Sunday, December 25, 2011

Our Presents - Jesus' Presence

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

A Prayer for the Opening of Christmas Gifts

“O Great Giver of all good gifts, make these beautifully packages and their contents more for us than simply objects and possessions.

Open our eyes… that we may see in these gifts the love and care that you have given us to share with one another. Grant that the sentiments behind every gift might be truly appreciated, and that our ‘Thank yous’ might be genuine.

Open our eyes… that these gifts might, in some small way, remind us of the many gifts you offer to us every day – food and family, clothes and shelter, employment and recreation, life and love.

Oen our eyes… that we may see in each of these gifts a tiny reflection of the greatest Christmas gift of all – the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

[-From the brochure “Jesus Presence; Our Presents” by Creative Communications for the Parish (St. Louis, MO) © 1993]

As you open (or have opened) the Christmas gifts of your household, may the joy of this day be yours, and may your gifts always bring to mind a recollection of God’s greatest gift to you and me… the baby Jesus! Remember, God loves you and I do, too! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

ECUMC Kenyan Christmas Celebration

For those of you who missed it, here is a short video of one of the "dance" songs from this past Sunday's  ECUMC Kenyan Christmas Celebration.  It was supposed to just be our Kenyan youth and children dancing, but they invited our youth to join them... not sure our Youth Minister (at far right) needs to quit his day job!  :-)  Enjoy and Merry Christmas!!!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

10 Commandments of Christmas

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” (Isaiah 40:3)

1. You shall not let the secular replace the sacredness of Christmas.

2. You shall remember that Mary’s baby is God’s son, our Savior.

3. You shall make room in your heart for Christ and in your busy schedule for worship, prayer and service in His name.

4. You shall not forget the sacrifice Christ made on your behalf when he left the Kingdom of God to come to the Kingdom of earth.

5. You shall support the poor, the needy, the sick, the downtrodden, for in as much as you do it to the least of these, you do it to Christ.

6. You shall loosen the swaddling clothes from Christ and let him have freedom to work and rule in all areas of your life.

7. You shall not forget the name of the Christ-child, Jesus, for there is no other name under heaven or on earth whereby we can be saved.

8. You shall believe in the Christ of Christmas with all your heart, and reap the benefit from believing.

9. You shall do more than just celebrate Christmas; you shall do the work of Christmas.

10. You shall keep the spirit of Christmas all year long.

I invite you to let these wise words become a reality in your life this Advent season as we prepare for Christmas. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, November 27, 2011


“Behold, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple...” (Malachi 3:1)

For many Christians today, the idea of seasons of the Christian year is a new thing. But the church has used them for nearly 2000 years to remind us of spiritual realities that often get lost in our secular and pagan world. For example, many of you may already know that in the Christian calendar, the four weeks prior to Christmas Day are considered a season separate from Christmas.

Known as “Advent” (from the Latin adventus, which means “coming”) these four weeks celebrate and remind us of aspects of faith which are related to but definitely distinct from Christmas. Advent is one way we can remember the true “reason for the season” by being pointed to and prepared for the various “comings” of Jesus in and through time:

(1) In The Past a babe in Bethlehem. We listen to Old Testament prophets who promised a coming Messiah

(2) In the Present the one who comes and meets us in our hearts and lives today

(3) In the Future the one who will come again to make all things new and to establish His kingdom upon the earth once and for all.

During this season, we use the colors blue (representing hope) and purple (representing royalty) to remind us of the hope that Christ brings as our reigning King, and light an Advent wreath to remind us that we wait for the coming of Jesus, the “Light of the world.”

This year at East Cobb UMC, our celebration of Advent can help us understand the true meaning of Christmas, and prepare our hearts for the Christ-child. It will be a great time to invite friends and neighbors to church, as well as a good time to get back to church yourself! So don’t miss out on how God wants to bless you as we begin celebrating Advent on November 27th! I’ll see you then! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What I'm Thankful For...

“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

This past year I have had much to give God thanks for. Here are just a few. I am thankful...

...for a wife and family who model the love of God by loving me just as I am.

...for parents who raised me in church to love, understand, and eventually follow the ways of God.

...for a church family who loves, supports, and prays for both my family and I daily.

...for fellow staff members who share with me in the cause and work of Christ through our church.

...for church members who pray for Jim, Cindy, Peter and I each week for our worship services.

...for Sunday School and Bible study teachers/leaders who live out their faith in the selfless way they lead and teach.

...for committee and ministry team leaders and members who give “above and beyond” to the work of our church through their committee/group.

...for the “behind-the-scenes” members of our sound and multi-media ministries in the essential work that they do.

...for the members of our praise team, adult, children’s and youth choirs for the blessing and inspiration they share through their music.

...for great volunteers who lovingly help cook, serve, and clean up for both our Wednesday Night Suppers and our Sunday Morning Café.

...for church members who are willing to make God a priority through their financial giving to His church.

...for fellow Christians who’re willing to step outside themselves by participating in a missions or evangelism experience locally or overseas.

Of course, there’s many, many more, but have you “counted your blessings” lately? When you do, I’m sure you’ll find that, like me, you have many things for which to “give thanks.” Let us all strive to live out our thankfulness this Thanksgiving holiday! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How Much Does It Cost?

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)

The story is told of a man (the merchant in the story above) asking Jesus (the seller implied in the story) how he could obtain the pearl of great value. "How much does it cost?" he asked. Jesus supposedly answered, "It's too dear, too costly." The conversation continued... "But how much?" "Well, it's very expensive." "Do you think I could buy it?" "Oh, of course. Anybody can." "How much is it?" "It costs everything you have no more, no less so anybody can buy it."

"I'll buy it." "Well, what do you have?" "I have $10,000 in the bank." "Good. What else?" "That's all I have." "Have you nothing more?" "Well, I have $15 here in my pocket." "That's fine. What else do you have?" "That's all." "Where do you live?" "In my house." "Then give the house too." "You mean I must live in the garage?" "You have a garage, as well? Give that too. What else?" "Do you mean that I must live in my two cars, then?" "Both become mine. What else?" "I have nothing else." "Are you alone in the world?" "No, I have a wife, two children, and.... " "Your wife and your children too. What else?" "Lord, I have nothing else, I am left alone now."

"Oh, you must give yourself, too. Everything. When you receive this pearl, everything becomes mine. You can use all these things here but don't forget they are mine, as you are. When I need any of the things you are using you must give them to me because now I am the owner."
[ From The Call To Discipleship, by Juan Carlos Ortiz, pp. 42 43]

The gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is a paradox: at one and the same time, it costs us nothing... and yet it costs us everything. As we share in our annual stewardship commitment, what are you prepared to sacrifice in order to receive God's kingdom? Will you be willing to grow to receive it? Remember, God love you and I do, too!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Story For Those Who "Can't Afford to Tithe"

“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)

Today in worship we talked about the importance of the “tithe” – God’s plan for helping us set our priorities straight regarding money. We also discussed some of the many reasons why people say they “can’t afford to tithe.” The following story addresses many of those concerns:

“Once there was a man who, early in his career, made a vow in church to give to the Lord a tithe of all he earned. In his first job he earned $50 per week, so he tithed $5.00 each Sunday. As he grew older and advanced in his work, his income grew to $100 per week, then to $200 per week. And all through the years he continued tithing on his weekly income until he was finally making $1000 per week.

It was then that he telephoned his pastor and said ‘I have to talk to you.’ The pastor came to the man’s beautiful new home, and they had a good time talking about old times. Finally, the man came to the point: ‘Do you remember the promise I made years ago to tithe? I have kept it all this time. But now, I need to be released from it. You see, when I made that promise, I was making $50 a week. Now, I’m making $1000 a week and it’s costing me $100 a week to fulfill that promise. I’m sorry, preacher, but I can’t afford to tithe any more! So, how can I get out of it?”

The wise old pastor thought for a moment and then he said to his friend, ‘I’m afraid that you cannot be released from your promise, but there is something that we can do. Let’s pray…’ and at that the old preacher began to pray with the man, ‘Dear Lord, shrink this man’s income so that he can once again afford to tithe $5 a week. In Jesus name, Amen.’”

[--From the bulletin of St. Luke UMC in Columbus, Georgia]

As you begin to consider what you’re going to commit to God’s work through the ministry of your church, I encourage you to think about God’s call for us all to be people of the “tithe” – or at least to do what we can to grow towards it. If what you gave to the work of God’s church was multiplied by five or ten, would you continue to maintain your current standard of living? Think about it! 

Over twenty years ago, my wife and I made a commitment to God to tithe off of our gross income (not off the net amount, but the gross amount), and we have never yet regretted it.  So, our church's celebration/commitment Sunday is November 13th.  Will you join us in making that commitment, as well?  Remember always that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

S I G N S . . .

“I have made you a sign…” (Ezekiel 12:6)

Our lives are full of signs… advertisements, billboard, icons, logos, for sale signs, mathematical signs, neon signs, quotation signs, pedestrian, street, traffic signs, vacancy, warning, zodiac signs and so on.  And our English language even contains many other synonyms for “signs”… gestures, symbols, predictions, endorsements, omens, signals, clues, marks, symptoms, etc.  We sometimes talk about “signs” of the times, “signs” that we’re catching cold, or getting older, or growing up. 

But the Bible also contains many references to signs, such as the following:

Genesis 9:12-13 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:  I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

Exodus 3:12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Luke 2:11-12  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

John 4:48 Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, ‘”you will never believe.’”

For these many reasons (plus the fact that our church’s new front yard sign is being constructed now), SIGNS will be the theme for our 2011 Financial Stewardship focus, culminating in Celebration/Commitment at both morning worship services on Sunday, November 13th.

As you think about what God is doing in your own life, what signs is He sending to you?  Are you prepared to receive all that He has for you by responding to those signs?  Over the next few weeks, look for more signs from God, but also prayerfully consider your role and responsibility as part of God’s family at East Cobb UMC during our 2011 Financial Stewardship focus…SIGNS.  Remember, God  loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Annual Laity Sunday

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose.... For we are God’s servants, working together.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)

Too often today people tend to have the misconception that churches pay their pastor to “do” ministry while those in the congregation (the “laity”) are the “recipients” of that ministry. But biblically, ALL Christians are ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and consequently ALL Christians are to be “doing” ministry in the world. The role of the pastor/clergy is merely to equip and resource the laity for that ministry. In a sense, baptism itself is the “ordination” of EVERY Christian to “be” in ministry.

Perhaps that’s why, from the earliest days of the church, Christian ministry has always been seen as a close and intimate partnership between the ordained clergy and the laity. After all, the Bible teaches that a local congregation should be built around the people of God, NOT around the pastor -- I may be your “pastor,” but each of you are the “ministers” of East Cobb United Methodist Church.

To help us remember this truth, each year our church celebrates Laity Sunday, in which the worship services are led by lay people under the direction of our church Lay Leader Michael Lassiter and Associate Lay Leader Lisa Haman. If you’re reading this on Laity Sunday, please join me in welcoming all the participants in our services on this special day. If you’re reading this after that day, I’m confident that God has already blessed those who heard and experienced Him through these, His servants as we “work together” (Paul’s words in the scripture above) for the work of His church. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Way of Love

“And now faith, hope and love abide…. And the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

When doing a Bible study, my preference is to use an actual Bible translation to understand the exact meaning and nuance of the words as originally written. However, at times it is not only appropriate, but also quite helpful to read and use a Bible paraphrase. Paraphrases sometimes help us see a scripture passage in a new way, or help to bring fresh meaning to a text that’s lost it’s impact and “edge” because we’ve grown too familiar hearing it using only one translation.

This is exactly how I felt when I first read Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13. It made me stop and think about the degree to which I am a person who’s actions and behavior is generally marked by agape love. As you read it below, my prayer is that it will have the same impact on you, as well:

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like an infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”
--Eugene H. Peterson, THE MESSAGE (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

Always remember that God loves you and I do, too (with agape love)!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Death of Someone Else

“[Those who are] diligent obtain precious wealth…” (Proverbs 12:27)

“Our church was saddened to learn this week of the death of one of our most valued members, Someone Else.

"Someone's" passing creates a vacancy that will be difficult to fill. Else has been with us for many years and for every one of those years, "Someone" did far more than a normal person's share of the work. Whenever there was a job to do, a class to teach, or a meeting to attend, one name was on everyone's list, "Let 'Someone Else' do it."

Whenever leadership was mentioned, this wonderful person was looked to for inspiration as well as results; "Someone Else can work with that group." It was common knowledge that Someone Else was among the most liberal givers in our church. Whenever there was a financial need, everyone just assumed
Someone Else would make up the difference.

Someone Else was a wonderful person; sometimes appearing superhuman. Were the truth known, everybody expected too much of Someone Else. Now Someone Else is gone!

We wonder what we are going to do. Someone Else left a wonderful example to follow, but who is going to follow it?  Who is going to do the things Someone Else did?  When you are asked to help this year, remember -- we can't depend on Someone Else anymore.”

[--Author unknown]

As we labor to do God’s work in our world, let’s remember that “Someone Else” is no longer available -- the job now belongs to US! Are you doing YOUR part? Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Prayer for the Anniversary of 9/11

This is the prayer I used during morning worship earlier today as we remember the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks:

"O God, our hope and refuge,
in our distress we come quickly to you.
Shock and horror of that tragic day have subsided,
replaced now with an emptiness,
a longing for an innocence lost.

We come remembering those who lost their lives
in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.

We are mindful of the sacrifice of public servants
who demonstrated the greatest love of all
by laying down their lives for friends.
We commit their souls to your eternal care
and celebrate their gifts to a fallen humanity.

We come remembering
and we come in hope,
not in ourselves, but in you.

As foundations we once thought secure have been shaken,
we are reminded of the illusion of security.

In commemorating this tragedy,
we give you thanks for your presence
in our time of need
and we seek to worship you in Spirit and in truth,
our guide and our guardian. Amen."

[--Writtten by Rev. Jeremy Pridgeon, District Superintendent of the Pensacola District of the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference. Prayer found on, posted August 29, 2011]

Ten Ways We're Different From September 2001

“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change...” (Psalm 46:2)

Ten years ago, I shared the following list of ten ways we Americans were different as a people following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Today – ten years later -- I wanted to share these words again, and invite us all to consider the extent to which they are (hopefully) still true…

“1. [Ten years ago] we were placing wreaths on the doors of our homes at Christmas; [Today] we are placing wreaths on the graves of our heroes.

2. [Ten years ago] we were letting our children play with toy guns; [Today] we’re teaching them that guns are not toys.

3. [Ten years ago] we were counting our money; [Today] we are counting our blessings.

4. [Ten years ago] we were trying not to let annoying relatives get the best of us; [Today] we are trying to give the best of ourselves to them.

5. [Ten years ago] we thought a man who could rush down a football field was a hero; [Today] we know a man who rushes into burning buildings is the real one.

6. [Ten years ago] we were getting on one another’s nerves; [Today] we are getting on our knees.

7. [Ten years ago] we thought angels were in heaven; [Today] we know that they are right here on earth.

8. [Ten years ago] we were contemplating all the changes we wanted to make in the new year; [Today] we are contemplating all the changes we will have to make in this new reality.

9. [Ten years ago] the people we idolized wore sports uniforms; [Today] the people we idolize wear police, firefighter, and military uniforms.

10. [Ten years ago] peace on earth was something we prayed for on Sunday morning; [Today] it’s something we pray and live for each and every day.”

[--Originally seen in the Dec. 21, 2001 newsletter of Trinity-on-the-Hill UMC, Augusta, GA]

If you’re reading this on September 11th and you live in Cobb County, Georgia (USA), I invite you to join us for our community-wide Interfaith “Service of Remembrance and Prayer”, 7:00pm at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. We Christians will join with members of our Jewish and Islamic communities to give thanks to all our “first responders,” and to hear a word of inspiration and hope from Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson. If you’re reading this after September 11th, please continue to pray for “peace on earth” and for the courage and wisdom to do your part to make that happen. And never forget that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What "Bone" Are You?

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

September 5, 2011 is Labor Day – a day to celebrate the work we all do in our jobs or professions, and to give thanks for those who work to make possible the economy of our community and nation.

But as we celebrate what we do in the workplace, this is also the time when we begin thinking about the tasks and callings that God gives to each of us in and through His church. After all, one of the vows we each take when we become a member is that we will “support the work of Christ through our church by our… SERVICE” (along with our “Prayers, Presence, Gifts, …and Witness”). This means that while praying, worshiping and being active in a small group, giving financially, and sharing our faith are all important, we are also called to serve others through one or more ministry of our church. With that in mind, I ran across the following from an old newsletter at one of my previous churches that challenges each of us to consider our own “service” for Christ:

“A Church, Sunday School class, or any other organization typically consists of AT LEAST SIX BONES:

1. WISH BONES… those who wish ‘someone else’ would do all the work.

2. JAW BONES… those who do all the talking but little else.

3. KNUCKLE BONES… those who knock everything that anyone else tries to do.

4. LAZY BONES… those who show up as the work is finished.

5. BUSY BONES… those who ‘belong’ but are always tied up on their own projects and with their own needs.

6. BACK BONES… those who get under the load and do the work that’s necessary to get the job done.”

So…. what “bone” are you at East Cobb UMC? During the month of September, all 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, Crossroads, or download here. In the meantime, remember that whatever it is that we do or are called to, let’s be the “back bones” of God’s church so that others can experience Him through our ministries. Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Getting Serious With God...

“Humble yourself before the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (James 4:10)

Perhaps you’ve heard it said before that “some people have just enough Christianity to inoculate them against the real thing.”  Unfortunately, this all too often accurately describes many of us in church:  we claim to be “real” Christians, but then we pray, read our Bible, and attend worship only when we feel like it and whenever it’s convenient (and we may not regularly participate in a Christian small group at all); we put the “left overs” of our money in the offering plate when it’s passed, giving to God and His church only after we’ve paid all our other “bills”; we only rarely volunteer to serve in the nursery, or help the youth group, or serve in a local mission project;  and we hardly ever share our faith with others outside the church, viewing our faith as a “private thing” meant to be kept to oneself.

Meanwhile, we struggle to keep our marriages and families emotionally alive and healthy, secretly wonder if there is any purpose and meaning to the “rat race” of life in which we seem caught up, and have difficulties coping with the stress and strain of all that we have to do… to the point where we sometimes cope by falling into unhealthy habits and addictions that we know we shouldn’t have, but can’t help ourselves.

If this sounds familiar, then we need to realize that the answer lies in the fact that we need to learn to get serious with God – to quick flirting around on the edge of life (hoping we don’t fall over the cliff), and instead throw ourselves into the grace and love of our God who loves us and wants us to experience a life filled with real meaning and purpose – a life that doesn’t just practice “religious behavior” and “spiritual talk,” but is deeply genuine and real. 

To me, the words of James 4:4-10 from THE MESSAGE translation say it well.  May these words from God’s word inspire, challenge, and bless you as they have me:

“You're cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn't care? The proverb has it that ‘he's a fiercely jealous lover.’  And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you'll find. It's common knowledge that ‘God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.’  So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he'll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious.  Get down on your knees before the Master; it's the only way you'll get on your feet.”

May it be so in each of our lives, dear Lord!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Space Between The Logs

“Jesus withdrew to deserted places to pray.” (Luke 5:16)

Last Fall, most of our church staff and myself took time apart for a short retreat in the north Georgia mountains. There, one of things we were challenged to consider was the ways that we in our lives and ministries are often so busy doing good “church” work that we don’t take time to be “fed” spiritually, and consequently find ourselves stressed and burned-out.

In one of our devotionals, a fellow staff member shared this poem by Judy Brown that reminds us all of our constant need to tend to our own spirits if we are to be any good to anyone else. I invite you to let it speak to you in the powerful way it spoke to me and others on our retreat:

“What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire grows
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.”

[--Poem “Fire,” by Judy Brown in Leading From Within, by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner, eds.]

Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Father's Love Letter Video

Several of you have asked about the "Father's Love Letter" video we experienced in worship today, reminding us of exactly what God thinks of you and me in His own words from the Bible. Here it is in condensed format...

To read a text version, or to view or purchase the original full video version, click HERE.

[--"Father's Love Letter" written by Barry Adams, copyright 1999 Crown Video and Father Heart Communications]

Wonderfully Special

“ O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

“The Bible says that God is the potter and I am the clay
And I picture myself as a lump of dry clay.
The potter gently picks me up with his warm, strong hands.
He adds drops of water, to make me flexible
and easier to work with.

Then, after I am of the correct texture, the potter lifts me
higher... higher... and then PLOP!
He throws me down hard to remove
all of my air bubbles and flaws.

Next he puts me on the wheel and I turn and turn.
He shapes me exactly as he wants me, pushing and molding me.
Sometimes the pushing hurts, but I know that when he is
finished, I will be a beautiful creation.
All of this pain, this turning in circles, will be worth it!

As the potter pulls and stretches, I start
to take on the shape he wants me to be.
And when the potter has me as he wants me,
he places me in the kiln to be fired...“It’s hot in here!”

Now my time in the kiln is done.
“Hurry potter, take me out of here!
But no, He knows that if I cool too fast I’ll crack.
He knows what he is doing!

Now it’s time... the potter reaches into the kiln
and gently lifts me out. I’m solid, strong and stable.
My walls are perfect and I have no flaws.
The potter uses a glaze to make me beautiful
both inside and out.

All that I have been through - being thrown onto the table,
the monotony of going round and round
on the wheel, the force of his hands, the heat in the kiln -- has been worth it!
The potter has made something wonderfully special!”
[--Author Unknown]

You and I are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)! May we always remember how special are to God and how much He cares for each and every thing that happens to us! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Station

“This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24)

“Tucked away in our subconscious minds is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long, long trip that almost spans the continent. We're traveling by passenger train, and out the windows we drink in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hillsides, of city skylines and village halls, of biting winter and blazing summer and cavorting spring and docile fall.

But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour we will pull into the station. There will be bands playing and flags waving. And once we get there so many wonderful dreams will come true. So many wishes will be fulfilled and so many pieces of our lives finally will be neatly fitted together like a completed jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damming the minutes for loitering, waiting, waiting, waiting for the station.

However, sooner or later we must realize there is no one station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.

‘When we get to the station that will be it’" we cry. Translated, it means, ‘When I'm 18 that will be it! When I buy a new 450 SL Mercedes Benz, that will be it! When I put the last kid through college that will be it! When I have paid off the mortgage that will be it! When I win a promotion that will be it! When I reach the age of retirement that will be it! I shall live happily ever after!’

Unfortunately, once we get ‘it,’ then ‘it’ disappears. The station somehow hides itself at the end of an endless track.

‘Relish the moment’ is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24: ‘This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.’ It isn't the burdens of today that drive [people] mad. Rather, it is regret over yesterday or fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today.

So, stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.”

[--by Robert J. Hastings’ website. This poem first appeared in Ann Landers' column May 17, 1981]

My prayer is that you and I will not live life in the shadow of our pasts, or haunted by our regrets. May we all learn to live today to the glory of God, as well as trusting Him with our tomorrows! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Don't Be Fooled By Me

Woe to you… hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” (Matthew 23:27)

This week we begin a new sermon series called “Get Real!” in which I am challenging us all (myself included) to learn to be more “real” in our relationships with ourselves, others, and God. To do this, we first need to confront the hard reality that many of us wear emotional and spiritual “masks” that hide who we really are, and prevent us from being and becoming “real.” The following poem by Charles Finn (originally titled “Please Hear What I Am Not Saying”) addresses this truth in a poignant way:

“Don't be fooled by me. Don't be fooled by the face I wear, for I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I'm afraid to take off, and none of them is me.

Pretending is an art that's second nature with me, but don't be fooled, for God's sake don't be fooled. I give you the impression that I'm secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without, that confidence is my name and coolness my game, that the water's calm and I'm in command and that I need no one, but don't believe me.

My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask, ever-varying and ever-concealing. Beneath lies no complacence. Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness. But I hide this. I don't want anybody to know it. I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed. That's why I frantically create a mask to hide behind, a nonchalant sophisticated facade, to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope, and I know it. That is, if it's followed by acceptance, if it's followed by love. It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison walls, from the barriers I so painstakingly erect. It's the only thing that will assure me of what I can't assure myself, that I'm really worth something.

But I don't tell you this. I don't dare to, I'm afraid to. I'm afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance, will not be followed by love. I'm afraid you'll think less of me, that you'll laugh, and your laugh would kill me. I'm afraid that deep-down I'm nothing and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate pretending game, with a facade of assurance without and a trembling child within. So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks, and my life becomes a front.  I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk. I tell you everything that's really nothing, and nothing of what's everything, of what's crying within me. So when I'm going through my routine do not be fooled by what I'm saying.

Please listen carefully and try to hear what I'm not saying, what I'd like to be able to say, what for survival I need to say, but what I can't say.  I don't like hiding. I don't like playing superficial phony games.

I want to stop playing them. I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me but you've got to help me. You've got to hold out your hand even when that's the last thing I seem to want. Only you can wipe away from my eyes the blank stare of the breathing dead. Only you can call me into aliveness. Each time you're kind, and gentle, and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings-- very small wings, very feeble wings, but wings!

With your power to touch me into feeling you can breathe life into me. I want you to know that. I want you to know how important you are to me, how you can be a creator--an honest-to-God creator--of the person that is me if you choose to. You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble, you alone can remove my mask, you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic, from my lonely prison, if you choose to. Please choose to.

Do not pass me by. It will not be easy for you. A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls. The nearer you approach to me the blinder I may strike back. It's irrational, but despite what the books say about [humanity] often I am irrational. I fight against the very thing I cry out for. But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls and in this lies my hope. Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands but with gentle hands for a child is very sensitive.

Who am I, you may wonder? I am someone you know very well. For I am every man you meet and I am every woman you meet.”

[--Charles C. Finn (September 1966), from his website]

May these words challenge us all to invite and allow God to help us remove the “masks” we all wear. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Camp Meeting 2011

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near” (Joel 2:1)

As you read these words, Marietta Camp Meeting is celebrating 174 years of bringing souls into God’s kingdom. For those of you who don’t already know, our church here at East Cobb UMC is a spiritual heir of that great tradition. Our roots come out of Marietta Camp Meeting – going all the way back to the late 1800s -- and to this day there have continued to be many strong ties between the two ministry partners on either side of Roswell Rd.

Not only do we continue to be blessed in partnering with Campground in the annual Celebration event held last Saturday (July 16th where I hopefully saw many of you there!), and in our annual East Cobb music night on Tuesday, July 19th, but this year our own Associate Pastor Rev. Jim Perry was honored to be one of the two featured preachers for services Wednesday-Saturday (July 20-23rd). I hope many of you will attend not only to support Jim, but most importantly to be fed by the Lord in these special services at 11am and 7:30pm daily, celebrating the theme “Divine Possibilities.”

Finally, on Sunday, July 24th we will not have our usual 9:30am or 11am services in the Sanctuary. Instead, we’ll join our fellow Campground family as we always do each year in one combined worship service at 11:00am “under the arbor.” Not only will this feature lively sing-alongs of old favorites, but also music from our choir and praise team, preaching from myself, and Holy Communion for us all. So if you haven’t already, I hope you’ll make plans now to attend many (if not all) of these special Camp Meeting 2011 events! God is calling us each to a special assembly of his people – will you be there? Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Faith Of Our Founders

“Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord….” (Psalm 33:12)
As we celebrate our nations founding, it is good for us to also recall the faith of those who were our founders. By no means could all of them be consider stalwart and orthodox church-goers. However, most of them did espouse and presume a Judeo-Christian spiritual context for America that is often either ignored or downplayed today. For example, consider some of the writings/sayings of our founders:

--George Washington’s First Inaugural Speech (April 30, 1789): “It would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe... that His benedictions may consecrate to the... peoples of the U.S. a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes.... No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the U.S.” [Jared Sparks, ed., THE WRITINGS OF GEORGE WASHINGTON, 12 vols. (Boston: American Stationer’s Company, 1837, NY: F. Andrew’s, 1834-1847), Vol. XII, pp. 2-5]

--Thomas Jefferson’s SECOND INAUGURAL SPEECH (1805): “I shall need the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessities and comforts of life.” [March 4, 1805 in Saul K. Padover, ed., THE COMPLETE JEFFERSON, CONTAINING HIS MAJOR WRITINGS, PUBLISHED AND UNPUBLISHED, EXCEPT HIS LETTERS(NY: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1943), p. 412]]

--Benjamin Franklin: “There is one God, Father of the Universe. That He is infinitely good, powerful, and wise. That He is omnipresent. That He ought to be worshiped, by adoration prayer and thanksgiving both in publick and private. That He loves such of His creatures as love and do good to others: and will reward them either in this world or hereafter... That knowledge and learning is to be cultivated, and Ignorance dissipated. That none but the virtuous are wise, that man’s perfection is in virtue” [Leonard Labaree, ed., THE PAPTERS OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), Vol. I, p. 213]

In response, some have argued that statements such as these represent only pro-forma (i.e., “politically correct”) acknowledgements of religion from their authors, and do not therefore represent their personal views. However, the fact that they were written or said at all is significant – their authors must have believed enough truth about them to write or state them, whether they believed everything in them personally or not. As historian Noman Cousins explains, “Not all of the founders acknowledged a formal faith, but it was significant that their view of [humanity] had a deeply religious foundation.” [Norman Cousins, ‘IN GOD WE TRUST: THE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND IDEAS OF AMERICA'S FOUNDING FATHERS (Harper and Brothers, 1958), p. 10]

The point here is that regardless of their own personal beliefs, our founders obviously recognized the truth that nations are only as strong as the moral and religious life that undergirds them, and that when that is threatened, the fabric of society begins to unravel.

So, as we celebrate our nation’s birthday, may we celebrate by also remembering the God who has made it all possible, and by each of us helping to keep firm our commitment to being “one nation, under God.” Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Sign For All...

“I have made you a sign for the house of Israel…” (Ezekiel 12:6)

After nearly two years of work, our church sign team (a joint sub-committee of our Trustees and Strategic Planning Team) presented plans for our new permanent outdoor monument sign to our Administrative Council for their consideration (see proposed drawing above). I have the pleasure of reporting that it was unanimously approved by that body, and that we’ll be proceeding forward with construction plans and construction bidding as soon as possible. If all goes according to plan, we hope to break ground sometime in late summer and have it completed by mid-late Fall.

As the second part of our long-range facility development plan (the first being the doors installed last year), our new sign will be a beacon inviting the thousands of cars that drive past daily to a closer walk with God through the programs and ministries of our church. In addition to a lighted version of our church logo, the sign will contain a LCD board that will rotate various messages, graphics and full-color video to all who drive past. It will also include six smaller rotating ministry boards on each side that will highlight prime ministries of our church (such as Lighthouse Academy and our Kenyan ministry) on a more permanent basis.

The stacked-stone architecture is one that will not only enhance our visibility from the street, but will set the tone for future renovation and building projects that we hope to begin in the near future. The sign will be complemented by beautiful landscaping and a retaining wall.

While the complete funds for this project are already available and approved by Administrative Council from our recent Georgia D.O.T. settlement, we will nevertheless still be inviting our whole congregation to participate in its funding through various projects yet to be determined – look for more about this in the coming months.

While this new sign will certainly generate new interest in our church from people in our community, the real benefit from it will come when guests not only enjoy the ministries, programs, and worship services they attend after being enticed by something they see on the sign, but most importantly by the welcome and hospitality they receive when they visit here for the first time.

In this sense, the new outdoor monument sign will merely point people to US, who are a flesh-and-blood “sign.” You and I are a “sign for the house of Israel” (as the scripture above points out) – it is up to you and I to point people to God, so that He may transform their lives and shape them into His will. May each of us live in such a way that we become God’s “sign” to the world for Him! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

When God Created Fathers

“Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. [Instead,] take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.” (Ephesians 6:4, The Message)

When the good Lord was creating fathers, He started with a tall frame. A female angel nearby said, "What kind of father is that? If you're going to make children so close to the ground, why have you put fathers up so high? He won't be able to shoot marbles without kneeling, tuck a child in bed without bending or even kiss a child without a lot of stooping.” And God smiled and said, "Yes, but if I make him child-size, who would children have to look up to?"

And when God made a father's hands, they were large and sinewy. The angel shook her head sadly and said, "Large hands are clumsy. They can't manage diaper pins, small buttons, rubber bands on ponytails or even remove splinters caused by baseball bats." And God smiled and said, "I know, but they're large enough to hold everything a small boy empties from his pockets at the end of a day, yet small enough to cup a child's face."

And then God molded long, slim legs and broad shoulders. The angel nearly had a heart attack. "Boy, this is the end of the week, all right," she clucked. "Do you realize you just made a father without a lap? How is he going to pull a child close to him without the kid falling between his legs?" And God smiled and said, "A mother needs a lap. A father needs strong shoulders to pull a sled, balance a boy on a bicycle or hold a sleepy head on the way home from the circus."

God was in the middle of creating two of the largest feet anyone had ever seen when the angel could contain herself no longer. "That's not fair. Do you honestly think those large boats are going to dig out of bed early in the morning when the baby cries? Or walk through a small birthday party without crushing at least three of the guests?" And God smiled and said, "They'll work. You'll see. They'll support a small child who wants to ride a horse… or scare off mice at the summer cabin or display shoes that will be a challenge to fill."

God worked throughout the night, giving the father few words but a firm, authoritative voice and eyes that saw everything but remained calm and tolerant. Finally, almost as an afterthought, He added tears. Then He turned to the angel and said, "Now, are you satisfied that he can love as much as a mother?"

And the angel shut up…
[--Attributed to Erma Bombeck]

If you haven’t already, be sure to take time to thank God for the fathers of your life -- those who gave us birth and those who are like fathers to us. Remember, we honor God as we honor them! And never forget that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Annual Conference Is Here!

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

This week as you read this article, over 2800 delegates representing the 1000 churches and 360,000+ United Methodists in North Georgia will have gathered at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia for the “North Georgia Annual Conference” with the theme “Engaging In Ministry With the Poor.” Jim Perry, Cindy Campbell, Peter Kaimathiri and I are attending as our clergy representatives from East Cobb U.M.C., and Lee Bierce, Lisa Haman, and Dennis Mbogori are serving as our laity delegates.

Each year's Annual Conference makes important decisions that affect every United Methodist church in our geographic area: approval and ordination of new clergy and retirement of older ones; appointments of pastors to local churches are finalized (we celebrate that our Bishop - Michael Watson - has reassigned myself, Jim Perry, Cindy Campbell, and Peter Kaimathiri to East Cobb UMC as your pastors for this next year); adoption of the conference budget; support for and reports from conference missions and ministries; exciting worship and bible study opportunities to enrich our spiritual lives; present our “Bishop’s Offering” (part of our denomination’s “Imagine No Malaria” initiative to raise $75 million to eliminate malaria deaths in Africa by 2015); and more! Plus this year, from our number we’ll be electing clergy and lay delegates to attend our denomination’s “General Conference” (held once every four years) next May 2012.

Upon our return, we’ll be available to report on important decisions that were made, and how these might affect us as a congregation. In the meantime, you can find more information about Annual Conference (as well as “real time” updates) on our North Georgia Conference website (Click on the "2011 Annual Conference" box at bottom left. Also, thanks for your prayers, both for ourselves as your representatives, and for the Conference itself. Always remember, God loves you and I do too!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Celebrate Vacation Bible School!

“Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.’” (Luke 18:16)

As you read this article, our children are in “Hometown Nazareth: Where Jesus Was A Little Boy,” this year’s Vacation Bible School (V.B.S.) – find out more HERE . But did you know that the idea for V.B.S. came from a Methodist over 100 years ago? Sunday School teacher and wife of a Methodist Minister, Mrs. D.T. Miles of Hopedale, Illinois felt that children needed more time to learn about the Bible and their faith than was available on Sunday morning.

So in May 1894, responding to this need, and to the complaints of boredom in the summer from community children, she got approval to use a schoolhouse to instruct 37 children for four-weeks in “the proper use of the Bible” in what is believed to be the first V.B.S. The curriculum also included singing, storytelling, contests, physical exercises, and marches.

Although started by a Methodist, the idea soon caught on, and by 1907 a national association of Vacation Bible Schools was formed that included persons from many different Christian denominations. Today churches everywhere plan V.B.S. as one of the most important outreach and children’s ministries of the year.

So I hope you will join in expressing many thanks to our Children’s Pastor Cindy Campbell, our Children’ Ministry Team Leader Mark Haman, and to all of our many teachers, workers, and volunteers for the hard work that they have put into ensuring that this year’s V.B.S. is a success. Through it, our church is touching the hearts and lives of many children for the God’s Kingdom. God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Disciple Bible Study

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

As God’s people, one of the tools we’re given to discover, grow, and mature in Christian faith is the Bible. Unfortunately, many spiritual people have never unlocked the power of this God-given tool because they’ve never taken time to actually study it in-depth with others.

Disciple” Bible Study is a popular, interdenominational small-group experience that has enabled literally hundreds of thousands of people over the last 25 years to do just that. Through daily readings and a 2 ½ hour guided discussion once per week, participants not only come to understand the Bible better, but come to discover its relevance and power in and for their daily lives, while at the same time developing rich and long-lasting friendships with fellow participants. I’ve personally witnessed many lives changed and transformed in remarkable ways through this study.

Granted... “Disciple” is not for the casual Christian. It requires hard work, commitment, and diligence – but the rewards are literally “out of this world!” I’ve heard many spiritual people talk about their desire to grow in and learn more about faith – being part of a “Disciple” group is one of the best ways around to help each of us do just that! (Click HERE for more information about “Disciple”)

So if you’re serious about your faith growth and want to find out more, then I invite you to worship on Sunday, June 5th for our annual “Disciple Sunday” to hear how this study experience has impacted the hearts and lives of some of your fellow church family, and how you can experience it for yourself beginning this Fall 2011. Your life will never be the same after you take a “Disciple” Bible Study class! So what are you waiting for? Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Imagine No Malaria" OFFERING

“And let us consider how to encourage one another to love and good deeds...” (Hebrews 10:24)

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

This year, Bishop Watson has named “Imagine No Malaria” as the 2011 Annual Conference Bishop’s Mission Offering. “Imagine No Malaria” is an initiative of The United Methodist Church with the goal of raising $75 million to eliminate malaria deaths in Africa by 2015. (Find out more about this initiative HERE, and how our Conference is partnering with it HERE).

Malaria itself is a disease that is entirely preventable. We already possess the treatment and preventative measures to eliminate deaths from malaria around the world. Fifty years ago, more than 2 million people were dying each year from smallpox all over the world—today that number is zero. Imagine what we will be able to say about malaria in 20, 10 or even five years. With the promise and the hope of the people of The United Methodist Church (and our small part in that), we have an opportunity to collaborate in a global effort to overcome malaria --a goal world leaders hope to accomplish by 2015. One person can save thousands of lives. Just imagine what 11.5 million United Methodists can accomplish!

Consequently, I’m inviting you to join me in participating in this special opportunity with an over-and-above-your-regular offering financial gift. To contribute, please make your check payable to East Cobb UMC and designate either it or cash to our Bishop’s Mission Offering.”

We’ll be collecting funds through June 5th, and will present our church’s combined check during the offering time at the Annual Conference afternoon worship service on Thursday, June 16th. Please join me as we seek to make a difference with the poor of the world through the eradication of this disease!

Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Have You Had Your Aldersgate?

“...Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved...” (Acts 2:21)

In 18th-century England, a man named John Wesley searched for more out of life and more from God in many ways: by serving the poor and those in prison; as a missionary to the Indians in the British colony of Georgia; through a strict adherence to a religious discipline; and others. However, each of these things left him feeling empty and unfulfilled. It wasn’t until what we today call his “Aldersgate experience” that Wesley found the answer he’d been searching for. He describes it this way in his Journal from May 24, 1738:

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate-Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Like Wesley, many people today are searching for more out of life, and going about it by trying to be “good people” and do “good things” for others. While these are certainly important, each of us must discover (as Wesley did) that only through a personal relationship with God through Jesus can find that for which we’re searching so desperately.

As we remember the anniversary of Wesley’s “Aldersgate” experience coming up on May 24th, I invite you to let his testimony become yours by allowing God to “warm” your heart through faith in Christ Jesus. If you haven’t already, invite Christ to be your Savior today! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Christian Response to the Death of Osama Bin Laden

"But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you." (Luke 6:27)

Today I woke to the news that Osama Bin Laden -- #1 on America's list of "Most Wanted" -- was dead. Part of me was glad: for the last 9+ years, our nation has waged a costly war on terrorism largely due to his influence, and as part of our response to the deadly chain of events orchestrated by him which took place on 9/11/2001.

You may remember that those attacks united Americans in a way that no other recent event had done -- evidenced by the many American flags that popped up all over the place for a while after the attacks. Consequently, since that time (for the last 9 years), I have flown a miniature flag in my front yard by our mailbox, vowing not to remove it until Bin Laden was no more. Now that he's gone, I struggle again with whether or not to remove it -- it was, after all, a flag flown in support of our nation, not just as a statement against a particular enemy. So for now... the flag will remain.

And yet, another dilemma remains... while part of me is glad that Bin Laden is no more, at the same time I have struggled with whether "gladness" was an appropriate response by a Christian pastor to a death... even to the death of someone as violent and twisted as Bin Laden -- He was, after all, a "child of God," too! Perhaps you've shared this same struggle. What I've come to realize today is that while we may be "relieved" by this news, it is not something we need to celebrate too much.

What it instead points out to me is not only the brokenness and sinfulness of our world, but also the broken and sinful nature of my own heart: we live in a world which contains people like Bin Laden who exercise their free will to terrorize; and a world in which even we as God's people struggle with the "appropriateness" of their demise. This struggle highlights the fact that we are all sinners in need of God's grace... me, you, my neighbors up and down my street, my fellow church members, our local, state and national leaders (including our President, regardless of what political party you identify with), the people who cut us off on the freeway, and yes... even Osama Bin Laden.

So, whatever your feelings about this "victory," let it be a reminder to you of your own human frailty -- that we are all dust, that none of us is who he or she needs to be, and so ALL of us stand in need of a Savior. Jesus came to be that Savior. Have you allowed him in (even in that dark place in your own heart that secretly struggles with things like "celebrating" the death of Bin Laden)? Invite him in today, and allow Him to become the "Prince of Peace" of your life.

Perhaps the best Christian response I've seen to the death of Bin Laden was sent to me by our Minister of Music and Worship Arts -- CLICK HERE to read and pray this powerful prayer, and let it impact your life the way it has mine. Always remember that God loves you, and I do too!