Monday, January 31, 2011

State of the Church

“And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)

One of the responsibilities that all United Methodist churches have at the first of each year is to give a statistical accounting of their annual ministry. As this data was prepared for our “2010 Year-End-Report” to the North Georgia Annual Conference, I thought you might be interested in what I consider to be some of the highlights (with important increases highlighted):

* Total number of new members in 2010: +36;
* New members joining in 2010 by profession or reaffirmation of Christian faith: +16 ;
* Church membership as of December 31, 2010: 965 (the highest thus far in our church’s history, +9 from last year);
* Average attendance for all worship services during 2010: 359 (+12% from 2009);
* Number of diverse nationalities/ethnic groups represented within our total membership: 5
* Total number of “giving units” (persons/families) financially supporting our church’s mission and ministry: 277;
* Average attendance in all Sunday School classes during 2010: 184 (+14% from 2009);
* Amount spent in 2010 on program ministry and operational expenses (excludes salaries): $193,981 (+5%);
* Amount spent during 2010 on buildings and improvements: $20,778 (+59% from 2009);
* Amount given during 2010 for local, state, and world mission projects: $168,495 ;
* Financial giving to all causes in 2010: $1,088,167
* Current value of all church-owned buildings & property: $5,611,708

As you can see, the statistics reveal that great things are happening at East Cobb U.M.C., with more great things still to come. So if you haven’t already, I pray that this year you and your family will “get in” on what God is doing in our midst as we seek to carry out our mission of being “A Mosaic of God’s Family: Gathering; Growing; and Going”! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Respectful Dialogue… Not Just "Co-Existence"

“Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders…. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6)

This past Sunday we began a new sermon series exploring what it means to be a Christian in the midst of a multi-religious world. Throughout the next six weeks, we’ll be learning about several other major world religions – their origins, fundamental beliefs, how those are similar to or different from our own Christian beliefs, what we as followers of Jesus can learn from them, and how we should interact with them in our world today.

Though I’m excited about offering this series, I recognize that it will not be easy one – the subject matter itself is very complex and extensive, and you may at times find that you don’t agree with all (or any) of what’ presented, or that it challenges your current thoughts about the relationship between Christianity and other world religions. I must confess that I myself have been challenged in many ways – good ways, but challenged, nonetheless – and have found my own Christian faith and walk sharpened and strengthened through my preparation for this series. My hope and prayer is that the same will happen to you as we unpack a different major faith each week.

The key to our growth in this area, I believe, is to maintain an attitude of prayerful openness and humility as we explore these topics together. And as we do this, we need to recognize that the best way for us to witness our faith in Jesus Christ is not by looking down our noses at the faith of others, or denigrating their beliefs and practices. It’s also not in simply (in the words of a popular car bumper sticker) “Co-Existing” with them – as if we must strain to barely tolerate one another.

Instead, the best way we can relate to those of other faiths – the way I believe modeled by Jesus, and the way the apostle Paul challenged us to do in the above scripture from Colossians 4 – is to engage in RESPECTFUL DIALOGUE with those of other faiths. Properly understood, dialogue treats others as equal “neighbors,” while at the same time recognizing the validity and importance of our differences. (Find out more about the biblical nature and practice of Dialogue in the “Christianity and World Religions” links here)

When we dialogue with others in this way, our lives are enriched by the differences of the faith of others, a new sense of community can emerge, and others may receive the gift of God in Christ, while we receive the gifts God gave them to share with us. Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, January 17, 2011

What's Your VISION?

“Where there is no vision the people perish…” (Proverbs 29:18)

Vision is essential if any person or group is to ever achieve its fullest potential. Having, sharing, and implementing a biblical Vision can give us a direction to shoot for, a goal to move towards, and can harness the energy and power of God to get us there. And, as the scripture above indicates, the lack of Vision can effectively destroy us.

That’s why, during our morning services this past Sunday, we took most of the sermon time asking congregants to respond to the following question: “What is your Vision for our Church?” If you were there, you’ll remember hearing a variety of thoughtful, creative, and forward-thinking answers. While many shared their responses that day, if you weren’t able to share for whatever reason, you can still share by emailing your thoughts and visions to our church lay leaders.

All of the responses we receive over the next few weeks (including those from last Sunday mornings’ services) will be shared with our Strategic Planning Team as they continue the process of further defining and articulating what we feel to be the strategic plan (or “Vision”) for our church’s future. Their hope is to have something further to share this year that we can begin to implement as soon as possible.

Until then, remember who you are (A Mosaic of God’s family… Gathering, Growing, and Going) and let that be a starting point for where we’re going and who we’re becoming. And never forget that God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Snow of Forgiveness

“Return to the Lord, that He may have mercy… and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7)

As I watch (and play in!) the beautiful Georgia snow outside our home, I’m reminded of God’s promise of daily forgiveness and mercy in our lives.

Isaiah 1:18 says “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they shall become [clean] like wool.” God longs to help us live a life that honors him and honors others. That’s why His promise of forgiveness is so generous and gracious.

So, whatever it is in your life that needs grace and forgiveness, just ask and He’ll give it willingly. I hope you’ll stay in and stay safe as you enjoy the snow today! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wise Persons and Epiphany

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’” (Matthew 2:1)

Last Thursday (January 6) was the official beginning of the Christian season of “Epiphany.” The word itself means “manifestation” or “revelation,” and it’s a reference to the fact that in the person of Jesus, God manifested/revealed Himself to humanity in a way never before seen. In Jesus, God’s nature and character was shown and modeled for us, and in his life and actions we see an example of how we are to live and act.

Throughout this season, we’re encouraged -- like the “wise men (magi) from the East” in scripture above -- to seek out Christ in all that we say and do. We’re encouraged to think about and consider the many ways that God through Christ “manifests” or “reveals” himself to us in our daily lives. And we’re asked to let others know of our great find!

A number of years ago, my home church had the following article in their newsletter that challenges each of us to follow the example of the Magi in seeking Jesus each and every day. I hope it speaks to you, as well!

“Wise [persons] do not always come from the East
Nor do they always follow stars.
But they do cross boundaries,
And pay attention to what is happening
In the rest of the world....

Epiphany is a revelation:
Things hidden in plain sight are made manifest,
Unobserved except by those with eyes trained to see...
Even now those who are to be kings on earth
A generation hence are hidden among us, unrecognized.
We do not know their names or time or place.

There is no natural order of succession.
God stores up His own surprises in hamlets,
In all the hovels of history.
When Messiah comes, stars will know.
Magi, too.
But Herod will not know
And his scribes will be caught napping.

When Christ comes again
Must Christians, too
Wait for strangers to tell us?
Must each Epiphany come as a surprise
Because we weren't watching?
[–Wayne Saffen, cited in Fayetteville (GA) First United Methodist
Church Newsletter, January 8, 1995]

My prayer for each of you is that we open our eyes to see the living Christ in and among us always! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!