Monday, December 27, 2010

Joy to the World!

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; Break forth into joyous song and sing praises.… Make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.” (Psalm 98:4 & 6)

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns! Let all their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
repeat the sounding joy
repeat the sounding joy
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins & sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found

He rules the world with truth & grace & makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders of his love.”

[–“Joy to the World,” by Isaac Watts, 1719]

My hope and prayer is that the true joy of the Christ-child has been yours this Christmas, and that that joy will continue with you into the new year! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Presents for God

“[And] opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)

Christmas is all about gift giving, right? It’s a time we celebrate the gifts we give to each other, and (if we are people of faith) the greatest gift of all – the one God gave to us: Jesus. But have you ever considered what gifts you might give to God this holiday season (and really the whole year long)?

As we continue our series “Advent Conspiracy”, consider this list shared with me several years ago containing 10 suggestions from Jesus about just a few ways that we can give back to God:

“1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way my birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell me all the time.

2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.

3. Instead of writing the President complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out this year, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up. It will be nice hearing from you again.

4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of my birth and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.

5. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.

6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile it could make the difference. Also, you might consider supporting the local Hot-Line: they talk with people like that every day.

7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a “Merry Christmas” that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then, stop shopping there on Sunday -- if the store didn't make so much money on that day they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families.

8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary, especially one who takes my love and Good News to those who have never heard my name. You may already know someone like that.

9. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them (and I suspect you don't) buy some food and a few gifts and give them to your church, the Salvation Army or some other charity that believes in me and they will make the delivery for you.

10. Finally if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in my presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.”

You see, the real gifts that God wants from us don’t come from a store, but from our hearts. This Christmas, give the gift of “love in action” to all those around! And always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

(CLICK HERE for ideas and sermons which have been being shared during our “Advent Conspiracy” series, or visit the links to the right of this article)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Coming...


Are you tired of the hectic rat race of the holiday? Are you frustrated with how consumerism has stolen the soul of Christmas, reducing it merely to a retail circus that depletes our pocketbooks and defeats our spirits?

Well, this year take a stand! Join the growing movement of Christ-followers who are choosing to make the holiday season what it should be – a joyous celebration of Jesus’ birth that enriches our hearts and the world around us.

This Sunday (November 28th), we’ll begin a new series called Advent Conspiracy that will continue through Christmas Eve in which we’ll learn how to substitute consumption with compassion by practicing four simple, but powerful, countercultural concepts. I hope you’ll join us for these very special services as we prepare for Christmas 2010. Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

WATCH THE PROMO VIDEO WE SHARED LAST SUNDAY AT THE CLOSE OF WORSHIP...

video

Monday, November 15, 2010

In The Works #3

“Without a vision the people perish...”
(Proverbs 29:18, KJV)

Twice this year already (in February and June) I’ve shared articles about some of the ministry and facility-related initiatives that are currently “in the works” and in various stages of development at East Cobb UMC. Today I again want to share a brief update about just a few of these that may be of interest to you:

● We hope you’ve been enjoying the new weekly e-newsletter. Although we’re still printing and mailing paper copies to any who request them (as well as all our homebound members), the online version is enabling more people to have access to the events and activities of our church in a more timely manner. If you have suggestions or ideas for its improvement, please email nancy@eastcobbumc.org.

● Hopefully you’ve been noticing our new church logo appearing on a variety of communication materials. While we’ve shared a “soft” rollout of the new logo so far, in January we’ll have a more aggressive campaign to officially acquaint our entire congregation with it, and to help you see how it can be used as a great evangelism tool for us as God’s church.

● Now that the new logo has been adopted, work will begin early next year (2011) on a comprehensive redesign of our church website.

● The week of November 29-December 3, the new doors for our Education and Activities buildings (11 doors total) will be installed. This work is just one part of our long-range facility development plan.

● Although the temporary outdoor signage for our church keeps getting torn down by the constant DOT roadwork, our sign sub-committee is continuing to work on temporary solutions to clearly identify our church from Roswell Rd.

● In the meantime, work continues as we prepare both plans and permits for a new permanent outdoor monument sign. The rezoning of our facility that we’ll need for our new sign is currently on the docket to come before the Cobb County Zoning Commission later this month. After that, we’ll better know the kind of sign we’ll be able to build. The new sign is also part of our long-range facility development plan.

● You’ll notice that the DOT has already poured the curbs for the new deceleration lane and top commercial entrance to our upper parking lot. We are thankful to Steve Ragsdale, Steve Hughes, and Stan Lassiter for their work through our attorney on behalf of our church to acquire these additional accommodations from the DOT for their road expansion. The DOT will soon also begin work on a commercial lower entrance, as well.

● Our Strategic Planning Team continues its work on a 5-year Strategic Plan for our entire church. We have now acquired the expertise of an architect to help us phase our long-range facility development and expansion, and in early 2011 we’ll be sharing the initial thoughts about this phasing with the entire congregation for input, suggestion and comment. The two pieces of this plan that are already in progress are the new doors and our eventual new outdoor/monument sign.

As I’ve said before, all of these are in various stages of development, and some will require approval from various levels of our church’s leadership along the way. To find out more detail about any of these initiatives (or if you have input, ideas, or expertise that you’re willing to share to help accomplish them), please email or call the church office (770-971-3643 or office@eastcobbumc.org), and we’ll have someone from the appropriate group respond to your specific question(s).

In the meantime, continue to pray for your church leaders as they seek God’s will and wisdom for all of us, and remember that God’s mission for us of being “A Mosaic of God’s Family: Gathering, Growing, and Going” is one that will require all of us to do our part in order for it to be accomplished. Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Veterans & the "Armor of God"

“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)

If you are reading this on November 11th, then you’re reading it on “Veteran’s Day” – the day we honor and remember the sacrifice and selflessness of those who serve and defend our country in our armed services. It was originally celebrated as “Armistice Day” -- November 11, 1918, the day that ended what was once called “war to end all wars” (World War I) – and its purpose was to remember those who had died in that conflict. In 1954, Congress changed the focus and scope of the day, and renamed it “Veterans Day.” Since that time, it’s purpose has been three-fold: remembering those who fought and died in all wars; celebrating all veterans; and promoting an enduring peace for all time.

In the Bible, the apostle Paul described the Christian life in military terms: in Ephesians 6, he says we should “put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

While Paul’s words here are meant to be understood metaphorically (rather than literally), it’s worth noting that Paul chose military language at all to describe a life of faith. His point is that life is very much a “battle” against the harmful spiritual forces of our world (things like fear and hopelessness), and that the disciplines of our faith are very much like the hard discipline and training of military personnel.

We have many veterans in our own congregation who we want to honor. So, as we celebrate and remember them, let’s also remember that we’re all called to be “veterans” of faith by “fighting the good fight” (1 Timothy 1:18). Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

I invite you to pray this prayer for our Veterans: “Righteous God, you rule the nations. Guard brave men and women in military service. Give them compassion for those who confront them as enemies. Keep our children from hate that hardens, or from scorekeeping with human lives. Though for a season they must be people of war, let them live for peace, as eager for agreement as for victory. Encourage them as they encourage one another, and never let hard duty separate them from loyalty to your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”

[-"Prayer for Those In Military Service” found in the United Methodist Book of Worship #542]

Monday, November 1, 2010

Daylight Savings Ends This Weekend


“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)

On Sunday, March 13, 2010, we started “saving daylight.” On that day we set our clocks, watches and electronic devices ahead one hour, “giving” ourselves an extra hour of daylight. We “lost” an hour of sleep on that Sunday, but for the next eight months we were able to stay outside a little longer by simply manipulating the clock. The number of hours in the day were not actually increased, but it seemed as if the days were longer. This coming Saturday night/Sunday morning (November 6th) we will finally get to set our clocks back one hour, thereby “retrieving” the hour of sleep that we “lost” in March.

While on earth, Jesus taught about the senselessness of worrying about the times. He illustrated his point in his “Sermon on the Mount” when he said “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:27). While worrying may not add any time to our lives (in fact some studies reveal that worrying can actually take it away), nevertheless years have been added through the combined efforts of medical science, proper nutrition and exercise, and education. Not only are we living longer, but the quality of life has improved significantly in many ways.

And yet, even with all this advancement, we cannot actually “retrieve” time. It is fleeting. It cannot be stopped by adjusting a watch, nor can it be speeded up simply by marking off a day ahead on a calendar. Instead, today is what we have. Yesterday is already a cancelled check. Tomorrow is merely a promissory note.

So, this Saturday night when you set your clock back an hour, what do you plan to do with that extra hour other than sleep? Watch more TV? Spend more time on the computer? Why not take extra time to talk and converse with your family members? What about reading your Bible that’s been collecting dust, or spending an extra hour in prayer? And in addition to these, what about adjusting your clock appropriately so that you won’t be late for Sunday School and worship the next morning -- nothing in this life is more precious and valuable than the brief time we spend together in fellowship with one another and in worship of God. Think about it (I hope you agree), and then… do it! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A New Church Logo


“In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27)


After nearly two years of prayer, creativity, design, modification, re-design, and further modification, our church finally has a new logo that conveys the sense of what we feel to be the identity and calling of our congregation. Recently adopted by our Administrative Council, the new logo is reflective of our mission/purpose of being “A Mosaic of God’s Family… Gathering, Growing, and Going.”

As a diverse congregation – a MOSAIC, with members from at least six different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, containing conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, traditional and contemporary folks, the young and the “not-as-young” – we GATHER at the foot of the cross and flame (representing our United Methodist heritage) to embrace God and embrace others (who may even be different from us). We then GROW in faith, love and joy as we together travel a path that sends us GOING out into our world to serve our fellow human beings, and to share the good news of Jesus with them. The path, in turn, leads us all back to our church --God’s tool to bring people to the foot of the cross to Gather and start the cycle all over again.

In the coming weeks, you'll notice our new logo appearing increasingly in all of our publications and other places as a reminder of who we are and who we’re called to be. So, our prayer is that the design will not only inspire you to remember our mission/purpose, but to help others find and claim it for themselves, as well.

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Lord's Baseball Game


“By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)


This coming week (beginning on Oct. 27), Major League Baseball’s “World Series” begins. As you’re watching, enjoy the following parable about the role of grace in our lives, shared by a member of one of my former churches:

“I stood with the Lord one day to observe a baseball game, where the Lord’s team was playing Satan’s team. The Lord’s team was at bat, the score was tied zero to zero, and it was the bottom of the 9th inning with two outs. We watched as a batter stepped up to the plate whose name was Love. Love swung at the first pitch and hit a single, because Love never fails. The next batter was Faith, and who also got a single, because Faith works with Love. The next batter up was named Godly Wisdom. Satan wound up and threw the first pitch. Godly Wisdom looked it over and let it pass: ball one! Three more pitches and Godly Wisdom walked, because Godly Wisdom never swings at what Satan throws. The bases were loaded.

Then the Lord turned and told me he was bringing up his star player: Grace. “He doesn’t look like much!” I said as he stepped up to the plate. In fact, Satan’s whole team relaxed when they saw him. Thinking they’d won the game, Satan wound up and fired his first pitch. To the shock of everyone, Grace hit the ball harder than anyone had ever seen. It sailed over the centerfield fence for a home run. The Lord’s team won!

The Lord then asked me if I knew why Love, Faith and Wisdom could get on base but couldn’t win the game. I answered that I didn’t know why. So the Lord explained, ‘If your love, faith, and wisdom had won the game you would think you had done it by yourself. Love, faith, and Wisdom will get you on base, but only my Grace can get you home.’”

[--Shared by Becky Jenkins, Trinity-on-the-Hill UMC, Augusta, GA]

Food for thought for all of us! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Church Fund-Raising Ideas

“Now as you excel in everything… so we want you to excel also
in this generous act of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7)

Last week’s sermon on the importance of each Christian investing our resources (including our finances) in and through the ministries of God’s church prompted at least one group of our members to brainstorm ideas for church fund-raising to help with our current income deficit. See what you think…

  1. Designate parking spots for those who tithe. Other available spots will be on a rental basis, say $200 per year, with names on the spaces. Free parking will be at the Campground. This will also resolve the issue of insufficient parking.
  2. Control the length of the sermon, thus departure time based on the collection. Some levels can be set such as; $1,000, noon; $1,500; 11:55; $2,000, 11:50; etc.
  3. Remove the seat cushions and rent cushions to the congregation. Members would also be able to buy their own cushions with names embroidered for something like $2,000. Cushions would not be transferrable.
  4. Have an electronic credit card processor passed by the ushers with the collection plate. That way members could get frequent flyer miles with their contribution.
  5. After the collection, make it a ritual to ask all who contributed to stand up. We think collections will soar.
  6. During hot periods, rent fans to the choir.
  7. Run advertisements on the big screens prior to starting church, just as is done at movie theaters. Start with members who have businesses having priority, but then expand as the membership increases.
  8. Bring wine back to communion. Establish a price list such as; grape juice – free; house wine, $3.00, imported, $5.00.
  9. Solicit sponsors for church repairs and then advertise them on the big screens.
  10. Plant something unusual in the Epistle, such as an error or an icon. Give a prize to the first person who notifies Jim of the detection. The prize will be sponsored by a business who will then be advertised on the big screens. This will not generate capital itself, but will aid in recommendation #11 below.
  11. Allow advertising in the Epistle. This could generate significant amounts of capital as well as improving readership.

I know what you’re thinking… “the preacher made those up!” Actually... No, I didn’t! They were truthfully thought up by several of your fellow members and shared with me in a subsequent email (with permission to share them with you). I thought you’d not only enjoy them, but might be challenge like I was to remember our mutual responsibility to do our part to support the work of God’s kingdom through our regular and generous financial giving through our church. Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Where My Money Goes ...OR... The 10% Solution



“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” (Malachi 3:10)

Some of you have seen this before, but it bears sharing again as a reminder of one of the spiritual callings we all have as Christians:

"WHERE MY MONEY GOES...

*To keep my family fed, clothed, sheltered ...60 to 70%

*To keep the government off my back ...20 to 30%

*To God for the following:
  1. Calling me into existence ...1%
  2. Allowing His perfect Son to become a human pin cushion and die as a substitute for my sins ...1%
  3. Loving and sustaining me through all those years I rejected His love and refused to surrender to Him ...1%
  4. Gladly receiving me like a son or daughter when I did surrender my life to Him ...1%
  5. Refusing to judge me no matter how often I judge others ...1%
  6. Believing in me when I couldn’t believe and didn’t even care anymore ...1%
  7. All those miraculous healings of my family, friends, or acquaintances ...1%
  8. The 66 books though which I learn the facts of my sinful nature and the sufficiency of God’s grace and love for me ...1%
  9. Patiently removing my bad habits and worries from me one at a time, despite how much I try to hold onto them ...1%
  10. Preparing me in every way for righteousness, joy and peace ...1%"

God is always faithful to us. The “tithe” (the first 10% of our income) is one way the Bible’s teaches that Christ-followers can be faithful back to God. So, are you honoring God in how you use your financial resources, starting with a tithe back to Him? If not, it’s never too late to start! Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, October 4, 2010

How Hospitable Are You???

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for
by doing that some have entertained angels
without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

New to Marietta, they got up Sunday morning to worship at East Cobb U.M.C. They had driven by our facility and decided that we would be the first church they “tried out” as school started back. They were a family with a three-month old infant and a four-year old Kindergartner. Arriving 20 minutes before the scheduled start time of the service, they found a parking spot and approached the entrance.

One of our church’s Greeters welcomed them warmly, gave directions to the nursery, the worship area, and told them about our Children’s offerings for their Kindergartner. But, an alert member passing by did even more: they noticed what was going on and asked if they could help. The member then escorted the new family to the nursery, where their baby was placed in the loving care of our nursery workers. They showed them where KidZone Worship was held. Finally, the member escorted the parents to the worship area, where they were again welcomed by several other members during the greeting time.

Friends, I don’t care how hard it is to find a parking place or how much or little they enjoyed the worship, the music, or even the sermon. They will be back... because somebody was alert, cared, and went the extra mile – even though it might have been inconvenient – to help them feel “at home” at East Cobb U.M.C.

Do you know the name of those helpful church members? God does! Could we write down your name as one? This Fall you may have noticed that we have had a good number of guests and new worshipers that we’ve been welcoming each and every week to East Cobb UMC. They’re here on Sunday mornings for worship, Sunday nights for study groups, Wednesday night for supper, and some throughout the week for other church activities. So, let’s each offer our very best hospitality to welcome them in the name of the Lord! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Called to Serve

“Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend
the orphan, plead for the widow....” (Isaiah 1:17)

One of our tasks and callings as people of faith is to touch and make a difference in the physical and material lives of people around us in our community and world. We’re called to follow the example of Christ by serving others, not simply be served ourselves. Growing up, I remember singing the words to one hymn that put it well:

“Look all around you, find someone in need,
Help somebody today
Tho’ it be little – a neighborly deed,
Help somebody today!
Help somebody today, somebody along life’s way;
Let sorrow be ended, the friendless befriended,
Oh help somebody today!
[--“Help Somebody Today” (Cokesbury Hymnal #67), by Frank Breck, 1932]

The founder of Methodism John Wesley is said to have encouraged something similar nearly 200 years before when he wrote the following
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can,
In all the ways you can, in all the places you can,
At all the times you can, to all the people you can,
As long as you ever can.”

This coming Saturday (October 2nd) from 9am-1pm, our church will be having our annual “Great Day of Service.” Over 200 members and friends will be involved in various activities and events that intentionally serve our fellow human beings both in our own community and throughout the world. I hope you’ll be present along with me to make a difference in the lives of others on this special day! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Howie Finds His Place!!!

Did you miss this past Sunday's comical video "Finding Your Place" starring Mark Haman and myself (da-da!!!)? Ok, so it's not up for an Academy Award, but it is a humorous way to see the value of discovering and using our Spiritual Gifts first before we try to go out and do all sorts of ministries. If you missed seeing it, here it is!!! ...
video

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Do You Know Your Spiritual Gifts?



“There are varieties of gifts,… but it is the same God who activates them all. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4,6-7)



The Bible teaches that each and every Christian is given Spiritual Gifts to help life effective life and ministry in our world. Unfortunately, many believers not only don’t know what their gifts are, but don’t know how to use them, resulting in frustration and disillusionment in their life and work. That’s why last week in worship we began our discussion of the S.T.R.I.D.E. principles of Christian faith by learning about the equipping Spiritual Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

If you missed church last week, or are not in one of our “Serving From the Heart” classes, you can click here to take a short online Spiritual Gifts Assessment to discover your gifts. In the meantime, though, enjoy this humorous parable from Leslie Flynn about the importance of the variety of gifts within the overall health and effectiveness of Christ’s body (the Church):

“The event is a conference of carpenter’s tools, where Mr. Hammer is presiding. Several suggest he leave the meeting because he is too noisy. Replies the Hammer, ‘If I have to leave this shop, Mr. Screw must go also. You have to turn him around again and again to get him to accomplish anything.’ Mr. Screw then spoke up. ‘If you wish, I will leave. But Mr. Plane must leave too. All his work is on the surface. His efforts have no depth.’ To this Mr. Plane responds, ‘Mr. Ruler will also have to withdraw, for he is always measuring folks as though he were the only one who is right.’ Mr. Ruler then complains against Mr. Sandpaper, ‘You ought to leave too because you're so rough and always rubbing people the wrong way.’

In the midst of all this discussion, in walks Jesus, the Carpenter of Nazareth. He has arrived to start His day's work. Putting on His apron, He goes to the bench to make a pulpit from which to proclaim the gospel. He employs the hammer, screw, plane, rule, sandpaper, and all the other tools. After the day's work when the pulpit is finished, Mr. Saw rises and remarks, ‘Friends, I see that all of us are workers together with the Lord.’”

[-Leslie B. Flynn, Nineteen Gifts of the Spirit, p. 34]

I’m thankful that, like these tools, we as human beings are created by God with diversity and variety. We’re not all alike (thank goodness!), but we do have a common purpose. As Paul puts it in the scripture above, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” So, do you know YOUR Spiritual Gifts? More importantly… are you USING them in and for God’s service? Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Parable of the Lobster

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

Last week in worship we talked about the blessings and challenges of CHANGE – of being willing to stretch and become more than we already are. The following modern day parable is a follow up to that message, and 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 this year? What new thing(s) is He challenging you with lately? In what ways are you being called to be more than you have been? My hope and prayer is that even though change is often difficult and uncomfortable, you’ll welcome it as a tool from God to help you become who He wants you to be. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Job Or A Ministry?

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



How can you tell if something you’re doing is just a “job”, or if it is an actual “ministry”? Ask yourself these questions to see…

“If you are doing it because no one else will, it’s a job.
If you are doing it to serve the Lord, it’s a ministry.
If you are doing it just well enough to get by, it’s a job.
If you are doing it to the best of your ability, it’s a ministry.
If you will do it only so long as it doesn’t interfere with other activities,
it’s a job.
If you are committed to staying with it, even when it means letting go of other things, it’s a ministry.
If you quit because no one praised you or thanked you, it was a job.
If you stay with it even when no one seems to notice, it’s a ministry.
If you do it because someone else said it needs to be done, it’s a job.
If you do it because you are convinced it needs to be done, it’s a ministry.
It is hard to be excited about a job.
It is almost impossible NOT to get excited about a ministry.
People may say “Well done” when you do your job.
The Lord will say “Well done” when you complete your ministry.
An average church is filled with people doing jobs.
A great church is filled with people involved in ministry.”

[-From the newsletter of Mt. View UMC in Kingsport, Tennessee]

I’m glad to be part of a “great church” filled with people willing to do true ministry! As you’re hopefully already aware, during the month of September all East Cobb members and friends have the opportunity to prayerfully consider being part of one of our leadership teams for next year. Instructions on how to nominate yourself or someone else can be found in our “Join In The Ministry of God’s Church” brochure that you can find in the Narthex or download here. In the meantime, remember that whatever it is that we do or are called to, let’s do it as ministry with the world through God’s church. Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reach Your STRIDE


“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2a)


Do you ever struggle (or have you ever struggled) to find your place in the world? in your work? in your family? in your church? Do you sometimes have difficulty understanding your purpose or feeling fulfilled in what you do in these places? If you’ve wrestled with questions like these (and most of us have), then there’s an answer waiting for you this Fall at East Cobb UMC!

Beginning this Sunday, September 12 and continuing through Sunday, October 31, our church will be embarking on an eight-week spiritual journey talking about how God has gifted each of us in various ways to address the questions above. Through a series of weekly sermons, testimonies, “Serving From the Heart” groups, and resource materials, you’ll discover how the S.T.R.I.D.E. principles of Christian stewardship and faith can help you “Reach Your STRIDE” in becoming the man, woman, youth, or child that God created and called you to be. It will all culminate with a grand celebration at our morning worship services on Sunday, October 31, 2010.

Remember, growing and maturing is one of the key themes and practices of Christian faith. As Paul’s words in Hebrews 12 say, we’re called to continually stretch beyond who and what we’ve been in our past in order to become what God wants us to be in our future. In other words, don’t rest on the laurels of your past, but get up and stride towards the finish! I hope and pray that you’ll join me on this journey as we together “Reach [our] STRIDE” as God’s church! Never forget that God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, August 23, 2010

All About Me???

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to
the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

Last Sunday’s message challenged each of us to consider how much our lives as Christians are often wrapped up (even unintentionally) in the self-centeredness of our society and culture (Click here to read the message). As a follow up, I want to share several additional observations: the first involving The Lord’s Prayer; the next two from readings that challenged me in my own thinking.

DID YOU KNOW…?
You cannot say The Lord’s Prayer and even once say “I”
You cannot pray The Lord’s Prayer and even once say “my”
Nor can you pray The Lord’s Prayer and not pray for another
For when you ask for daily bread, you must include each other
For others are included in each and every plea
From beginning to the end of it, it does not once say “me”!
[-From a 1984 Fayetteville First UMC (GA) newsletter]

“The fastest growing religion in the world is not Islam or Christianity… but radical consumerism. It promises transcendence, power, pleasure, and fulfillment even as it demands complete devotion.… American Christians have incorporated their devotion to consumerism with their Christian faith. Yet every step we make towards [it] is one step farther off the path of Jesus the Liberating King.”
[-From ADVENT CONSPIRACY by Rick McKinley and others, pp. 21-22]

“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night… For when these replace an appetite for God Himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.”
[-From A HUNGER FOR GOD: DESIRING GOD THROUGH FASTING & PRAYER by John Piper, p. 11]

Wow! Strong words that cut right to our heart -- or more precisely, right to our behaviors and practices! Still, it’s the call we’re asked to follow. So, may God give us the courage, power, and boldness to seek this kind of true freedom from his Holy Spirit in each of our lives! Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, August 16, 2010

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 East Cobb U.M.C., we celebrate this great tradition once every five years on the final weekend in August. Well, the time has arrived! So, mark your calendars for Saturday, August 28 from 4:00-8:30pm, where our church will be celebrating our 138th birthday with special Homecoming events of fun, food, fellowship, and worship featuring the preaching of former pastor Rev. Jack Gillespie.

I hope you’ll make plans now to be present then. It’s a day in the life of your church that you won’t want to miss, so I hope to see you there! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Gadgets and Gizmos... Oh, My!"



“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions,
and give money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." (Matthew 19:21)


This past Sunday in our “American Idol” sermon series I shared a message about the dangers of technology. Those of you who know me well know that this was a difficult sermon not only to deliver but also to prepare, as I myself am a great lover of technology of all sorts. Yet, as I shared in the message, I’ve also come to realize how dangerous technology can be when we (like the man in the Matthew 19 passage) allow it to get in the way of our relationships with God and others. When that happens, technology (like any “possession” in the scripture) has become an “idol” in our life, and we may need to take some drastic steps to get out from under its control.

While many of you were present and heard how I believe Jesus’ words help us avoid (or break free from) this idol, I wanted to share my main three points again for the benefit of those who weren’t present, and just to reinforce it for those of you who were! (Note that these are in reverse order from the sermon):

1) Learn to SET LIMITS on the technology that you absolutely must have -- manage it in such a way that it doesn’t create barriers to your relationships with others or with God. That may mean limiting the time you spend on email, the internet, texting, on Facebook or Twitter, etc. If this doesn’t help you get control of your use of technology, you may need take a second, more difficult step…

2) CUT BACK and learn to live with simpler types/pieces of technology. “Sell” your “attitude of possessiveness” that makes you think you have to have all the newest, coolest stuff that’s out on the market when in fact you could live with something simpler than that. In spiritual terms, surrender your wants to God and trust that He’ll provide you with what you need.

3) Finally, there are times when we may need to GIVE UP our use of some pieces of technology altogether. This is obviously the most radical solution, but if setting limits and cutting back don’t help you get control over your use of some types/pieces of technology (like TV, the internet, texting, or social media), then you may need to seriously consider not using them at all!

Obviously there is much more that can be said about each of these suggestions (and in fact I did say much more in the full text of my sermon found in my sermon archive here). However, I hope that even this short posting has challenged you to prayerfully consider this further. The key is that God wants each of us to be free of the idolization of technology so that we have more time to devote to our families, friends, and the work of His kingdom on earth! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Welcome To Faith Bits!

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God,
so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
(1 John 5:13)
Welcome to “Faith Bits,” my blog about life and faith in the 21st-century. Although this forum will primarily host my weekly Pastor’s articles for our church’s e-newsletter, you’ll also find here some of my personal thoughts and musings on life, faith and Christian living relating not only to our local church, but also to our local, state, national and world community at large.

Within this forum over the course of time, you’ll alternately find words and stories of inspiration, information, challenge and humor. Please visit often, as I’ll also occasionally add posts that will not appear in our weekly e-newsletter. And, as I designed this to be an interactive online forum (where my articles are merely discussion-starters), please feel free to share appropriate comments as you feel led (click on the “comment” link at the bottom of each post), and/or share them with a friend via email or social media.

Finally, on this blog you’ll also find “Links for Life” websites and others resources for your walk of faith, including an archive of a few of my sermons (and other materials) that address common questions of faith and spirituality which I’m often asked, or that I hear.

In the same way and spirit as the apostle Paul writing letters to his congregations (letters that we today call “Epistles” in the Bible’s New Testament), my hope and prayer is that this blog -- “Faith Bits” -- will become a connection point not only for life within our faith community at East Cobb UMC, but will also provide each of you with an important and trusted source (and resource) for your own personal walk with God.

Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Friday, July 16, 2010

E-Newsletter: Next Stage of Gospel Communication

“...And the gospel must first be published to all nations...”
(Mark 13:10, KJV)
For over 2000 years, Christians have sought to find effective ways to communicate the “good news” of the gospel with those around them. In the earliest days this took the form of in-person, word of mouth communication to and with individuals and groups. But even in these early days, there was always a need to communicate to those who were not directly present. That’s why early evangelists like Paul and Peter wrote letters to express their thoughts and feelings to Christians in churches and places far away – the “Epistles” of our New Testament (books like Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Peter) are all examples of this kind of communication.

Much later, Christians in the Middle Ages used stained glass windows in cathedrals to communicate Bible and church stories, ideas, and theology to multitudes who were illiterate. With the Renaissance, however, came a resurgence of literacy, along with the invention of the printing press, allowing for the mass publication of papers, books, and tracts to share news of the gospel. Along with the printing of scripture, churches soon also started printing news of what God was doing in their midst – printed congregational announcements, if you will. By the 20th-century, these “announcement bulletins” morphed into what we today call church “newsletters” to let folks know what was going on in the life of a congregation.

And now, nearly ten years in the 21st-century, we’re about to experience the next stage in this story of gospel and church communication: online newsletters. Most of you probably already know that the July 27th issue is the final church-wide printing of our church’s “Epistle” newsletter, as well as our “Good News” weekly email. Beginning in August, we’ll be communicating primarily through a new weekly electronic-newsletter that not only reflects how most of our culture now processes information, but allows us as a church to be better stewards of our resources.

While we’ll still be mailing the printed newsletter to our homebound members and anyone else who wishes it (just let the office know you want the printed version mailed to you), we hope that this new weekly format will help you stay better connected with the work of Christ here at East Cobb UMC as we go about fulfilling our mission of being “A Mosaic of God’s family... Gathering, Growing, and Going.”

To sign up to receive our new weekly e-newsletter, visit our website and click on the "email signup" link. In the meantime, enjoy this new way to keep in touch with the work of God through our church! And remember, God loves you and I do too!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

In The Works #2

“Without a vision the people perish...”
(Proverbs 29:18, KJV)

Back in February I shared an article about some of the ministry and facility-related initiatives that are currently “in the works” and in various stages of development. Today I wanted to share a brief update about some of these, and share information about several additional ones that may be of interest to you:

● In March we commissioned our church’s first class of “Stephen Ministers” as trained Lay Care-givers, and they are currently available to help any member or friend who may be struggling in any way and needs a listening ear. To find out more, or to request a Stephen Minister for yourself or someone else, click here.

● Our new Bill Benjamin Memorial / Prayer Garden in our front yard was dedicated June 20th in a short dedication service.

● Our old road sign has finally come down due to road expansion work by the DOT, and a new temporary sign has already taken its place.

● In the meantime, work continues as we prepare both plans and permits for a new permanent outdoor monument sign. To build the kind of sign we want, we’ll need to rezone our facility - a process that will take through at least mid-Fall. After that, we’ll better know the kind of sign we’ll be able to build.

● In our work towards the offering of an online church newsletter, we are hoping to have Phase #1 in place by early August. Printed copies will still be available for any who do not have
email or web access, or who prefer a print version.

● Our Strategic Marketing and Web Technology teams are close to being able to make a joint recommendation about a company to assist in the development of our church’s new logo and
brand,
while at the same time redesigning our church website to match it.

● Our worship ministry team currently evaluating the results of our recent Worship Survey to assist in evaluating the continued effectiveness of our worship experiences. They will be reporting these results soon.

● Our church is currently hosting our third Kenyan Mission Trip through July 8. Members from our church and several others are in Meru, Kenya, assisting in the building and development of the church and Kioni School there.

● Our Lighthouse Academy and church Children’s Ministry are in the midst of exciting summer activities like Vacation Bible School, a Summer Camp program, and ministry at Fort Hill (Marietta housing project)

● Work continues on information and cost estimates for new doors for our church’s Education Wing, and for creation of one or more public access WiFi Hotspots throughout our facilities

● Our church has hosted two major events for the churches of our Atlanta-Marietta District: Lay Speaker training back in April; and the annual Pre-Conference Briefing session on June 6th for all clergy and lay delegates to Annual Conference.

● Our attorneys are currently working to achieve the most equitable arrangement with the Georgia D.O.T. in their widening of Roswell Rd. in front of our church.

● Strategic Planning Team continues its work on a 5-year Strategic Plan for our entire church and “Lighthouse Academy” (including specific plans for facility-related expansion)

● Plans are being made now for an exciting East Cobb UMC Homecoming Celebration weekend August 28-29th. Mark your calendars now and plan to attend!

As before, please bear in mind that all of these are in various stages of development, and some will require approval from various levels of our church’s leadership along the way. Nevertheless, I wanted you to see our progress, and let them remind us of our work together as we seek to be and become “A Mosaic of God’s Family: Gathering, Growing, and Going.”

If you want to know more about any of these initiatives (or if you have input, ideas, or expertise that you’re willing to share to help accomplish them), please email or call the church office (770-971-3643 or office@eastcobbumc.org), and we’ll have someone from the appropriate group respond to your specific question(s).

In the meantime, continue to pray for your leaders as they seek God’s will and wisdom for all of us, and remember that God’s vision is one that will require all of us to do our part in order for it to be accomplished. Remember that God loves you and I do, too!