Sunday, July 27, 2014

Priceless Gifts to Give for Free

By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

As we begin a new sermon series on “Spiritual Fitness,” we’re beginning with a focus on the spiritual practice of being open to God’s grace.  As the scripture above points out, grace is a gift.  With that in mind, we’re also called to share it with others.  As I was preparing my message, I came across this list of “Priceless Gifts to Give for Free” from an anonymous author…

1. The gift of listening... Try giving this to someone in need. And you must really listen. No interrupting, no daydreaming, no planning your responses. Just listen

2. The gift of signs of affection... Be generous with your hugs, kisses and gentle squeezes of the hand. Let these tiny actions demonstrate the love inside of you.

3. The gift of a note... It can be as simple as "I Love You" or as creative as a sonnet. Put your notes where they will surprise your loved ones.

4. The gift of laughter... Just cut out a cartoon, save a clever article. Your gift will say, "I love to laugh with you."

5. The gift of compliment... A simple "You look good in blue" or "Good supper" can be of greatest value to those who may feel they are being taken for granted.

6. The gift of a favor... Help with the dishes, run an errand, etc.

7. The gift of leaving alone... There are times in our lives when we want nothing better than to be left alone. Become more sensitive to those times and give solitude.

8. The gift of a cheerful disposition... Try to be cheerful around those you love.

9. The gift of a game... Offer to play your loved one's favorite game. Even if you lose, you'll be a winner.

10. The gift of prayer... Pray for your loved ones and let them know you pray for them.


I pray that these ideas will inspire and challenge you to pass on the “gift” of grace that God has already given to you!  Remember that God loves you and I do, too! 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

LAVISH LOVE - Camp Meeting Luncheon

“They said…‘Why waste the perfume? This perfume could have been sold for almost a year’s pay and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. Jesus said, ’Leave her alone…She has done a good thing for me.’” (Mark  14:4-6)

Mark 14:1-9 tells the story of a time when, during a dinner hosted by Simon the leper for Jesus and his Disciples, a woman interrupted, bringing a jar of costly perfume, opened it, and poured it over Jesus’ head. Simon, the Disciples, and other guests were floored!  Didn’t she know how expensive that nard was, and that a much more efficient and beneficial use of it would have been to sell it and use the money to help the poor and needy?! If you know the story, then you also know that Jesus’ answer was equally surprising:  this woman has “done a good thing for me,” he said. “She has done what she could,” and that “wherever in the whole world the good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.”

This story illustrates the concept and practice of LAVISH LOVE – that there are times, places, and situations that sometimes call for us to go a bit overboard in our actions and behaviors in order to demonstrate love for others.  It illustrates that at times “ordinary” acts of love just won’t suffice – that we occasionally need to do extraordinary things in order to demonstrate our love (we sometimes refer to this as “going the extra mile.”)

Well, at about 12:15pm on Sunday, July 20th, our church will be sharing “lavish love” for our “spiritual parents” and partners in ministry at Marietta Campground by hosting a catered “old fashioned” picnic following our combined 11am worship Camp Meeting service across the street from our church. There will be fried chicken, mac and cheese, green beans, potato salad, dessert, drinks and all the “fixins” to enjoy. But most importantly, it will be an opportunity to get to know and interact with the tentholders of Marietta Campground as we help them celebrate 177 years of ministry! (For those who don’t already know, our church came out of Marietta Campground back in 1872, which makes them our “spiritual parent,” and we their 142-year old “spiritual child.”)

There may be some who say that our free hosting of this catered event is an exorbitant (or perhaps unnecessary) expense on our part. But your leaders and I disagree. Instead, we believe it to be one way we at East Cobb UMC can show “lavish love” for our Campground friends – a small way for us to say “thank you” and “we love you” to the ministry who spiritually “birthed” us as a congregation all those years ago.

So, whether or not you normally attend 11am worship at ECUMC, I hope that on Sunday, July 20th you will join us in worship celebrating our heritage and partnership under the arbor across the street at 11:00am, and then join us for our catered picnic following the service. Even Jesus commended occasional “lavish love” when it’s done in the right spirit – So I hope you’ll join me in sharing this at Camp Meeting on Sunday, July 20th! Remember that God loves you and I do, too!


(To find out more about all the services and events of Camp Meeting this year, visit their website HERE

Sunday, July 13, 2014

All About The Bible

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

It’s been said that “The Bible is the best-selling, least read, and least understood book in human history.”  Many people know about the Bible, and think we know what’s in it.. But most don’t actually take the time to find out!  For example, did you know…

…that the word “Bible” actually means “Book”, and is actually a compilation of 66 separate books, each written for a different purpose over a period of approximately 1600 years (from about 1500 BC to AD 100), by perhaps hundreds men (and maybe even a few women)?

…that the 66 individual books are written in at least 10 differing literary styles (such as law, history, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, gospel, epistle, etc.), none of which is meant to be read and/or interpreted exactly alike?

…that the current listing of books in the Bible wasn’t established until 367 AD, that those books weren’t divided into Chapters until 1238, and that the Chapters weren’t separated into Verses until 1551?

…that the entire Bible has been translated into over 500 languages, and that at least a portion of the Bible has been translated into over 2500 languages?

…that the English language is home to around 75 different Bible translations?  And while the King James Version (KJV) was the first widely-used English translation, today other translations are much more popular, including the New International Version (NIV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and Common English Bible (CEB) that we use in worship each week. (Note: popular versions like the “Good News Bible” and “The Message” are actually Bible paraphrases, and not true Bible translations).

…that though the Christian Bible has been written over a long period of time by many people, no other single book has transformed so people or affected so much of history as much as it has?

Want to know more? The best way to learn about and experience the transformative power of the Bible is to do so in community.  To that end, our church offers “Disciple” Bible Study as one opportunity.  If you never have, I pray that you will consider taking one of the “Disciple” classes now forming, and that if you have had one, that you’ll consider taking one you haven’t yet had (there’s at least one new study this year). Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

[For more information the “Disciple” Bible Study opportunities that begin this August, CLICK HERE]

           

Sunday, July 6, 2014

America, The Beautiful

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…” (Psalm 33:12)

“O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved & mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for halcyon skies, For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties Above the enameled plain!
America! America! God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrims feet, Whose stem impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat Across the wilderness!
America! America! God shed his grace on thee.  Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale Of liberating strife
When once & twice, for man’s avail Men lavished precious life!
America! America! God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain The banner of the free!

O beautiful for patriot dream That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again Thy whiter jubilee!”

--Words by Katharine Lee Bates (written in 1895, published in 1913);
   Melody by Samuel Ward

Did you know that there are actually that many verses?  As we celebrate Independence weekend, let these words challenge and inspire you.  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!


Sunday, June 29, 2014

15 Things God Won't Ask

“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Here are 15 Things God Won’t Ask when we reach heaven:

1.    God won’t ask what kind of car you drove, but will ask how many people you drove who didn’t have transportation.
2.    God won’t ask the square footage of your house, but will ask how many people you welcomed into your house.
3.    God won’t ask about the fancy clothes you had in your closet, but will ask how many of those clothes helped the needy.
4.    God won’t ask about your social status, but will ask what kind of class you displayed.
5.    God won’t ask how many material possessions you had, but will ask if they dictated your life.
6.    God won’t ask what your highest salary was, but will ask if you compromised your character to obtain that salary.
7.    God won’t ask how much overtime you worked, but will ask if you worked overtime for your family and loved ones.
8.    God won’t ask how many promotions you received, but will ask how you promoted others.
9.    God won’t ask what your job title was, but will ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability.
10. God won’t ask what you did to help yourself, but will ask what you did to help others.
11. God won’t ask how many friends you had, but will ask how many people to whom you were a true friend.
12. God won’t ask what you did to protect your rights, but will ask what you did to protect the rights of others.
13. God won’t ask in what neighborhood you lived, but will ask you treated your neighbors.
14. God won’t ask about the color of your skin, but will ask about the content of your character.
15. God won’t ask how many times your deeds matched your words, but will ask how many times they didn’t.                                   [--Author Unknown]

To this list, I would add that God also won’t ask whether we were Democrats, Republicans, or Independents.  He won’t ask whether we were conservative, liberal, evangelical, progressive, or moderate.  He won’t ask whether we were gay or straight, supported “Obamacare” or not, where we stood on local and national gun laws, or whether we worshiped in “traditional” or “contemporary” ways.

He’ll simply want to know if we had (and have) Jesus in our hearts, and if we did our best to practice loving others the way Jesus did. That’s the standard by which we’ll be judged when we reach heaven. So, how will your life be remembered and celebrated when you reach the “pearly gates”? And what are you doing to make that a reality now / today?  Remember, God loves you and so do I!



Sunday, June 22, 2014

A United Methodist Church Split???

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-5)

Some of you already know that for the last few months there has been increasing talk about the possibility of our beloved United Methodist Church splitting into two (or more) new denominations following our upcoming 2016 General Conference (Read more about these discussions HERE).

While the subject was intentionally not the subject of any official discussion or action at the recent North Georgia Annual Conference that I and other delegates from our church attended last week in Athens, nevertheless over 600 clergy and laity from our Conference (myself included) have voiced strong opposition to schism in an unofficial petition (Read it HERE), claiming that such a split will not realistically solve the theological and practical challenges that face us as a denomination.

And yet, at the same time, I and many others also believe that maintaining the current “status quo” will be equally insufficient going forward – splitting is not the answer, but something must change.  One influential pastor/leader of our denomination has proposed a “local option” solution that may have merit, and that many have already voiced support for (Read it HERE). And yet, others are opposed to this proposal, as well (Read HERE).

While I am honestly still wrestling with exactly where I stand, I do know this:  neither Methodism as a tradition nor the church of Jesus Christ in general has ever been defined solely by its positions on specific social issues. 

In his 1749 sermon “Catholic Spirit, the founder of Methodism John Wesley wrote “although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works” (Read Wesley’s entire sermon HERE).  

What’s more is that in his tract The Character of a Methodist,” Wesley states that “The distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort. His assenting to this or that scheme of religion, his embracing any particular set of notions, his espousing the judgment of one man or of another, are all quite wide of the point. Whosoever, therefore, imagines that a Methodist is a man of such or such an opinion, is grossly ignorant of the whole affair; he mistakes the truth totally.”  Instead, he goes on to say, “a Methodist is one who has ‘the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;’ one who ‘loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!’" (Read Wesley’s entire tract HERE).

The bottom line is that our identity as people of faith should be determined not by our loyalty to a particular theological or social position, but by our open commitment to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  Does that mean that we as Christians may have to “agree to disagree” about some (important and controversial) things?  Absolutely!  Does it mean that in doing so we have compromised the gospel?  Not a bit!  Even the first followers of Jesus had to “agree to disagree” about things from time to time as they established the Church (For example, Acts 15:36-41). 

I don’t know what the future holds for our denomination, but I do know that Jesus will still be Lord over His church, whatever form that takes!  Please join me in praying for unity (not uniformity, but unity) as we go about the primary business of “making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day Scriptures

As we celebrate Father’s Day, here is collection of just a few inspirational Bible verses that are especially for men and fathers:

Deuteronomy 1:29-31
“Then I said to you, ‘Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.’” (NIV)

Joshua 1:9
Be brave and strong... Don't be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (CEB)

Malachi 4:6 
[God] will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. (NIV)

Psalm 103:13 
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. (NIV)

Proverbs 3:11-12
Don't reject the instruction of the Lord, my son; don't despise his correction. The Lord loves those he corrects, just like a father who treats his son with favor. (CEB)

Proverbs 10:9
The man of integrity walks securely, but one who takes crooked paths will be found out. (NIV)

Proverbs 23:22 
Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old. (NRSV)

Ephesians 6:4 
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (NRSV)

Colossians 3:21 
Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart. (NRSV)

This Father’s Day, be sure to take time to thank God not only for your father but also for the father-figures in your life.  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

2014 North Georgia Annual Conference

“And 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 coming week (June 9-12), over 2800 delegates representing the 1000 churches and 365,000+ United Methodists in North Georgia will be gathering at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia for the North Georgia Annual Conference with the theme “Together We Make Disciples.” This year Peter Kaimathiri and I are serving as our church=s clergy representatives (although Peter will be absent as he is still in Kenya), and Lee Bierce and Pat Holcomb are serving as our laity delegates. In addition, Cindy Campbell and Frieda Brown will be present as at-large delegates from our Atlanta-Marietta 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; appointments of pastors to local churches are finalized (we celebrate that our Bishop -- Michael Watson -- has reassigned myself and Peter Kaimathiri to East Cobb UMC as your appointed pastors for this next year); 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” (Global AIDS fund and the Experimental Leadership Institute for our camp and retreat ministry); and much 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 (including videos and other resources) by CLICKING HERE.

Thank you for your prayers, both for ourselves as your representatives, and for the Conference itself.  Always remember, God loves you and I do too!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Parable of the Lobster

“God is our refuge and strength.... Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change....” (Psalm 46:1-2)

As our church staff undergoes significant change this summer as we say “goodbye” to some friends and “hello” to new ones, I thought it would be helpful for us all to remember the blessings and challenges of CHANGE – of being willing to stretch and become more than we already are.  The following modern day parable is a follow up to that message, and comes from Rev. Carolyn Wittwer of the New York Annual Conference by way of Rev. Doug Smith, former Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Morristown, Tennessee:

Long ago, when the world was very new... there was a certain lobster who determined that the Creator had made a mistake.  So he set up an appointment to discuss the matter.  “With all due respect,” said the lobster, “I wish to complain about the way you designed my shell.  You see, I just get used to one outer casing, when I’ve got to shed it for another; very inconvenient and rather a waste of time.”  To which the Creator replied, “I see.  But do you realize that it is the giving up of one shell that allows you to grow into another?”

“But I like myself just the way I am,” the lobster said.  “Your mind’s made up?” the Creator said.  “Indeed!” the lobster stated firmly.
“Very well,” smiled the Creator.  “From now on, your shell will not change... and you may go about your business just as you are right now.”  “That’s very kind of you,” said the lobster, and left.

At first, the lobster was very content with wearing the same old shell.  But as time passed, he found that his once light and comfortable shell was becoming quite heavy and tight.  After a while, in fact, the shell became so cumbersome that the lobster couldn’t feel anything at all outside himself.  As a result, he was constantly bumping into others. Finally, it got to the point where he could hardly breathe.  So with great effort, he went back to see the Creator.

“With all due respect,” the lobster sighed, “contrary to what you promised, my shell has not remained the same.  It keeps shrinking!”  “Not at all,” smiled the Creator.  “Your shell may have gotten a little thicker with age, but it has remained the same size.  What’s happened is that you have changed inside, beneath your shell.”
The Creator continued: “You see, everything changes... continuously.  No one remains the same.  That’s the way I’ve designed things.  And the wisest choice is to shed your old shell as you grow.”  “I see,” said the lobster, “but you must admit it is occasionally inconvenient and a bit uncomfortable.”

“Yes,” said the Creator, “but remember, all growth carries with it both the possibility of discomfort... and the potential for great joy as you discover new parts of yourself.  After all, you can’t have one without the other.” “That’s very sensible,” said the lobster. 

“If you’d like,” offered the Creator, “I’ll tell you something more.” “Please do!” encouraged the lobster.  “When you let go of your shell and choose to grow,” said the Creator, “you build new strength within yourself and in that strength you’ll find new capacity to love yourself... to love those around you... and to love life itself.  That is my plan for each of you.”

How is God calling you to stretch and change in your life?  in your faith?  What new thing(s) is He challenging you with lately?  In what ways are you being called to be more than you have been?  My hope and prayer is that even though change is often difficult and uncomfortable (even for a church staff), you and we will all welcome it as a tool from God to help us become who He wants us to be.  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

2014 Bishop's Offering

“Posterity will serve [God]; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.” (Psalm 22:30-31)

Many of you are aware that each year our Bishop of North Georgia United Methodism (Michael Watson) designates an annual “Bishop’s Mission Offering” to be collected by North Georgia United Methodist churches in the weeks leading up to Annual Conference, and then shared by each church’s delegates at a worship service during Conference.

This year, Bishop Watson has announced that our 2014 Annual Conference Bishop’s Mission Offering will support two worthy efforts to help young people thrive:  the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund (UMGAF); and ELI, the Experiential Leadership Institute of the North Georgia Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries. These two ministries address uniquely different aspects of physical, emotional, and spiritual health for young people, and this year’s Bishop’s Offering will be shared between both of them.

Look for the bulletin inserts in our weekly worship bulletins to find out more information about these projects, or CLICK HERE for information online.

I invite you to join me in participating in this special opportunity t make a difference in the lives and futures of young people with an over-and-above-your-regular offering financial gift.  To contribute, please make your check payable to East Cobb UMC and designate either it or cash to our “Bishop’s Mission Offering.” 

We’ll be collecting funds through June 8th, and will present our church’s combined check during the offering time at the Annual Conference afternoon worship service on Wednesday, June 11th.  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Graduate Scriptures

As we celebrate the accomplishments of all our graduates this week, here is collection of just a few Bible verses designed to remind them of the hope and faith they can have in God as they prepare for their future:

Joshua 1:9
...Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. 
(NIV)

Jeremiah 29:11
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (NIV)

Psalm 71:5
For You are my hope, O Lord GOD; You are my trust from my youth. 
(NKJV)

Psalm 119:9
How can young people keep their paths pure? By guarding them according to what [God] has said. (CEB)

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

Proverbs 3:5-6 
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own intelligence.  Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight.
(CEB)

Proverbs 19:21
Many plans are in a person’s mind, but the Lord’s purpose will succeed. (CEB)

Romans 8:28
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 
(NLT)

1 Timothy 4:12
Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live,
in your love, your faith, and your purity. (NLT)

Congratulations to all of our graduates!  And remember that God loves you and so do I!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Honoring Our Mothers

“‘Honor your father and mother’—this is the first commandment with a promise: ‘so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’”(Matthew 13:45-46)


The angel shook her head slowly and said, “Six pairs of hands... no way.” “It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” said the Lord. “It’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers need to have.” “That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel.

The Lord nodded: “One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks ‘What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when they goof up and still say ‘I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”Come to bed, Lord. You can finish tomorrow,” said the angel, touching God’s sleeve gently. “I can’t,” answered the Lord. “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she’s sick.... can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger... and can get a seven-year old to stand under a shower.”

The angel circled the model of a mother slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed. “But tough!” said the Lord. “You cannot imagine what this mother can do or endure.” “Can it think?” “Not only that, but it can reason and compromise,” said the Creator. Finally the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek. “There’s a leak,” she said. “It’s not a leak.... It’s a tear” said the Lord. “What’s it for?”It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness and pride.” “You’re a genius!” said the angel. “Now you know why I want them honored!” replied the Lord.

If you’re reading this on Sunday, it’s Mother’s Day and a great time to thank God for the mothers of our lives - those who gave us birth and those are like mothers to us. If you’re reading this after Sunday, then it’s still not too late! Take time right now to thank God for your mothers. Remember, we honor God as we honor them! And never forget that God loves you and I do, too

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Keeping the "Main Thing" the "Main Thing"

“Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

Recently a few of you have asked me about my thoughts on several controversial actions in society and the church such as the new Georgia Gun law, and a recent decision by our United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council

While these actions raise important questions for us all, I want to encourage and challenge us as people of faith to do something beyond simply the typical human response of “taking sides” in a way that judges others who disagree.  It’s okay to have opinions (even strong ones) about the issues at stake.  It’s okay to take stands about what you believe (and your church leadership will be finding ways to do this in appropriate ways in the near future).

In the meantime, however, I want to remind us all that life and faith together is not (and never should be) defined merely by our “positions” on any particular hot-topic or “litmus test” issue, but by our devotion and commitment to the one who is the Savior of us all:  Jesus Christ!  Whether we are gun-toters, gun-haters, pacifists, or militarists, Jesus wants to be our Lord! Whether we are gay, straight, conservative, progressive, agree that same-sex marriage is God’s will or think that those who do are “going to hell”, Jesus wants to be our Lord!  Whether we are “blue” Democrats, “red” Republicans, “green” Independents, or among those who refuse to be categorized one way or another, Jesus wants to be our Lord!

Simply put, our faith in Christ should be bigger than our faith or commitment to any particular political or theological position or issue.  For a person of Christian faith, Jesus is the main thing, and nothing else!  Let’s keep it that way and not let controversial issues divide us.  We can, should, and will discuss, share, disagree about issues, but let’s not let these cause us to be judgmental or disrespectful to anyone, especially to those with whom we disagree.  As the apostle Paul says above, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, make… every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

May the God who is bigger than any of our earthly “issues” or “positions” give us strength to rise above the behavior of the rest of the world – to model respectful dialogue and disagreement in love.  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!


Sunday, April 27, 2014

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)

Since mid-February, the following young people have been studying the Christian faith and our Methodist heritage as part of this year’s confirmation class at East Cobb U.M.C.  It was taught by our Minister of Youth and Young Adults Jim Huston.  The lively spirit and commitment of the participants was a true blessing to all! 

Today (April 27) at our 11:00am  worship service, each member of the class made their profession of faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and became a full “professing member” of our church:

Christopher Hunt      by Profession of Faith

Michelle Jones         by Profession of Faith

Matthew Jones          by Profession of Faith

Luke Loubser            by Profession of Faith

Piper Malcolm          by Profession of Faith

Connor Grant            by Christian Baptism

Please join in welcoming them and in celebrating what God through Christ is doing in and through the lives of our young people!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

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!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Paradox of Jesus

Think of yourself the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God, but... instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.”  (Philippians 2:5,8, The Message)

On that first Palm Sunday, with all the shouts of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”, one would have expected Jesus to enter Jerusalem on a mighty horse --a symbol of might and power. 
 
But instead, he chose a lowly donkey.  Before he could come as a King to reign, he had to come as a Savior to die.   Consider the many contrasts of Jesus' life, described by one writer:

            “He who is the Bread of Life began his ministry hungering;

             He who is the Water of Life ended his ministry thirsting;

             Christ hungered as a human, yet fed the hungry as God;

             He was weary, yet he is our perfect rest;

             He paid tribute, yet he is a King himself;

             He was called the Devil, yet he cast out demons;

             He prayed, and yet he is the one who hears our prayers;

             He wept, and yet he is the one who dries our tears;

             He was sold for 30 pieces of silver, yet he redeems sinners;

             He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, yet he is called 'The Good Shepherd';

             He who is the Resurrection gave up his own life, and by dying, he destroyed
                  death itself.”
 
As we begin Holy Week, it is good to recall the wondrous love that God has for each one of us in giving his only son for our salvation.  Remember, Jesus suffered and died then so that we might have victory and life today as Christians.
 
Our salvation might be free to us, but it cost Jesus everything! Blessed, therefore, is Christ, who comes in the name of the Lord!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

OUR "BESETTING SIN"

“One is tempted by one’s own desire.... Then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved.” (James 1:14-16)

I’ve shared this in the past, but as we continue our series on The Lord’s Prayer looking at the dangers of temptation and God’s power to help us overcome it, I thought this poem by Irene Holsted bears repeating (it’s the one I shared at the start of my April 6 sermon):  

            “There came a gentle tapping ‘let me in!’ 
               I opened and beheld a very little sin.
              He entered with apologies and scarcely raised his eyes
              As if abashed to contemplate tempting one so wise.

              I found myself amused at this and set out to explore
              This little cunning sin I’d let inside my door.
              I petted him and teased him & gave him bread & wine,
              Grew fond of him, then adopted him,
               this little sin of mine.

              He twined around my heartstrings & grew so very dear
               I loved him & assured myself he was too small to fear.
              He soon spied out my weakness & therein was the rub,
              He built himself a treadmill, my weakness at the hub.

               With every revolution my darling little sin
               Enlarged himself and multiplied over and over again.
               At last he stooped & lifted me & placed me on his knee,
               Now he is my besetting sin and makes a pet of me.”
                        [--Author Irene Holsted]

My prayer is that whatever “temptation(s)” or “besetting sin(s)” you are facing, you’ll trust Christ to walk with you to victory over them, lest you become a victim of them -- and always remember that I and all of our church’s pastors are available to help you privately and confidentially if you are struggling with something in particular, as well. 
 
Never forget that God loves you and I do, too (no matter what your “struggle” is)!