Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Annual Conference Is Here!

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

This week as you read this article, over 2800 delegates representing the 1000 churches and 364,000+ United Methodists in North Georgia will have gathered at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia for the “North Georgia Annual Conference” with the theme ““Show Your Work: Creative Worship That Inspires Action.”  Linda Frano, Trish Germano, Blake Trent, and myself are all attending as our church’s delegates, and others from our church will also be attending on behalf of our LaGrange District.

Each year's Annual Conference makes important decisions that affect every United Methodist church in our geographic area: approval and ordination of new clergy and retirement of older ones; appointments of pastors to local churches are finalized (we celebrate that our Bishop – Sue Haupert-Johnson - has re-assigned both myself and Blake Trent to LaGrange First UMC as your Senior and Associate Pastor, respectively); adoption of the conference budget; support for and reports from conference missions and ministries; exciting worship and bible study opportunities to enrich our spiritual lives; present our “Bishop’s Offering” (to support our denomination’s Ministerial Education Fund”); and more!

Upon our return, we’ll be available to report on important decisions that were made, and how these might affect us as a congregation.  In the meantime, you can find more information about Annual Conference (as well as “real time” updates) on our North Georgia Conference website (www.ngumc.org and click on the 2017 Annual Conference banner).  Also, thanks for your prayers, both for ourselves as your representatives, and for the 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Camp Viola 2017

When you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

In case you’re not familiar with it, Camp Viola provides a safe camp environment for the spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional development of underprivileged, economically challenged children of Troup County and adjoining areas.

Each week during the summer, at least one of 12 area churches and organizations (including LFUMC) provides volunteers and leaders to supplement camp staff to host 40-50 rising 3rd through 5th Graders in experiencing programs for spiritual enrichment (such as Bible study and worship) and various outdoor activities (such as swimming, hiking, canoeing, and other sports). Through these experiences, the goal is that each participant will come to grow in or discover Christian faith, better appreciate nature, develop friendships, and enhance their own personal abilities, all within confines of a safe and caring learning environment.

This year, June 5-8th is the sponsoring week for OUR church, and our participation is one way that we carry out our mission of being “Christians SERVING in love, CARING with compassion, and SHARING Christ with boldness.“  For many years, Rick Free has done a wonderful job serving as the Director for our church’s sponsor/host week. 

In the stewardship article found in your most recent giving statement, Rick had the following to say, “Camp Viola… is the best chance we have each year to make a difference in the lives of children we do not know and would probably never know.  Our goal each year is give around 40 kids who have very little a week of love and care…Most of all, these kids love a little attention. That’s what we try to do… to let them know they are special and are cared for.”

If you’ve read the information in the latest issues of both our newsletter and Sunday bulletins, you’ll know that Rick is still in need of volunteers. At present, we still need…
            ● Volunteers in the kitchen to help prepare meals each morning Mon.-Thurs.
            ● Chaperones for activities each day and night Mon.-Thurs.
            ● Volunteers to assist children with Arts & Crafts on Monday and Tuesday.

Any help is needed for any of these times!  You don’t have to volunteer for the whole week…one or two afternoons, one morning, one evening, or whatever time you can give will be helpful and appreciated not only by Rick and the camp staff, but more importantly by the children campers.

So, I hope you will join me in volunteering to help out in some capacity that week (I’ll be leading one of the Bible study times). For more information or to volunteer, email Rick or call him through the church office (706-884-4635).  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

2017 Bishop's Offering

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)

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

This year, Bishop Sue has announced that our 2017 Bishop’s Mission Offering will support United Methodism’s Ministerial Education Fund (MEF) to provide educational funds for seminary students and licensed local pastors – resources to help train upcoming pastors and church leaders. This past year (since Fall 2016), 163 North Georgia seminary students enrolled in United Methodist seminaries and Asbury seminary received $430,010 in MEF grants for tuition and associated expenses.  And while it’s true that the main source of MEF is through General Church apportionments given by United Methodists in our local churches, this year’s Bishop's Offering will supplement the apportioned funds. Since a recent General Board of Higher Education commissioned study showed that a typical UM seminary student graduates with an average student loan debt of $50,000, these grants will enable some who are otherwise unable to attend seminary, and will enable others not to need to go into debt simply to receive a seminary degree.

Visit the following link to watch a short video featuring some of our North GA beneficiaries of MEF.  The need is great, the mission is worthwhile, and the results provide called, gifted and educated pastors for our churches throughout North Georgia United Methodism.  So, I invite you to give generously to help men and women around our state to answer God’s call to serve His church.  Make your check payable to LaGrange First UMC and designate either it or cash to “Bishop’s Mission Offering.” 

We’ll be collecting funds through June 7th, and will present our church’s combined check during the offering time at the Annual Conference afternoon worship service on Wednesday, June 14th.  Remember that God loves you and I do, too. 

(P.S., For more information visit HERE)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Psalm 150, A Paraphrase

"Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!" (Psalm 150:6)

At the last Church Council meeting, I  shared the following paraphrase of Psalm 150 that I wrote as a response to comments I've received over the last year or so.  I share them with you here for your own personal inspiration and challenge to remind us all of what we need to be focusing upon (the praise of God)...

"Praise God at LaGrange First UMC! 
Praise God with trumpet, handbells and pipe organ!
   Praise Him with electric guitar, bass and keyboard!
Praise God with reverence and awe that goes beyond words
   Praise Him with clapping, dancing, and bodies that move a beat!
Praise God while sitting in our pews, standing in our row, or kneeling at the altar.
Praise God if you've been the victim of someone else's selfishness, prejudice, pride, 
    and oppression.
Praise Him even when you wake up and realize that you're the one who's been 
    selfish, prideful and doing the oppressing!
Praise God through traditional affirmations of faith and formal liturgy, 
But praise Him also through informal ritual and spontaneous liturgy.
Praise God in English, Korean, Spanish, and any other human language.
    Praise Him through silence and meditation.
Praise God with the beauty of tradition and ritual at contemporary services.
But praise Him also with the use of video clips and multi-media at traditional  
     services... on Easter Sunday morning... at the beginning of the service... speaking 
     an emotional language that younger adults connect to in a way that traditional 
     liturgy alone does not always do!
Praise God with preaching that's done from the pulpit, from the lectern, from the
    middle of the chancel area, or even from the middle of the Sanctuary!
Praise God through the reading of His Holy word from a scroll, from a paperbound 
    book, or from an iPad!
Praise God at 8:45, 9:00 & 11am on Sunday morning in the Sanctuary, Chapel, and 
     Methodist Ministries Center. 
But praise Him also on Saturday night at a local pub, Wednesday night on the campus 
    of LaGrange College, 10am Sundays at West Point Lake during the summer, and 
     any other time and place where "two or more" of His people are gathered in His name.
Praise God when you've got your life together and everything is right with the world.
But praise Him also when your heart is breaking, your life is falling apart, and you're
    not sure if you can make it another day.
Whoever you are, however you experience faith, in whatever spiritual shape you find 
    yourself, if you have breath in you, then praise the Lord!
People of LaGrange First UMC... Praise the Lord!"

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

What's Your Dream for LaGrange First UMC?

“Where there is no vision the people perish…” (Proverbs 29:18)

Vision is essential if any person or group is to ever achieve its fullest potential.  Having, sharing, and implementing a biblical Vision can give us a direction to shoot for, a goal to move towards, and can harness the energy and power of God to get us there.  And, as the scripture above indicates, the lack of Vision can effectively destroy us.

Since January, our church’s Long Range Planning (LRP) Committee has been working diligently to begin the process of discerning God’s Vision for LaGrange First UMC for our future.  When ready, that Vision will consist of input from at least three sources:  (1) our identity/mission; (2) our internal congregational needs and dreams; (3) the needs of our external community.

That’s why we need your help!  Coming up THIS SUNDAY & NEXT WEEK, we’ll be sponsoring a series of “Vision Input TOWN HALL Meetings” where anyone from our church is invited and encouraged to share their thoughts and input about the dreams and visions YOU have and needs YOU see for our church over the next 12 months, 5 years, and 10 years.  We’ll offer three, hour-long meetings on Sunday, May 7 at 10am, Sunday, May 7 at 4pm, and Wednesday, May 10 at 6pm, and will be guided in our sharing by leaders from our LRP Committee. All Town Halls will take place in the Fellowship Hall.

We invite and encourage each and every church member and friend to mark your calendar and attend one of these so that you can share your thoughts and dreams for our church over the next 10 years with our LRP Committee. This is YOUR chance to give input about our church’s future direction.  And while it won’t be the only source of input for that future, it is an essential and needed one.

If for some reason you can’t be present that day, have ideas that you think about after attending, or have details that you feel would be better shared in writing, please feel free to email LRP@lagrangefumc.org (or mail them to the church office).

After this input is received, the LRP committee will also be researching the needs of our external community.  Then, later this summer and early Fall, they will work to bring all the pieces together to discern God’s overall VISION for our church’s future and bring an initial draft of that back to you as a congregation for you to give feedback about.

Until then, remember who you are (Christians… SERVING in love, CARING with compassion, and SHARING with boldness) and let that be a starting point for where we’re going and who we’re becoming.  And never forget that God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Safe Families for Children

“True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.” (James 1:27)

In the last week of 2007, Chicago was shocked by the actions of a young mother who quietly exited a train with her 3-year-old daughter leaving behind her two sons, ages 6 and 4.  Fellow passengers frantically attempted to get the mother’s attention, but she walked away, abandoning her young boys. Similar incidents of parents being unable to care for their children occur with greater frequency than many of us are aware, and not just in big cities. 

Here in LaGrange/Troup County, as well, many parents often find it difficult to adequately care for their children during times of crisis. For example, under current economic conditions, many families experience financial crisis, unemployment, and homelessness. Often these situations result in, or are made worse by, other hardships such as family violence, drug or alcohol use, physical or mental illness, or incarceration.

“Safe Families for Children” [www.safe-families.org] is a volunteer movement across the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Africa that connects the children of parents in distress with host families from local churches who’ve answered God’s call to open their hearts, arms and homes to serve vulnerable children in need.  

The experience starts at church, where host families are invited not only to change the lives of a fellow family for the better, but to enrich their own with untold blessings by living out the gospel of Jesus Christ. By hosting vulnerable children temporarily (on average slight less than 40 days) along with support from the church, this extended family environment helps keep children (usually 5 years old or younger) safe and reunite families (93% return to their parent or relative).

Since its beginning in 2003, Safe Families has placed over 20,000 children in host families in over 1000 participating churches across the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Africa, and Sunday, April 30th our church will officially be added to this number as we become a partner congregation of this international ministry (sponsored locally under the umbrella of Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services).

I hope you will join me on that day not only during worship but also for the “no-strings-attached” luncheon at 12Noon in the Fellowship Hall where we’ll have a brief program sharing more details about this ministry and how you can be a part of it.  The Bible is clear that – among other things -- one of our tasks as followers of Jesus is to look after the needs of at-risk children and other vulnerable people (the “orphans and widows” of the James 1:27 scripture, above).

I am excited that our church (through the leadership of our Missions Committee) has chosen to partner with Twin Cedars to become a “Safe Families for Children” church. To find out more about how you can become involved, be sure to attend worship and the luncheon on Sunday, April 30th, or if you have to miss that day you can email missions@lagrangefumc.org.  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

He's Alive!

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

Growing up as a young Christian, I remember one of the most meaningful songs I heard on the radio was a Contemporary Christian rock ballad by Don Francisco called “He’s Alive!”  It later went on to become the 1980 Dove Award’s Song of the Year. Because it is written in ballad form, you don’t need to know the tune to enjoy the power of its words:

“The gates and doors were barred and all the windows fastened down,
I spent the night in sleeplessness and rose at every sound,
Half in hopeless sorrow half in fear the day,
Would find the soldiers crashing through to drag us all away.
Then just before the sunrise I heard something at the wall,
The gate began to rattle and a voice began to call,
I hurried to the window and looked down to the street,
Expecting swords and torches and the sound of soldiers feet,

There was no one there but Mary so I went down to let her in,
John stood there beside me as she told us where she'd been,
She said they moved him in the night and none of us knows where,
The stone's been rolled away and now his body isn't there.
We both ran toward the garden then John ran on ahead,
We found the stone and the empty tomb just the way that Mary said,
But the winding sheet they wrapped him in was just an empty shell,
And how or where they'd taken him was more than I could tell.

Something strange had happened there but what I did not know,
John believed a miracle but I just turned to go,
Circumstance and speculation couldn't lift me very high,
Cause I'd seen them crucify him and then I'd watched him die,
Back inside the house again all the guilt and anguish came,
Everything I'd promised him just added to my shame,
But at last it came to choices I denied I knew his name,
Even If he was alive it wouldn't be the same.

But suddenly the air was filled with a strange and sweet perfume,
Light that came from everywhere drove shadows from the room,
Jesus stood before me with his arms held open wide,
And I fell down on my knees and clung to him and cried,
He raised me to my feet and as I looked into his eyes,
Love was shining out from him like sunlight from the sky,
Guilt and my confusion disappeared in sweet release,
And every fear I'd ever had just melted into peace.

He's alive, He's alive, He's alive and I'm forgiven,
Heavens gates are open wide.
He's alive, He's alive, He's alive and I'm forgiven,
Heavens gates are open wide.
He's alive, He's alive, He's alive and I'm forgiven,
Heavens gates are open wide.   He's alive!”

[--Written & performed by Don Francisco, 1980 Dove Award Song of the Year
© Warner/Chappell Music Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group]

May the news that Jesus is alive bring hope and joy to your life today!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Paradox of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

             He was weary, yet he is our perfect rest;

             He paid tribute, yet he is a King himself;

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

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

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

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

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

             He who is the Resurrection gave up his own life, and by dying, he destroyed
                  death itself.”

As we approach Holy Week (beginning April 9), it is good to recall the wondrous love that God has for each one of us in giving his only son for our salvation.  Remember, Jesus suffered and died then so that we might have victory and life today as Christians.
Our salvation might be free to us, but it cost Jesus everything! Blessed, therefore, is Christ, who comes in the name of the Lord!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Called to be Peacemakers

“It is to peace that God has called us.” (1 Corinthians 7:15)

In today’s world of polarized politics and church-life, too often we are caught between people and groups that feel they have to take sides – that they are “right” and everyone else is “wrong.”

While there are certainly times that it’s important to stand up for “right” and fight the “wrong” in our world, these times actually occur less often than many of us think, and more often than not the things we feel we have to stand up and “fight” about are in the end relatively petty, selfish, and often self-centered issues that do not really matter one bit in big scheme of things.

In the 18th-century the founder of Methodism John Wesley once urged his Methodists “as to opinions that do not strike at the root of Christianity, we [should] think and let think (from Wesley’s tract The Character of A Methodist)… meaning that if something is not absolutely central to who we are and what we do as followers of Jesus, then we need to be “big enough” and mature enough to allow others to have opinions, beliefs, and practices that are different than us without us feeling threatened by those.

Jesus paralleled this attitude when he himself said “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9).  And many years later, Saint Francis of Assisi offered this now famous prayer for us to become peacemakers:

         “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
                        Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
                        Where there is injury, pardon;
                        Where there is doubt, faith;
                        Where there is despair, hope;
                        Where there is darkness, light;
                        and where there is sadness, joy.
            O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
                        To be consoled, as to console;
                        To be understood, as to understand;
                        To be loved, as to love;
                        For it is in giving that we receive,
                        It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
                        And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”               

            [–Saint Francis of Assisi, 1182-1226]

My prayer is that we would all learn from Jesus, Saint Francis, and John Wesley how to be makers of peace with all those around us! Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Praying Our Way Forward

This past week, our North Georgia Conference Bishop, Sue Haupert-Johnson sent the following letter to each United Methodist Church in our Conference inviting us to be in prayer March 19-26 for the work of the "Commission on a Way Forward"...  


Dear brothers and sisters of the North Georgia Annual Conference,

We have been invited to enter into a week of prayer for the Commission on a Way Forward from March 19-26. The 32-member Commission on a Way Forward was appointed by the Council of Bishops following General Conference 2016 to study matters of human sexuality and to strengthen the unity of The United Methodist Church. It is our honor and privilege to be the part of our sacred connection that surrounds the Commission on a Way Forward with fervent prayer during this special week, and to continue to remember them in prayer daily in the months to come. We invite you to be part of our North Georgia prayer movement in the following ways:

1.  A special web page has been set up for you to post public prayers for all to use in their times of personal prayer at www.ngumc.org/PrayingOurWayForward. Please submit your prayers to communications@ngumc.org. ...

2.  The Council of Bishops has been praying for The Way Forward Commission for months, and each bishop has agreed to remember them in prayer at a certain time each day. I have been praying for them each night at 9 p.m. During the North Georgia week of prayer, I invite you to join me in prayer at 9 p.m. each night from March 19-26 so that we all are united in this sacred activity. I have been praying for each member individually, for God’s wisdom and direction, and for the group’s work together. 

Each day, as I travel throughout our annual conference, I have the joy of witnessing first-hand the life-changing work God is doing through our connection by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amazing ministry is going on in so many places! Our connection, while not perfect, is a precious gift from God to celebrate and preserve. I covet your prayers for The Commission on a Way Forward and our United Methodist Church.

Yours in Christ,
Bishop Sue


I pray that you will join me in praying for this endeavor as we lift up the work and mission of our church to God!  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

What Is 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 newly reactivated lay caring ministry of our church that enables fellow members to care for one another in the way Paul describes above.  With over 1100 members, it’s impossible (and impractical) for myself and Pastor Blake 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 overall Congregational Care Ministry. Find out more about this ministry HERE.

Stephen Ministers themselves are fellow church members who’ve gone through 60 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 (*see below). 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 here to care for you!

Your Stephen Minister will meet once a week for around an hour to listen to you, care for you, pray with and for you, 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 you need care – it’s a powerful way either to receive help yourself, or also a great way to help a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or relative who’s been struggling in any way.

To find out more about how you or someone you know can be matched with one of our church’s confidential Stephen Ministers, either email stephenministry@lagrangefumc.org, speak in person with our Stephen Leader Miriam Kelly, or either to Pastors Blake or myself.
Our Stephen Ministers are here for YOU!  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

(*)  Stephen Ministers are not licensed counselors, therapists,  or mental health professionals.  They are trained and supervised Christian lay care-givers

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What "Bone" Are You?

“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

“A Church typically consists of AT LEAST SIX BONES:

1.     WISH BONES… those who wish ‘someone else’ would do all the work.
2.    JAW BONES… those who do all the talking but little else.
3.    KNUCKLE BONES… those who knock everything that anyone else tries to do.
4.    LAZY BONES… those who show up as the work is finished.
5.    BUSY BONES… those who ‘belong’ but are always tied up on their own projects and with their own needs.
6.    BACK BONES… those who get under the load and do the work that’s necessary to get the job done.”

What “bone” are you at LaGrange First UMC?  As many of you already know, one thing our church is focusing on this year is “becoming the volunteer church we used to be.”  While we all certainly value and appreciate the work that our staff do year-round, their job is not -- after all -- to DO ministry but to help empower, encourage, and equip God’s PEOPLE (all of us!) to do it.

Do you recall the vow you made when you became a member of LaGrange First UMC to support the work of Christ through your church by your “SERVICE” (along with our “Prayers, Presence, Gifts, …and Witness”)?  This means that while praying, worshiping and being active in a small group, giving financially, and sharing our faith are all important, we are also called to serve others through one or more ministries of our church. 

With that in mind, you’ve hopefully been seeing articles in our newsletter, bulletin, Sunday School news and other places about new places and opportunities for you to volunteer to do God’s work through your church.  Remember: Healthy churches are always looking for volunteers (unhealthy churches simply pay staff to do the work).  As such, we are therefore currently in need of volunteers for:
     1) our Children’s Ministry (Children’s Church helpers, Nursery assistants, Sunday School class teachers and helpers);
     2) weekly setup & breakdown of our “Morning Glory” contemporary worship service;
     3) Audio/Visual ministry, to help run sound, lights, and multi-media during all our Sunday worship services
     4) Seasonal singers to join our Adult Choir to prepare for and sing in our upcoming community Easter cantata.

You’ll see an article elsewhere in this newsletter not only with more information about all of these, but also how you can volunteer for them. I not only invite and encourage but also go so far as to challenge each of you to try one of them out, remembering that as God’s people in God’s church, we are all called to work for the Lord through some ministry in His church.

I pray that you are -- or will consider becoming -- a “backbone” of our church in the coming months ahead, so that others can experience Him through the ministries of which you are a part!

Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Who to Welcome???

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7)

Recently there’s been a lot of conversation in the news about who it’s appropriate to welcome in our society.  What about illegal immigrants?  What about refugees from Muslim countries?  What about transgender persons in the Boy Scouts? 

While I certainly respect the right of anyone to have their own thoughts and opinion about such matters, those of us who claim the name “Christian” also have a responsibility to look to Jesus for our cues in our responses.

A careful study of scripture reveals that Jesus welcomed harlots and others sinners, people who disagreed with him (such as the religious leaders), people who some considered to be the “enemy” (such as the Romans), and even those who would go on to betray him (such as Judas). Bottom line: Jesus welcomed ALL.

And from that example, we as God’s people are called to do the same, regardless of what our government or pop society do. Welcoming others in the name of Christ doesn’t mean that we have to agree with their beliefs, values, or behaviors.  But it does mean that we offer them respect and hospitality just as Jesus did for all people who he met.

A few years ago, someone shared a blog that (sort of tongue-in-cheek) described this kind of radical hospitality and welcome that we’re to imitate and have as God’s people:

“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles.  We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail, or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket.  You’re welcome here if you’re ‘just browsing,’ just woke up, or just got out of jail.  We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been to church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast.  We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters.  We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted.  We welcome you if you’re having problems, or you’re down in the dumps, or if you don’t like ‘organized religion” - we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here.  We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced, or both.  We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid, or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake.  We welcome tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts… and you!”
            [--From “Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community, cited in the Blog of Jon Acuff (www.jonacuff.com/stuffchristianslike/2012/07/how-to-welcome-people-to-your-church)]

Wow!  Those are tough words to live up to!  But they describe an attitude that we are to offer to all people as God’s church, for -- in the words of Paul’s scripture above -- “just as Christ welcomed [us]… [we are to] welcome one another.”  Dear Lord, may it be so at our church and among all the churches of God! Remember that He loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Grow Through Worship. Stave Without It

“Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some,
but encourage one another, and all the more as you
see the Day [of the Lord] approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)

I’ve heard it said somewhere that an action repeated for at least 21 days can create a habit.  Well, I want to challenge everyone reading this article to make a “habit” this new year of being in God’s House each week for corporate worship, fellowship, and learning.  Perhaps your life has gotten busy and you’ve “gotten out of the habit” of being in worship.  Maybe you’ve cherished a few extra minutes of sleep on Sunday morning, or have grown accustomed to tuning in to a favorite television ministry or church service in your pajamas, with coffee mug in hand.  Or, you might have unwittingly developed into a “C&E Christian” (attending only at Christmas and Easter).

But as the scripture text above reminds us, there’s simply no substitute in our own personal, emotional, and spiritual life for participating together with sisters and brothers in the worship and praise of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  With it, we experience God’s presence in a powerful way, and lives are touched and changed through it.  Without it, we starve our spirits. The same can be said of not only corporate worship but also in small classes and groups for prayer, Bible learning, and fellowship.  In other words, when we worship, fellowship, and learn together at church, we’re fulfilling our own church’s purpose of being “Christians SERVING in love, CARING with compassion, and SHARING (Christ) with boldness."

So, I hope you won’t miss out on the blessing God has in store for YOU through regular participation in weekly worship and small group fellowship and learning!  I plan on being here, and I look forward to seeing you, too, as we all make a “habit” of “meeting together” at church each week!  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

New Year's Gift

"If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“In your hand has been placed a priceless gift. Look at it closely. There is no price maker stamped on it. It cannot be weighed, because no scale can balance its value. A king's ransom in comparison is as nothing yet it is given to beggar and prince alike. The giver asks only that it be used wisely and well.

This jewel, rare and unique, is not displayed in any shop window. It cannot be purchased, cannot be sold. No other treasure holds the possibilities this gift offers -- none can surpass its golden splendor.

Of all gifts, this is one of the most precious. It has been offered many times before; today, from the depths of a limitless love it will be given again. It will be left to you to find the golden thread running through it. Only with great care will the jewel retain its luster. Carelessness, ingratitude and selfishness will tarnish the brilliance, break the unspoiled thread, mar the perfection.

Guard it closely, lest through weak fingers it slip from the hand. Look often at its faultless beauty. Accept it as it is offered from the heart of the giver. Consider it is the most treasured of possessions, for of all gifts it is by far the greatest. It is the gift of the New Year.”

           [--Cited from timothyreport.com,  December 27, 2004]

As we begin a new year, I hope and pray that you will keep and use each moment to God’s glory. If you’ve gotten out of the habit of weekly worship, now’s an excellent time to start back. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

New Preaching Rotation

Beginning January 8, 2017, Pastor Brian and Pastor Blake will experiment with rotating their preaching schedules into four week blocks. For example, one pastor will preach for 4 weeks in our "Morning Glory" contemporary service while the other pastor preaches in both our traditional services in the Chapel and Sanctuary. After their four week series ends they will then switch to preaching in the service(s) they did not preach in during the previous 4 weeks.

Both Blake and Brian are excited about this new rotation because it will:

1) It will increase the momentum during each of their sermon series’
2) It will accentuate both of their unique preaching styles
3) It will allow for both members and friends to choose either the preaching style or worship style that best fits their spiritual needs.

We pray that this rotation will stretch your faith and allow you to experience God’s diversity through our many worship opportunities!  If you have questions or suggestions during this trial period (through the end of Spring), please contact Brian and/or Blake.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

'Twas The Week Before Christmas

“A child has been born for us, a son given to us…” (Isaiah 9:6)

“‘Twas the week before Christmas when all through the town,
Men, women and children were running around,
Giving left signals and then turning right,
Shopping and spending much money all night.

Elbowing in at the counter of toys,
Buying up gifts for their girls and their boys.
The meaning of Christmas is clear in our city:
Mail carriers and clerks never get any pity.

Father is groaning; his checkbook turns red,
While visions of bankruptcy churn in his head.
Mother is baking cake after pie, saying
“If I see one more pastry, I think I will die.”

Only for children it can’t come too soon.
They’ll talk about next year on Christmas at noon.
With all of the holes in our nerves and our shoes,
The meaning of Christmas we almost will lose.

But then comes the strains of that music so light
And soon we are humming the tune ‘Silent Night’.
Our minds take us back twenty centuries past,
And the meaning of Christmas comes through to us at last.

No hurry, no bustle, no trees with their lights,
No honking, no hustle, no toys gleaming bright.
But Jesus our Savior, in Bethlehem born,
Becomes the true meaning of our Christmas morn.”

       [--Author Unknown, cited from an old Fayetteville (GA) First United Methodist Church newsletter]

How do you and your family experience Christmas? I pray that at at least some level, you will make the difficult but rewarding choice to remove yourself from the rat race long enough both to remember and actually experience the true meaning of the season.

As part of that choice, I hope you'll join myself and your fellow church family to celebrate Jesus, "the reason for the season." at one of our Christmas Eve Candlelighting services (5:00pm Family Service with Children's Pageant or 11:00pm Traditional Service with Holy Communion) and/or on Christmas Day for our 10:30am casual Christmas celebration.  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

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!