Sunday, May 17, 2015

Your New Pastor

"I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Isaiah 43:19)

If you attended worship this past Sunday, you'll know that along with sharing our “REACH” commitments, we also shared the name of my successor.  If you weren’t there, allow me to catch you up:  I am both pleased and excited to announce that the new Senior Pastor of East Cobb UMC will be Rev. Nanci Hicks.  Her first Sunday with you in worship will be June 28th.

Nanci will be coming to you from Briarcliff UMC in northeast Atlanta, where she has served as Senior Pastor for the past two years.  Before that, she served as interim Pastor of Sacred Tapestry UMC here in Marietta (on Johnson Ferry Rd.), as Senior Pastor of Mossy Creek UMC in Cleveland, GA (where her church, like East Cobb UMC, was connected to a Camp Meeting ministry), as Director at an area Christian Retreat Center, and as Associate Pastor of Roswell UMC.   She and husband Steve have grown children.

Over the next month, she and I will be working closely together to ensure a smooth leadership transition.  However, since Nanci will not only be the first female Senior Pastor in our church’s history (although we’ve had multiple female Associate Pastors), and since the process of changing pastors may be new to many of you, part of that transition will include me sharing sermons and newsletter articles over the next month to remind us all of the biblical and practical reasons both for women as clergy leaders, and for our United Methodist “itinerant” system (the system whereby we rotate pastors).

For those who’ve not yet experienced either having a female Senior Pastor or any kind of pastoral change, I invite and encourage you to please give both a try before making hasty judgments or decisions.  Both can (and I believe will be) great blessings if you’re willing to stretch (to REACH) beyond what you’ve been comfortable with before in order to experience the “new thing” God has in store for you through your new leader.  Even though it may be challenging, don’t miss the opportunity to grow and mature as a believer through this transition!

In the meantime, the work of God’s church here at East Cobb UMC goes on without missing a beat!  Yes, be in prayer both for Nanci and myself as we prepare for this transition, and be in prayer for yourselves that you would be open to what God would do through it.  But at the same time, continue the great work of God’s church here at East Cobb UMC:  pray; worship; serve; study God’s word; give your tithes to the ongoing church ministry fund; and (if you haven’t already) make a three-year financial commitment of your “offerings” (that which is over-and-above your tithe) to our “REACH” capital journey so that East Cobb can fulfill its vision from God(My wife and I have already made ours -- won’t you do so, as well?)  [Click HERE for a digital REACH commitment card if you’ve yet to turn one in]


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

Sunday, May 10, 2015

REACH and A Pastoral Move

I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)

Some members have asked me (or wondered privately), “Brian, how will the news of your upcoming reappointment to a new church affect our REACH capital campaign?”  Well, the simple answer is:  It shouldn't one bit! (and I pray that you will not let it do so!)

Our REACH capital journey has never been about an individual person or their vision (mine, my successor’s, or anyone else’s), but about the vision that God has given to His people at East Cobb UMC to reach more of our community and world for Jesus Christ, using a new building as one tool to do that.

There are plenty of examples in scripture where this was the case.  For example, while Moses saw the “promised land” from a distance, it was his successor Joshua that actually lead the people of Israel to enter it. Later, while God gave King David the initial vision for the great Temple in Jerusalem, it was his son King Solomon who actually got to build and complete it.

And even in the scripture above (from 1 Corinthians 3), the apostle Paul highlights the biblical process of successor leadership when he says (listen to the entire passage in Verses 6-9): “I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow.  Because of this, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but the only one who is anything is God who makes it grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together, but each one will receive their own reward for their own labor. We are God's coworkers, and you are God's field, God's building.”

In case you didn’t know, Paul (like all United Methodist pastors) didn’t stay in one place too long.  Instead, he would preach and teach and lead in one place for a period of time, then move on to another place with someone else following him to pick up where he left off (in this case, a man named Apollos).  But his point is that neither the one who “plants” nor the one who “waters” is “anything” -- the only one that truly matters is “God who makes it grow.”  The “vision,” therefore, was never really about Paul or Apollos, but about God’s vision and work among them all.

So it is with our REACH journey: REACH is not about me or my successor, but about God’s call to His people at East Cobb UMC to reach more of its community for Jesus Christ. True, I may have I may have led us to better understand and clarify that vision, and my successor will help you to actually execute and carry it out, but the only one who truly matters in the whole process is “God who makes it grow.”

I trust that you will take this into consideration as you prayerfully discern the commitment(s) that God is calling each of us to share next week (May 17) on REACH Commitment Sunday.  I invite (and challenge) you to make your commitment not about me or my successor, but about the vision that God has for East Cobb UMC, and the exciting things that will take place when you as a church fulfill that vision!


Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Thoughts On "Being Sent"...

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

If you were at worship today you'll know that it was announced by our District Superintendent that after serving 10 years as our church's Senior Pastor, I will be reappointed ("sent") by our Bishop to serve a another church beginning June 26th.

While this news at first came as a surprise to my family and I, upon subsequent prayer and reflection we have come to see God's hand in it in the some remarkable ways. Not only are we excited about the possibilities  for ministry in the place to which we (like Paul and Barnabas) are being sent, but I'm confident that the person God is sending to follow me as Senior Pastor here at East Cobb UMC is His choice to lead you in into the next phase of growth.

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

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

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

You may know that in order to protect the relationships of persons in the other congregations involved, we will not be sharing where I'll be moving or the identity of who is being appointed here until May 17.   After then, I'll be sharing a variety of sermons geared to help ease the transition.  In the meantime, however, I hope you'll join me in praying not only for me and my family as we prepare to leave, but for our entire congregation as we make our REACH journey commitments also on May 17 (I'll be making one, as well!), and for your new pastor as they prepare to arrive and begin leading  you in late June.

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

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Healthy Family

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

What constitutes a healthy family?  According to one family specialist, a healthy family is...      
1. Caring. Do you build bridges 
    instead of walls?
2. Respectful. Are people free to express their own opinions?
3. Convictional.  Is your family committed to a central value system?
4. Flexible. Are you willing to change the rules?
5. Expressive. Do you respond warmly to those in your family?
6. Responsible. Does each family member have some responsibility?
7. Initiating. Is your family involved in outside activities, 
    both apart and as a family?
8. Realistic. Do you see your family as others do?

[-- Howard Hendricks, Better Families BulletinMarch 1994, Volume 18:3

The characteristics above described a healthy biological family.  But these same qualities and characteristics can be applied to a spiritual family (a “church”), as well! How well do you think we here at East Cobb UMC do?  Are we caring, respectful, committed to a “central value system” (i.e., our Mission, Vision, and Values)?  Are we flexible, expressive, and responsible?  Do we initiate ministry outside ourselves, and are we realistic about the way others view us?


As we continue our “REACH” journey, I invite you to join me in giving thanks that we have a healthy spiritual family here at East Cobb UMC -- not a “perfect” one (no church is), but definitely a “healthy” one!  And just as each of us have found East Cobb UMC to be “family,” I invite us to support the work of “REACH” so that new persons today and long into the future will find a “family” home here, as well! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Things That Haven't Been Done Before

“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?” (Colossians 3:17)


“The things that haven’t been done before,
those are the things to try.
Columbus dreamed of an unknown shore
at the rim of the far-flung sky,
And his heart was bold and his faith was strong
As he ventured in dangers new,
And he paid no heed to the jeering throng
Or the fears of the doubting crew.

The many will follow the beaten track
With guideposts on the way,
They live and have lived for ages back
With a chart for every day.
Someone has told them it’s safe to go
On the road he has traveled o’er.
And all that they ever strive to know
Are the things that were known before.

A few strike out, without map or chart,
Where never a [person] has been,
From the beaten paths they draw apart
To see what no [one] has seen.
There are deeds they hunger alone to do;
Though battered and bruised and sore,
They blaze the path for the many, who
Do nothing not done before.

The things that haven’t been done before,
Are the tasks worth while today;
Are you one of the flock that follows, or
Are you the one that shall lead the way?
Are you one of the timid souls that quail
At the jeers of a doubting crew,
Or dare you, whether you win or fail, Strike out for a goal that’s new?

[-- Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959)]

Today our church officially embarks on a new journey called "REACH", a 36-month endeavor that will give us the spiritual and financial tools to fulfill the vision we believe God has given us of "reaching" our community and world for Jesus Christ.  Not only do we serve one who constantly calls us forward, but who has also been there ahead of us and walks with us every step of the way. Our REACH journey will be a challenging one, but as God’s people, we're not be afraid to step out and do the things (like REACH) that God is calling us to do that have never been done before! Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

(To find out more information about our 
REACH journey, CLICK HERE)

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!