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Showing posts with label Vision. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vision. 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, January 15, 2018

2018 State of the Communion Address

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

Give Hope to the Hopeless

Luke 4:18-19 

Introduction
The people of Pleasant Grove UMC are on a mission from God to tell people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit empowers us to do it.  Say it with me:
·       “I am on a mission from God
·       to tell people about Jesus
·       and the Holy Spirit empowers me to do it.”
 

            A few years ago, a device became popular that has revolutionized travel--the GPS.  No longer do you have to ask for directions.  You can just enter an address and a friendly voice will give you turn by turn instructions from where you are to where you want to go. 
            I bought my first GPS back in 2007.  It was very handy.  I even used it to visit my sister when she lived in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  I just programed in her address and the GPS took me right there.  After a couple years, I decided to get a new GPS.  So, I gave my old GPS to my Mom, who was planning a trip to see my sister who had moved from Ft. Lauderdale to Raleigh, North Carolina.
             I wanted to make it easy for my Mom, so I put my sister's address in the GPS before Mom left on her trip.  After a couple of hours, Mom stopped to get some gas and use the restroom.  She turned off the car and went in a convenience store.  When she came back out to the car, the GPS had reset to the home screen.  So Mom looked up the recent entries and found the one that said, "Lisa's House" (Lisa is my sister).  So Mom selected "Lisa's House" and was very proud that she'd figured it out all by herself without having to call her son for help.  Well, after about an hour of driving, Mom was concerned the GPS was giving her the wrong directions.  So she called me and said, "I think something went wrong. Maybe I missed a turn or something."  I said, "It doesn't matter Mom.  If you miss a turn, the GPS will recalculate and give you new directions.  Just follow the GPS's instructions and you'll be OK."  Well, she did for another 30 or 40 minutes and then called back, "I still don't think this is right.  I seem to be going south when I should be going north."  So I guided her to look up the map on the GPS and we figured out what happened.  Mom and selected my sister's old address from Ft. Lauderdale, which was still saved in the GPS!  The GPS was giving her directions to Florida, not North Carolina!  Mom had wasted about 2 hours going in the wrong direction!
Every now and then, it's good to reflect on whether we are heading in the right direction.  Back in 2011, Pleasant Grove UMC determined the three primary goals we believe God wants us to focus on are:  1) give hope to the hopeless, 2) build new relationships, and 3) help our community.  Our mission and these three goals should guide everything we do at Pleasant Grove.  So I want to spend some time over the next few weeks looking at each of these goals.  My hope is to remember our goals and reflect on our attitudes so we can make sure we are all going in the right direction.
Today I want to reflect on our first goal – Give Hope to the Hopeless.  As we consider this, listen to Jesus words in Luke 4:18-19.  Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Jesus explained why he came: 

Luke 4:18-19
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

Jesus Gives Hope to the Hopeless
Isn’t that amazing!  Jesus came to give hope to the hopeless.  He made it clear from the very beginning of his ministry.  He said in Luke 4:18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… He has anointed me…” In other words:  God set me apart and empowered me for this special task.
What task?  “…to bring Good News…”  Jesus didn’t come to bring judgment or to scream “God is angry!”  “God sent [Jesus] into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)  What an amazing, uplifting message! 

Context
Let’s look at the context our scripture reading (Luke 4:18-19).  It is very near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Luke 4 begins with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness prior to his ministry.  Then in verses 14 & 15, Jesus begins his ministry by teaching in Galilean synagogues and his reputation starts growing rapidly.
In Luke 4:16 it says, “When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.”  Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown and he was going to preach in his hometown church.  This tells us a couple things.  First of all, he is speaking to church people.  Usually we read about Jesus out preaching in the community or in people’s homes; he is usually with sinners and non-church people.  In this story, Jesus is speaking specifically to church people.  And Jesus is speaking to the church people he grew up with.  He knew them and he knew their hearts.  He also loved them.  He is about to speak the Truth in love they need to hear.
Luke 4:18-19, the scripture he read was the same passage we read, though he read it from Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6).  Then he is ready to begin his sermon.  Verse 20 says, “He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down.”  I used to think when it said he “sat down” it meant he was done, but I was wrong.  It really meant was Jesus was about to start preaching.  In those days Rabbis sat down to teach. 

The Sermon
Verses 20b-22 say, All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”  22 Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
It’s fascinating to watch this scene unfold, to see how the people are reacting to Jesus’ sermon in real-time.  As a preacher, I’m always wondering how my sermon is being received by you.  I’m looking out at you wondering what you are thinking.  Here in these verses, we are getting the play by play of how Jesus’ sermon is being received. 
At first, they are delighted in their hometown boy.  “Boy, he’s a good preacher!  We raised him right.  Can you believe how graciously he speaks?  That’s our boy! No wonder his ministry has been doing so well!”  Everything would have been fine if he’d stopped right there, but Jesus had to cross the line.  In verse 23, we find the pivotal word.  It reads, “Then he said…”  The word “then” is the turning point of the whole story.

Verse 23-27, ““You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ 24 But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.  25 “Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.”
The Jews of Nazareth in Jesus day were engaged in a great debate: Should they teach Gentiles in nearby gentile cities about God or should they keep separate from them because they were “unclean” people.  The Jews of Jesus day believed they were God’s chosen people, beloved more by God than any others.  Surely, they were God’s favorites.  Jesus addresses this attitude directly in his sermon.  Jesus recalls another dark time in Israel’s history from the OT when Elijah was prophet.  It was a time when Israel rejected God, so God took His mercy to the Gentiles.  
I want to make sure you understand something:  Neither your nationality nor your church membership entitles you to God’s favor.  Being a “good person” does not earn you God’s mercy.  Jesus came to offer hope to those who humbly recognize their hopelessness rather than those who think they are somehow specially favored by God. 
That’s what Jesus told the religious Jews of Nazareth.  In fact, Jesus had the audacity to imply they were actually in a worse spiritual state than the Gentiles!  It made the people in the synagogue so mad, they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff! 

The Gospel is Not for “Good” People
Notice what Jesus said (verse 21), “The scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day.”  In other words, it’s been fulfilled just now.  What has been fulfilled?  Good news has been preached to the poor, release to captives, blind will see, oppressed set free…  Jesus just proclaimed this message to the synagogue people.  In other words, Jesus was saying these good church people were all of these things—poor, captive, blind, and oppressed.  It was not “should we good people reach out our merciful hand to help those poor, unfortunate Gentiles…”  It was that the good Jews of that synagogue were no better than the Gentiles and just as poor, captive, blind, and oppressed.  Wow!
Here we are 2,000 years later.  The Church in America finds herself full of people who are trying to be good.  In fact, we’ve become so good, that we often no longer feel comfortable being personally involved in ministry to the poor, imprisoned, blind, oppressed sinners of our community.  Oh, we might give a little money to help, but don’t ask me to be personally involved.
 Why do we have this us and them mentality?  The Truth is:  We are them and they is us! 
 
 Goal #1 – Give Hope to the Hopeless
Jesus came to bring hope to the hopeless.  Let us, therefore, go out and give hope to our brothers and sisters as we receive hope ourselves. 
In the movie “Finding Nemo,” there is a moment when a school of fish are caught in the net of a commercial fishing boat.  At first, they are all frightened and each individually swimming in all different directions trying to escape the net, but it is hopeless.  They are trapped.  Then little Nemo has the solution.  He tells them to all swim together.  And so the whole school of fish swim downward together.  The net begins to go back down into the ocean.  Up on the surface, the fishing boat strains to pull up the net and then the beam holding the net breaks under the tremendous force of the whole school of fish swimming together.  The net opens and all the fish go free.  In the same way, when we all strive for the same goal together, God can do amazing things through us to bring hope to the hopeless.
What are some ways we could “swim together” and bring hope to the hopeless?  Some things we are already doing: our sack lunch program provides meals for hungry kids over the weekend when they are out of school.  Through Family Promise we house homeless families in our church for a week.  But what else could we do?  What about some ongoing ministries?
              My purpose is not to tell you what you should do, only to get you thinking about the possibilities.  I also have another purpose.  I want you to reflect on your attitudes. Giving hope to the hopeless is a principle we members of PGUMC seek to live by.  It should guide the way we minister, the policies we make, the way we worship, the way we think and everything we do.  I challenge you to reflect on your own attitudes and actions.  Are you truly committed to giving hope to the hopeless?  What needs to change in you so we can all swim together and give hope to the hopeless? 

Invitation
Christ came to give hope to the hopeless.  If you find yourself in a hopeless situation, there is good news for you today.  Jesus came to give you hope.  No night is too dark.  No battle is too hard.  No situation is too hopeless.   No chains are too strong with Jesus by your side.  Jesus invites you to come to him today and lay down all your burdens before him.  Let him take control of your life and you will find hope you never knew before.  Then, you will be inspired to do the same for others--to give hope to the hopeless.