Thursday, December 1, 2016

Travel Tips for Advent

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” (Isaiah 40:3)

The Christian season of Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day) is often called a season of preparation.  Not only are we preparing for the holiday of Christmas physically (with decorations, Christmas cards, shopping, parties, etc.) but also spiritually (by looking within ourselves for how God wants us to grow in our love towards Him and others).

With that in mind, a number of years ago I read an article detailing several “travel tips” that can help us spiritually “prepare” for our “journey” through Advent:

1) PACK LIGHTLY: One of the indicators that our annual Christmas buying neurosis has gone wrong is this idea that those who give the most, and get the most, matter the most.  Such mistaken reasoning leads us to teach our children that Christmas is the annual bash we put on for ourselves, all the while trying to believe Bethlehem’s boy child is the “reason for the season.”  …But this myth can’t be disguised forever.  This year, why not pack lightly?  Rather than “shopping til you drop,” drop to your knees and ask the One Who Comes what he would have you do to make ready HIS coming.

2) WALK SLOWLY: Am I the only person who notices how rushed we get the closer “it” gets?  Was it only a few weeks ago that we started seeing signs saying “only 44 more days”?  Slow down.  Take time to sip cider with your mate.  Hug your kids.  Tell them the Advent-Christmas story and then live the story before them.  Refuse to sing Silent Night from a noisy heart.  Simply put, make the powerful emotions of these days your servants, not your master.

3) LISTEN CAREFULLY:  Someone you love very much is talking, saying something really important, maybe even life-changing.  Listen carefully and, who knows, you may hear the night wind speak to the little lamb saying “a child is born.” I can’t prove it, much less illustrate it, but I’m almost certain that most of us on the journey miss half the joy because we’re too busy talking; the sound of our own importance has drowned out the promise of “I am coming soon.”

4) LOOK WISTFULLY:  Where, you ask, should I look?  My best advice is:  none of the obvious places.  Those who traffic in seasonal things know what easy prey most of us are.  “Get them in the stores, turn on the music and lights, plop the man dressed in red in the middle of it all and, bingo, it’s Christmas.”  But the truth is that only those who look wistfully beyond what IS to the One who COMES really experience the mystery and miracle of Advent.  Why? Because Advent is a journey we take into the reality of the journey God made in Christ.  That journey, which included stops at such places as a stable, a hillside, a cross, and an empty tomb, had one purpose:  to love the likes of you and me back to the God who created us.

So, journey on, fully aware that at destination’s end is the one who loves you and gave himself for you.  “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”
            [--Shared by Dr. Timothy Owings in an editorial in The Augusta
            Chronicle newspaper (August, GA), December 1997]

As we continue to prepare for Christmas this Advent season, I invite you to allow these “tips” to become a reality in your life, as I seek to have them do in my own! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, November 21, 2016

What I'm Thankful For


 “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:18)


This past year I have had much to give God thanks for.  Here are just a few.  I am thankful...


...for a wife who models the love of God by loving me just as I am, warts and all!
…for a daughter who makes Trish and I proud not only because of what she does but more  importantly because of who she is and the beautiful woman of God she’s become.
…for our daughter’s fiancé who Trish and I will be proud to call “son” next June for being the good fiancé he is to our daughter and the great father he already is for our granddaughter.
…for our nearly 2 year old granddaughter who is so full of life, energy, excitement and curiosity about the new world that she is discovering.
...for parents who raised me in church to love, understand, and eventually follow the ways of God.
...for a church family who loves, supports, and prays for both my family and myself daily.
...for all of my fellow staff members -- Blake, Andy, Darian, Harrison, CJ, Grayson, Avery, Rick, Dodie, Patti, Lisa, Scott, Jordan, Eddie, and Jane -- who, together with me, share in the cause and work of Christ through our church.
…for church members who love me in spite of the fact that we “go over” in worship far too many Sundays due to long-winded preaching!
...for Sunday School and Bible study teachers/leaders who live out their faith in the selfless way they lead and teach.
...for committee and ministry team chairpersons and members who give “above and beyond” to the work of Christ through their participation in and leadership of our church’s ministries.
...for the “behind-the-scenes” members of our sound, multi-media ministries and those who help prepare our bulletins and newsletters in the essential work that they do.
...for the members of our praise team, adult, and children’s choirs for the blessing and inspiration they share through their music.
…for all the volunteers and staff of our church nursery who give tirelessly of themselves to make sure our children are safe and happy.
...for church members who roll up their sleeves and pitch in to be part of "the answer", rather than whining about what someone else is not doing to fix "the problem."
...for all the great volunteers who lovingly help in all of our Sunday night and Wednesday evening activities
...for church members who are willing to make God a priority
through their financial giving to His church.
...for fellow Christians who’re willing to step outside themselves by participating in serving 
and/or sharing ministries both locally and overseas.
…most importantly, for God who gave his son for me to give me forgiveness and salvation when I didn’t deserve it, and for giving me life and hope in the midst of a hectic world!

Of course, there’s many, many more, but have you “counted your blessings” lately?  When you do, I’m sure you’ll find that, like me, you have many things for which to “give thanks.”  Let us all strive to live out our thankfulness this Thanksgiving holiday!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

FOR WHAT ARE YOU THANKFUL???

Thursday, November 10, 2016

LFUMC’s “Stop Hunger Now” 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)

Some quick facts about world hunger:

● Approximately 792.5 million people in the world do not get the food they need to live a healthy life.  That’s nearly one out of every nine people on earth, with 98% of those living in developing nations. In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, one in every four people are hungry.

● Hunger kills more people each year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

● Nearly 50 percent of people living in extreme poverty are 18 years old or younger, and poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year.  

● 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone. The poorest 20 percent of the world’s children are about twice as likely as the richest 20 percent to be stunted by poor nutrition and to die before their fifth birthday.
                        [--Sources cited at the “Stop Hunger Now” website]

These figures regarding world hunger are alarming. Thankfully, our world today possesses the science and technology to properly address this dilemma, if we will but choose to do so. That’s why I’m pleased to invite you to participate in a new ministry hosted by our church called “Stop Hunger Now,” a world-wide interfaith initiative begun in 1998 by a United Methodist pastor and designed to help people in developed communities like our own combat hunger and starvation in developing communities around the world.

This coming Sunday (November 13) from 9:30-11:30am in the MMC, we’ll be packing 12,000 meals (2000 packets x 6 meals per packet).  We’ll begin in the Chapel at 9:00am with a short worship celebration, then at 9:20am move into the Fellowship Hall to continue “worship-in-action” through the packing event, which will provide a service great opportunity for appropriate for children, youth, college students, and adults.

Though the event itself will serve in place of both our two early morning worship services and most of our church’s Sunday School classes, our 11am service will take place as usual in the Sanctuary.  Also, while this is the first time our church has sponsored this event, some of you may already be familiar with it from previous events hosted both by LaGrange College and by other area churches.

Remember, Jesus fed over 5000 with the simple offering of one little boy’s lunch.  On November 13, we’ll be preparing meals to feed even more than that!  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, dress casually and join us at 9:00am in the Chapel on November 13th as we seek to “stop hunger now” 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] 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Top 10 Truths No Matter Who Wins the Election

1.                  The Bible will still have all the answers.
2.                   Prayer will still work.
3.                  The Holy Spirit will still move.
4.                  God will still inhabit the praises of His people.
5.                  There will still be God-anointed preaching.
6.                  There will still be singing of praise to God.
7.                  God will still pour out blessings upon His people.
8.                  There will still be room at the Cross.
9.                  Jesus will still love you.
10.              Jesus will still save the lost when they come to Him.

BONUS: No matter who holds the title of president, God is still KING!!

P.S. God approves this message

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

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Introducing Online Giving & Text-to-Give

“Your generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us.”
(2 Corinthians 9:11)

I’m pleased to announce two new ways that you can now give to God through the ministries of LaGrange First UMC:  (1) Online Giving through our church website; and (2) Text-to-Give through your own smart phone.

Both methods accept donations either from checking accounts (EFT direct debit), debit cards, and credit cards (although we encourage givers to use the checking account method, as this is the lowest cost option for the church and the most financially sound method for the giver).  What’s more is that your giving can be made either as a one-time gift, or can be scheduled as recurring donations with several giving options.  If you are a church member, you can even choose to link your giving to your online member profile via a link emailed to your inbox.

Overall, these new options make life easier for you while also yielding significant benefits for your church:
● Your transactions are financially safe and secure
● Setting up your giving takes just a few easy steps
● Recurring donations help you to create consistent and faithful giving, resulting in a more stable base of income so that your church can more easily focus on its mission
● Online giving helps your church be more efficient through simplified accounting and gift processing
● Your current and past giving records (which only you can see) are immediately viewable online - there’s no need to wait for a paper statement

Of course, our traditional giving choices remain: members and guests may continue to give cash or checks using our paper  envelopes during worship on Sunday mornings, or by mailing them to the church office during the week.  But these two forms simply add two new ways to give.  And in the weeks to come, those using these giving methods can also participate in the Sunday offering symbolically by placing an “I Give Electronically” donation card in the offering plates/baskets.

To give online, simply follow the instructions on the “giving” tab of our church website, or text “LGFUMC” to “73256” to use Text-to-Give.

My wife and I have chosen to use online giving as our preferred method of giving our tithes and offerings to LaGrange First UMC, and I invite you to join us in this if you are so inclined.  But regardless of how you give, know that your giving (your “generosity”) produces thanks to God through your church!  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

first: putting GOD first in living & giving

“Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all
these things will be given to you as well”  (Matthew 6:33)

Do we worship idols? The answer may surprise you.  During this month, our church will hear about God’s generosity and our response as we experience our stewardship program, first: putting GOD first in living and giving, developed by author and pastor Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church.

We are made in God’s image and are meant to be creators of life and hope, not the consumers of our culture’s shiny gods.  We have the ability to change the world and create a legacy that will live forever in the lives of generations to follow. That legacy starts when each of us takes the hard steps of financial discipline and fulfilling the call to generosity that God has placed in all of us.

The goal of this stewardship program is not to make anyone feel guilty, nor is it to say that any of us have to be exactly like someone else.  No, the goal is for all of us to ask questions of ourselves and be open to the possibility that God will lead us in new directions in our lives.

During the four-week program, we’ll be challenged in a number of different ways.
            ● We’ll be asked to look for the idols in our own lives (Hint: Most of them aren’t animals made of gold) and name the ways these idols enslave us, holding us back from living in the true freedom that God desires for us.
            ● We’ll be challenged to consider the place that money, work, and debt have in our own lives. What are our common understandings of these, and might the witness of Scripture lead us to some different understandings?
            ● We’ll be challenged to ask ourselves what it means for us to be faithful, to save, and to give. How do we balance all the competing interests in our lives? What priorities does God want us to have?
            ● Finally, on Sunday, October 23 (“Celebration/Commitment Sunday”), we’ll be challenged during one combined and blended 10:30am worship service in the Sanctuary to give with our hearts, not out of obligation or a sense of duty and not just when we think the recipient deserves our gift. We’ll be challenged to give the way God gives -- freely, fully, with no favorites or expectations of repayment.  We’ll follow that service with a great church-wide luncheon: we’ll provide the BBQ; you provide the side dishes.

It’s my prayer that, at the end of these four weeks, we’ll all have begun to grow into the individuals and church that God knows we can be. So, as a response to God’s invitation through this stewardship program, I invite you to join me putting GOD first both in your living and your giving.  And always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Our Church's New Mission Statement

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock…” (Matthew 7:24)

“Effective vision for the future always rises out of the realities of the present and past."  That's a truth which has guided our church this past year as we embarked on the first phase of a 2-3 year process for us to become more effective in ministries and outreach.

That phase, you may know, has involved us seeking to better understand the realities of who we ARE as a church (our Mission/Purpose/DNA, if you will), so that next year (2017) we can begin the next phase to help us discover who God is calling us to BECOME (His Vision).

We began last March by inviting you to share your thoughts about our current identity in a congregational survey, of which 130 were turned in.  The results of those surveys, combined with further research of our church’s history this past Spring and Summer, helped our church's leaders to realize that the mission statement we previously had did not adequately or accurately articulate the unique essence of our identity as a church.

Consequently, at its August 23 meeting, our Church Council adopted a new mission statement that we believe both clarifies and captures the essence of our specific identity – that as a church, we are…

“Christians SERVING, CARING, and SHARING
in our faith, family, community and world”

While this statement alone will not get people to visit us or grow our church, nevertheless it will form a firmer foundation (a “rock” as the scripture says above) upon which our Vision for the future (which – when implemented – will grow our church) can be successfully built.

So, “where do we go from here” you ask?  The following are the steps remaining in our process to become more effective in our ministries and outreach:
            ● September-December: employ firm to begin work on new logo/”brand” graphic, and do preparatory work to lay groundwork for 2017 VISION process
            ● January-May 2017: VISION discovery and discernment, involving several distinct processes and tasks
            ● May-August 2017: VISION articulation, adoption, and sharing with congregation
            ● Fall 2017: beginning of VISION implementation

I wanted you to see where we were in this process so you can be aware not only of what has been done, but also of what is still to come.  If you have questions about any of this, please don’t hesitate to contact me either in person, by phone, or email.  And remember that God loves you and I do, too!


(P.S. I invite you to read the “Reclamation” series sermons that unpacks the complete three phrases of this new mission -- readthese sermons HERE

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Is God Calling You to Stephen Ministry?

“[God] consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Stephen Ministry is a new lay-caring ministry that our church is re-starting in 2017 that will enable us as a church to care for one another in the way Paul describes above.  With over 1100 members, it’s impossible (and impractical) for our two Pastors to be able to take care of all the congregational care needs of our church.  So, our Stephen Ministry is therefore one of the vital complementary components of our church’s care systems.

Stephen Ministers themselves are fellow church members who’ve gone through 50 hours of training to provide confidential, one-to-one Christian care for people who’re facing a crisis or simply going through a tough time. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, loneliness, cancer, a layoff, relocation, divorce, a spiritual crisis, recuperation, single parenthood, or any of countless other life challenges or hurts, our Stephen Ministers are there!

The way the system works is this:  Stephen Ministers meet with someone in need (called a “care-receiver”) once week for around an hour to listen, care, pray, and provide emotional and spiritual encouragement.  Men are matched with male Stephen Ministers, and women are matched with female Stephen Ministers. The caring relationship is free, and lasts for as long as the care-receiver needs the care – it’s a powerful way either to receive help for ourselves, or also a great way to help a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or relative who’s been struggling in any way.

Consequently, this Fall we are recruiting a new class of Stephen Ministers who will start their training in early 2017 and be commissioned to begin their work in early Spring. To find out more about how you or someone you know can become one of our church’s Stephen Ministers, you’re invited to attend one of our no-string-attached “Stephen Ministry Information Sessions” on October 2, 5, or 19 (look for details about these in upcoming articles).  

Or you can also either email our Stephen Ministry leadership, speak in person with our church's Stephen Leader Miriam Kelly, or to Pastor BrianTo find out more about Stephen Ministry, visit their website HERE

Our Stephen Ministry is here to for you and for our congregation and community!  I pray that you will prayerfully consider if God might be calling you to care for others through this ministry!  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Gideon Sunday

"The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  (Hebrews 4:12)

“Gideons, International” is the result of a meeting back in 1908 between two businessmen who wished to band commercial travelers together for evangelism. What began back then as an association of Christian businessmen placing Bibles in hotel rooms has evolved today into an interdenominational ministry  providing people access to God’s Word all around the world.

To date, over 2 billion scriptures have been distributed in more than 200 countries, territories, and possessions in 95 languages. Not only do they distribute God’s Word for free in hotel rooms (for which most of us are familiar), but also in prisons, military units, schools, hospitals, “on the streets,” and in many other places.  And while they are not a church, they nevertheless partner with churches  like ours to make possible God’s ministry through them.

I remember first hearing with fondness about the amazing work that they do growing up as a young boy in my home United Methodist church in College Park, GA.  Many United Methodists are part of this ministry (including several of our own LFUMC members), and I want to encourage us as a church to re-engage in their local ministry here in LaGrange/Troup County.

As part of this re-connection, on Sunday, September 4th we will be hosting “GIDEON SUNDAY” where we will welcome two speakers from our local Gideon chapter to speak at all of our morning worship services that day:  Mr. Don Seal will speak at our Chapel and Sanctuary services; and Mr.Jeff Miller will speak at our Morning Glory service.

I hope you will join Blake and I that Sunday not only in welcoming them, but to come prepared to have our hearts touched and challenged by the possibilities and opportunities for renewed partnership with Gideons, International through our church.  And I invite you also to come prepared to share your generosity in a special offering.  For more information about the Gideons ministry, visit www.gideons.org .  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

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 the early Fall!  So, mark your calendars for Homecoming Sunday on August 28, from 10:30am to 12:30pm, complete with food, fellowship, and worship featuring the preaching of former Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Greg Porterfield (currently Senior Pastor of Wesley UMC in Evans, GA near Augusta). 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!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Back to School... Back to Church

“Return to me and I will return to you, says the Lord of heavenly forces.” (Malachi 3:7b)

This next week our children will be heading back to school to start a new school year.  This should be a reminder to the rest of us that it’s also time to start back to church if we’ve gotten out of the habit over the summertime!  And just so everyone feels welcome and “at home”, here are some special new things we’ll be providing this Fall:

--Cots will be placed in the Narthex for those who say ‘Sunday is my only day to sleep late’

--Steel helmets will be provided for those who say ‘The roof would cave in if I ever came to church!’

--Blankets will be furnished for those who say the church is too cold, and fans will be given to those who think it’s too hot.

--We’ll have hearing aids available for those who say ‘the preacher talks to soft’, cotton for those who think that he talks too loud, and a few “Slow Down” road signs for those who think he talks too fast.

--There will be TV dinners for those who say they can’t go to church and cook lunch for their family at the same time.

--We’ve renovated part of our Sanctuary to have grass and trees for those who feel closest to God in nature, and part of the grassy area will have a putting green for those who think that Sunday morning should be for golfing.

--We’ve turned some of the pews to face backwards, so that those who say ‘I’ll come to church when I get my life turned around’ will feel at home without ever having to do that.

--We’ve also built several small, private rooms connected to the Sanctuary for those who say that they worship God at home alone, by themselves.

--And finally, the Church will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never been to church without them!

Okay, I admit it… we’re not really doing all of these things.  But it does highlight some of the many silly excuses we use for not coming to church.  This Fall as our children head back to school, why not put away your excuses and renew the habit of coming back weekly to the place where you can meet and grow with God, fellowship with people who care about you, and find a sense of purpose and meaning to life. 

“Seven days without worship make one weak!”  I hope that won’t apply to you!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Power of the Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ, 
Pastor Brian

Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Christian Response to Injustice & Violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Upcoming Worship Opportunities at LaGrange First UMC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, June 23, 2016

RE-UNION SUNDAYS IN JULY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jesus and the Way of Violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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