Saturday, December 15, 2012

Praying for Families and Victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut

"The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge.... In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears." (Psalm 18:2 & 6)

(On Sunday, December 16 during worship I prayed a Pastoral prayer based on the following…)

Lord, we sing joyful Christmas songs, but our hearts are broken -- pierced by grief over the tragedy in Newtown, CT. And while our secularized, happy-go-lucky merry Christmas celebrations have no words to address and respond to such senseless tragedy, the actual Christmas story of the Bible does -- an example of where the true Christmas story is more powerful than the watered down version that most of us celebrate in our culture today.

The true Christmas story of scripture reminds us that a similar tragedy occurred that first Christmas nearly 2000 years ago, when King Herod ordered the senseless slaughter of innocent children in Bethlehem, as well, in his attempt to kill the future Messiah (Read Matthew 2:16-18). And there, the words of the prophet Jeremiah (quoted by the gospel writer Matthew) could well be the words of mothers and parents in Newtown this Christmas, as well: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more" (Matthew 2:18).

And so, as we celebrate the holiday this season, help us remember that Christmas is not an escape from life, reality, tragedy, or challenge, but a poignant affirmation of the hope that it brings for a better world -- that in the midst of challenge and hurt was born one who is the Comforter and Healer of all; that in the midst of despair was born one is the Hope of the world; and that in the midst of violence was born one who is the Prince of Peace.

So, O God, when tragedy strikes our homes, communities and families, help us to face the day with hope and trust that your love with prevail in the end, even when senseless human choices lead to extreme pain and hurt. Give us courage to face the future unafraid, despite the awful circumstances and situations around us. In the name of your son Jesus, born to be our Prince of Peace, Amen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Travel Tips For Advent

“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)

The Christian season of Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day) is often called a season of preparation.  Not only are we preparing for the holiday of Christmas physically (with decorations, Christmas cards, shopping, parties, etc.) but also spiritually (by looking within ourselves for how God wants us to grow in our love towards Him and others).

With that in mind, a number of years ago I read an article detailing several “travel tips” that can help us spiritually “prepare” for our “journey” through the Advent:

1) PACK LIGHTLY: One of the indicators that our annual Christmas buying neurosis has gone wrong is this idea that those who give the most and get the most matter the most.  Such ill-gotten reasoning leads us parent-types to teach our children that Christmas is the annual bash we put on for ourselves, all the while trying to believe Bethlehem’s boy child is the “reason for the season.”  …But this myth can’t be disguised forever.  This year, why not pack lightly?  Rather than “shopping til you drop,” drop to your knees and ask the One Who Comes what he would have you do to make ready His coming.

2) WALK SLOWLY: Am I the only person who notices how rushed we get the closer “it” gets?  Was it only a few weeks ago that we started seeing signs saying “only 44 more days”?  Slow down.  Take time to sip cider with your mate.  Hug your kids.  Tell them the Advent-Christmas story and then live the story before them.  Refuse to sing Silent Night from a noisy heart.  Simply put, make the powerful emotions of these days your servants, not your master.

3) LISTEN CAREFULLY:  Someone you love very much is talking, saying something really important, maybe even life-changing.  Listen carefully and, who knows, you may hear the night wind speak to the little lamb and say “a child is born.” I can’t prove it, much less illustrate it, but I’m almost certain that most of us on the journey miss half the joy because we’re too busy talking; the sound of our own importance has drowned out the promise “I am coming soon.”

4) LOOK WISTFULLY:  Where, you ask, need I look?  My best advice is this: none of the obvious places.  Those who traffic in seasonal things know what easy prey most of us are.  “Get them in the stores, turn on the music and lights, plop the man dressed in red in the middle of it all and, bingo, it’s Christmas.”  Truth is, only those who look wistfully beyond what is to the One Who Comes really experience the mystery and miracle of Advent.  Why? Because Advent is a journey we take into the reality of the journey God made in Christ.  That journey, which included stops at such places as a stable, a hillside, a cross and an empty tomb, had one purpose:  to love the likes of you and me back to the God who created us.

So, journey on, fully aware that at destination’s end is the one who loves you and gave himself for you.  “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”

[--Shared by Rev. Dr. Timothy Owings, former Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Augusta, GA in  an editorial in The Augusta Chronicle newspaper (exact publication date November or December,sometime from 1996-2000)]

As we continue to prepare for Christmas this Advent season, I invite you to allow these “tips” to become a reality in your life, as I seek to have them do in my own! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Want To Have A "Wonderful Life" This Holiday Season?

Everyone wants a “wonderful life”. We want to have a good job, successful marriage and friendships, and know that we’ll be taken care of both in our present and in our future. But what does it take to have such “wonderful” lives? We know from experience that they don’t just fall into our laps. So, what are some of the things we have to do to bring this kind of life to pass?

During our worship services December 2-24, we’ll focus our attention on a few of these things in a new sermon series called “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Plan to join us each week as we unpack biblical lessonsfrom the famous holiday movie of the same name starring Jimmy Stewart, learning how these lessons can truly help us to have a “wonderful life” this holiday season!

December 2 – It’s A Wonderful Life: ENVISION IT (Luke 21:25-36)

December 9 – – It’s A Wonderful Life: PREPARE FOR IT (Luke 3:1-6)

December 16 – 10:30am & 7:00pm, (our Music Ministry’s Christmas Musical)

December 23 – – It’s A Wonderful Life: SHARE IT (Luke 3:7-14)

December 24 (4:30pm, 8pm & 11pm) –  It’s A Wonderful Life: TREASURE IT (Luke 2:1-20)

Invite your friends, neighbors, and loved ones to come and discover the simple but life-changing power of Christmas through our Advent and Christmas worship!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Acts 1:8 In Action At East Cobb UMC

“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

When Jesus first called his disciples to be witnesses throughout the world in the scripture above, he shared a process that has become a model for mission work ever:

1) We are called first to be in mission and ministry to and with our “Jerusalem” --  people all around us in our own local backyard here in Marietta and eastern Cobb County.  Here at ECUMC, our own Pastor’s Food Pantry and work with Marietta M.U.S.T. are examples of this focus.

2) We are also called to be in mission and ministry to and with our “Judea -- people a bit further away (i.e., throughout our state or geographic region), but still closer to home than “the ends of the earth.” ECUMC’s annual mission trips to Mountain T.O.P. mission project in Tennessee and other disaster relief work trips to New Orleans and other places are examples of this focus.

3) Plus, we are also called to be in mission and ministry to and with our “Samaria” -- people who are fundamentally different  than us, whether culturally, racially/ethnically, theologically, age-wise, or in some other fashion.  Our local Kenyan ministry and congregation are one example of this focus at ECUMC.

4) But finally, we are also called to be in mission and ministry to the ends of the earth.  Recently here at ECUMC, this focus has included international mission trips to places like Honduras and Kenya, as well as our annual “Operation Christmas Child” shoebox collection for needy children around the world.

In worship today, we celebrated one of our new “Judea” and “Samaria” mission connections:  our new partnership with and support for Mr. Gary Locklear, Church and Community Worker and Home Missioner for the United Methodist Church, serving Native Americans in the western part of North Carolina.  CLICKHERE for more information about his work. 

In the meantime, I invite you to celebrate the diversity of mission work we’re engaged in at ECUMC, and to “get in” on some of it if you’re not already.  For more information about our mission ministries, contact our mission ministry team HERE.

Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Preparing For Election Day

“For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14)

This coming Tuesday is Election Day here in the United States, and as registered voters head to the polls to cast our ballot, we would do well to remember the words of wisdom from John Wesley, founder of Methodism, in what he wrote to his fellow Methodists in the 1774 British Parliamentary elections:

“I met those of our [Methodist] Society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them,…

1) To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy;

2) To speak no evil of the person they voted against; And…

3) To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

            [--From John Wesley’s Journal, October 6, 1774]

In today’s politically-charged culture, Wesley’s words are certainly ones we as followers of Christ should heed.  Whoever you vote for, remember that in the end, God is still on the throne, and that His ultimate plans can be neither improved upon nor thwarted by any human leader.

So, pray for our nation, for our candidates, for the eventual elected officials, and for we who are voters. Pray that not only would our leaders be Godly in their leadership, but that we would all allow God to lead us in our daily lives, as well.  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Responding to Hurricane Sandy

The people of The United Methodist Church (we) are already hard at work in responding to Hurricane Sandy. Below you'll find what we're already doing and how you can help further.

We Are Prepared:
  • 9,000 Cleaning Buckets (Flood Buckets) from United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR) are now in staging areas in the northeast ready for distribution
  • UMCOR is already on the ground in the Caribbean and the northeast U.S.
  • In October alone, North Georgia Disaster Response and United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (UMVIM) teams have offered: Disaster Assessment Training, GEMA Volunteer Reception Training, Disaster CARE Team Training, Mission Team Leader Training, and Chainsaw Certification Training
  • Trained North Georgia Early Response Teams are on call and ready to respond when we are called
  • Trained UMVIM Teams are on call and ready to respond when we are called

We Can Give:
--If you would like to contribute to a special offering through our church, please mark your gifts with "Hurricane Sandy Relief" in the memo line and place it in the offering plate.


--Give online to UMCOR Hurricane Relief ($10 suggested donation or more) by clicking HERE.


--You can also text the word RESPONSE to 80888 to give an immediate $10 donation to UMCOR Hurricane Sandy relief.

We Can Assemble UMCOR KitsThere is a great need for Cleaning Buckets (Flood Buckets) and School Kits. Instructions on assembling UMCOR kits can be found at or download the lists below:

We Can Stay Informed:

  • Download the UMCOR App: The free UMCOR app provides you with up-to-date information about UMCOR’s work. You can now see alerts, the UMCOR Hotline, blog, and other informative items on your mobile device. Download your UMCOR app today on your iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.
  • Follow the UMC Connections Blog: United Methodist News Service is updating the blog each day, throughout the day.
  • Subscribe to Emergency Alerts from North Georgia Conference: North Georgia Conference will keep you alerted to requests and needs. Subscribe at

We Can Volunteer:All response efforts for Hurricane Sandy remain to be in the emergency and rescue stage. UMVIM (United Methodist Volunteers in Mission) will communicate to our church and other UM churches via email, Facebook posts, and Twitter any news that we receive. Rebuilding is a long and arduous process, so when they are ready for volunteer teams, we will pass those needs along as they occur.

We Can Pray:
Please continue to keep those affected by this disaster in your prayers.  Remember that God is still on His throne, regardless of the challenges that affect our lives!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Principle of J.O.Y.

“As for those who are in the present age are rich… they are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Several years ago, I ran across an article from a fellow pastor talking about a banner hanging in his church that from a distance looked like it just had a single word on it: “JOY.” Upon closer inspection, however, my colleague noticed that the banner also contained several additional words beneath it, and that the word JOY on the banner was actually just an acronym for those three other words: “Jesus,” “Others,” and “Yourself.” He noted correctly that this priority is, in fact, the secret behind having real joy in our lives.

As we conclude the commitment phase of our “Climbing Higher” stewardship journey during our morning worship services this week (Commitment Sunday is October 28th), I want to challenge and encourage each of us to consider making these three things the priority of our lives, as well -- not just in the giving of our finances, but also in the giving of our time and talents. In other words, when you and I learn to put the needs of “Jesus” first, those of “Others” next, and those of “Yourself” (or ourselves) last, we’ll discover true JOY in life!

That’s really the meaning of Verses 18-19 in the scripture above: when you and I are “rich in good works , generous, and ready to share,” then we’re storing up “treasure” for ourselves that enables us to truly “take hold of the life that really is life.” Acts 20:35 says essentially the same thing when it tells us to “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Stewardship and generosity, you see, are ways that we can discover the true Joy and blessings of life by discovering correct priorities: Jesus, Others, Yourself.

My prayer is that you’ll join me in committing yourself to be a person of J.O.Y. in all aspects of your life, but at the very least including your financial giving. After all, J.O.Y. is more than an emotional state of mind… it’s a commitment to priorities! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rice To Diamonds

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27)

A long time ago, a beggar had begged for rice and had gone to the city gates to cook a meal of it. While he was making the fire, he heard a caravan coming. He quickly moved towards the travelers. “Alms, alms!” he cried, and more loudly when he saw that it was the prince. The prince said to the beggar, “What have you to give me for the alms I might give to you?” The beggar fingered his 25-30 grains of rice and offered three grains to the prince. The prince took the three grains of rice and held them for a moment. Then he took the beggar’s hand, carefully laid the three grains of rice in the moist palm, and folded the beggar’s fingers over them. He left the beggar and entered the city. As the beggar walked back, he opened his hand. To his surprise and amazement, there lay three brilliant diamonds. He gasped and then wept, “If only I had give all! If only I had given all!”

Quite often, God asks of us as Christians, “What will you give?” In response, we too often give Him the money we think we can spare, the abilities that we can easily give, and the “left overs” of our time that we don’t really need anyway. Yet, God wants and invites us to make Him our priority, giving generously of our time, talents and money out of a grateful and cheerful heart. After all, the Bible teaches that the person who can share generously with others will discover and know life’s true riches (Read 1 Timothy 6:18-19, and 2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

This month, we’re all invited to consider how we can grow in our generosity towards others as we celebrate God’s generosity to us. Through our commitments of time, talent and money through God’s church, not only will we be “climbing higher” in our love for Him, but will also be surprised to discover “diamonds” of blessing from God in our personal lives, as well. So, I challenge us each of us to prayerfully consider becoming more generous in our “grains” of response to God through His church for 2013! Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What Kind of Christian Are You?

“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know  that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Here’s an article from a Christian magazine I thought was worth sharing considering our ministry focus for October.  As you read it, consider where you fit in...

“Someone has described God’s Church as being filled with all kinds of people:

• Some are like wheelbarrows -- not good unless pushed.

• Some are like kites -- if you don't keep a string on them, they will fly away, and then crash.

• Some are like canoes -- they need to be paddled.

• Some are like footballs -- you can't tell which way they'll bounce next.

• Some are like balloons--full of wind & ready to blow up.

 Some are like trailers -- they have to be pulled.

• Some are like swimming pools — all the noise is at the shallow end.

• Some are like advertising signs -- they keep going on and off.

 Some are like a good watch -- pure gold, open faced, busy hands, and full of good works.”

Throughout this month, we’ll be celebrating and remembering the importance of being generous …in our money, time, talent,  and our service to God – the “good works” in the above article, and “work of the Lord” and “labor” in the above scripture.

So, the real question is:  what kind of Christian are YOU?  I am so thankful for the many “good watches” we have here at East Cobb UMC!  As we serve our community and world, we are literally being the hand and feet of Jesus to others, as well as helping bring about the transformation of society into a more Christ like place.

My prayer for each of us is that we all learn to serve others the way Christ served us, put us first, and challenged us to do the same for others.  May we all learn to be like a good watch – “pure gold, open faced, with busy hands, and full of good works.  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Climbing Higher

“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I…” (Psalm 61:2b)

There is perhaps no greater sense of joy and satisfaction than that found when one is standing on top of a hill or mountain that you have labored long and hard to climb.  I remember feeling this, for one, as an exchange student in Norway, following a guide with fellow International Summer School students from the University of Oslo along a steep but well-travelled trail to the top of a famous mountain in the Jotenheimen National Park that country called Besseggen (literally meaning “dragon’s edge”).  It took us two days to reach the summit (which, in fairness, was more like a wide plateau) but it was nevertheless an impressive feat (at least for me), and to this day is the highest mountain I’ve ever climbed. There were many challenges along the way (not the least of which was my fear of heights!), and it’s a feat I would be hard pressed to do today, but I wouldn’t trade that original experience for anything!

In our own spiritual lives, we’re all called to make similar journeys -- to follow spiritual guides who know the way along challenging but well-travelled trails so that we can experience higher and higher expressions of God’s love and presence in our lives.  We may not ever actually reach the spiritual “summit” in this life (because with God there’s always a “higher place” to experience), but every single one of us is called to climb towards it, nevertheless.

So, during the coming month (October 2012), I’m inviting you to join me on a spiritual journey with God -- one in which we’ll learn the value, importance, and benefits of CLIMBING HIGHER in our relationship with God through various strategies of stewardship.  The messages, videos, and materials you’ll hear and experience during this time are geared to help each of us not only understand but also to claim the great rewards and satisfaction that come from a life committed to intentional stewardship growth.

My hope and prayer is that you will join me and many, many others as we together take a journey “climbing higher” in our faith and in our relationship with God.  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Who To Welcome?

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
(Romans 15:7)

Several weeks ago our Minister of Music and Worship Arts shared a blog with me that was so profound that it was simply too good not to pass on. It was about the importance of God’s church learning to welcome all people. Welcoming others in the name of Christ doesn’t mean that we have to agree with their beliefs, values, or behaviors. But it does mean that we offer them respect and hospitality just as Jesus did for all people who he met.

Within the blog was a poster seen at a church that described this kind of radical hospitality and welcome that we’re to imitate:

“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail, or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re ‘just browsing,’ just woke up, or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been to church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems, or you’re down in the dumps, or if you don’t like ‘organized religion” - we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced, or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid, or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts… and you!”

[--From “Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community”, cited in the Blog of Jon Acuff]

Wow! Those are tough words to live up to! But they describe an attitude that we are to offer to all people as God’s church, for -- in the words of Paul’s scripture above -- “just as Christ welcomed [us]… [we are to] welcome one another.” Dear Lord, may it be so among all the churches of God! Remember that He loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Love Above All

“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....

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.”
                                [--1 Corinthians 13:3b-8a,12-13, from THE MESSAGE]

As we share in several sermons on the controversial topic of homosexuality, my prayer and desire is that -- regardless of what we think or believe about this topic -- each of us would allow “extravagant,” sacrificial love to be the guiding principle behind our actions and interactions with others, even if and when we disagree with their beliefs and/or behaviors. And never forget that we’re called to love others because God loves you, and that I do, too!

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Word from our Muslim Neighbors About Recent Middle-East Violence

East Cobb UMC members and friends,
The following is part of an email I received this past week from one of the leaders of the East Cobb Islamic Center (the mosque near our church that we have been in dialogue with this past year), and wanted to pass it on to you.
I hopefully don’t have to tell you that the sentiment advocating peace that they as Muslims express is the same sentiment that Jesus challenges us as Christians to have, and that I truly appreciate them taking the time to share this message with us to avoid any further misunderstanding.
Here is part of the original email, along with the message they wanted us to know about from their I.S.B. (Islamic Speaker’s Bureau… kind of like our North GA UMC Annual Conference office):
Pastor Brian,
I wanted to share the announcement below with you and want you to know that I (and numerous reasonable Muslims) join you and all our fellow citizens in mourning the loss of the members of our embassy staff including our Ambassador to Libya, and for the loss of reason. I pray for reason and peace to return to the world where hate and prejudice reign. Amen.
ISB Atlanta Condemns Violence in Libya and Egypt
Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta condemns in the strongest possible terms the extremist attacks on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Libya and Egypt on Tuesday, September 11th, one of which killed U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens along with three of his staff members. The parties responsible for these events in both nations claimed to be reacting to an online film considered offensive to Islam.

It is important to emphasize that it is a greater defamation of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an to react with violence and murder of innocent people – one of the greatest sins in Islam – than any claimed insult from an Islamophobic film. Those who responded in such a manner should instead study the Prophet Muhammad’s example in the face of harm. On a daily basis, Muhammad was exposed to demeaning abuse for 13 years during the early years of his mission. His response was not to return insult for insult or hurt for hurt, but to pray for his persecutors and overlook their insults. In a famous Islamic tradition, he stated: “It is not allowed to cause harm to others or to return harm for harm.”

It is also an Islamic principle that one does not blame or punish another for the crimes of another. The employees at the embassies were in no way responsible for the actions of either Terry Jones or the producers of the film. Such extreme responses, in fact, can only help Islamophobic interests. Such actions and reactions are but a useless cycle of hate that benefit no one and as occurred yesterday, can be potentially dangerous and even deadly.

ISB Atlanta is committed to upholding the right to freedom of expression and unconditionally condemn any use of violence as a means to protest offensive or hateful speech. In the United States, this fundamental, inalienable right is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The answer to speech we find deeply offensive is more speech — speech that tells the true story of Islam — not censorship or violence. Acts of violence carried out in the name of Islam are a greater offense against Islam than the content of any film or speech.

ISB Atlanta Executive Director Soumaya Khalifa urges both fellow Muslims and fellow Americans to “Work together for a more peaceful world and take this opportunity to redouble efforts towards peace and harmony through increased outreach, dialogue, and understanding.”

The Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta is a 501©(3) non-profit, apolitical educational organization that provides certified Muslim speakers to promote awareness about Islam and Muslims. The ISB is a local affiliate of the Islamic Networks Group (ING). ISB Atlanta, P.O. Box 2608, Peachtree City, Georgia 30269. Telephone: 404-377-8380
 Please join me in praying for peace not only in the Middle East but that it would start with better understanding with our Muslim neighbors here at home. Pastor Brian

Sunday, September 9, 2012

John Wesley's "Catholic Spirit" - Dealing With Christians With Whom We Disagree

“‘Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours?’ Jehonadab answered, ‘It is.’ Jehu said, ‘If it is, give me your hand.’ So he gave him his hand.” (2 Kings 10:15)

When dealing with Christians with whom we disagree, the founder of Methodism John Wesley had some helpful advice in one of his sermons on this very subject. Titled “Catholic Spirit,” it had nothing to do with the Roman Catholic tradition, but everything to do with how followers of Jesus are called to treat those who differ from them but who share the same “universal” (or “catholic”) spirit of love in their work in the world on behalf of Christ. Let me share a few quotes from that sermon:

“Although a difference of opinion or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

“How shall we choose among so much variety [of worship styles]? No [one] can choose for or prescribe to another, but every one must follow the dictates of [their] own conscience in simplicity and godly sincerity. [They] must be fully persuaded in [their] own mind, and then act according to the best light [they] have.”

“Is your heart right with God?...then give me your hand.”

“While [one] is steadily fixed in [their] religious principles, in what [one] believes to be the truth as it is in Jesus, while [they] firmly adhere to that worship of God which [one] judges to be most acceptable in [God's] sight, and while... united by the tenderest and closest ties to one particular congregation, [one's] heart is enlarged toward all [humanity], those [one] knows and those...[whom one knows] not.”

Wesley is also remembered for something he said regarding the nature and character of all true Methodist Christians, “As to opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think (From Wesley’s tract “The Character of A Methodist”).

His point (and my point today) is that we don’t all have to agree on every piece of theology or scripture in order to work together for and on behalf of the cause of Christ in our world. So, my prayer for you (and for myself) is that God would give us each a truly “catholic spirit” in all we say and do, that we may give glory to God our heavenly Father by the very way that we conduct ourselves with Christians (and even non-believers) with whom we disagree. Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Just Suppose...

"Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed" (Proverbs 16:3, NIV)

I once read the following article in a newsletter from Sandy Springs U.M.C. As we continue a new school year, I invite you to let these thoughts challenge you the way they did me...

• Just Suppose that your church membership was good only for one year at a time, and that its renewal depended upon your faithfulness to your church through your prayers, presence in worship and a small group, stewardship of gifts, your volunteer service, and witness of your faith by word and deed. Would you retain your membership?

• Just Suppose that church membership was limited to those who could give a valid excuse for absences. Would your absences be acceptable?

• Just Suppose that other church members were as enthusiastic about our events, programs, and ministries as they are about sporting events or shopping. Would there be a marked difference in the life of our church?

• Just Suppose that every member of our church attended as often as you. Would we need more seating or less?

• Just Suppose that every member gave to the church financially each year what you give. Would there be less money or more for the cause of Christ through our ministries?

• Just Suppose that we stopped “supposing” and instead renew our dedication and commitment to the high calling of Jesus Christ and His church.

What great thoughts to consider! I hope to see you this week at church! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Christianity and Homosexuality?

Chick-Fil-A… Barack Obama… movies and TV shows… gay pride parades…. It seems that everywhere we turn today, we’re faced with the issue of homosexuality. As Christians, how should we deal with this controversial subject, not only biblically and theologically, but also practically? And how would Jesus teach us to treat the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people among us in our culture today?

On September 16th and 23rd, I'll be addressing these questions and more in two sermons collectively titled “Christian Perspectives On Homosexuality,” and will precede these with a sermon on September 9th outlining a way for Christians to deal with controversial issues. Regardless of where you or others find yourselves on this topic, I pray that you will invite a friend and visit us at East Cobb United Methodist Church (Marietta, GA) during these three weeks to learn more about how God would have us approach this heated subject.

In the meantime (and following the sharing of this series), you've invited to read and download materials pertinent to this subject (included PDF transcripts of the sermons after they're preached) in the "Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality RESOURCES" link to the right of this article.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

When In Our Music God Is Glorified

“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)

“When in our music God is glorified,
  And adoration leaves no room for pride,
 It is as though the whole creation cried, ‘Alleluia!’

 How often, making music, we have found
 A new dimension in the world of sound,
 As worship moved us to a more profound ‘Alleluia!’

 So has the church in liturgy and song,
 In faith and love, through centuries of wrong,
 Borne witness to the truth in every tongue, ‘Alleluia!’

 And did not Jesus sing a psalm that night,
 When utmost evil strove against the light?
 Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight: ‘Alleluia!’

 Let every instrument be tuned for praise!
 Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!
 And may God give us faith to sing always ‘Alleluia!’”

       [–From The United Methodist Hymnal, #68, words by Fred Pratt Green, 1971]

As we celebrated Worship Arts Sunday today during our morning services, my hope and prayer is that you were not only inspired by all that you experienced, but that it also challenged you to live your life as a song of praise and thanksgiving to and for God.  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

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 notice that we have 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!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Our World Community

"Go into all the world and proclaim the good news_
to the whole creation.@ (Mark 16:15)

Some of you may have seen the following article that has made the Aemail rounds@ in recent years, but I find it particularly pertinent and timely in our task and calling as Christians in light of the start of the XXXth Olympiad in London, England:

AIf we could shrink the earth=s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, then the world would be compromised of...
57 Asians
21 Europeans
8 Africans
14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south
52 would be female and 48 would be male
70 would be nonwhite and 30 would be white
70 would be non-Christian and 30 would be Christian
6 people would possess 59% of the entire world=s wealth,
and all 6 would be from the United States.
80 would live in substandard housing
70 would be unable to read this article
1 would have a college education
1 would own a computer
50 would suffer from malnutrition
1 would be near death, and 1 would be near birth.

So, if you woke up this morning with more health than illness, then you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week.  If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of physical torture, or the pangs of starvation, then you are ahead of 500 million other people in the world.

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, then you are richer than 75% of the world.  If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, then you are among the top 8% of the world=s wealthy.  If you can read this message, then you are more blessed than over 2 billion people in the world that cannot read at all.@
Of course, my point in sharing this article is NOT for us to be prideful about (or even just thankful for) our Ablessings@, lest we find ourselves inadvertently wearing the attitude ALord, I=m thankful I=m not like them!@ (read Luke 18:9-12).

Instead, I share this to heighten our awareness of the great diversity of our world (a diversity not only highlighted by the quadrennial Olympic Games, but all around us in our own community), and the great task and calling we have as Christians to help transform it for the better.

I once read that Christians are not called to Amake a difference@ in the world, but that we are instead called to Abe the difference@ in our world.  The way Jesus said it, we are to be the Asalt@ and Alight@ of our world (Matthew 5:13-14).  How are you being salt and light B Athe difference of God@ B in your part of our world?  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

God & Suffering - A Response To Aurora

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God....” (Romans 8:28)

I’ve shared these thoughts before, but in light of the tragic shooting this past week in Aurora, Colorado I felt they were worth sharing again…

When bad things happen to good people, is it God’s ‘punishment’? When evil seems to triumph, where is God? Doesn’t the suffering that Jesus went through in his last days ‘prove’ God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care about our human  hurt?”  These are some of the questions I often people ask in the face of our pain and suffering.  How can Christians reconcile belief in a good, loving and powerful God in the face of natural disasters, tragedies, and the spectre of human evil?

There are obviously no easy, pat answers to such complex questions.  However, the words of one author that I also shared several years ago I still believe capture the essence of what we need to recognize and remember in such circumstances...

“Suffering and tragedy is not God’s desire for us, but it does occur in the process of life.  Suffering and tragedy is not given to teach us something, but through it we may learn. It’s not given to teach others something, but through it they may learn.  It’s not given to punish us, but sometimes it is the consequences of our bad judgement.  Suffering is not given, and tragedy does not come to us because our faith is weak, but through it our faith my be strengthened.  God does not depend on human suffering to achieve His purposes, but sometimes through suffering His purposes are achieved.  Suffering can either destroy us or it can add meaning to our lives.”  
            [–Rev. Ray Firestone, shared by Rev. Adam Hamilton in his sermon The Gospel In the Face of Grief” in the series Questions for God In the Face of Tragedy (May 3, 1998)]

My prayer is that whatever difficult or challenging thing it is that you are facing (including wrestling with the “why” of the pain and senseless shooting tragedy in Aurora), you will know that God is with you and all who suffer, that He wants to redeem those difficulties in order to make something good out of it, that He wants to give all who suffer hope and help us to make it through, primarily through the assistance of other people. 

Of course, this means that we have a responsibility to do what we can to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who are suffering (which is why our church is constantly sharing ways that you can make a difference out of the disasters and tragedies of our world).  So my prayer is that in addition to praying for our brothers and sisters who suffer, we will do what we can to help them in tangible ways, as well.  God bless you as you remember to be generous to others in the same way that God has been generous to you, so that the suffering of others is relieved and hope is birthed!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!