Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Parable of the Lobster

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

As our church experiences several significant changes this Fall through transitioned worship and a new outreach to young adults, I thought it would be helpful for us all to remember the blessings and challenges of CHANGE – of being willing to stretch and become more than we already are.  Highlighting this, the following modern day parable comes from Rev. Carolyn Wittwer of the New York Annual Conference by way of Rev. Doug Smith, former Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Morristown, Tennessee:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Ways You Can Help Following Hurricane Harvey

In the wake of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey, here are several ways that you and fellow United Methodists can respond now:

1. Continue to pray for those whose lives have been impacted by this storm.  Pray also for first responders, early Response Teams, disaster coordinators, and many volunteers in the Texas, Louisiana, Rio Texas, and Central Texas Annual Conferences who are working tirelessly to provide initial help.

2. Make a flood bucket or relief kit for United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).  Our church currently has been 50 flood buckets and a supplies donated by LaGrange Home Depot that you can pick up either in the Fellowship Hall, Sanctuary or Chapel after worship that you can take, fill it up with items on the list, and return to the church by September 10th.  The buckets will then be combined with buckets from other UM Churches and sent to an UMCOR distribution center in Louisiana and distributed to flood victims in Texas and Louisiana.  Alternately, you can make your own UMCOR bucket or relief kit at using the instructions at the FOLLOWING LINK.

3.  Purchase a Cupcake (or a whole bunch!) from our Children's Ministry.  Our children's ministry is being the "hands of Christ" by decorating and selling cupcakes to benefit the children of the First UMC of LaGrange, TX, many of whom have lost everything.   Our children are also donating a prized possession (toy, stuffed animal, etc) to a child there so they will have something to love on, but the main thing our congregation can do to help is purchase cupcakes.  They'll be available for sale in the Fellowship Hall Wednesday, September 6th or email our children's ministry HERE.

4.  In addition to UMCOR Relief Kits, please consider donating larger-ticket items for muck-out, including:
--Box fans (To dry out houses following flooding.)
--25’ heavy duty 14 gauge extension cords (To move the fans around inside a home)
--2 gallon garden sprayers (To fight mildew and mold)
--Flat billed shovels (Remove mud, wet carpet, pads, sheet rock insulation, etc.)
--Rakes with 3” tines (Remove tree limbs, leaves and muck from inside homes and yards)
--Wheel barrows (2 wheels, so they will not turn over going to the street)
If you want to donate any of the items above, please email our church’s Missions committee for instructions of how & where to take them.

5. Give money. You can donate through any North Georgia Conference United Methodist Church (including LFUMC) by clearly marking your donation “Hurricane Relief.”  Alternately, you can also give online directly at UMCOR’s website 

6.  Donate only those items requested.  Please wait for an invitation to volunteer.  The communities in the path of this storm are still in the emergency phase, and in this phase local emergency responders and community officials control the response and will let the public know what they need and when they need it.  Unsolicited items and volunteers only complicate and slow down relief to those affected. Proper response will take time to play out, and will require our time and attention long after the fact.  So, please wait for instructions and an invitation before doing more than what’s requested.

Thank you for your prayers, finances, and help providing relief to the victims of Harvey!  God bless you!

Pastor Brian

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Let Peace Begin With Me - EMBRACE LOVE

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21)

“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. (Psalm 34:14)

This past week has been filled with news stories of violence and hatred from both around the world (in Spain) and right here in our own country (Charlottesville, VA).

Some of you were at worship on August 13 when – with Pastor Blake standing at my side -- I read and reinforced the message of our North Georgia United Methodist Bishop, Sue Haupert-Johnson:

            “We in North Georgia need to, with one
             voice, speak  from our pulpits and
              condemn white supremacy, racism,
             the Alt-Right, and any of our church
             and governmental leaders who even
             appear to support these dangerous
             and sinful attitudes. You simply cannot
              be a white supremacist and a follower
              of Jesus. We need to pray and take action.”
                                          [--Bishop Sue’s August 12, 2017 
                                              email message to N.GA UM clergy]

Neither Blake nor I could have said it better ourselves!  As followers of Christ, there is simply no room in either our words or our behaviors for bigotry, racism, or prejudice -- anything to the contrary clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of the true ways and teachings of Jesus found in the Bible.  In his care for and ministry with Samaritans, “ladies of the night,” lepers, and even Gentiles, Jesus reached beyond the established racial and social customs of the day and sought to love everyone – and as his followers, we are called to do the same.

And yet, the love and peace of Christ is sometimes elusive because we find that – at times – there are tempting forces within ourselves vying to be heard.  The biblical story of Pilate asking the crowd to choose between releasing either Barabbas or Jesus metaphorically also asks them to choose between the way of violence and hate (represented by Barabbas), and the way of love and compassion (represented by Jesus).  Read this story in Matthew 27:15-23, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:18-25, and John 18:39-40.  In many ways, this choice haunts us today, and challenges each of us to ask ourselves, “What part am I playing in enabling peace and love to win out over prejudice, violence, and hate?

The plot of the 1986 movie The Mission highlights this choice between choosing the way of love or choosing the way of violence, and how – just as with Jesus – too often we choose the latter.  The very last scene of the movie shows a 18th-century religious leader in Paraguay who had ordered the removal of missionaries by force questioning those who carried it out why the brutality and slaughter that ensued was necessary.  One of them replies, “You had no alternative, your Eminence. We work in the world, and the world is thus.”  The religious leader replies, “No, SeƱor Hontes. Thus have we made the world….  Thus have I  made it.”

So, before we go around complaining about what someone else is not doing to bring peace and understanding, we need to first look deep inside ourselves and ask what we are doing to help foster them, and to make sure our actions are not the inadvertent cause of strife, prejudice and hatred.  The words of a famous hymn (that we actually sang at the end of the 9am Chapel service on August 13) say it well:

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me;
 Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
 With God our creator, children all are we.
 Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
 Let peace begin with me; let this be the moment now.
 With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow:
 To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.
 Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
            [--Words by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson (1955),  
                   cited from the United Methodist Hymnal #431]

May this be our prayer as we struggle in our world to choose the ways of Jesus (the “prince of peace”).  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

NOTE:  Our own United Methodist Church tradition is currently promoting a national campaign to encourage a unified stand against racism, challenging people to learn how we all can be a force for good. A compilation of articles and denominational statements is available at the FOLLOWING LINK.
            Resources from across the connection are also available, including liturgies, discussion guides, videos to use in worship and on social media, and tips for talking to kids. Explore some of these the FOLLOWING LINK.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

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 27, from 10:30am to 1:00pm with food, fellowship, and worship featuring the preaching of former Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Gil Watson (now retired from our North Georgia United Methodist Conference). 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 (although we’ll still provide Nursery for young children), 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, July 27, 2017

The Lesson Of The Fire Coals

"Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another." (Hebrews 10:25)

There once was a member of a certain Christian congregation who, though once very active in her church, got “out of the habit” one summer and stopped attending and participating regularly.

A ministry team from church soon came to her house to let her know that she had been missed at church.  It was a chilly evening.  The team leader found her at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire in her fireplace.  Guessing the reason for the visit, the woman welcomed them, led them to a big couch near the fireplace, and waited.

The team made themselves comfortable but said nothing.  After a few minutes, the team leader took fire tongs sitting nearby, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember, and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone.

Then she sat back in the couch with the rest of the team, still silent.  The host watched all this in quiet fascination.  As the one ember's flame diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more.  Soon it was cold and "dead as a doornail."  Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting.

Just before the team was ready to leave, the leader picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.  As the team reached the door, the host said, "Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the 'fiery sermon.' I shall be back in worship Sunday."

This summer, if you’ve accidentally slipped into the habit of missing worship, remember (as this woman did) that  Christians grow and “glow” with the love of Christ best when we gather together to worship, study, and pray (as the scripture above indicates).  For those of you we’ve missed seeing this summer, I hope you back in worship soon!  After all, as the scripture above indicates, worship matters to God, so it should matter to us!

Here at LaGrangeFirst UMC, there’s a place for you in worship (click the previous link to find out more) Whether it’s using formal ritual, tradition, and music at either our 9:00am Chapel and 11:00am Sanctuary services, or using casual liturgy and song at our contemporary service that will move to 10:55am on September 10th and be renamed “THE BRIDGE, each of us needs regular corporate worship in order for our souls to be fed properly.

So, regardless of your pattern of worship up to now, I hope you’ll remember the lesson of the fire coals and plan to make a regular habit of worshipping with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as we move into Fall at LFUMC!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

2017-18 Bible Study Opportunities

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 spiritual people have never unlocked the power of this God-given tool because they’ve never taken time to actually study it in-depth with others.

That’s why each year our church offers various small-group experiences where you can spiritually learn and grow together with other Christians as you study God’s word.  Through daily readings and guided discussions 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 the power of group Bible studies.

Granted... such studies are not for the casual Christian.  They usually involve hard work, commitment, and diligence – but the rewards are literally “out of this world!”  I’ve heard many spiritual people talk about their desire to grow in and learn more about faith – being part of a group Bible study is one of the best ways around to help each of us do just that!

Next year (2017-18), here are four signature small group Bible studies that our church will be offering this Fall:
Disciple I "Fast Track" -- a 24-week introduction and overview of the entire Bible. This course is the prerequisite to any other "Disciple" course.  Offered on Tuesdays from 5:30pm-7pm, beginning August 15 (with time off before Thanksgiving thru Christmas). Find out more about this study HERE.
Disciple II "Fast Track" -- a 24-week in-depth study of Genesis-Exodus and Luke-Acts.  Offered on Sundays from 5:00pm-6:30pm, beginning August 13  (with time off before Thanksgiving thru Christmas). Find out more about this study HERE.
6-week study on the minor prophets Hosea, Joel, Amos, Habakkuk, and 
Malachi, using Scripture and other material.  Offered Wednesdays, 6:00-7:30pm, September 6-October 18 (but not Oct. 11).
           ● A 6-week study on David, using Scripture and other material.  Offered Wednesdays, 6:00-7:30pm October 25-December 6 (but not Nov. 22).

So if you’re serious about your faith growth and want to find out more, then I invite you to worship at any of our services on Sunday, June 23rd for our annual “Discipleship Sunday” to hear how our group Bible studies from this past year have impacted the hearts and lives of some of your fellow church family, and how you can experience it for yourself beginning this Fall 2017.  Your life will never be the same after you take a group Bible Study class!  So what are you waiting for?

Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Our Church's El Salvador Mission

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care – then… forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2:1-2 & 4, THE MESSAGE)

As you read this article, I and seven others from our church and community are representing LaGrange First UMC on a mission trip in Ahuachapan, El Salvador (about 2 hours west of the capital of San Salvador). And though we’ve had members and friends in the past who’ve participated in the mission trips of other churches, groups, and organizations, to my knowledge this is the first time in recent history that our church has sponsored a mission trip on its own -- that’s something to celebrate!

While there, we’ll be doing construction work helping to build a new Methodist church, we’ll lead a children’s Bible school, and will participate in a feeding and evangelism ministry.  All of this will be coordinated through the “SalvadoranMission Projects”, a ministry partnership between the Evangelical Methodist Church in El Salvador and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission in the United States, and who’s purpose is to improve the spiritual and physical lives of economically disadvantaged people living there.

Many of you have donated financially and otherwise over the last year to help make this trip possible -- thank you!!!  Please mark your calendars for July 9th, where trip participants will be sharing testimony during all our worship services about the work that God accomplished through the team (and they’ll be available after that for Sunday School and other group programs, as well).

In the meantime, however, please continue to be in prayer not only for our team’s safety and safe travels, but most importantly for the work we’re doing there as your (and God’s) representatives.

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

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 ( 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 (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” [] 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  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!