Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Power of the Bible

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

As God’s people, one of the tools we’re given to discover, grow, and mature in Christian faith is the Bible.  Unfortunately, many Christians have never unlocked the power of this God-given tool because they’ve never taken time to actually study it in-depth with others.  Consequently, beginning this Fall our church is re-introducing the power of group Bible study to our core ministry and programming through “Disciple” and “Believe.”

Disciple” is an interdenominational small-group Bible study that (to date) has been taken by over 2 million Christians, and is a common core discipleship offering in United Methodist Churches around the world. Through daily readings and a 75 minute guided group discussion once each week, participants not only come to understand the Bible better, but come to discover its relevance and power in and for their daily lives, while at the same time developing rich and long-lasting friendships with fellow participants. I’ve personally witnessed many lives changed and transformed in remarkable ways through this study. And this Fall, in order to better accommodate people’s busy schedules, our church will be offering a format called “Disciple Fast Track,” which is shorter in weekly meeting length and total duration.

In like manner, “Believe” is a guided group study we introduced this past Spring to whet the appetite of our congregation, and it proved so popular that we’ll be sharing the second of its three-installments this Fall.  It uses the Bible to focus on essential beliefs, practices and virtues that every Christian needs to know and live by, and how God’s word can help us think, act, and become more like Jesus in our daily lives.

Granted... neither “Disciple” nor “Believe” are for the casual Christian.  Both require hard work, commitment, and diligence -- but the rewards are literally “out of this world!”  Many of you are desiring to grow in and learn more about your faith -- being part of one of these two group Bible studies is one of the best ways to help you do just that! So if you’re serious about your faith growth and want to find out more, please pay attention to the information we’ll be sharing both in our newsletter, bulletin and in “Bible Sunday” worship on July 24th.

Your life will never be the same after you take a “Disciple” or “Believe” class!  So what are you waiting for? Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

North Georgia United Methodism Receives New Bishop and Prayers for France & Turkey

During last week’s Southeastern Jurisdictional United Methodist Conference at Lake Junaluska, NC, a number of new Bishops were elected to replace ones who were retiring, including our own Bishop Michael Watson.

So, it is with joy that I share with you the election and appointment of our new Bishop, Sue Haupert-Johnson, effective on September 1st of this year. She comes to North Georgia from the Florida Annual Conference, where she has served as Senior Pastor of United Methodist churches in Tampa, Cape Coral and Ocala, and as an associate pastor in Lakeland. She is married, has a husband and a daughter, holds a law degree from the University of Florida and is a graduate of Emory’s Candler School of Theology. 

We’ll share more information in the near future about ways our conference will be welcoming her.  For more information about Sue’s appointment, CLICK HERE.

In the meantime, we also celebrate the election of Sharma Lewis -- one of our own North Georgia UMC clergy -- as the new Bishop of the Virginia UM Conference.  She is the first African-American woman to be elected bishop in our Jurisdiction -- truly something to celebrate! For more information on Sharma’s election and appointment, CLICK HERE

Please be in prayer both for Sue, Sharma, and for North Georgia United Methodism as we share in this significant changes for the glory of God!  On a different note, please also join me in continued prayer for the families of those who lost their lives this past week both in the latest act of terrorism in Nice, France and in the attempted coup in Turkey.

In Christ, 
Pastor Brian

Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Christian Response to Injustice & Violence

Those who know me well know that I'm not usually one to rush to say the first thing(s) on my mind, but first to ponder and pray. Consequently, it has been challenging for me to write a response to yet another week of violence.  However, after prayer, God laid on my heart several things:

First, I urge us to be in prayer for all victims of injustice and violence, in whatever guises those present themselves.  That is what happened this week... yet again.  My thoughts and prayers are with the families of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens (those who lost their lives), plus the 7 other Dallas police officers and 2 civilians who were injured.  Though the circumstances that led to their respective deaths or injuries were different, each of these were victims of injustice and violence.

Second, not only are we called to pray for those affected by injustice and violence, but we are also called by God to act - not only to refuse to use their methods ourselves, but also to speak up and speak out against them when we see them in use by others, to call out those who would use their tools, and to non-violently confront the systems and processes that support and seek to justify them.

Finally, let me conclude with words from five passages of scripture that spoke to me about various dimensions of what happened this past week, and what an authentic faith-filled response might look like. They are words which call for oppression and injustice to be confronted, but which also insist that that confrontation be done peaceably and non-violently.  I share them without specific interpretation so that you may let God guide you into their meaning for your own life:

Psalms 94:1-7 (NRSV),
"O Lord, you God of vengeance, you God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O judge of the earth; give to the proud what they deserve!
O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O Lord, and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the stranger, they murder the orphan,
and they say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”"

Amos 5:14-24 (NRSV),
" Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord: In all the squares there shall be wailing; and in all the streets they shall say, “Alas! alas!” They shall call the farmers to mourning, and those skilled in lamentation, to wailing; in all the vineyards there shall be wailing, for I will pass through the midst of you, says the Lord. Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Jeremiah 12:1-4 (NRSV), 
" You will be in the right, O Lord, when I lay charges against you; but let me put my case to you. Why does the way of the guilty prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
You plant them, and they take root; they grow and bring forth fruit; you are near in their mouths yet far from their hearts. But you, O Lord, know me; You see me and test me—my heart is with you. Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and set them apart for the day of slaughter. How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither?
For the wickedness of those who live in it the animals and the birds are swept away,
and because people said, “He is blind to our ways.”"

Galatians 6:1-10 (NRSV),
" My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith."

1 Peter 2:13-17 (NRSV), 
" For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor."

Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Upcoming Worship Opportunities at LaGrange First UMC

“Worship the Lord in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24)

Worship is one of the practices that lies at the very heart of what it means to follow Jesus Christ. When we worship God publicly, we are not only proclaiming our allegiance to His kingdom and ways, but we’re spiritually feeding our souls with the “truth” of the gospel.  When we neglect regular worship, we’re “starving our spirits” and leaving them spiritually vulnerable to the evils of our world.  That’s precisely why our church seeks to offer worship that not only speaks to the head, but also moves the heart and hands.

So, with that in mind, I want to let you know of several important upcoming decisions and opportunities to help enhance our offerings for congregational worship:

1) As one of the key recommendations from the prayerful work this past Spring of a task force of our Worship Committee, beginning Sunday, August 7, we will move the weekly start time of our “Morning Glory” worship service to 8:45am (the Chapel service start time will remain at 9:00am). This change will be one of several we’ll be implementing over the next few months to gradually transform the current format and physical space of this service in order to foster better opportunities for a more intimate and passionate “modern” worship experience to develop, grow and thrive.

2) During the first three Sundays of August, Blake and I will offer a new sermon series called Go for the Gold to coincide with the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.  This series will use metaphors from those games to challenge us all to grow and mature in our own spiritual walk with God.

3) At 10:30am on August 28, we’ll once again come together as one congregation in the Sanctuary to celebrate our annual Homecoming Sunday, featuring music from our choir, praise band, and the inspiring preaching of former pastor Greg Porterfield, followed by a congregation-wide covered-dish lunch in the MMC.

4) On Sunday, September 4 (Gideon Sunday), we’ll celebrate the importance of (and opportunities to) share God’s Word with the world around us through the message and ministry of Gideons, Intl.

I hope you will mark your calendars and plan to make your attendance at these upcoming worship experiences a priority. Worship is one way we express our love God -- I pray that you’ll make time to “love on Him” through regular worship this Fall!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!


Thursday, June 23, 2016

RE-UNION SUNDAYS IN JULY

“My goal is that [your] hearts would be encouraged and united together in love so that they might have all the riches of assurance that come with understanding.” (Colossians 2:2)

​“RE-UNION: The act of getting people together again after they have been apart; an act of reuniting the organized gathering of people who have not been together for a long time.”

The fact that our church offers different styles and times of worship throughout the year sometimes gives us and others the false impression that we are more than one congregation. But the fact of the matter is that whether we worship in a more traditional style at 9:00am in the Chapel or 11:00am in the Sanctuary, or in a more contemporary style at 9:00am in the MMC, we are one congregation in spirit and soul here at LaGrange First UMC.

Therefore, in order to celebrate and be reminded of this “oneness” we share with one another, this summer we will be worshipping together as ONE CONGREGATION at 10:30am during the five Sundays of July.  While the services on July 3 and 31 will be held in the MMC and the other three will be held in the Sanctuary, the location will not determine whether they are “Traditional” or “Contemporary,” but instead all of these services will be “Blended” to include some of the best elements from all our services (though all of them will be casual dress).

In case you haven’t read it yet in one of our bulletins or newsletter, here’s the details (all services at 10:30am, with Sunday School at 9:15am each week):

July 3: “Patriotic Sunday” in the MMC – a Sunday celebrating our nation’s heritage and our patriotism

July 10: “Camp Meeting Sunday” in the Sanctuary – a Sunday celebrating Camp Meeting, worship featuring inspiring old-time hymns and preaching, complete with a church-wide covered-dish “dinner on the grounds” in the MMC afterward.

July 17: “Global Friendship Sunday” in the Sanctuary – a Sunday celebrating the partnership between our church and the LaGrange Korean UMC, complete with music and message from both churches

July 24: “Bible Sunday” in the Sanctuary – a Sunday celebrating the power of God’s word, featuring testimonies from fellow members who’ve transformed by their study of the Bible

July 31: “Family Sunday” in the MMC – a Sunday celebrating the children and families of our church, including the closing celebration of our summer Vacation Bible School. Following the service we’ll also have a family-style fair and cookout with hamburgers, hot dogs, “jumpies” and other fun things for families in the Fellowship hall and MMC parking lot.

So, unless you’re sick or out of town, I hope you’ll make plans to be present for each and every one of these special Sundays!  You’ll have the chance to worship with folks you don’t normally worship with… to see old friends and make new ones!  Most importantly, it will help us as a church to (in the words of Paul, above) “be encouraged and united together in love…”

Let’s come together (again) to celebrate our unity this summer!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jesus and the Way of Violence

“[Jesus said,] 'Those who use the sword will die by the sword'” (Matthew 26:52)

Following the June 12 mass shooting at the “Pulse” nightclub in Orlando, this week my heart has been both sad and angry at the same time.  “Sad,” of course, because of the tragedy itself, and the great loss of life.  But at the same time, I’m “angry” because, in light of one of the most horrific single acts of violence in our country’s history, the response of some who profess to follow Jesus has been either to praise it (as in the case of a California Baptist Pastor who stated that the victims “deserve what they got” and that “the tragedy is that more of them didn’t die” [READ HIS STORY HERE]) or to question why we should care about the sexual identity of those who were the victims [READ EXAMPLES HERE].

Yes, I am incensed that (once again) a shooter has used religion as a pretext to justify his own selfish prejudices against a certain group of people who offended him (1). But I am equally incensed that some so-called “believers” are na├»ve enough about the way of Jesus (the “Prince of Peace”) to take his teachings and twist them so drastically as to believe that the shooters’ motivations were in some way actually justified.  To the contrary:  if one looks carefully at the gospels, we find that individual violence against others is never justified.

John 8:1-11 tells the story of a woman caught in adultery who is brought before Jesus, and who the crowd wants to stone to death for her sin.  Yet, instead of acquiescing to her death, Jesus confronts her accusers by announcing that “those who are without sin should throw the first stone.”  It is true that he later tells the woman to “go and sin no more,” but his first response is to those who are arrogant enough to think they have the right to judge others for sin, while ignoring the sin in their own life.

When Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his death, all four gospels tell the story of one of his followers (who John says is Peter) taking a sword and cutting off the ear of one who was sent to arrest him (2). In Luke’s account, Jesus tells them “Stop! No more of this!” and promptly heals the man’s ear, and in Matthew’s account, Jesus goes on to say that “All those who use the sword will die by the sword.”

After Jesus’ trial, Pilate paraded him before the crowd in Jerusalem along with a man named Barabbas, a member of a radical Jewish nationalist group called the Sicarii (3).  Their job was to incite rebellion against Rome through acts of terrorism and violence, making them the first-century equivalent of Al-Qaeda or the Klu Klux Klan.  By offering the crowd a choice to release either Barabbas or Jesus, Pilate was, in essence, giving them a choice between choosing the way of prejudice, hate, and violence, or the way of peace, love, compassion, and forgiveness.  The sad truth is that, as all too often happens today, the way of Barabbas (violence) is often the way chosen over the way of Jesus (love).

Finally, the words of Paul in Colossians 3:12-15 & 17 should likewise be instructive to any of us who claim to follow the way of Jesus:  “As God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body…. Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.”

There are more examples I could share, but my point is that the Bible is clear that individual violence against others is not the true way of Jesus Christ, that those who perpetrate, encourage or even condone it are not following that way, and that even when we don’t condone violence itself, we also should be very, very careful of our judgement of the “sins/wrongdoing” others that can eventually lead to it, lest our harsh judgement of them fall on us, as well (4).  If anything, the way of Jesus involves us loving our “enemies,” respecting those who we disagree with, and even at times laying down our lives for others, rather than us taking the lives of others (5).

Of course, some will invariably point to various biblical texts to “prove” that God uses human violence to dole out punishment and discipline against other humans for their sin. While it is true that some Old Testament texts can be interpreted this way, the contexts in which those apply are usually corporate in nature (e.g., a whole nation going to war against an injustice or wrongdoing (6)), and the reality is that for true Christians, Jesus’ teachings about love, compassion, and forgiveness should always override (or at least clarify) those earlier interpretations (7).

The bottom line is that all people have the right to live safe and secure from violence, regardless of what we personally think about their political views, sexual preferences, practices and/or beliefs.  This is the way of Jesus, and it should be the practice of all who claim to follow him.  Remember that God loves you and I do, too (no matter what you believe or think about my article here).

ENDNOTES:

(1) In this instance the perpetrator used the teachings of the Muslim faith to justify his actions.  But lest those of us who are Christians judge too quickly, let’s not forget how Christians have used (and still do use) our faith teachings to justify violence in the name of God (consider, for example, the Crusades of the 11th and 12th-Centuries, the “Inquisition” of the 12th and 13th-Centuries, the Irish “Catholic-Protestant” conflict of the 20th-Century, and others).

(2) Read Matthew 26:51-52, Mark 14:47-49, Luke 22:49-51, and John 18:10-11

(3) Meaning "dagger bearers,” a reference to the hidden daggers they carried and used to kill others.

(4) Read Matthew 7:1-5, Matthew 5:21-26, and Galatians 6:1.

(5) Read Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-38, and 1 John 3:16.

(6) This rationalization for corporate/national violence is sometimes known as Just War Theory”, which sets forth very strict and narrow conditions by which nations can engage in corporate violence (i.e., war) in order to rectify a wrong. I should add that I believe this same rationalization justifies its use by those in law enforcement (when it meets the same criteria) allowing for the use of force to prevent others from doing harm to others.

(7) Read Matthew 5:17.  Even in the stories of Jesus “Cleansing the Jerusalem Temple” (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, and John 2:14-15), his actions – while meant to express his disapproval of certain actions/behaviors by harming pocketbooks -- never physically harmed people.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Prayer In Response to Orlando Shooting

Remembering the victims, families and all those affected by the June 12 shootings at the "Pulse" nightclub in Orlando...  Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer...
Lord God, we don’t know how to pray.
This immense disaster feels overwhelming.
We can only imagine how the victims feel,
and we are so many miles away that we feel helpless.
Surround those directly involved with your loving presence.
Comfort the families of the dead and injured,
Sustain those waiting for word of those they love.
Protect, strengthen, and uphold
the rescuers and emergency personnel.
Help all of us to remember that your love
is bigger and stronger than despair and destruction.
Guide and strengthen us to reach out to those affected
in ways that will bring healing.
Give them and us a sense of your peace and hope.
In the name of Jesus, our friend and healer. Amen.
     [--Prayer "In the Face of Disaster" from page 60 of Prayers for Life’s Ordinary and Extraordinary Moments, compiled and edited by Mary Lou Redding. Copyright © 2012 by Upper Room Books.]

You're also invited to watch my WJCN-TV "Inspirational Minute" video "Peace Begins with Me" to be reminded of what we all can do in the midst of senseless acts of violence such as this.
(For suggestions on other appropriate ways to respond, read articles at this United Methodist Church site:  "Responding to Violence") 

In Christ, Pastor Brian

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Annual Conference Is Here!

Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

This week as you read this article, over 2800 delegates representing the 1000 churches and 364,000+ United Methodists in North Georgia will have gathered at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia for the “North Georgia Annual Conference” with the theme “Bound for Greater Things.”  Linda Frano and myself are attending as our church’s delegates, and
others will be attending on behalf of our LaGrange District.

Each year's Annual Conference makes important decisions that affect every United Methodist church in our geographic area: approval and ordination of new clergy and retirement of older ones (on June 7th we celebrated the commissioning of our own Blake Trent!); appointments of pastors to local churches are finalized (we celebrate that our Bishop - Michael Watson - has reassigned me to LaGrange First UMC as your Senior Pastor, and that Blake is being assigned to us for his first official year under appointment as our new “Associate Pastor”); adoption of the conference budget; support for and reports from conference missions and ministries; exciting worship and bible study opportunities to enrich our spiritual lives; present our “Bishop’s Offering” (to support the work of Action Ministry’sRaise the Roof about Poverty” initiative); and more!

Upon our return, we’ll be available to report on important decisions that were made, and how these might affect us as a congregation.  In the meantime, you can find more information about Annual Conference (as well as “real time” updates) on our North Georgia Conference website (www.ngumc.org and click on the 2016 Annual Conference banner).  Also, thanks for your prayers, both for ourselves as your representatives, and for the Conference itself.  Always remember, God loves you and I do too!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Praying for General Conference

The United Methodist Church’s General Conference (our church's top legislative body) gathers in Portland, OR May 10-20 for its quadrennial meeting.  

I invite you to join me and other United Methodists in surrounding our delegates, Bishops, and other church leaders with prayer as they prepare to listen to one another, discern God’s will for the United Methodist Church, and make decisions that will guide our church around the world in fulfilling our purpose.

Please join me in praying…

--For God’s will, God’s way, and God’s timing to reign supreme in all that is said and done.

--For the delegates to receive a renewed vision for God for the UMC both in the USA and around the world

--For the safety and security of the 864 delegates and assistants who will be present

--For the discussions and conversations over controversial subjects would be carried out in a civil manner that respects and honors God in all ways and in all persons

--For the Holy Spirit to fill the convention center and guide each delegate in their deliberations

For more materials and resources, visit the General Conference Prayer Community at www.60daysofprayer.org, sponsored by The Upper Room ministries.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church

“Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans...  to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Under the theme “Therefore, Go!” (from Jesus’ “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19-20), our denomination’s top policy-making body (called “General Conference”) will be meeting from May 10-20th in Portland, OR to make important decisions for our church’s future.  According to church law, no person or organization except General Conference (including our own church Bishops, courts, or individual Annual Conferences) has the authority to speak officially for our denomination.  Consequently, this body meets once every four years in a different location around the country, and is comprised of 1000 delegates (500 clergy and 500 laity), apportioned by the total membership of each Annual Conference from here in America, as well as our Conferences in other countries.  This year our North Georgia Conference is  sending 22 delegates (one of the larger delegations).

General Conference has several purposes:  to revise or reaffirm policies and guidelines regarding local church structure, ministry, and the pastoral leadership by examining and/or revising our Book of Discipline (our church’s law book), our “Social Principles,” and adopt various resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues; to approve plans and budgets for church wide ministry initiatives for the next four years;  to elect members of our church’s “Judicial Council” (our church’s “Supreme Court”); and (if necessary) to propose amendments to our church’s Constitution (which must be then ratified later by each of our denomination’s 133 National and International Annual Conferences). 

The legislation for General Conference comes from petitions and proposals written by church agencies, organizations, Annual Conferences (and through them from any church organization, ordained minister or lay member).  Though one of our church’s bishops presides over each session, in order to ensure the authority of elected delegates, bishops themselves have neither voice nor vote at General Conference.

The decisions made at General Conference have many potential ramifications for you and I as a local church here at LaGrange First UMC, so I ask that you be in prayer for this assembly for God’s will and way to be done during and through it. You can sign up HERE for prayer devotions that can be sent to your email.

As with every General Conference, there will be controversial issues addressed which will incite intense passion and heated debate on all sides, and (as has happened in the past) may even get mis-reported by the secular press.  So as you hear reports about this assembly on the news, I encourage you not only to be in prayer for all (including ourselves) to have Godly responses, but also for each of us to get our facts straight before we form opinions. 

For more information and impartial coverage of General Conference’s events and decisions, please visit our North Georgia Conference’s coverage HERE or visit the official General Conference website HERE. If you own a smart phone, you can even download an official app (Apple or Android compatible) to follow all the news and events (find information about the app HERE).

Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Youth Confirmation Sunday

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

On Confirmation Sunday (April 24th) we celebrate a milestone for 32 of our young people. They will profess personal faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and become full, “professing members” of our church, some by baptism and some by reaffirmation of faith.

Youth Confirmation is a four-month pilgrimage in our church which began last January and culminates each Spring. It includes meetings and special activities designed to help our youth learn about both our beliefs and our history as United Methodist Christians, and its aim has been to help our students take even more important steps towards their own personal Christian growth and maturity.

We express special appreciation to our volunteer adult mentors, youth parents, and others who’ve made personal investments in the lives of each confirmand during this process. Our hope is that these special relationships will live long after Confirmation Sunday itself.

We invite you to join us either during 9am Morning Glory or 11am Traditional worship on April 24th day to celebrate what Christ is doing in and through their lives, to support them with your prayers and presence, and to greet them personally following the services.

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!


Thursday, March 17, 2016

GOD HAS WON!

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!” (Luke 24:5)

                 “The strife is over, the battle done;
                                          The victory of life is won;
                                          The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!

                                          The powers of death have done their worst,
                                          But Christ their legions hath dispersed;
                                          Let shouts of holy joy outburst: Alleluia!

                                          The three sad days are quickly sped;
                                          He rises glorious from the dead;
                                          All glory to our risen Head: Alleluia!

      Lord, by the stripes which wounded thee,
                                         From death's dread sting thy servants free,
                                         That we may live, and sing to thee: Alleluia!” 

                               [--Original 1695 Latin lyrics translated by Francis Pott in 1861,
                                      from The United Methodist Hymnal, #306]

For over 2000 years Christians have celebrated the glorious resurrection of Jesus!  He rose that we might have life, and have it more abundantly!  He rose that we might know that he walks and talks with us even now!  He rose to tell us that "everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die"!  He rose to prove once and for all that he is our champion who has already won the victory!  

Whatever it is that you face today that looks and feels like “death” -- whether a broken relationship, being unemployed or cut back in your job, being unsure of your financial situation in general, health problems, or any other number of things --  remember that Jesus rose to give you victory over it!  Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

As we remember Christ's suffering and death as well as his resurrection, I hope that you will make a priority to be at one of our Holy Week experiences -- "Holy Week Encounter" (an interactive passion experience) from 5:30-6:30pm Wednesday, March 23; "A Remembrance of Christ" (Maundy Thursday service of scripture and music) -- and also at one of our four Easter morning worship services:  7:00am Sunrise Service at Sweetland Amphitheatre (new this year!); 9:00am Chapel Service; 9:00am Morning Glory Service; or 11:00am Sanctuary Service.  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

LaGrange First UMC Prescription For Health


Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV)

“How can we return our our church to vitality?” “How can we have more children and youth at our church like we used to?” “How can we stop our recent decline and start growing again?” These questions – and others like them – are ones that I have heard repeatedly from various church members since arriving eight months ago.  And while there is no single, “magic wand” solution that will fix these issues immediately (like some might want), there is certainly a process to follow that, in my experience leading two previous churches, can turn things around:

Step 1 is for us to rediscover our mission/purpose and current IDENTITY – that is: who are we now?.  Not, “ Who did we used to be?”, or “Who do we wish we were?” But “Who are we now?” -- the good, the bad, the things we like, and the things we wish we didn’t know.  For example, we may wish we still had 1700+ members averaging nearly 600 in worship, but that is not our current reality of 1113 members, averaging 351 in worship.  Instead of over 200 children and 150 youth in our programs eight years ago, we now have about 100 children and 80 youth active.  Now, this kind of information is difficult for us to hear, but it is our reality.  To take a successful journey, one needs to know where they are beginning from  -- that is the task before us now and through probably this Summer and Fall: to rediscover who we are. So, look for various ways your leadership (starting with a Long Range Planning Survey on March 13) will be asking for input regarding this question for the next few months.

Step 2 is for us to begin to prayerfully discern and then eventually implement a new VISION for LaGrange First UMC – a Vision that is bigger and more compelling and unifying than the provincial visions that many of us may currently have.  It will be a Vision that is bigger than me, you, or any individual, class, or peer group. In short, it will be a Vision for who God wants us as a church to become – a Vision that grows out of who we are (our DNA) but which calls us to become something and someone new as a church congregation.

These two steps may seem elementary, but the reality is that to do them correctly and thoroughly may take up to 12-18 months, and will certainly involve a lot of hard work, discussion, flexibility, and even anguish.  Nevertheless, I firmly believe that this is God’s prescription for our church’s future health, and you’ll want to know that my intention is to lead us as a church to be willing to take these two steps over the next year or so.

In the meantime, though, we can begin to “prime the pump,” if you will, by offering renewed opportunities for each of us to engage in mission, ministry, discipleship, worship, and care as we seek to deepen our own spiritual lives.  After all, since people are attracted to churches who’s members are “on fire” for God, both of these steps begin with each of us being willing to open ourselves to deeper walks with God.  So, look for new and renewed opportunities in this regard over the next 18 months.

I realize that some of us have grown accustomed to practices and traditions that no longer serve to help us grow, but which nevertheless make us comfortable. Consequently, I recognize that this journey will not be easy for all of us.  However, just as God has walked with us through our past, I believe we can trust Him to walk with us into the future as we allow Him to lead and guide us to continue our rich heritage of being an effective, vibrant church for Him!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pastoral Care - Did You Know???

“God the one who comforts us in all our trouble, so that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble.  We offer the same comfort that we ourselves received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

One of the jobs of your pastoral staff (Blake and myself) is to provide meaningful and appropriate care to all in our church fellowship who have pastoral needs.  This includes situations such as births, deaths, serious illnesses, hospitalizations, and other crises.  To help meet these needs, you need to know that we as a church currently have the following practices and services in place:
● Blake and I make Hospital Visits each week to hospitalized members and friends.  Generally, Blake visits on Mondays-Tuesdays, I visit on Wednesdays-Thursdays, and the “Pastor On Call” (see below) on Fridays-Sundays, but whoever visits shares information with the other so we are both always “in the loop” about major pastor issues.  Both of us also make emergency pastoral crisis visits as needed.  Please contact the church office or use the Emergency Pastoral Care number (below) to let us know about such needs.  Do not assume we already know -- we would rather receive several messages about a pastoral need than to miss one altogether!
● Blake or I usually call to pray with persons by phone the night before scheduled surgeries if we have been made aware of those.
● On nights and weekends (whenever the office is closed), one of us is always available via our NEW Pastor On Call”/Emergency Pastoral Care System (888-456-1203). Even though one of us is “on-call” one month and the other is “on-call” the next month, all information is shared between us confidentially.
● Both of us are available for Basic Pastoral Counseling to all who desire spiritual direction, mentoring, support, prayer, and general guidance.  All discussions are kept strictly confidential.  While we can at times accommodate “drop ins,” it is usually best to make an appointment with us through the church office (churchoffice@lagrangefumc.org).  If it is determined after an initial session that either ongoing or specialized care is needed, be aware that we will usually refer persons to faith-based specialists who we trust and know, as pastors are not equipped to be long-term individual counselors.
● In addition, I am available to serve Holy Communion to our Homebound or other members when requested, and to perform Weddings and Baptisms after meeting for wedding or baptism counseling.  Blake will also be available for these services after his commissioning in June.  Again, contact the office or pastors directly for any of these. Please note: Our wedding policies state that the use of an outside pastor for a wedding in our church (i.e., besides the two of us) requires the approval of the Senior Pastor.
● Our Community Care Fund provides church members and others with short-term assistance and resources as available.  Blake and I are able to access this fund in conversation with Rick Free and our Community Care Team leaders for emergency pastoral care needs.


As you can see, there are many services that we as your pastoral staff provide in the area of pastoral care.  However, we need YOUR assistance: If you have or learn about pastoral needs within our church fellowship (such as upcoming hospitalizations, births, deaths, or other crises), please inform the church office as soon as possible (706-884-4635) so that we may appropriately follow up.  After office hours or on weekends, please call our new Emergency Pastoral Care system (888-456-1203).   Your help and consideration is much appreciated!  Remember that God loves you and both Blake and I do, too!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Who Are You? and Who Are We?

“Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.” (Isaiah 43:4)

Who are you?  It’s an important question in a world of over 6 billion people, each struggling to discover our own unique identity and self-worth.  And if we don’t know who we are, then for good or bad, the world we live in will tell us.

That’s why it’s so important for us to be clear about our own identity as children of God -- each special, each unique and valuable to Him.  In Luke 12:6-7 Jesus says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Mother Teresa put it this way: “In our efforts to listen to God's words to us, we often neglect what might be called his ‘first word’ to us.  This is the gift of ourselves to ourselves:  our existence, our nature, our personal history, our uniqueness, our identity.  All that we have, and indeed, our very existence, is one of the unique and never‑to‑be‑repeated ways God has chosen to express himself in space and time.  Each of us, because we are made in God's image and likeness, is yet another promise that he has made to the universe that he will continue to love it and care for it.” 
                                     [--Mother Teresa, Leadership,magazine Vol. 10, No. 4]

Who are you?  You are a child of God... precious, honored, and loved in His eyes.  Never forget that you have a great identity as a member of God’s family! Who are you?  You are a child of God... precious, honored, and loved in His eyes.  Never forget that you have a great identity as a member of God’s family!  

And related to that thought, I pray that you will join me beginning February 14 as Blake and I begin a new series series based on the stories of Abraham exploring who we are (our identity) as God’s people here at LaGrange First UMC. And always remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Three Simple Rules

As we begin a new year with a new sermon series called “RENOVATE (exploring how to renew our souls for 2016), it’s also a good time to be reminded of ways we can improve our own lives and behavior as Jesus’ disciples. The following article that relates these ways is taken from a weekly email I once received from our North Georgia United Methodist Annual Conference....


“[The founder of Methodism] John Wesley understood that everyone needs help in living the Christian life. His General Rules offered instruction to the early Methodists on practices that would lead to faithfulness to the way of Christ. Wesley’s guidelines for living are still relevant today.
           
Rule One: DO NO HARM. In his book, Three Simple Rules, Reuben Job says, “To do no harm means that I will be on my guard so that all my actions and even my silence will not add injury to another of God’s children or any part of God’s creation.” I was taught if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. How often do we have the opportunity in word and deed, by action or inaction, to do no harm?  However often it is, we should do it.

Rule Two: DO GOOD. Jesus said “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  Jesus and Wesley suggest that doing good is a universal command and is directed at everyone. Doing good is a proactive way of living--an act of the will. I can decide that the common good will be my first thought and what is good for me will become a secondary thought. Jack Stabinsky suffers from multiple sclerosis and needed to relocate from Lawrenceville, GA to a specialized facility in Boston. After Rick Badie wrote about his situation in the local newspaper, strangers anonymously made it possible. Occasions to do good are ever present. Look for them. “Be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, The Message).
     
Rule Three: STAY IN LOVE WITH GOD. The first two rules are important but without this third rule become increasingly impossible. We practice the rules but God sends the power that enables us to keep them. Paul wrote, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Colossians 2:6-7) Wesley suggested that spiritual disciplines including public worship of God, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, Bible study, and fasting were key to maintaining a life of faithfulness to God. They assist us in living our lives in harmony with God. And while staying in love with God includes these practices, it also causes us to share God’s goodness with others.  The Greeks had a race in their Olympic games that was unique. The winner was not the runner who finished first. It was the runner who finished with his torch still lit. These “Three Simple Rules” will help us run all the way with the flame of our torch still lit for Jesus.”

[--Taken from Rev. Jamie Jenkins, “Monday Morning In North Georgia,” 
    January 7, 2008 (www.ngumc.org)]

 Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The First Step


“The Lord said to Abram, ‘Leave your country…’” (Genesis 12:1)

The following was a devotional from the Upper Room Devotional Guide that I am passing on as a reminder of the importance of letting God guide us in all “new” things in life, whether it be a new year, a new job, new relationship, or something else….

“’Watch that first step!’ my friend cautioned as I approached the stairway.  ‘It’s taller than the rest.’  First steps are often the hardest -- whether it’s starting a new school, tackling an overdue project, or beginning something God nudges us to do.  Fortunately, the Bible is filled with numerous examples of people who stepped out in faith and accomplished great things for God.  Abram walked away from his homeland for a new country and become the father of many nations (Genesis 12:1-4).  Ruth journeyed with Naomi and became an ancestor of the Savior (Ruth 1:16-17).  Jesus traveled a path that led first to death but ultimately to resurrection (Matthew 28:1-7).

What first step are you facing? Is it giving up an old habit?  Looking for a new job?  Finding new friends?  Reconciling with a family member?  Accepting God’s call to serve in the church?  As we approach any first step, we can find courage in remembering that we don’t take it alone.  God strengthens and supports us as we continue the journey, step by step!     
[--Phyllis Wezeman, writing for The Upper Room devotional magazine, Nov. 2, 2002]

As we begin a new year, my prayer is that you will remember the power and presence of God in all the “first steps” you may be taking!  Don't forget to join us for our new series RENOVATE! that can help you take some of those "first steps." And always remember that God loves you and I do, too!