My hope for our church in 2019 is that we will see even more new people coming and getting involved and growing in Christ.  I want us all to look for ways to invite more new people to come.
  
Another hope I have for the people of Pleasant Grove in 2019, is more spiritual growth.  Everyone needs to grow in Christ—whether you’re new to Pleasant Grove or you’ve been here a while.  Many people want to grow in Christ.  Many people resolve to grow in Christ.  But growth doesn’t just happen because you make a resolution.  Growth comes through practicing. Practicing the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, study, fasting, and service help nurture the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control become more abundant as we practice and grow in Christ.  So, I plan to teach a series on spiritual disciplines and encourage you to practice them more.  The series will start on Wednesday night, January 23rd.  I hope you will come and invite a friend.

One of the spiritual disciplines is service.  We grow in Christ as we serve.  Pleasant Grove is a very outreach oriented church.  We like to serve and help people.  We are going to continue our focus on that through outreach projects like building wheel chair ramps.  We will also help our community by offering meals for high school groups like football teams and bands and bereavement meals for people who’ve lost a loved one.  Further more, we will continue to serve snack packs to hungry kids at Pleasant Grove Elementary, using funds we’ve received from grants.

In the past, Family Promise was one of the great opportunities we had to serve.  The biggest blessing of working with Family Promise was the opportunity for hands-on service to the needy who struggle financially.  However, for several years Family Promise had shifted their focus away from housing homeless families in church buildings.  This was better for families, but also eliminated hands-on service opportunities for churches.  At the end of last year, the directors of Family Promise decided to disband and let other charitable organizations like the City of Refuge and Greater Works take over. 

We will miss partnering with Family Promise in our community.  However, we are still committed to serve the needy and we’ve increased our outreach budget so we’ll have the funds to do it.  Since Family Promise has disbanded, we were able to shift the funds we were using to support them directly to our outreach fund.  We can use these funds to do more to help the needy directly instead of passing the buck to outside organizations.  Furthermore, we’ve committed to send a feeding team to the City of Refuge four times this year – Feb 7, May 2, Aug 1, Nov 7.  Kay Denson will be coordinating the effort, but it will take everyone’s help to prepare and serve food.  Our job will be to feed needy families as they come to the City of Refuge to learn about Jesus.  So, we will regain the hands-on service opportunities we lost when Family Promise changed their focus from housing homeless families in our church and we will be doing a great service to help the needy and help our community.

One final thing I need to report is we need to pray for our United Methodist Church.  Our denomination has a special General Conference coming up February 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri.  This may be the most significant General Conference our denomination has ever had since its inception in 1968.  Representatives from all over the world have been studying issues about human sexuality and will meet at the General Conference to debate and vote on the issue.  One proposal is to maintain the UMC's traditional teaching that God designed sex to be enjoyed only within the bounds of marriage between one man and one woman.  Another proposal seeks to redefine marriage within the United Methodist Church to include same-sex unions as well open ordination as pastors or deacons to "self-avowed, practicing" homosexuals.  This is a serious issue and the United Methodist Church is not of one mind on the subject.  Many within the United States want to see the church change and be more inclusive of gay people.  Others wish to offer grace to those who struggle with sexual sin, but hold to a biblical view of marriage and human sexuality.  Either way, there is a serious threat that as many may leave the United Methodist Church based on what is decided.  This is not just something that affects other churches in other places.  This is something that could affect Pleasant Grove UMC directly.  We need to be in prayer for our United Methodist Church.

Answer the Call in 2019
If you are a member of Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, I encourage you to pray for our church and our denomination.  Furthermore, I would ask you to pray that God would show you:
  • How you can invite others to join with us at Pleasant Grove
  • How you can grow in your own faith through spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, worship, study, and service
  • And pray for those who will be coordinating events and leading ministry at PGUMC
If you are not a member of Pleasant Grove but are attending regularly, I invite you to consider going deeper in your relationship with God by becoming an official member of the church.

If you live nearby, but are not active in a church, let me invite you now to come see what Jesus is doing in our lives at Pleasant Grove.  I invite you to come grow closer to God here as we grow with you.

If you live too far away to come to Pleasant Grove regularly, I invite you to find a good Christian church where you live where you can partner with other believers to grow in Christ and servce the Kingdom of God.  

May God bless you and lead you in the 2019.

Pastor Chris Mullis
Senior Pastor, Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church



Monday, December 31, 2018

Covenant Prayer


Preface
Christmas has come.  We’ve celebrated the birth of Christ, but we are still waiting for him to come again as he promised.  The birth of Christ is only part of the story.  The story continues and is marked at every turn by commitment and sacrifice.  Every good thing worth having comes through commitment and sacrifice.  Listen to the extended story of Christ’s birth and childhood.

Slides – Luke 2:21-42
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.

Introduction
Many people want their spiritual life to be spectacular—to be filled with passion and miracles and signs and wonders.  They want worship to always be special; maybe that’s why so many only attend church on Christmas or Easter.  People want spirituality, not religion; they want to feel God’s love, but they don’t want to practice religious disciplines.  But that’s not the way things usually work in real life.  We don’t usually have a spectacular spiritual life if we don’t practice the daily commitment of religious discipline.  Furthermore, the signs and wonders of God’s intimate and powerful presence in our lives usually happen when we are in the midst of our daily spiritual habits. 

Mary and Joseph were just ordinary people like you and me, but the Bible also describes them as godly people.  They prayed.  They worshiped.  They study God’s Word.  They were committed to their religious duties.  It was in the midst of this religious life that the Angel appeared to Mary and the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus.  It was in the midst of a godly religious life that the Angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to remain committed to Mary, for she was pregnant with the Son of God.  And after the child was born, we see Mary and Joseph continued their religious duties.  They circumcised Jesus when he was 8-years-old, they followed the purification rites according to the Law of Moses, they continued their regular religious duties and even traveled to the Temple in Jerusalem every year. They also trained Jesus to be a faithful Jew.  By the time he was twelve and they took him to the Temple in Jerusalem, he had been studying the Bible (The Torah actually, which was the jewish Bible) and practicing his religion faithfully and knew the Word of God as well as the religious scholars.  Practice makes perfect; that's true in you spiritual life as well as anything else.  And it was true for Jesus too.

In our text this morning, we also see the religious commitment of an old man named Simeon.  He was righteous and devout.  And there was a widowed prophet named Anna, who was 84-years-old.  It says, “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”  A very “religious” woman, but her determined, daily commitment to religious practice (and also Simeon’s) led to a spectacular, once in a lifetime spiritual experience.  They both get to see and hold and pray with and bless the baby Jesus.

Things Worth Having
Things worth having are worth waiting for, working for, fighting for, and never giving up on.  The biggest, most important blessings in life come through commitment.  We celebrate the special moments of life—when a youth graduates from high school, a young couple get married, the birth of a child, etc.  We flood Facebook and Instagram with pictures capturing these special milestones.  But these moments in and of themselves are nothing if not bathed in deep, daily commitment.  It is not the marriage ceremony or the pictures that matter; it is the love that the bride and groom have for each other that compels them to remain by each other’s side in good times and bad time, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health their whole life long.  We anticipate the glorious birth of a child with a young couple, but the true glory is in the old women and men like Anna and Simeon who have lived a life of deep commitment and sacrifice, raising children and grandchildren, serving their friends, their church, their community. 

Covenant Prayer
Over the last month, I’ve shared about many different kinds of prayer.  We can experience some very special and intimate spiritual time with God through many different types of prayer.  I want to share one more.  It is called covenant prayer.  A covenant is an agreement.  It is a promise between God and His people.  Throughout the Bible, God has promised to care for His people.  And God calls His people to be committed in our relationships too--with people and with God.

A relationship can only go as far as our commitment to one another.  That’s why a man and a woman decide to get married and promise to love each other until death.  It assures the couple they can trust each other at the deepest, most vulnerable levels of life because they can trust their partner will not abandon them no matter what. 

The same principle applies in our spiritual lives.  If you want a deep spiritual life, if you want to experience the spectacular power and loving presence of God in your life, you’ve got to be deeply committed to God.  If you want real answers to the deep questions of life that go beyond those trite clich├ęs, you’ve got to be deeply committed.  If you want true healing from terrible scars, freedom from heavy chains, or true hope in the midst of hopelessness, you’ve got to be truly committed to the Healer, Liberator, and Source of all Hope.  Why would God cast His pearls before swine who would only trample them in the mud and then break out of the pen to run away to some other field?

Our deep commitment to God is an essential act of prayer that opens up true and deep communion with the One who makes life worth living, who brings answers to our most important questions, who shows us questions we never even thought to ask, and grants us true peace as we walk through life in the midst of His perfect will.

How Will you Be Committed in the Coming Year?
Our Covenant Prayer with God encompasses many areas.  There is the covenant of holy obedience.  God is the rightful ruler of all.  He deserve our obedience, not because of anything He has done for us, but because He is Lord of all.  Will you make a covenant to put obedience to God above yoru family, you nation, your career, everything?  Will you obey even if it makes you look strange or cost you?

There is the covenant of time.  We you make your time with God your first priority?  Prayer, worship, study, and service are important but not necessarily urgent.  There are always other commitments that try to steal your time, claiming to be more urgent that your devotional time.  And the truth is, the sky is not going to fall if you skip church or your prayer time or reading your Bible.  However, over time, we grow weak as we neglect the important religious exercise of prayer, study, worship, and service.  You will always reap what you sow.  And for years, decades, centuries, Americans have been neglecting these critical elements of religious life.  That's why we and our families and our communities have grown so spiritually weak.  Will you make a covenant with God to be faithful with your time?

There is the covenant of place.  We all need to worship, study, and pray in private.  But we cannot only do these in private.  We must also be part of a community of faith.  You cannot be a Christian only in private.  Christianity is a communal experience.  Will you make a covenant to be part of the Body of Christ--to worship and serve the Lord in the Church?  Where will that be?

There is the covenant of preparation. Will you covenant to come to worship prepared to be in the presence of the Lord?  So many people complain, "I don't get anything out of worship when I come to church."  Often times, those are the same people who stayed up extra late on Saturday night and who barely made it to worship on Sunday, who came in late, who sat in the pew the whole time thinking about what they would do for the rest of the day.  They weren't prepared to worship the Living God and they weren't fully present while they were here.  No wonder they didn't feel fed.  Do you realize, in worship, you are in the presence of the Lord of the universe.  He is so deep we cannot fathom Him, so infinite our finite minds cannot comprehend Him--even if we spent years preparing to visit with Him.  And yet, we do so little to prepare to meet Him!  We should at least begin preparing our heart on Saturday evening, get to bed on time, rise early on Sunday with plenty of time to spare, and be prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit's assistance the whole time to prepare us to meet our Lord in worship.  Will you make a covenant with God to be prepared to meet Him regularly?

There is the covenant of resources.  Jesus said, where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.  What you spend your time, energy, money, and resources on show what are your priorities.  Will you make a covenant to put God first with your financial giving, your time, and your other commitments?  For what you are truly committed to makes all the difference in what you receive spiritually.  We receive our greatest blessings through commitment and sacrifice. 

Your Covenant Commitments for 2019
I invite you to consider your covenant commitments for 2019.  I pray you will be fully committed, willing to sacrifice for the Kingdom of God, and thus receive the full blessing God wishes to grant you.  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...


Philippians 3:13-14 – No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.
 
It’s a brand new year.  What are your goals?  Goals give you something for which to strive.  I have some personal goals this year.  Our church also has goals.  Here are five goals for which Pleasant Grove UMC will strive in 2017.
 
Goal #1 – Provide Exceptional Ministry to Children.  We have made significant progress in re-invigorating our children's ministries.  New leadership and new volunteers have brought new excitement and as many as 19 children regularly participating.  I believe we can do even better.  One key to success will be to hire a part-time children's minister to lead our wonderful volunteers and develop a vision for children’s ministry at PGUMC.  Please pray for us and help spread the word that we are searching for a children's minister.  Talk to me or Sara Edmond for if you would like to be part of this great ministry.

Goal #2 – Visionary Youth Ministry.  Amy Harris does a wonderful job ministering to our youth.  This year, we will take our youth ministry to the next level by developing a clear vision and mission statement and building a team of volunteers to assist Amy in ministry.   Perhaps you would like to be on the team.  Talk to me or Amy if you would like to help.

Goal #3 – Invigorate Worship.  In 2017, we will work on ways to make Sunday morning worship more energetic, heartfelt, and inspiring.  We will experiment with new ways to make worship a true blessing.  Talk to me or David Crawford if you would like to help.

Goal #4 – Reorganize Our Greeters.  Another of our goals for the year is to reorganize our greeters so that everyone who comes to PGUMC receives a warm welcome.  We need volunteers and a way to organize our efforts.  We will also look for ways to train people as greeters so they know how to make people feel welcome.  Teresa Marlow has been very helpful in the effort.  Talk to me or Teresa Marlow if you have questions or ideas or want to lend a hand.

Goal #5 – More Outreach.  Love lives at PGUMC and we have always cared about our community.  In 2017, we will make a concerted effort to provide more organized opportunities to reach out and serve the people of Whitfield County.  We will work to provide service projects all year long as well as participate in community efforts like Family Promise and Be the Church.
 
These are the goals Pleasant Grove UMC will focus on in 2017.  Will you join me in praying about them, following the Lord’s direction, and helping wherever you can?  Of course, I’m no expert and certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…
 
Remember, God loves you and so do I!
 

Monday, January 2, 2017

The 2017 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 his legislative agenda and national priorities.
My message this morning is a blatant copy of this presidential tradition.  However, I hope it will be a useful one.  I wish to report on the condition of our church (our “Communion”) and outline our agenda and priorities for the coming year.  I invite you to also reflect on your own personal goals for the coming year.  As we reflect, I think of the God’s Word in Philippians 3:13-14 where it says: 

Philippians 3:13-14
No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.

Looking Back on 2016 at Pleasant Grove UMC
            There is always room for improvement in life. We learn from our mistakes. Even in our victories are opportunities to improve as we consider how to make our efforts even better in the future. We made some progress on each of the goals we set last year.  Let's review them.           
            At the beginning of 2016, we made a commitment to “do whatever it takes” to provide exceptional ministry to children. We have made significant progress in this difficult work. After much agonizing and prayerful consideration, we decided it was time to change the leadership of our children’s ministry. This has been a difficult transition, but it has also brought new ideas and new energy.  We now have 19 children engaged, learning, and excited to come build a relationship with Jesus on Wednesday nights.  Many of them have started attending on Sundays as well.
            This could not have happened without the excitement, enthusiasm, and dedication of many volunteers, such as: Sara Edmond, DJ Seifert, Allie Motley, Andrea Denson, Debra Sloan, Lori Roberts, Laurie Wilson, & many, many others. It has been amazing to watch the progress we’ve made with these volunteers and the commitment of parents wanting their children to know Jesus. We are still seeking a part-time Children’s Director to guide our volunteers. We will continue to push for exceptional children’s ministry at Pleasant Grove in 2017.
            Another goal of 2016 was spiritual growth through worship, study, and service. In 2016, our Sunday morning worship themes and sermon series covered the topics of homosexuality, deep relationships, core values, spiritual revival, our membership promises, and following God’s signs. On Wednesday Nights, we studied  church revitalization, Timothy Keller's The Meaning of Marriage, Mike Slaughter's The Renegade Gospel, the War Room study on prayer, and Max Lucado's Fearless. Our children's programs focused on how to pray, overcoming fear, and the Christmas story.
            We should all be proud of the members of our Thursday morning Bible Study We had 20 people participate in reading through the Chronological Bible this past year. They completed that journey on December 31.  These dedicated people read through the entire Bible in one year!  We will celebrate their accomplishment this Thursday!
            We continued our outreach to Pleasant Grove Elementary School and Northstar School by providing sack lunches for needy children.  This school year, we were blessed to find a new program coordinator—Susan Cooksey—who is doing a wonderful job coordinating with the schools. We provide 110 sack lunches each week. Susan has also expanded our efforts to encourage teachers with special gifts and service opportunities throughout the year.
            We participated in other service projects as well.  A group of men from our church built a wheel chair ramp for a needy family that included an armed forces veteran.  We packed 150 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child to give to impoverished kids around the world.  And we continued our support of Family Promise to help combat homelessness in our community.
            Last year, I challenged everyone be present at church every Sunday (missing no more than five Sundays in a year).  How did you do on your own personal attendance? Did you miss more than 5 Sundays? Average attendance at PGUMC was 115 in 2016.
            We received 14 new members at our church.  We were blessed to receive  Pamela White, Trevor Maddox, Will Maddox, Mattie Grace Maddox, Donald (DJ) Seifert, Jeremy Ptak, Dale Wallace, Valerie Wallace, Daniel Kai Wallace, Jason Childers, Deborah Childers, Alex Childers, Amaya Childers, and Beth Tessmer.  We had 2 reaffirmations of faith: Alex Childers & Jeremy Ptak.  We also baptised 2 people: Alex Childers and Daniel Kai Wallace.           
 
Dedicating our new PGUMC church van on Dec. 11, 2016
Church Fire
             There are some things for which you just can't plan.  Early in the morning on September 4, someone set fire to our church van.  The van was parked under the breezeway between the gym and the Promise Building.  The fire destroyed the beautiful van.  Fortunately, fire sprinklers kept the fire at bay until firefighters arrived, but the Promise Building sustained severe smoke and water damage, including the disabling of power to the building.  Much of our time, money, and resources during the last part of 2016 were devoted to recovering from the damage.
            We are making progress.  After negotiating with our insurance company and with the generous support of our church members, we took ownership of a brand new 2017 church van.  We also now have a new cover to park our van under (so we don't need to park in the breezeway anymore).  We also added security cameras to the Promise Building to make our campus even more safe.
            Let me update you on the progress of repairing our Promise Building.  We have repaired the damage to the vinyl siding outside the building.  We also repaired the power meter.  Later, William Ware was repairing a HVAC unit in the building and discovered the power was hooked up to the meter incorrectly.  So, we corrected the electrical problem.  We have negotiated with our insurance company and convinced them of the fact we need to replace the carpet in the facility.  Currently, we are review carpet samples and will soon have the old carpet removed and replaced.  Then, there will be some painting and other work before we are able to fully utilize the Promise Building once more.  I hope these repairs will be completed early this year.
            Dealing with the fire has been a learning opportunity for our whole church.  It was a lesson in forgiveness--forgiving the person(s) who would terrorize a church through arson.  There is still a $10,000 reward for anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of persons responsible for the fire and we hope for justice, but we are not bitter.  The fire was also a lesson in patience, trusting God, and working together.  I am very proud of the way our congregation has pulled together through a very difficult situation.

Looking Forward to 2017
            But the Scripture says not to dwell on the past. The past is the past and cannot be changed. What is done is done. Therefore, the Scripture says, “I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…”  Let us consider a vision for 2017.  Our goals for the coming year were aided by two recent meetings --facilitated by Dr. Phil Schroeder.  First we met to dream about our hopes for PGUMC.  Then, we met again on December 3rd to plan our 2017 calendar.  From what I learned at these meetings, I offer the following 2017 goals for PGUMC.

Goal #1 - Provide Exceptional Ministry to Children 
            We have made significant progress in re-invigorating our children's ministries.  New leadership and new volunteers have brought new excitement and as many as 19 children regularly participating.  We still have work to do and will continue our work to provide exceptional children's ministry.  One of the key tasks we hope to accomplish this is year hire a part-time children's minister to lead our wonderful volunteers and help develop a vision for children’s ministry at PGUMC.  Please pray for us and help spread the word that we are seeking to hire a children's minister.

Goal #2 - Visionary Youth Ministry
            Amy Harris does a wonderful job ministering to our youth.  This year, we will support her to take our youth ministry to the next level at PGUMC.  We have already begun work to develop a vision for our youth ministry, asking the questions: "What are we trying to accomplish with our youth ministry? What do our youth need to know to be the person we all want them to be by the time they graduate from high school?"  As we cast our vision and develop a mission statement, we will also build a team of volunteers to assist Amy in her ministry.   Perhaps you would like to be on the team.

Goal #3 - Invigorate Worship
            In 2017, we plan work on ways to make Sunday morning worship more energetic and flowing.  David Crawford sought insights from a focus group and is working on some new ideas for how to make worship more heartfelt and inspiring.  We will experiment with new ways to make worship a true blessing.

Goal #4 - Reorganize Our Greeters
            Another of our goals for the year is to reorganize our greeters so that everyone who comes to PGUMC receives a warm welcome.  We need volunteers and a way to organize our efforts.  We will also look at some opportunities to train people as greeters so they know how to make people feel welcome.

Goal #5 - More Outreach
            Love lives at PGUMC and we have always cared about our community.  In 2017, we will make a concerted effort to provide more organized opportunities to reach out and serve the people of Whitfield County.  We will work to provide service projects all year long as well as participate community efforts like Family Promise and Be the Church.

Invitation
            Which of these is God leading you to help with?  How can you help?  I hope you will prayerfully consider how you can get involved so that 2017 is truly a great year for you and for Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.
 

 

Monday, January 4, 2016

The State of the Communion Address

Introduction
    One of my favorite scriptures is Philippians 2:5-11 because it summarizes who Christ is and encourages us to imitate him.  Listen to these powerful words as you consider how you will live in 2016.
 
Philippians 2:5-11
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
 

What is this Address?
            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 his legislative agenda and national priorities.
            My message this morning is a blatant rip-off of this presidential tradition.  However, I hope it will be a useful one.  I wish to report on the condition of our church (our “Communion”) and outline our agenda and priorities for the coming year.  Above all else, I pray that everything we do this year will be done with a Christ-like attitude as laid out in Philippians 2:5-11--with humility, with self-sacrificial love, giving glory to God alone, and looking forward to the ultimate triumph of God’s Kingdom. 

Children’s Ministry
            Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  In 2015, we baptized 5 people and we had 9 people saved to become disciples of Jesus Christ by profession of faith.  Of the 69 United Methodist churches reporting in our district, Pleasant Grove had the 8th highest number of professions of faith.  
The majority of our professions of faith come when children go through confirmation classes and choose to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Children are vital to the success of our church.  We have a duty to bring them to church, make sure they attend Sunday school, children’s church, and our Wednesday night children’s program so they can grow in their faith.  As children mature, they are soon able to choose Christ for themselves.  This is the primary way we initiate people into the Christian faith.  Without children, we will fail at our primary mission.  We must not fail!
            In 2016, I want Pleasant Grove to focus on strengthening our children’s ministries.  I want to see excellent communication about all children’s programing, more children participating, parents that are thrilled to bring their kids here, and children that are growing in faith.  This is the only way Pleasant Grove can be successful.  I am committed to do whatever it takes to make sure kids get everything they deserve at our church.  I ask you to join me in praying for our children’s ministries, volunteering to do your part, and let’s make our children’s ministry the best in the district.  This will be our number one focus in 2016.   
 

Spiritual Growth
            Discipleship begins with a profession of faith, but it continues as a person grows closer to Christ and more committed to their faith.  People experienced spiritual growth in a number of ways at Pleasant Grove in 2015.  One measurable way I can report is that we had 11 people attended Chrysalis or Walk to Emmaus spiritual revitalization retreat in 2015.  Chrysalis and Emmaus retreats are a powerful way to experience the amazing love of God, learn the basics of our faith, and be inspired to serve Christ in our church and community.  I would like to see more people attend Chrysalis (for youth) or Walk to Emmaus (for adults).  Regardless of your level of spiritual development, Emmaus is a tangible way you can grow spiritually.  I would like you to attend. 

Worship Attendance
            Declining church attendance is a concern all over our nation.  Every denomination has seen decline. Pleasant Grove has struggled with attendance as well.  Since 2004, our attendance has declined steadily.  Our average attendance in 2015 was 129.  This was an increase from the previous year, but we can still do better.  There is no reason Pleasant Grove shouldn’t be filled with people every Sunday.  I know it is possible and we have seen what a full church looks like. 
            Our highest attended Sunday last year was on December 20th when we had our children’s play--207 people packed our pews. 
Our second highest Sunday was Easter with 200 people.  Our third highest Sunday was the Christmas cantata on December 13th with 185 people.  And of course you all saw how many were here for the Christmas Eve service.  People came to these services because you invited them and because these were special services.  We have to continue to invite people because every Sunday at PGUMC is a special Sunday.  It is a day Jesus Christ is here waiting to change people’s lives.  Don’t you miss out on that or let someone else miss the opportunity for Jesus to change their life and maybe their eternal destination.
            In 2016, will you join with me in renewing your commitment to be present at church every Sunday?  Let’s commit to miss no more than 5 Sundays this year.  Can you do that?  That still leaves room for several absences for vacation or for sickness or for unexpected situations.  Missing no more than 5 Sundays is very reasonable for the typical person.  
Now, maybe you’re not a typical person.  Maybe your situation is such that you need to miss more than 5 Sundays because of your job or something else really important.  Then I ask you:  what is reasonable for you?  Make weekly church attendance a top priority and decide today what your attendance goal is going to be this year and then stick to it. 

Study Groups
In 2015, it was a pleasure to work with such a creative and talented worship team to plan excellent worship.  David, Sarah, Dale, and I collaborated to bring you services covering relevant topics such as:  reconciliation, the meaning of love, purifying your life, making a new start, the 10 Commandments, the Great Commission, and arguing with Jesus about tough issues.  We finished the year with the sermon series I’ll Be Home for Christmas.  We listen for God’s direction and work very hard to bring you the best.  So you can be sure if you come (and if you invite someone to come with you), you will be blessed because we will offer you the very best that months of praying, planning, and preparation can offer.  
            Study is also vital to spiritual growth.  There are a number of ways you can plug into a small study group at Pleasant Grove.  Last year, Gary and Jean Carter took charge of our young adult program teaching a weekly Sunday school class.  This is a unique offering for young adults that not many churches have.  If you are a young adult, I urge you to take advantage of our young adult Sunday school.  Talk to Gary and Jean and let them know what you would like to see happen with young adults.  And tell your young adult children, grandchildren, or friends to come get involved with the young adults of our church.  Let’s not take our young adult program for granted.  Everyone should be active in a Sunday school class or one of our other study groups like Wednesday night study, youth, children’s ministry, or Thursday morning Bible study.
            On Wednesday nights, we completed 6 studies:  Taking Care of Business (about the Christian work ethic), Soul Detox (about purification), Before Amen (prayer), The Committee (church revitalization), Earn, Save, Give (Christian finances), and Ask: Faith Questions in a Skeptical Age.  On Thursday mornings, we completed a 6 year, in-depth, book by book journey through the whole Bible.  We are about to beginning a new, one-year study of the whole Bible in chronological order.  I invite you to join us in the fellowship hall starting this Thursday at 10:30 AM.  Or come on Wednesday night for dinner and stay for a study; this month, we are doing The Committee part 2, a series on church revitalization.  Or perhaps you would like to make it your goal to be active in a Sunday school class.  Everyone needs to be active in a small group study to grow spiritually in 2016.  Everyone means you.   

Serving Others
            C.S. Lewis said, “A church is the only organization that exists primarily for the benefit of non-members.”  Just as Jesus gave up his divine privileges in Heaven to come save and serve a lost humanity, the church is here to serve others sacrificially.  On average, our church served 74 people outside of our congregation each week in 2015.  We did this primarily through:
  • Family Promise - Four times a year, we house homeless families in our church for a week at a time in conjunction with 15 other churches in our community through Family Promise of Whitfield County.
  • Be the Church - In September, we called off our regular worship service to go into our community and do service projects for people in need.
  • Sack Lunches - On Wednesday nights, we packed sack lunches to deliver to needy kids at Pleasant Grove Elementary and North Star School so kids have at least on healthy meal to take home to eat over the weekend.
  • DOCUP - We contributed money in cooperation with other area churches to DOCUP to help needy families with rent, utility bills, food, and clothing.
  • The Layette ministry - We provided clothing, blankets, and other necessities for newborn infants in need at Hamilton Medical Center.
  • We also offered boxes of non-perishable food and various other forms of assistance directly from our church to people in need in our community.
Of course, these are only the service projects for which we have a record.  The real service of the church happens through you--the people of our church who spread throughout the community and serve people everyday in a million different ways by the way you live out your Christian faith in the world.  Thank you for being the church everyday, wherever you are.  There is no way for us to quantify all the people you serve and the tremendous impact you have on our world, but I know you make a significant difference.  Let me encourage you to keep doing good. 

Build New Relationships with Hispanics
            Pleasant Grove has 3 long range goals that guide everything we do.  They are:  1) give hope to the hopeless, 2) build new relationships, and 3) help our community.  One of the greatest opportunities God has given us to build new relationships at PGUMC is with the Hispanic community.  Every Sunday, a Hispanic church meets in our chapel for worship.  We have already begun building relationships with them in several ways.  For instance, their pastor--Isabel Ochoa--preached at one of our services last year and I preached at her service.  Also, I helped with a Quinceanera for one of their families and they helped with our Operation Christmas Child packing party.  I would like to see us growing even closer in the coming year.  We have come to a place where it is time for you (the members of this congregation) to build friendships directly with the people of Isabel’s congregation.  I hope you are ready to build these new relationships and will look for ways to build these new friendships in 2016.  I will work to lead you in that direction. 

General Conference
            2016 is a General Conference year in the United Methodist denomination.  That means United Methodist representatives from all over the world will gather for the first time since 2012 to discuss important issues about the direction of our worldwide communion.  One of the most important issues they will discuss this year in Portland, Oregon is how United Methodists will respond to homosexuality.  As you know, public opinion about homosexuality in our nation has shifted greatly and our supreme court has ruled same-sex marriages are legal in all 50 states.  How will the United Methodist Church respond?  I invite you to join with me in prayer about this important issue facing our nation and our church.  And pray for our General Conference as it seeks to provide leadership for the United Methodist Church.  Next Sunday I will begin a four week message series examining what the Bible says about homosexuality and how we can respond.  Please come with an opened mind and a humble heart. 

Summary
            In summary, I want to highlight again the issues I want Pleasant Grove to focus on in 2016:
  • Provide exceptional ministry to children
  • Spiritual Growth through worship, study, and service
  • Be present at church every Sunday (missing no more than 5 Sundays in a year) and invite more people to come with us.
  • Focus on building relationships with the Hispanics of our community
  • Pray for General Conference (May 10th - 20th)
 
New Van
I would be remiss not to point out one more great accomplishment of 2015.  Through your generosity, we raised over $40,000 to purchase a brand new church van!  This Ford Transit has already been ordered and will be ready for service very soon.  Our van will stand out everywhere it goes.  People will see it and say, “That’s the Pleasant Grove church van.  That is a great church!”  And they’re right!  We are a great church and we’re going to be even better because our van will give us the ability to take more trips safely and conveniently, go out into our community more often, and pick up people to bring them to church (I would love to see us picking up van loads of children to bring them to Sunday worship and Wednesday night activities).  
Thank you so much for your generosity that made our new van possible.  The purchase of this van just goes to show you how Pleasant Grove can take on a very big challenge and accomplish it. When we believe in ourselves, trust God, and are faithful and persistent, we can accomplish great things.  I believe this church can do anything God wants us to do if we put our minds to it.  Let’s all commit to meet the challenges facing Pleasant Grove this year--all for the glory of God!   

Reflection
What is God calling you to do in 2016?
  • Give your life to Christ?
  • Attend Church more often?
  • Get active in a study group?
  • Befriend a Hispanic person?
  • Help with our children’s ministry?
  • Make a significant change while trusting God?
God empowers and strengthens you to meet whatever challenges lie ahead. 
Trust in God, believe in yourself, be faithful and persistent, and 2016 will be a great year!