Thursday, June 21, 2018

Faith-Bits Welcomes McKendree UMC!

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may now that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)

I’d like to welcome members and friends of my new congregation (McKendree UMC in Lawrenceville, GA) to  “Faith Bits,” my blog about life and faith in the 21st-century.  Although I use this this forum primarily to host my Pastor’s articles for our church’s newsletter, you’ll also find here some of my personal thoughts and musings on life, faith and Christian living relating not only to our local church, but also to our local, state, national and world community at large. 

Over the course of time, within this forum you’ll find words and stories of inspiration, information, challenge and humor.  I encourage you to subscribe at right (i.e.,"Follow My Blog By Email") to receive all posts as they appear, remembering that I will sometimes post articles here that will not appear in our regular church newsletter.  And, as I designed this to be an interactive online forum (where my articles are merely discussion-starters), please feel free to share appropriate comments as you feel led (click on the “comment” link at the bottom of each post), and/or share them with a friend via email or social media.

Finally, on this blog you’ll also find “Links to Life” websites that can help resource you in your walk of faith, as well as resource links to a few of my sermons (and other materials) that address common questions of faith and spirituality that I’m often asked or that I hear.

In the same way and spirit as the apostle Paul writing letters to his congregations (letters that we today call “Epistles” in the Bible’s New Testament), my hope and prayer is that this blog -- “Faith Bits” -- will become a connection point not only for life within our faith community at McKendree UMC, but will also provide each of you with an important and trusted source (and resource) for your own personal walk with God.

Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

God Gives The Growth

"What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth." 
(1 Corinthians 3:4-7)

It's hard to believe that this will be my last newsletter to share with you as your Senior Pastor -- these past three years have come and gone so quickly!  As most of you know, I’ve been appointed to serve as the new Senior Pastor of McKendree UMC in Lawrenceville, GA, and the combined, blended worship service at 10:30am on June 17th will be my last time of worship with you. In the May edition of the FLAME, I shared a number of good things that I believe God has accomplished in and through our ministry together at LaGrange First UMC that has allows me to confidently be at peace about accomplishing exactly what God sent me here to accomplish.

Your new pastor, the Rev. Dr. John Beyers, will begin ministry with you on June 21st, and the combined 10:30am worship on following Sunday (June 24th) will be his first service with you.  You are in for a true blessing under John’s ministry and leadership!  But before I leave, let me ask you to do several things to help make this pastoral transition a smooth one:

1) Pray for and support John. Pray that God would prepare him for the move and give him a servant’s heart for you as God's people. Support him with your openness, friendship, presence, attitude, and enthusiasm.

2) Pray for Trish and I… that God may prepare to use us in a great way at McKendree UMC.

3) Don't compare. Remember, just as I was not Harold Lawrence, Greg Porterfield, or Gil Watson, so John Beyers is not Brian Germano.  So, don't compare or make hasty judgments based upon whether his ministry style is like mine or not -- it may be very different, but that may also mean that it's better suited to LFUMC’s present needs (just as my style may have been exactly what God knew we needed for the season that I was here)!

4) While LaGrange First will always hold a special place in my heart, please remember that I will no longer be your Pastor. While there's nothing wrong with keeping in touch with Trish and I as friends, please respect John’s role as your new Senior Pastor.  As such, allow him the privilege of doing your weddings, baptisms, counseling, etc – please do not ask me back to do those things except through John’s invitation (this is the Methodist way, by the way!)

5) Finally, let me encourage you to read carefully the scripture at the beginning of this article and remember that it is GOD who grows a church -- not Brian, John, or anyone else. “God gives the growth,” so we should give GOD the glory for the change and growth that has taken place over the last three years, and for the change and growth that God will bring through John, as well! After all, LaGrange First is not my church, your church, or John’s church – it is GOD’s church, and God is the one who causes it to grow.

As I close, let me leave you with some of Paul's words to the church at Philippi that accurately reflect the feelings that Trish and I have for you at LaGrange First, as well:

“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. ...This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. I want you to know, beloved         that what has happened to me has helped to spread the gospel!”                                                                                                                                            [--Philippians 1:3-6,9-12]

            Above all,... never, ever, ever forget that God loves you and I do, too!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Thoughts on "Being Sent"...

"The apostles and the elders... agreed to send some delegates chosen from among themselves to Antioch, together with Paul and Barnabas." (Acts 15:22)

If you were at worship on April 22, you'll know that it was announced that I will be reappointed ("sent") by our Bishop to serve as Senior Pastor of McKendree UMC in Lawrenceville, GA beginning June 21. While Trish and I are sad to be leaving LaGrange, we feel that we have accomplished what God sent us here to do, and are also excited about the possibilities for ministry in the place to which we (like Paul and Barnabas) are being sent.  In addition, I am confident that the person God is sending to follow me as your new Senior Pastor – Rev. Dr. John Beyers -- is His choice to lead you into the next stage of your future (read more about John in a separate article in the May 1, 2018 issue of the FLAME newsletter).

Most of you know that the process of moving (or "reappointing") pastors every so often (called the "Itinerancy") is one of the unique qualities of being a United Methodist pastor and congregation.  Based on the early church model of "sending/appointing" leaders, while it’s often  difficult when there is a pastoral transition, it does mean that our churches don't need to have "search committees" or hire interim pastors, and pastors don't have to go "sell" themselves on the "open market" in order to find a new church.  Instead, "no church is ever without a pastor," and "no pastor is ever without a church." 

What's more is that since no single pastor possesses all the leadership qualities necessary to lead an individual church, over the course of several pastoral tenures (over, say, 20-30 years), a congregation led by several pastors will be more well-balanced than one who's had only one or two in that time, since each pastor will bring to them differing leadership skills:  some pastors are better speakers; some better organizers; some are good visionaries; others more people-oriented; and some better with evangelism or missions; etc.  While all of these are important, each pastor brings differing strengths to a congregation needed at differing times in its history.

Most importantly, when our Itinerant system works properly, it encourages congregations to be built around the people, rather than around a particular pastor.  In doing so, it lessens the likelihood that church members turn the pastor into an idol by becoming merely a "cult following" of that pastor.  So as you can see, while our system is challenging when there are transitions, there are plenty of good reasons to have it.

That said, there’s been a lot that has been accomplished in my tenure as your Senior Pastor that I want to celebrate with you.  For example, together, we have…

● Discerned and articulated a more accurate understanding of our church’s unique MISSION (“Christians Serving with love, Caring with compassion, and Sharing with boldness”) and our almost-adopted new VISION (the first draft of which was shared by our Long Range Planning Committee at the recent Town Hall meetings).

● Overseen a reconstitution of our church staff to be better equipped for future ministry, and fostered a healthier sense of staff teamwork and camaraderie.

 Re-started ministries vital to any healthy church such as Disciple Bible Study, Stephen Ministry, an intentional Congregational Care ministry, a collaborative Worship planning team, and increased volunteerism (“every member in ministry”).

● Helped to bring our annual budget more in line with current giving patterns, resulting in savings that has enabled us to pay off our line of credit and fund most of our upcoming HVAC system upgrade capital project.

● Introduced church leadership to the healthier and more biblically sound process of decision making by Consensus.

● Engaged the church in more intentional Missional and Evangelistic initiatives such as Church on the Hooch, increased partnership with our El Salvador ministry, annual Rise Against Hunger meal-packing events, and Operation Christmas Child.

● Put our church back on LaGrange’s “ecumenical map" through our participation in and leadership of things such as the community Easter Sunrise Service at Sweetland Amphitheatre, the Lagrange Clergy Fellowship, Racial reconciliation events and services, and partnership opportunities with Warren Temple UMC, the Korean UMC of Lagrange, and the Gideons.

 Helped our LaGrange Korean UMC church finally to be able to purchase and transition to their own ministry facility here in town.

● Led us to embrace essential 21st-century ministry tools such as Online Giving, “Text-to-Give”, Direct Deposit for staff payroll, a redesign of our church website, and use of newer technologies as aids to/in worship.

● Helped our Safety & Security ministry to address pressing issues with new safety and security protocols.

All of these (and more) are just a few reasons that I can with confidence say I feel that I’ve accomplished what the Lord sent me here to accomplish with and among you.  But even as we celebrate these accomplishments, I ask that you please pray not only for me and my family as we prepare to leave, but also for John as he prepares to arrive and begin leading you in late June.

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

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Jesus Is On the Loose!

“The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:34-35)

A few years ago, Bishop Mike Coyner (a Bishop in our United Methodist Church) shared an experience he had while leading a  children’s moment during worship in which he was talking with the children about Easter.  He asked “What did it mean that the tomb was empty?”  And without missing a beat, one of them  replied enthusiastically “It means that Jesus is on the loose!”

Mike takes it from there:  “That child was right.  Easter is not about worshipping a Risen Christ who is captured in our stained-glass windows, or in our wonderful choir cantatas, or in beautiful Easter lilies, or even in dynamic sermons proclaiming ‘Christ is Risen!’  No, Jesus cannot be contained in our celebrations of Easter.  He is on the loose!  He is out ahead of us!  He is already leading the way into new life.  In fact, the message of Easter seems to be, ‘You just missed him.  He was just here, but he is gone already.’  What do we do with such a Jesus?  He won’t stay long in any one place.  He is always moving on to the next place of need.

I heard a story a few years ago about a church that voted to open its doors to a homeless shelter.  This caused quite a controversy in that staid, respectable, religious congregation.  In fact, one woman who opposed the idea confronted her pastor in great anger by yelling, ‘If Jesus knew you were letting those dirty people into our church, he would roll over in his grave!’  She had missed the whole point of Easter:  Jesus isn’t in his grave.  He is on the loose.  And he is leading us to do ministry in hard places, with difficult people, in circumstances that are not easy…..

So, let’s take time to celebrate Easter.  But then let’s hurry on to try to catch up with Jesus, because he’s still on the loose!”
            [--Bishop Mike Coyner, cited in the newsletter of Trinity-on-the-Hill UMC (Augusta, GA) April 20, 2001]

My prayer is that wherever you find yourself this Spring, you would remember that Easter is not a holiday on a calendar, but a spiritual event that should impact and guide all that we do and say as his followers.  Despite the reality of sin, turmoil and evil in our world, Jesus is still “on the loose”, working in the lives of those who will claim him.  Is he “on the loose” in YOUR life?

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Disturb Us, Lord

“Thus says the Lord,... Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

“Disturb us, Lord,
 When we are too pleased with 
 When our dreams have come 
 Because we have dreamed too little,
 When we arrived safely
 Because we sailed too close to the shore.

 Disturb us, Lord,
 When with the abundance of things we possess
 We have lost our thirst for the waters of life;
 Having fallen in love with life,
             We have ceased to dream of eternity
 And in our efforts to build a new earth,
 We have allowed our vision
 Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord,
To dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
            Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes.
And to push us into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.”

[--Attributed to Sir Francis Drake, 1577]

This month our church’s Long Range Planning Committee will be unveiling the first draft a new VISION direction for our church for the next 5-6 years. The committee spent all of 2017 working, praying, researching, brainstorming, and discerning God’s guidance in understanding what this Vision might include and entail. And soon, our entire congregation will be invited to attend two “Town Hall” meetings where we’ll all be able to hear where the committee has landed thus far, and to give input, feedback, and suggestions for “next steps.”

Consequently, while we still have a few more church-wide steps to take before our Vision can be adopted and begin to be implemented, it will eventually become a framework/standard that will guide our work and direction as a body of Christ into the foreseeable future as we seek to be “Christians SERVING with love, CARING with compassion, and SHARING Christ with boldness.”

So, as we here at LaGrange First UMC begin to think about where God is leading, my prayer is that we would be open to being “disturbed” a bit out of our comfort zones in order to hear and understand God’s call and Vision for us as a church!  I’ve heard it said before, “if God’s going to be our partner, then we better be prepared to have some big plans!”  May that be true for each of us, both corporately as a church and individually in our personal lives, as well.  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Message from our Bishop in Response to Florida School Shooting

In response to last week’s school shootings in Parkland, FL, please join as you feel led to this action step from our Bishop of North Georgia Methodism Sue Haupert-Johnson to address issues of mental illness, gun violence, and the protection of 
our children.

"I invite the churches of the North Georgia Annual Conference to join the Florida Annual Conference and others in a letter-writing campaign to our legislators to prioritize the safety of our children.  I know this is a difficult and polarizing issue, but I pray we can carry out our Lenten focus of having crucial conversations with hearts at peace regarding mental illness, guns, and the violence of our culture.  Below is a link with Bishop Carter's suggestions for action.  I am praying for all our churches as we grieve and lament this Sunday.  I yearn for the day when our flags are not flying at half-mast after such a tragedy.  ---Bishop Sue

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Power of Surrender

“…Not my will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42)

February 14th marks the beginning of the spiritual season known as “Lent.”  During the 46 days of this season (40 days of Lent plus 6 Sundays in Lent), one of the spiritual tools that we as Christians are invited and encouraged to use is “surrender”, or (closely related to it) “fasting.”  It is the voluntary giving up of earthly things in order to focus more intentionally on spiritual things/things of God.  Jesus showed us the fullest example of this practice in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed “not my will but yours be done” in reference to his own upcoming suffering and death. 

Yet, both the Bible and Christian history are full of other examples of God’s people willingly surrendering their own wants and desires so that God’s will and plan could be accomplished through them.  One of these was the founder of Methodism John Wesley.  Listen to words of admonition he wrote to his Methodists in 1755:

"In so giving yourselves to the Lord...Let Him appoint you to your work. Christ has many services to be done; some are more easy and honorable, others more difficult and menial. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests; others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves, as when he requires us to feed and clothe ourselves. Indeed, there are some spiritual duties that are more pleasing than others; as to rejoice in the Lord, to be blessing and praising of God. These are the sweet works of a Christian. But then there are other works, wherein we cannot please Christ but by denying ourselves, as in bearing and forbearing, reproving men for their sins, withdrawing from their company; witnessing against their wickedness; confessing Christ and His name, when it will cost us shame and reproach; sailing against the wind, swimming against the tide, parting with our liberties and accommodations for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
     (--From Wesley's “Covenant Renewal Service", 1755)

Twenty-five years later, he re-wrote his very popular New Year’s Covenant Service and ended it with a prayer that has come the illustrate the power of surrender for many Christians even today.   

"I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
To thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen."
            (--The “Covenant Prayer” from John Wesley's Covenant Service, 1780)

So, whether it’s giving up watching TV or social media time so you can spend more time reading your Bible, in prayer, or with your spouse and family, OR whether it's giving up money that you’d normally spend on coffee each day and contributing it to our “Change the World” Lenten collection for “Rise Against Hunger,” OR giving up dessert and replacing it with time spent in exercise at the gym, OR something else, my hope is that you will use Jesus’ simple prayer or one of Wesley’s to inspire you to find something unique about yourself that you can surrender to God.  You’ll find power in doing so!  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Online Monthly Newsletter is Here!

“...And the gospel must first be published to all nations...”_ 
(Mark 13:10, KJV)

For over 2000 years, Christians have sought to find effective ways to communicate the “good news” of the gospel with those around them.  In the earliest days this took the form of in-person, word of mouth communication to and with individuals and groups.  But even in these early days, there was always a need to communicate to those who were not directly present. That’s why early evangelists like Paul and Peter wrote letters to express their thoughts and feelings to Christians in churches and places far away -- the “Epistles” of our New Testament (books like Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Peter) are all examples of this kind of communication.

Much later, Christians in the Middle Ages used stained glass windows in cathedrals to communicate Bible and church stories, ideas, and theology to multitudes who were illiterate.  With the Renaissance, however, came a resurgence of literacy, along with the invention of the printing press, allowing for the mass publication of papers, books, and tracts to share news of the gospel.  Along with the printing of scripture, churches soon also started printing news of what God was doing in their midst -- printed congregational announcements, if you will.  By the 20th-century, these “announcement bulletins” morphed into what we today call church “newsletters” to let folks know what was going on in the life of a congregation. And now, nearly twenty years into the 21st-century, many are experiencing the next stage in this story of gospel and church communication: electronic communication, including online and emailed e-newsletters

Most of you probably already know that starting with this issue, our church’s “FLAME” newsletter will only be printed and mailed once per month, and that during the interim of each month, we will increasingly do more communication electronically. 

We’re not doing this to leave anyone out – we know that we have a significant number of members who either are not online at all, or who still prefer to receive printed content from the church via snail mail.  So, we’ll still have print copies available and mailed out. However, we also recognize that the majority of people today have the capability of receiving information online and/or via email.  Therefore, we’ll be adding email addresses to our current e-distribution list, as well as encouraging you to sign up to receive the FLAME electronically (to do this, visit our church's website and click on the red "Sign Up for Email Updates" box at the bottom right of the homepage).

This change not only reflects how most of our culture now processes information, but allows us as a church to be better stewards of our resources: it be more efficient from a resources standpoint; more importantly, it will help us “get the word out” more quickly, as well as allow us to provide more information than before. For example, in addition to the current content, we’ll have new monthly church calendars, regular column articles from ministry areas that we’ve not had regular columns from before, and other new items.

And while we won’t be adding weekly e-updates at this time (we don’t want to junk up your email box!), do be on the lookout for occasional emails during the month when there is important information we want to communicate with you about church activities and/or opportunities.

We pray that this new monthly format with occasional emailed updates will help you stay better connected with the work of Christ here at LaGrange First UMC as we go about fulfilling our mission of being “Christians… SERVING in love, CARING with compassion, and SHARING with boldness.”

For questions, comments, or suggestions about this transition, contact our Administrative Assistant Dodie Patterson via email or call her at the church office. In the meantime, we pray that you will enjoy this new way to keep in touch with the work of God through our church!  And remember, God loves you and I do too!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mary's Dream

"Mary treasured all these words [of the Shepherds] and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

“I had a strange dream, Joseph. I'm not sure, but I think it was about a birthday for our son. The people had been preparing for it for six weeks by decorating the house and buying new clothes. They'd gone shopping many times and bought elaborate gifts. It was peculiar, though, because the presents weren't for our Son. They were wrapped in beautiful paper and tied with lovely bows and stacked under trees. Yes, Joseph, a tree, right in their house -- with branches decorated and full of glowing balls and sparkling ornaments. And there was a figure on the top of the tree -- an angel I think.

Everyone was laughing and happy and all excited about the gifts, and they gave the gifts to each other, Joseph, not to our Son. I don't think they even knew Him. They never mentioned His name. Doesn't it seem odd for people to go to all that trouble to celebrate someone's birthday if they don't know Him? I had the strangest feeling that if our Son had gone to this celebration, He would have been intruding. Everything was so beautiful, Joseph, and everyone so happy, but it made me want to cry. How sad for Jesus -- not to be wanted at His own birthday party. I'm glad it was only a dream, though. How terrible, Joseph, if it had been real.”
[–By Lloyd D. Lance]

As we prepare for Christmas, please don’t get so caught in all the consumerism, partying, and family get togethers that you forget Jesus as the real “reason for the season”! Instead, make plans to focus on him by worshiping Christ on Christmas Eve at church with your family and friends. 

Because of the way the calendar falls, this year we’ll celebrate the fourth Sunday of Advent at our combined 10:30am worship service in the Sanctuary on December 24th. Then, we’ll celebrate Jesus’ actual birth at our two other services later that day (both in the Sanctuary): 
--5:00pm Candlelight Family and Children’s service, featuring a short children’s drama, carols, and short Christmas message
--11:00pm Candlelight Communion service, featuring traditional readings, carols, and Holy Communion

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate Jesus birth again on Sunday December 31st (the “first Sunday of Christmas”) with one combined worship service at 10:30am in the Fellowship Hall before we return to our regular three services on January 7th. And always remember that God loves you and do, too!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

1 Corinthians 13 - Christmas Version

“Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

“If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shining balls, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my relatives, I'm just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my spouse and in-laws, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crystal snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir's cantata but do not focus on Christ in my own household, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child or grandchild. Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the spouse or call the relative. Love is kind, though harried and tired. Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens. Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way. Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who can't.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust. But giving the gift of love to our families (and all people) will endure.”

As we prepare for the coming of Christmas, I pray that we will all recall love as the greatest gift we can offer each other, especially as we give it in and among each other as the family of God! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Three Ways To Be Thankful

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night.” (Psalms 92:1-2)

Back when I was still living at my parents' home, I remember hearing my pastor share a Thanksgiving sermon that was especially meaningful to me -- enough that I wrote down the main points and have kept them all these years!  As we prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, I share with you these same “Three Ways To Be Thankful” in the hope that they will inspire you as they did me.

During Thanksgiving, we are challenged to have…

1) Thankful Minds - learn to become aware of all the blessings given to you by God… your family, friends, health, and for people that helps us be the best we can be.  In the words of a famous hymn, “Count your many blessings, see what God has done.”  In other words, learn to acknowledge the outward blessings of God.

2) Thankful Hearts -- Philippians 4:6 says “Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking Him with a thankful heart.” Learn to be thankful for the inner, spiritual “gifts” of God in our lives… blessings that may not be outwardly apparent, but which one can choose to see as blessings with the right perspective.  This could include things like being “thankful” for being laid off, for an illness that causes us to see our need for (and reliance on) God even more, and even learning to be thankful for the troubles and trials of life that help us grow.  In other words, learn to acknowledge the inward blessings of God.

3) Thankful Hands -- James 1:22 says that we are to “be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”  “Hands” here represents our actions and deeds.  In other words, we are not called to keep our thankfulness of “mind” and of “heart” to ourselves.  Instead, we’re called to show thankfulness through what we do…  through our loving and caring for others, sharing their joys and sorrows, their good times and bad.

My prayer is that this Thanksgiving holiday, you’ll remember and enjoy God’s blessings in your life.  But more than that, I pray that you’ll also allow those blessings to inspire you to practice your thankfulness in the three ways above.  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Prayers for Sutherland Springs, TX

Our prayers go out to the members and friends of Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church in Texas after yet another tragic, senseless shooting that left 26 dead and at least 10 wounded during worship yesterday morning.

While no church or organization can fully prevent an occurrence like this, our church's Safety and Security Committee will be meeting very soon to formulate more proactive response practices  for our church, not only hopefully to lessen the chances of tragic acts such as this occurring, but also to minimize potential injuries if it did.  If you would like more information about how you can be involved in this effort, please contact our church office.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

LFUMC’s 2017 “Rise Against Hunger” Event

“When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.” (John 6:12-13)

On behalf of our Missions Committee, I’m pleased to invite you to participate in our second annual “Rise Against Hunger” packing event (formerly called "Stop Hunger Now”) on Sunday, November 12 from 12:30-2:00pm in the MMC, where we will be packing 20,000 meals for those in need around the world.  

This ministry is a world-wide interfaith initiative (started by a United Methodist minister in 1998, by the way) designed to help people in developed communities like our own combat hunger and starvation in developing communities around the world.

Some of you remember that we sponsored this same event last year, but due to its popularity we moved it from the worship and Sunday School hour to after lunch so that you could invite friends, relatives and neighbors from other churches to help pack.  Plus, your generosity through last year’s Lenten change collections allowed us to significantly increase the number of meals we’ll be packing.

We’ll begin that day with a lite soup and sandwich lunch (donations accepted) in the Small Dining Room in shifts beginning at 12Noon, then move into the Fellowship Hall about 12:30pm for the packing event, which will be a great service opportunity for appropriate for children, youth, college students, and adults. If you know that you’ll be participating, please help us prepare by registering ahead of time HERE.

Remember, Jesus fed over 5000 with the simple offering of one little boy’s lunch.  At our event, we’ll be preparing meals to feed four times that number!  Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind when he spoke the words of John 14:12-14, “whoever believes in me will do even greater works than these [that I do].”

So, on November 12th, dress casually for Sunday School and worship, enjoy lunch at 12Noon, and then join your fellow church members as we “rise against hunger” in the name of Jesus!  And don’t forget that God loves you and I do, too!

[P.S., to find out more about this initiative, visit their website HERE]

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Why I Tithe

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse… and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” (Malachi 3:10)

“With my tithe I seal a bargain, with my tithe I pay a debt.
With my tithe I serve a purpose that my God will not forget.

With my tithe I fish for sinners, with my tithe I find the lost.
With my tithe I gird the winners, with my tithe I share the cost.

With my tithe I love my neighbor, with my tithe I pass a test.
With my tithe I clothe God’s image in a form one-tenth divine.

With my tithe I build a temple, with my tithe I feed its fire.
With my tithe I still a yearning of my soul’s innate desire.

With my tithe I heal the stricken, with my tithe they rise again.
With my tithe I walk with giants, in the wake of Godly women and men.

With my tithe I walk in honor where the great and strong have trod.
With my tithe I store my treasures in the treasure house of God!”
                              [--Written by Peter E. Long]

My wife Trish and I have tithed faithful to God through our church for nearly 28 years, and God has never yet let us down, even in tight financial times -- it’s the first check we write when we get paid (or, these days, the first online payment we set up).  The “tithe” (the first 10% of our gross income) is a tool shared in the Bible that helps us be faithful to God, enabling Him to be faithful back to us. 

So, are you honoring God in how you use your financial resources, starting with a tithe back to Him?  Even if you’re not able to tithe immediately, are you willing to take a step forward and move towards it now so that you can eventually tithe in the near future? 

I pray that as we on October 29th share in “Commitment Sunday” for our “TREASURE” stewardship journey, you will prayerfully consider tithing (or moving towards a tithe) as an important step of faith in your spiritual life.  It’s never too late to start!  You’ll be blessed by it as is anyone who does it!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

TREASURE: Investing in God through our Living and Giving

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

 What do you most want to be investing your life in?

• What are you actually investing it in?

Our honest answer to these questions may surprise us.  Often we think that our treasure (our time, talents, energy, and money) follows our hearts and passions.  But in the scripture above, Jesus suggested just the opposite – that whatever and wherever we invest our treasure, our hearts will follow after that.

It’s no wonder, then, that many of us feel a sense of tension about our lives and our finances.  We want to give our lives to our church, our family, our God. Instead, our hearts follow our debts, our bills, our jobs, and often we don’t even realize it. We are left feeling stretched, conflicted, and empty.  

What we often fail to consider is how much our view and use of treasure affects our heart. It’s true that “treasure” involves more than money.  But money IS a big part of the problem in many of our lives.  Whether we’re in plenty or in want, money has a direct connection to our stress level, our anxiety, and the health of our relationships.

It’s no wonder, then, that Jesus talked about the relationship between our treasure and our hearts. And because he cared so much about our hearts, he therefore talked about what we do with our treasure.

Each Sunday October 8-29 in a new series called “TREASURE,” we’ll explore Jesus’ teachings about treasure found in the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 6.  We’ll consider how financial challenges in our personal lives affect our relationships both with people and with God. We’ll see how giving helps to determine the way we feel and act. Most importantly, we’ll discover how we can experience the power found in making God our ultimate treasure through our living and giving.

Then at all three worship services on October 29 (“Celebration/Commitment Sunday”), we’ll have the chance to begin to make personal investments of our treasure in God through our church in the coming year through the sharing of either a physical or online commitment.

At the end of these four weeks, it’s my prayer that we’ll all have a better awareness not only of what we invest our lives in, but also of how we can do a better job making God our ultimate treasure through our living and giving.  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Praying for Victims in Las Vegas

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

In the wake of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, what can or should be said?  Words have escaped me most of today.  Like most of you, I am still in shock over how and why this happened.  While there will certainly be things we can commit ourselves to do and be about in the days and weeks ahead, in the meantime I simply want to offer two scripture passages that speak to me -- I pray they will for you, as well:

Psalm 130:1-8

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord -- my Lord, listen to my voice!
Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy! If you kept track of sins, Lord-- my Lord, who would stand a chance? But forgiveness is with you--that's why you are honored. I hope, Lord. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God's promise. My whole being waits for my Lord—more than the night watch waits for morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for morning! Israel, wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God! He is the one who will redeem Israel from all its sin

Isaiah 43:1-5a (The LFUMC staff shared and prayed this earlier today as part of our weekly staff meeting) 

But now, says the Lord—the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel:
when through the rivers, they won't sweep over you.
Don't fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; 
When you walk through the fire, you won't be scorched and flame won't burn you.
I am the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, your savior.
I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place.
Because you are precious in my eyes, you are honored, and I love you.
I give people in your place, and nations in exchange for your life.
Don't fear, I am with you. 

Here’s a few additional faith-responses and resources that you are invited to prayerfully read and consider:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

World Communion Sunday - One In Spirit

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,... that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

"I'm Methodist." "I'm Baptist." "I'm Catholic."  "I'm non-denominational.” “I’m just plain Christian!” With all our different labels and so many varieties of Christianity, no wonder non-Christians get confused when we try to share our faith in Jesus with them! 

Yet, consider the fact that our differences in belief and practice need NOT keep us apart in heart and spirit. Reflect, for example, on the words of John Wesley (founder of Methodist Christianity), spoken in one of his sermons over 250 years ago:

“Although we do not think or worship 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.  Every wise person... will allow others the same liberty of thinking which they desire others to... allow them. One should only ask... 'is thy heart right with God? Dost thou believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?  Is he revealed in thy soul?  Is thy faith... filled with the energy of love?  Do you show your love by your works?... 'If thine heart is as my heart,' if thou lovest God and all humankind, I ask no more -- 'give me thine hand.'"                                                                                             (--From Wesley’s sermon Catholic Spirit)

Remember, when we get to heaven, God won’t ask what denomination or Christian tradition we belonged to. But He WILL ask (and know) what’s in our hearts!  With that in mind, I hope you’ll join me on October 1st for World Communion Sunday worship!

As we’ve done in the past, we’ll have one combined, blended worship service at 10:30am in the Sanctuary with our sisters and brothers in Christ from the Korean United Methodist Church of LaGrange. Their Pastor (Rev. Daniel Kim) will help lead us in worship, and the Korean church choir will join both our BRIDGE praise band and choir in leading our singing. I hope you’ll join me as we celebrate our oneness with Christ in heart and spirit across cultures and the globe, starting right here in our own backyard with our Korean friends!  And remember, God loves you and I do, too!