Saturday, April 11, 2015

Not Quite Dead...


“When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them, ‘Peace be with you.  As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.’” (John 20:20b-21)

Ok, I confess. I’m impressed…  To the dismay of all (including myself), during the off-season the Atlanta Braves traded away most all of their big name players.  And by all accounts from baseball “experts,” in return they got, well… a mixture of “has beens” and “newbies,” leaving them with only about 30% of last year’s players left to play on the 2015 team.  Then, last Sunday when they traded their franchise star closing-ace Craig Kimbrel to the San Diego Padres, I was sure this signaled the fact that in their attempt to “rebuild” the team from the ground up in anticipation of contending again in perhaps 1-2 years, their front office had given up on them for this year (and maybe it did, for this year).

But despite the pessimism of the “experts” and nay-sayers, as of this writing, this improbable band of “misfits” has gone 4-0 in the first week of play (that’s 4 wins, 0 losses for you non-sports-types) – a very surprising statistic given the two good teams that they’ve played so far!   No one (including myself, a lifelong Braves fan) expected them to be doing so well given their “remake” since last year. 

Well, on Good Friday 2000 years ago, the world of religious and political “experts” were convinced that Jesus’ death was the end of the magical story of this carpenter-turned-rabbi.  Not only was he dead and buried, but all that was left of his “movement” was a mixture of “has beens” and “newbies” who (at least at first) weren’t at all sure of their abilities.  But after Jesus’ resurrection, those first Disciples -- like this year’s “new” Braves team so far – confounded the pessimistic expectations and assumptions of  the “experts” and nay-sayers, and literally turned the world upside down with the message that Jesus was, indeed, alive!

Yes, it remains to be seen if the Braves can continue their unbelievable momentum the rest of the year (baseball season, after all, lasts a loooong time!) But one thing is sure:  they have already proven that they’re “not quite dead,” so don’t count them out yet!  In the same manner, the news on that first Easter that Jesus was “not quite dead” propelled the band of misfits we call the “Disciples” to share that good news with the world, and the world has never been the same since!  Just as with the Braves, we dare not count out the power of the gospel to transform our world for Jesus Christ. 

You and I are the “misfit” messengers of that gospel today.  So, what are you doing to share the “improbable” good news of Jesus with those around you?  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Dateline Jerusalem

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

Dateline Jerusalem… The religious leaders of downtown Jerusalem executed one said to be the Messiah this past weekend. Jesus of Nazareth, a traveling country preacher, died on Friday at the hands of Roman authorities after having been arrested by leading members of the Sanhedrin. The Most High Priest and other officials feared a hostile takeover by this person.

Jesus bar Joseph had been welcomed into the city last Sunday by what appeared to be a spontaneous parade, hastily thrown together. However, public approval quickly faded when he caused a scene at the temple, throwing around some of the furniture. Other controversial events followed in succeeding days, such as public arguments, teaching of strange doctrines, possible hints of tax evasion, possible assault of a privately owned fig tree, wild assertions, even talk of being a direct descendent from the Holy Deity, possibly in the fashion of certain Greek philosophies.

On Thursday evening he and a group of supporters met in a family home, where it was reported he spoke of cannibalism -- the eating of flesh and drinking of blood. Then this band of possible revolutionaries assembled in an olive garden, armed themselves, and attacked a guard, forcibly removing his ear. Authorities report the matter was dealt with quickly and justly, or on Friday he was executed along with others. Sources say the matter has been laid to rest.

Stay abreast of the situation with possible special editions of the Jerusalem Times, since there have been numerous claims of appearances of the deceased radical since this past weekend.

[–Shared by Tom Pilgrim in the Fayetteville (GA) First United Methodist Church Newsletter, March 6, 2005]

May the risen Christ fill you with the joy and awe and wonderful mystery of that first Easter! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday

“They took palm branches and went out to meet him.  They shouted, ‘Hosanna!  Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the king of Israel!’” (John 12:13, CEB)

“Riding on a donkey of humility,
Jesus entered into Jerusalem -
A king without a battalion of guards
without horses, without military tanks,
without canons and machine guns.

The children laid down the branches
Of palm trees as carpet on the ground
Others lifted them up to hail him
While chorusing hosannas as he drove by,
‘Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.’

Today Jesus enters into
The gates of homes, churches and
Other machineries of control and
Down deep into every human heart.

Today let hosannas resound
Saying no to wars and weapons
No to hatred, revenge and death
But yes to the subtle claim
In the heart to let the love of Jesus reign.”

            [--Elizabeth Padillo Olesen, cited from voicesnet.com at 

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, he was challenging the people to choose whether or not they would claim him as a King of military might (symbolized by a white horse that he should have ridden) but as a King of peace (symbolized by the lowly donkey that he did ride).


Today, Jesus challenges us with the same choice:  welcome him as the Lord of warfare and “might makes right”? or as the “Prince of Peace”? In today’s world of violence, hatred, prejudice, terrorism, and war, Palm Sunday dares us to welcome the one who challenges us to claim him as the “Prince of Peace.”  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I Am A Christian

“Then the father said to him… ‘We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:2)

“When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m not shouting ‘I’ve been saved!’” 
I’m whispering ‘I get lost!  That’s why I chose this way.’

When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I don’t speak with human pride.
I’m confessing that I stumble – needing God to be my guide

When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m not trying to be strong.
I’m professing that I’m weak and pray for strength to carry on.

When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m not bragging of success.
I’m admitting I have failed and cannot ever pay the debt.

When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible but, God believes I’m worth it.

When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I still feel the sting of pain,
I have my share of heartache which is why I seek His name.

When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I do not wish to judge.
I have no authority – I only know I’m loved.”
         [--Attributed to Maya Angelou, this poem was actually written by Carol Wimmer in 1988, and it is cited 
            HERE from the book Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul


Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Grace Greater Than Our Sin

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2)

"Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
            grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Younger on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
            there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt

Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
            threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
            points to the refuge, the mighty cross.

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
            What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
            brighter than snow you may be today.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
            freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see his face,
            will you this moment his grace receive?

Refrain:  Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!
        [-Julia H. Johnston, from The United Methodist Hymnal, #365]

God’s grace and forgiveness is greater than any sin, any wrongdoing, any brokenness or guilt that we might have.  Instead of being a victim of sin, He invites us to be a victor over it. 

But we have to stop trying to fix ourselves; stop trying to “earn” our way to God, or get Him or others to “like” us. Instead, simply accept His acceptance of you, just as you are (warts and all).  When you do, you’ll discover the true joy of a forgiven heart…yours!.  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Three Simple Rules

As we continue our current sermon series COVENANT, we’re discussing the keeping of the “Ten Commandments” as one way that we can say “thank you” to God for His covenant of love and faithfulness towards us. This reminds us as Christians there can be various things we can do to grow in our relationship both with God and with others. The following article relates to this, and is taken from a weekly email I receive from our North Georgia United Methodist Annual Conference....

“[The founder of Methodism] John Wesley understood that everyone needs help in living the Christian life. His General Rules offered instruction to the early Methodists on practices that would lead to faithfulness to the way of Christ. Wesley’s guidelines for living are still relevant today.
           
Rule One: DO NO HARM. In his book, Three Simple Rules, Reuben Job says, “To do no harm means that I will be on my guard so that all my actions and even my silence will not add injury to another of God’s children or any part of God’s creation.” I was taught if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. How often do we have the opportunity in word and deed, by action or inaction, to do no harm?  However often it is, we should do it.

Rule Two: DO GOOD. Jesus said “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  Jesus and Wesley suggest that doing good is a universal command and is directed at everyone. Doing good is a proactive way of living--an act of the will. I can decide that the common good will be my first thought and what is good for me will become a secondary thought. Jack Stabinsky suffers from multiple sclerosis and needed to relocate from Lawrenceville to a specialized facility in Boston. After Rick Badie wrote about his situation in the local newspaper, strangers anonymously made it possible. Occasions to do good are ever present. Look for them. “Be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, The Message).
     
Rule Three: STAY IN LOVE WITH GOD. The first two rules are important but without this third rule become increasingly impossible. We practice the rules but God sends the power that enables us to keep them. Paul wrote, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Colossians 2:6-7) Wesley suggested that spiritual disciplines including public worship of God, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, Bible study, and fasting were key to maintaining a life of faithfulness to God. They assist us in living our lives in harmony with God. And while staying in love with God includes these practices, it also causes us to share God’s goodness with others.  The Greeks had a race in their Olympic games that was unique. The winner was not the runner who finished first. It was the runner who finished with his torch still lit. These “Three Simple Rules” will help us run all the way with the flame of our torch still lit for Jesus.”

[--Taken from Rev. Jamie Jenkins, “Monday Morning In North Georgia,” 
    January 7, 2008 (www.ngumc.org)]


 Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Welcome to REACH

“Not that I have already reached the goal, but I press on to make it my own…” (Philippians 3:12)

In life, most of what we experience that’s worthwhile cannot be achieved without stretching (or “reaching”): to grow into a man or woman, an infant must stretch itself physically; for us to graduate from High School, college, or grad school we must stretch ourselves mentally; and for us become mature men and women of God, we must stretch ourselves spiritually through regular participation in prayer, worship, Bible study, and the Sacraments. So why should it surprise us that in order for our church to grow and become the church that God wants (and calls) it to be, we must also stretch or “reach”?

Well, for the last several years we here at East Cobb UMC have already been engaged in stretching ourselves in spiritual and financial ways that we had not done in many, many years.  We called that journey “be BOLD,” and during it we unveiled the general vision for the future to which we believe God is calling us as a church.

Now, as we approach the end of the 24-month giving phase of “be BOLD,” it’s time that we consider how both we as individuals and we as a church can “reach” even more to see that vision (now seen more clearly and in more detail) come to pass.

That’s why I’m pleased to introduce “REACH”, our church’s new a 36-month vision journey to enable us to achieve our God-given future through a construction project that will reach IN to our own lives, UP to God, and OUT to our community and world.

In the coming months, you’ll see, hear, and read much more about this journey, but I wanted you to introduce to you today, and tell you how excited I am to be part of it with you! It’s truly the culmination of all that we’ve been working on and praying for over the last 5-6 years as a church!

The first thing you’ll want to do is sign up for one of our five free “REACH Vision Preview Events” happening later this month.  At these, you’ll be inspired as we share more about God’s vision for ECUMC, and how we each can be part of it. Some of our venues will be limited-seating, so register today by clicking HERE

This is an exciting time to be part of God’s kingdom at East Cobb UMC! Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Worship First


“I was glad when they said to me ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1)
Corporate worship is the very heart of the Christian faith.  Through it we both glorify God and lift ourselves up, we connect both with God and each other through prayer and praise, are reminded of our calling to be God’s hands and feet in the world around us. No wonder the Bible continually talks about the importance of corporate worship for the life of a disciple, for it can be fairly said that Christian faith begins and ends with worship.

No other Christian tool fulfills the purpose or accomplishes the mission that worship alone can. As important as Sunday School classes, Bible studies, and other small groups are to our spiritual and relational growth as Christians, they were never intended to be a substitute for weekly worship with the whole body of Christ. And while the various ministry programs and events that we sponsor and host as a church are all important ways to connect with and serve others, programs and events alone will never grow the church -- only worship can do that.

It should trouble us, then, when some Christians treat worship like an “optional extra” -- a part of their faith that is either attended to only sporadically, or in sometimes skipped altogether.  In some cases, folks attend a Sunday School class, Men’s or Women’s group, Bible study, etc. but then go home and skip worship.  What they don’t realize is that by doing so they are starving their spirit and (if they stay away long enough), it will spiritually cripple their walk with God.

But not only is worship the life-blood of those who claim to follow Jesus, but it’s also usually the first portal that visitors and guests experience of our faith community (and even when it’s not the first one, it’s always the deciding one in eventual faith decisions).

Consequently, we have no more important task as Christian disciples than that of both participating in and helping develop and grow worship at our church.  So, what are YOU doing to foster these?  First and foremost, are you yourself participating regularly in worship at East Cobb UMC?  If not, why not?  And second, what are doing to help grow and develop worship?  Have you invited someone to attend and sit with you?  Or do you only invite them to programs, events, and your own small group? God’s church grows in direct proportion to how its people make worship a priority.  So, is worship a "first" for YOU?  Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

L E N T

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus....” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

LENT.  No, it’s not just something that sticks to your clothes.  Instead, Lent is also a season of the Christian year in which we not only prepare our lives for the Easter message of life, death, suffering, and resurrection, but are also encouraged to identify with Christ by allowing us to be used by him as vehicles of God’s grace to others.

The word “Lent” itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means "spring" -- a reference to the "new life" that Christ brings to us, just as spring brings new life to nature.  For the forty days prior to Easter (beginning this week on February 18th with Ash Wednesday and culminating with Good Friday, April 3rd), Christians are invited to focus upon how we practice following Christ in every arena of our lives: home; on the job; at church; in our finances; and in our relationships with others.

And because of its emphasis upon the sacrifice of Christ, Lent has traditionally been a time in which Christians are encouraged to give up worldly things in order to replace them with spiritual things.  As the above scripture reminds us, we are to “lay aside the weight(s) and the sin” that keep us from being the spouse, the friend, the work/schoolmate, etc. that God desires us to be.

What things hinder and interfere with you being the person who God created you to be?  worry?  jealousy?  envy?  bitterness?  pessimism?  fear?  pride?  a bad habit?  gossip?  a judging spirit?  Whatever it is, Lent invites us to give it up -- to junk it -- and, in its place, “look to Jesus” to equip us with those things (love, joy, patience, kindness, forgiveness, etc.) that can help us to “run with perseverance the race [of life] that is set before us.

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Disturb Us, Lord


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

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

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

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

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

                    [--Attributed to Sir Francis Drake, 1577]

As we begin to think about where God is leading us as a church here at East Cobb UMC, we all need to remember to be “disturbed” a bit out of our comfort zone to hear and understand God’s call and vision for us!  I’ve heard it said before, “if God’s going to be your partner, then be prepared to have some big plans!” Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

People of the Word

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

What does it really mean to be “people of the word” (meaning people of the Bible)?  The last few weeks in worship we’ve spent exploring some of the answers to this question in our series “Making Sense of the Bible” (you can read and download the sermon transcripts HERE).  Not all have agreed with everything I’ve shared or suggested, nor do they have to. After all, the goal of my series has not been to have all agree with my view of scripture, but to challenge each of us to seek the Holy Spirit about our own understanding and view of scripture.

One interesting fact I need to point out, however, is that despite the vehement debate and “discussion” that many Christians want to have over this most sacred of books -- what the Bible is and is not, what it means and what it doesn’t, how best to interpret it, etc. -- its been my observation (and the findings of more than a few objective surveys) that far too few of us Christians actually read and digest the Bible on a regular basis

I began our series with the statement “The Bible is the best-selling, least read, and least understood book in human history.”  Well, I hope that what we’ve studied together in the series has helped at least somewhat with the third part of that sentence: our understanding of scripture.  But what neither I nor anyone else can do is to help us with the second part: our reading of scripture, both personally (by ourselves) and corporately (in small groups).

We can argue and debate about what we think about the Bible until we’re blue in the face, but nothing can take the place of actually reading and studying it regularly, whether by ourselves at home or together with others in a Bible study group of some sort (like “Disciple” or a Sunday School class).  As I also shared in my blog four weeks ago, a good place to start our personal study are the daily readings shared in The Upper Room devotional guide -- pick up a paper copy of the January/February issue in the Narthex or Crossroads, or read it online and/or sign up for the daily email edition HERE.

So as we wrap up this series, let me offer a word of challenge (and encouragement) for all of us become “people of the word” less by our debates about the Bible and more by our reading of the Bible!  Only then can God’s Holy Spirit begin to interpret His timeless heart, will and character within us.  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Growing Like Jesus

“…And Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people” (Luke 2:52)

Many years ago, I remember a children’s church song based on the verse above that went like this: “And Jesus grew in wisdom. And Jesus grew in stature. And Jesus grew in favor with God and man.” I remember our daughter singing this in children’s Sunday School years ago at our church in Augusta, GA. And now, having a new grandchild, I can watch with fondness as she, too, grows.

If you think about it, all of us are interested in growth: the mother weighing her child; the farmer watching his fields; the child wanting to become “big,” the town boasting of its population or importance in a region; and even a church reporting its statistics. All such growth can be measured -- in ounces, pounds, inches, figures, etc.

Although spiritual growth does not lend itself to the same sort of measurement, it is nevertheless just as important these -- in some cases, arguably more so, for without spiritual growth we can actually die spiritually. The problem I see in many people is that our spiritual growth often ceases long before we recognize that that is happening, leading us to think we are spiritually strong when, in fact, we are not.

Consequently, what’s needed to prevent this is a frequent checkup. For example, if we are still praying in the words of little children, or if our knowledge and understanding of the Bible remains elementary, or it we can testify to no spiritual experience beyond conversion (or can’t even testify to that!), or if our worship has become routine, or if our awareness of the line between right and wrong has become blurred, or if we yield with greater ease to temptation, then these are signs/symptoms that we have ceased growing in our spirits, and that something must be done about it, whether its to join a Bible study, begin doing daily devotions, attending worship more often, having a more positive attitude about life and the church than before, etc.

The point is that we’re not made always to stay the same in our human bodies. So why should we think our spiritual bodies should do so, either?  As the scripture above reminds us, the report that Jesus grew and matured is one of the most important insights in the Bible. It reminds us that there is no such thing as standing still with God or in our understanding of His holy scripture. If we are to remain Christian, then we must grow. Are you growing in understanding, faith and trust? Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Let Peace Begin With Me

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

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 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, we need to first look deep inside ourselves and ask what we are doing to help foster it, and to make sure our actions are not the inadvertent cause of strife and hatred. The words of a famous hymn 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!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Bible in 50 Words

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

God made
Adam bit
Noah arked
Abraham split
Joseph ruled
Jacob fooled
Bush talked
Moses balked
Pharaoh Plagued
People walked
Sea divided
Tablets guided
Promise landed
Saul freaked
David peeked
Prophets warned
Jesus born
God walked
Love talked
Anger crucified
Hope died
Love arose
Spirit flamed
Word spread
God remained.

Some of you didn’t think I could be this short, did you? Truth be told, I found this in an old newsletter from my home church, Fayetteville First U.M.C. (GA), date and author unknown. And even though this is really an oversimplification of holy scripture, it still reminds us of the fact that the Bible is God’s tool, given to us to find our way to Him through a relationship with Jesus, and to be our source of hope and strength for life.  

I hope you’ll be present as we begin our new sermon series “Making Sense of the Bible” January 11 - February 1st.  And if you don’t already, I invite you to join me in reading the Bible daily and lettings its words form you in God’s will and ways for your life.  A good place to start are the daily readings shared in The Upper Room devotional guide -- pick up a paper copy of the January/February issue in the Narthex or Crossroads, or read it online and/or sign up for the daily email edition HERE

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!


Sunday, January 4, 2015

O God, Our Help In Ages Past

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations…” (Psalm 90:1)

1.         O God, our help in ages past,
            our hope for years to come,
            our shelter from the stormy blast,
            and our eternal home.

2.         Under the shadow of thy throne,
            still may we dwell secure;
            sufficient is thine arm alone,
            and our defense is sure.

3.         Before the hills in order stood,
            or earth received her frame,
            from everlasting, thou art God,
            to endless years the same.

4.         A thousand ages, in thy sight,
            are like an evening gone;
            short as the watch that ends the night,
            before the rising sun.

5.         Time, like an ever rolling stream,
            bears all who breathe away;
            they fly forgotten, as a dream
            dies at the opening day.

6.         O God, our help in ages past,
            our hope for years to come;
            be thou our guide while life shall last,
            and our eternal home.

            [--Isaac Watts (1719), UMHymnal #117]


As we begin a new year, always remember that the same God who has been with and for you in your past will guide and direct you in your future!  And never forget that God loves you and I do, too!  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

From Little Things

“You, O Bethlehem…  who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.” (Micah 5:2)

Many of you already know that my wife and I spent most of this past Friday evening and all day Saturday at Kennestone hospital waiting on the birth of our first grandchild.  Knowing “the date” was near, we knew there was certainly the possibility that the baby would be born near Christmas, but with the “official” due date not until January 8, most of us didn’t think it a very realistic possibility.  And yet, at 5:33pm on Saturday, December 27, Hannah Lynne was born.

For those of you who are already grandparents, forgive the self-indulgence, but I’m sure you can agree that it certainly is an amazing feeling to experience your own child becoming a mommy or daddy for themselves!  Jennifer and Zach will make great parents, but as I have been at the hospital since then watching little Hannah, it strikes me how prophetic were the words of the article I shared in our church’s Advent Devotional (the one my daughter Jennifer edited).

Pardon me sharing its words again, but here is what I wrote back in November when I was asked to submit an article…

------------------------------------ 
"Good things come in small packages."  We've all heard that many times.  But it was never so true as in the place where Jesus was born.  In the time of Jesus' birth, the town of Bethlehem was a relatively insignificant place -- one of a hundred or more small, old, poor, sleepy villages that dotted the landscape of Palestine in that day... not exactly a place for the birth of the "King of kings and Lord of lords!"

And yet, as is shown time and time again throughout scripture, God often choses small and seemingly insignificant things to teach us something of the values and priorities of His kingdom -- ones which often seem opposite and counterintuitive to those of our world.  They teach us that with God, out of weakness can come strength, out of insignificance can come importance, out of nothingness can come some "somethingness," and that out of despair and poverty can come the greatest hope and true riches the world has ever known. The "little town of Bethlehem," you see, is a metaphor for each of us, reminding us that no matter how small, insignificant, unloved or unappreciated we may feel, we are valuable and special to God, and that our lives matter to him!

So, as you open (or have opened) gifts this Christmas Day, remember that the greatest gifts we can receive (or give) are not necessarily the largest or most expensive, but the ones which impart the value and blessings of God with them -- it’s the small, unexpected blessings of life that often are the ones that are the most meaningful.  So today, give someone around you a “Small Christmas” blessing!

Prayer:  O God, thank you that you came that first Christmas not in power but in smallness.  Teach us this Christmas to appreciate and value the seemingly "small" things and experiences of life and of our world, so that we might truly inherit your kingdom. In Jesus' name, Amen. ....
---------------------------------

Little did I know that -- for me and my family -- those words about being on the look out for “small Christmas blessings” would refer to Hannah’s birth.  Yet, we believe that that is, indeed what God had in mind for us this Christmas. 

So, even though Christmas day is past, what “small Christmas blessing” are you experiencing in your life this holiday?  It doesn't have to be as obvious as a new baby, but if you have one to share, please reply back to this article and share it as a way of saying thank you to God.  And always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

The Twelve Days of Christmas

“God is love… [and] God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:8b-9)

I've shared this before, but its worth sharing again... Usually when we hear the song The Twelve Days of Christmas,” we think of it as a fun secular song to be sung before Christmas. But at least some scholarship claims that it has distinctly religious origins, and was meant to be sung not before but after Christmas.

The story is that when King Henry VIII formed the Anglican Church in England back in the 16th-century, Roman Catholic Christians were not allowed by law to worship openly (they weren’t allowed to do this until 1829). So, in an effort to find a way to teach their faith to their children without the risk of persecution, English Catholics composed this song that had two levels of interpretation: (1) a harmless, secular, surface meaning with which we all are familiar; and (2) a spiritual interpretation that was originally known only to English Roman Catholics.

It’s the second interpretation that we Christians need to remind people of today, for each item in the carol was actually a “code phrase” to help teach a religious reality. The “twelve days” refer to the 12 days of the Christmas season in the Christian liturgical calendar – beginning with December 25th and ending on January 6th (the day of “Epiphany”). The “true love” is God, the giver of all good gifts (See Matthew 7:11 and Luke 11:13).

The other gifts represent...

1) “Partridge in a pear tree”-- a partridge bird sitting up high in a tree was said to be easy prey for hunting in medieval times, so it’s appropriate that the first and greatest gift represents God’s greatest gift to us: Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself as easy prey on our behalf.

2) “Two Turtledoves” –Symbolize the Old & New Testament. Recall also, that Mary & Joseph offered 2 turtledoves as a sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple when Jesus was dedicated to God (Read Luke 2:22-24).

3) “Three French Hens” – represent either the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), or the three things that I Corinthians 13 says abide... “faith, hope, and love.”

4) “Four Calling Birds” – represent the four great early evangelists who told Jesus’ story through their writings... the writers of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

5) “Five Golden Rings” – symbolize the first five books of the Bible (Hebrew “Torah”=Law), upon which all our faith is based (remember that Jesus himself said he had not come to “abolish the law, but to fulfill it” --Matthew 5:17).

6) “Six Geese A-Laying” – since they are in the process of creating new life, these represent the six days of creation from Genesis 1.

7) “Seven Swans A-Swimming – the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit referred to in Romans 12:6-8.

8) “Eight Maids A-Milking” – the eight Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12.

9) “Nine-Ladies Dancing” – the nine fruits of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23.

10) “Ten Lords A-Leaping” – Since England in Medieval times was ruled by the laws of the King and his “lords,” this represented the “laws” of the Christian faith: the 10 Commandments.

11) “Eleven Pipers Piping – stand for the eleven faithful disciples (the 12 minus Judas Iscariot).

12) “Twelve Drummers Drumming – represent either: the twelve tribes of Israel; or (more commonly) the twelve points of the Apostle’s Creed.

Whether or not this story is 100% accurate, it’s clear that this song can convey all of these reminders for those who have “ears to hear them” in this way. So, as we continue the Christmas season (which always includes New Year’s Day), may you be filled with a reminder of the many good “gifts” God gives to us, not only at Christmas but into the new year, as well. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

'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 to both remember and actually experience the true meaning of the season.

Don't forget to join your fellow church family at a Christmas Eve service (4:30pm, 8:00pm, or 11pm) to celebrate Jesus, "the reason for the season."  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Mission Offering

"[You are to] do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life" (1 Timothy 6:18-19)

The following is a copy of a letter from myself and our Finance Chairperson Alan Wrenn  that our whole congregation should have received by mail this past week.  I share it again in the interest of encouraging your participation...

------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Members & Friends of East Cobb UMC:

These are challenging yet exciting times both in our world and in the lives of people all around us.  The world seems to be changing faster than we can catch up.  Yet, in the midst of all the change, God’s Word and faithfulness remain steadfast.  As a result, ministry in His name is always fruitful.  Consider, for example, some of the ways that your investment in God’s work through our church has enabled us to achieve God’s mission for us in 2014.  Your gifts have enabled us to…

         Reach nearly 350 people each week through our three principle worship services, Wednesday Night Supper, and other opportunities for fellowship and networking  …GATHERING to embrace God and others
         Impact over 450 people weekly through 45+ small groups and community ministry resources, including continued significant growth of our Lighthouse Academy Daycare Center… GROWING in faith, hope and love
         Welcome 40 new members and over 150 regular guests, and be in ministry to over 550 people weekly through various local church mission ministries, and to even more through special opportunities like Mountain T.O.P., annual Great Day of Service, Family Promise, M.U.S.T., and others  …GOING into our world to serve and share Jesus

Consequently, the Christmas season is an ideal time for us to pray about ways we can share in year-end giving that will continue to make a real difference in people’s lives:

(1) First, we celebrate your faithfulness this year to our 2014 General Ministry Fund -- thank you!!!  If you are behind on your annual financial commitment, please remember that the holidays are a great time to “catch up”!  And even if you are up to date, it’s also a great time to make additional gifts in order to take advantage of current tax laws.

(2) As one idea, we’re excited to continue the ECUMC Christmas tradition of designating offerings collected at our Christmas Eve services as a Christmas Mission Offering. This year the focus of that offering will be Imagine No Malaria, a ministry of our own United Methodist Church that seeks to eradicate malaria in Africa – this ministry is described in the brochure you can download below, or you can also find out more HERE.  We ask that, in the spirit of Christmas, you prayerfully consider joining us in giving “over and above” your general fund tithe or gifts to this special offering during one of our three Christmas Eve services (or before if you won't be in town).  Please mark your checks/envelopes “Christmas Mission Offering”, or donate online HERE.

Thank you for your faithfulness in praying for, attending, serving in, and giving financially to His Church this year.  We trust that God will honor your faithfulness as you continue to grow in His kingdom.  We wish you, your family, and all your loved ones a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2015!