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! 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sharing Christmas


“And when [the Shepherds saw the baby Jesus], they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” (Luke 2:17-18)

Christmas is popularly thought of as a time to get and give gifts. But the actual biblical story teaches us that it is much more than that.  More accurately, it should be time for us to give not just gifts for Christmas, but to give and share the gift of Christmas itself.

And what does that mean?  In the words of one church newsletter article I read years ago, it means that this Christmas we should seek to…

…Mend a quarrel
…Seek out a forgotten friend
…Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust
…Write a love letter with someone you love
…Share some treasure with someone in need
…Give a soft answer
…Encourage youth
…Manifest your loyalty in a word and a deed
…Keep a promise
…Listen
…Apologize if you were wrong
…Try to understand
…Flout envy
…Examine your demands on others
…Think first of someone else
…Appreciate others & their deeds, however imperfect they are!
…Be kind; be gentle
…Laugh a little
…Laugh a little more
…Work to deserve confidence from others
…Take up arms against malice and bitterness
…Decry complacency
…Express your gratitude
…Seek God
…Welcome a stranger
…Gladden the heart of a child
…Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth
…Speak your love
…Speak it again
…Speak it still once again.”

[--Shared in the newsletter of College Park First U.M.C.,  College Park, GA (Advent date between 1992-1996 unknown)]

You see, sharing Christmas is more than just about the material gifts we give.  It’s more properly about the attitudes and perspectives of God love and grace that we pass on to others.  Especially as there continues to be stories of violence and tragedy in the news, when you  and I experience Christmas this year, my prayer is that these ideas above would be true gifts not only that you receive but ones that you also seek to give and share with others!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!  Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 27, 2015

WAITING...

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14)

I don’t know about you, but I have never been very good at waiting. Whether it is waiting in those long lines at stores or waiting on a parking space in the parking lot, it often seems that the closer something is, the more difficult it is to wait for it. In fact, our impatience seems built right into our culture and society – these days, Christmas carols and decorations usually appear even before Halloween!

And yet, the Christian season of ADVENT (from the Latin adventus, “coming” – a reference to the “coming” of Jesus in the past, present and future) encourages us to learn the hard and difficult lesson of waiting, of watching, of anticipating, and of expecting good things still to come. It encourages us to learn to wait for God to reveal Himself in His own way and time.

In the weeks leading up to our daughter Jennifer’s birth over twenty-two years ago, Trish and I both were very much on edge. The due date arrived, then passed, and I remember thinking constantly, “How much longer, Lord?!” I’m sure it was the same for the early Hebrews as they waited for the Messiah to be born, probably also thinking, “How much longer, Lord?!” And it’s the same for us today as we often ask of our problems, “How much longer, Lord?!” Maybe it’s God’s way of trying to remind us that some of the best things in life (including true, genuine fulfillment, contentment, and joy) often come only through long, hard waiting.

So, during this Advent season (which begins November 29th), I invite us all to let God teach us to wait… with patience, anticipation, and joy. One tool that can help us “wait” and prepare for the coming of Christmas is through our use of what is called an “Advent Wreath” — a circle of four candles which are progressively lit during the four Sundays of Advent, culminating in the lighting of the central white (Christ) candle on Christmas Eve. CLICK HERE for an order for a family Advent Wreath lighting that you can download and use each week leading up to Christmas. Always remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Art of Thanksliving


“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.” (Psalm 100:4)


“The art of thanksgiving is thanksLIVING. It is gratitude in action.



It is thanking God for the gift of life by living it triumphantly.

It is thanking God for all that men and women have done for you by doing things for others.

It is thanking God for happiness by striving to make others happy.

It is thanking God for beauty by helping to make the world more beautiful.

It is thanking God for inspiration by trying to be an inspiration to others.

It is thanking God for health and strength by the care and reverence you show your body.

It is thanking God for the creative ideas that enrich life by adding your own creative contributions to human progress.

It is thanking God for each new day by living it to the fullest.

It is thanking God by giving hands, arms, legs, and voice to your thankful spirit.

It is adding to your prayers of thanksGIVING,... acts of thanksLIVING.”

[-Wilfred A. Peterson]

What great words to live by this Thanksgiving season! Let’s all strive together to live out our thankfulness through the way we live our own lives – through what we say, what we do, how we treat one another, how we help one another, and even how we work with one another! As you read this article, my prayer is that you and your family will have a blessed Thanksgiving holiday, and that you’ll remember to “give thanks to God, and bless His name” through how you live your very life! God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

I Sing A Song of the Saints of God...

“To the church of God that is in... [LaGrange], to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints...” (1 Corinthians 1:2)

“I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew;
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green;
They were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too.

They loved their Lord so dear, so dear, and his love made them strong;
They followed right for Jesus' sake the whole of their good lives' long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
And there's not any reason, no, not the least, why I shouldn't be one too.

They lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store,
In church, by the sea, in the house next door;
They are saints of God, whether rich or poor, and I mean to be one too."

[--From the United Methodist Hymnal, #712]

Some of you already know that this coming Sunday, November 1st is “All Saints Day” -- a day for God’s people to celebrate and remember the lives of all God’s “saints”:  those living now who call Jesus their Savior; and those who’ve gone on to be with the Lord this past year.

As we celebrate the “saints” of our church and the “saints” of our lives who’ve gone to be with the Lord since All-Saints Day last year, my prayer is that those of us who remain here will learn from the example of the “saints who’ve gone before” how to be people who live by the call of Christ.  In the words of the hymn, “I mean to be one, too.”  Will you?  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Operations Christmas Child

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

If you were at worship with us this past Sunday (October 4), you'll know that one of the ways we celebrated World Communion Sunday was by providing opportunities for us as a church to make a difference in the life of needy children around the world through an international, ecumenical ministry called “Operation Christmas Child” (www.samaritanspurse.org/occ).

Since 1993, this ministry has partnered with local churches like ours throughout the U.S., Australia, Finland, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Spain and the U.K to deliver gift-filled shoeboxes to over 124 million children affected by war, poverty, natural disasters, and other crises in more than 150 countries and territories. And although we have participated in this ministry in the past, our church’s participation this year is a great way for us all to participate in Jesus’ call to minister to "the least of these" described in the scripture above.

Throughout October, individuals, families, and groups within our church are invited to fill empty shoeboxes with items like dolls, balls, and other fun toys, school supplies, hygiene items, as well as scripture messages and notes of encouragement to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who receive the shoebox gifts.  (If you didn’t get a box last week during worship, we still have a number remaining in our Fellowship Hall/MMC -- just help yourself to however many you want to pack).

After you fill your boxes, just include a $7 check (per box) to cover shipping costs and bring it back to one of our church’s designated drop-off points on or before November 7th.  We’ll then ship them to a processing center (one in Atlanta), where volunteers will then ship them out to children in some of the hardest-to-reach countries of the world to help them experience Christmas and the love of Christ.  You can even follow your box online to discover where in the world your gift is delivered using the donation form.

I hope you will join my wife and I as we seek to make a difference in the life of a child who otherwise might never hear of or experience the Christ of Christmas. Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Football Faith

“Tell them to do good, to be rich in the good things they do, to be generous, and to share with others. …That way they can take hold of the life that truly is life”  (1 Timothy 6:18-19)

In the game of football, the ultimate goal is to get the ball into the end zone.  No team ever wins a game without moving the ball forward, and -- likewise -- no quarterback can advance the cause of the team without distributing the ball to others. 

So it is with the Christian faith:  growing and maturing as disciples of Jesus Christ requires us to share the “ball” that God has given to us. In the scripture above from 1 Timothy 6, the apostle Paul advises his young apprentice Timothy that sharing is necessary not only for ourselves, but also in order for God’s “team” (the church), to move forward on the “playing field” of life. 

During the month of October, through a spiritual journey called Football Faith, we as a church will be exploring the value of being part of God’s “team” through the practice of generosity:  the sharing of our resources and lives for the work of God’s kingdom.  We’ll learn the difference between ownership and stewardship, the importance of being a “team player,” the great benefits of at least one God-given tool for sharing, and the joy that results from generosity itself.

And by the time we celebrate “Touchdown Sunday” on October 25, our hope is that we will have been challenged to understand and claim how true life – true “victory” -- is not found in what we have (i.e., in “keeping the ball”) but in what we give away (i.e., in “passing the ball to others”).  You won’t want to miss a single Sunday in this unique and special spiritual journey!

In the meantime, however, I ask you to join me and your church leadership in praying that God will prepare our hearts to hear His message of transforming generosity, and to commit to being present in worship each week as we do so!


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Worship First


“I was glad when they said to me ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1)

Corporate worship is the very heart of the Christian faith.  Through it we both glorify God and lift ourselves up, we connect both with God and each other through prayer and praise, and we are reminded of our calling to be God’s hands and feet in the world around us. No wonder the Bible continually talks about the importance of corporate worship for the life of a disciple, for it can be fairly said that Christian faith begins and ends with worship.

No other Christian tool fulfills the purpose or accomplishes the mission that worship alone can. As important as Sunday School classes, Bible studies, and other small groups are to our spiritual and relational growth as Christians, they were never intended to be a substitute for weekly worship with the whole body of Christ. And while the various ministry programs and events that we sponsor and host as a church are all important ways to connect with and serve others, programs and events alone will never grow the church -- only worship can do that.

It should trouble us, then, when some Christians treat worship like an “optional extra” -- a part of their faith that is either attended to only sporadically, or in sometimes skipped altogether.  In some cases, folks attend a Sunday School class, Men’s or Women’s group, Bible study, etc. but then go home and skip worship.  What they don’t realize is that by doing so they are starving their spirit and (if they stay away long enough), it will spiritually cripple their walk with God.

But not only is worship the life-blood of those who claim to follow Jesus, but it’s also usually the first portal that visitors and guests experience of our faith community (and even when it’s not the first one, it’s always the deciding one in eventual faith decisions).

Consequently, we have no more important task as Christian disciples than that of both participating in and helping develop and grow worship at our church.  So, what are YOU doing to foster these?  First and foremost, are you yourself participating regularly in worship at LaGrange First UMC?  If not, why not?  At all of our worship services on September 27, Pastor Blake and myself will be inviting everyone to make a commitment to God to be in worship every week, unless sick or out of town.  I pray that you will join us in that commitment.

But in addition to your own worship commitment, I also want to ask what you are doing to help grow and develop our worship experiences at LaGrange First UMC?  Have you invited someone lately to attend and sit with you?  Or do you only invite them to programs, events, and your own small group? God’s church grows in direct proportion to how its people make worship a priority.  So, is worship first for YOU?  Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Homecoming Coming!

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!  Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!.. [For] I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you,... says the Lord.” (Zephaniah 3:14 & 20)

Homecoming (Noun): “A return home; the return of a group of people... to a place formerly frequented or regarded as home” (Mirriam-Webster Dictionary).

“Homecoming” is a great tradition in many churches throughout America.  It’s a time to invite former church members, pastors and staff back “home” for a special time of fellowship and worship and eating to celebrate a common history and heritage.  Homecoming worship usually involves lots of great, rousing singing, inspiring special music, occasional special presentations, and a challenging sermon preached by a former pastor or staff minister.

It’s a time to reminisce about the past (what the church was like in the “good ole’ days!”), to celebrate the present (how the church has changed to meet current needs), and to be challenged with plans and visions for the future (how the church plans to grow to meet the needs of future generations).  In fact, it’s a foretaste of the great “homecoming” celebration that Zephaniah describes in the scripture above.

Here at LaGrange First U.M.C., the time has arrived as we celebrate this great tradition each year in September!  So, mark your calendars for Homecoming Sunday on September 13, from 10:30am to 12:30pm, complete with food, fellowship, and worship featuring the preaching of former LaGrange College President Rev. Dr. Stuart Gulley.  Worship will begin at 10:30am that day in the Sanctuary (with elements of our three weekly services in one, combined service), Sunday School classes will not meet, and we’ll conclude with a great covered dish luncheon in the Fellowship Hall (the church will provide meat).

I hope you’ll make plans now to be present!  It’s a day in the life of your church that you won’t want to miss!  I hope to see you there!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Cherish...


 Some friends play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.” (Proverbs 18:24)
This past Thursday morning, I was awakened by my cell phone.  It was a family friend and member of my former church, sharing with me the heartbreaking news that the “Minister of Music and Worship Arts” at my former church had suffered a sudden heart attack and died just an hour or so earlier.

I was shocked and stunned:  Frieda Brown, my colleague and dear friend for the past ten years at East Cobb United Methodist Church, was now with the Lord.  And while my heart rejoices over her homecoming in heaven, my heart grieves not only for her husband Jeff and two sons Aubrey (a college Sophomore) and Mack (a high school Senior), but also for the members and friends of my former “flock,” as well as  for myself and Trish (who considered Frieda one of her absolute best friends in the world!).  My prayers are with them and with us all.

I wish that those of you who are members and friends of my current church at LaGrange First UMC would have had the opportunity to know Frieda and her contagious joy, her love for music and all worship arts, her compassion for others, her creativity, her love for people, but most of all her love for God and Jesus, and how that love shown through in all she said and did – Soli Deo gloria ('glory to God alone') is how she always signed her notes to our choir.  Our loss here on earth is surely heaven’s gain as she has now joined the choir eternal!

Lux Aeterna Frieda, my friend!

But even if you didn’t know Frieda, each of us surely knows people like her who we value, respect, and look up to. So, I’m writing this article today simply to encourage you (and all of us) never to take those special relationships for granted – to find time and ways to tell those around us who are special to us how much they mean to us and to say “thank you” for their influence on our lives.  We never know how much (or how little) time we have here on earth. Cherish every moment and every relationship that’s special!

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

"Getting to Know Us" Survey Results Summary

“Plans are established by taking advice…" (Proverbs 20:18)

You may remember that the first week of worship after I arrived as your new Pastor, I invited you to participate in a “Getting to Know Us” survey to help me better understand the overarching values and vision of LaGrange First UMC so that I can better lead us in the future.  That survey remained open until the middle of July.  So, here at last are highlights of those results for us all to celebrate and consider:

First of all, THANK YOU to the 100 of you (yes, exactly 100!) who turned a survey in (64 via paper; 36 via online).  And while each one was prayerfully read and considered, bear in mind that what I share below are simply summaries of those results that relate specifically to our church’s values and vision:

QUESTION #1:  If there’s one thing you hope NEVER changes about LaGrange First UMC, what would it be?

● 25 responses referenced the variety and diversity of worship options, styles, and experiences that we offer.  While different responses obviously focused on differing things that people liked about our three Sunday morning services, what was clear across the board is that we all have a deep appreciation for worship and for making it as excellent and relevant as possible

● 11 responses mentioned the importance and value of our hospitality and friendliness as a congregation

● 8 responses focused on how much they loved the various small groups we have, including Sunday School classes, Bible Studies, Wednesday night programs, etc.

● 7 responses affirmed the many ways our church both connects with and serves our community, including the diverse offerings of our music ministry and various missions ministries like our soup kitchen, drug assistance program, meals on wheels, Camp Viola, etc.

QUESTION #2:  If you could wave a magic want and CHANGE any one thing about LaGrange First UMC, what would it be?

● 33 responses expressed in various ways their desire that our church continue to grow and be relevant in and for our community.  Some responses suggested doing this through expansion of current weekly programs, others through more outreach and mission, and still others through a more intentional focus on children (9 mentioned this), youth, and young adults through our connection with LaGrange College. So, even though there are differing ideas about how to do it, it’s clear that our congregation wants to grow and better connect with our community and world.

● 15 responses referenced the need to change various aspects and/or elements of our worship experiences to help us better connect with today’s culture and community.   Some of these involved suggestions for music, others were suggestions for changes in worship times, styles, and use of technology. So, while question #1 revealed an appreciation for our current worship, there is also a sense that work is still needed in this area in order to grow and stay relevant.

● 12 responses referenced the need to become more inviting, welcoming and hospitable, and less “clique-ish” (including responses about better accessibility in our Sanctuary and in our parking lots for senior adults).  I should point out that even though this area was referenced in question #1 by some respondents as a strength, it’s clear that others feel it is an area in need of growth, as well.

● 12 responses mentioned the need to change or modify our administrative and leadership structures to be more effective and efficient in our ministry.

QUESTION:  #3:  What’s the best piece of advice you could give Pastor Brian as our new Senior Pastor?

● 28 responses indicated that pastoral care, listening and communications, and being accessible to all should be areas of prime importance to me as your Senior Pastor.

● 18 responses mentioned their hope that I would take care of myself, be myself, and lead by following my heart and the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit (including the importance of offering loving challenge when appropriate, and not get lost in “church politics”, and even of maintaining a sense of humor and fun about ministry).

● 11 responses indicated the importance of partnership, teamwork, being available to all members and avoiding the appearance of “playing favorites”

● 8 responses asked that I seek to offer and encourage bold ministry that is relevant to people’s heart needs (such as preaching God’s word, connecting with current world and community events, and being involved in our community itself)

● 6 responses shared their hope that I would lead us to discover God’s vision for our church

What I’ve shared above are merely the “highlights” and my “take-aways” from the survey and not a recitation of every individual response.  If you wish to see more detail about the raw responses themselves, you can either contact the church office to request it, or you can click HERE for an online version.

Again, let me say thank you for your valued input in helping me to know and understand what you consider to be the most important things to our church’s mission and ministry! I and our leadership will be taking these themes into consideration as we together seek both to discover and then implement God’s Vision for us as His people here at LaGrange First UMC.


Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

I Am A Guest To Your Church

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

“You cannot know the reason why I am here this morning. It may be as simple as a move to your community, or as complicated as a personal crisis that leads me to seek strength from God. In any case, I am here. And I will probably come back to worship here with you next Sunday if you will do something for me. Won’t you please...

• Smile at me as I walk in your door. You are my first impression of the church during the few moments I am in your building, and this impression will probably stay with me for a long time.

• Speak to me during the greeting time and after the service. I know you want to see your friends, but if you don’t I may find it hard to believe that you truly care for ‘the stranger in your midst.’

• Tell me good things about your church and pastor. I want to believe that I’ve come to a place where people love each other and believe that they are doing something exciting and important for God.

• Notice me even if I am not a ‘traditional’ family. I don’t want to feel invisible just because I am unmarried, a single parent, a teenager, or an older person.

• Invite me to become part of your class or small group. I need more than worship every Sunday -- I need to know that I’m accepted and affirmed by a group of people who know and care for me by name.

If you can find it in your heart to do these things for me, I will come back... a second and third Sunday, and maybe forever. I’ll worship with you, sing in the choir, work on projects, teach in your Sunday School, make financial commitments, and become a highly involved member. In so doing, I’ll find my life immeasurably and eternally enriched.”    [--Author Unknown]

LaGrange First members and friends, Fall is one of the key times of the year that we have new faces in our midst as we worship and gather. I trust that you’ll do your part to welcome each and every one of them with the hospitality and compassion of Jesus! Remember that God loves you and I do, too!