Sunday, April 29, 2012

Youth Sunday: Altered Perspectives

“Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)

It’s sometimes been said that “youth are the future of the Church.” But the more accurate statement is that “youth are the Church of today” (or at least part of it)! They have a passion and a freshness to their faith that most of us need to hear and be reminded of. If you were with us today for Youth Sunday worship, you experienced a powerful call to worship read by one of our youth that reminds us of the paradoxical power of Christian youth worship.

It’s words start like the stereotype of youth that some church people have today…

“The end of our church is nearing,
worship is dead and boring
No longer can it be said that
We need to pray
My church and I
We don’t have any spiritual connection
It’s not true that
I need God’s presence in my life
I know what I need and when I need it
My possessions
Are more important than
My relationships
I have to tell you
My attention span is too short for the Bible
And it’s just not true that
I enjoy reading the Word
I just don’t get it
And you should never think
God cares about each of us
What I really hope you get is
You’ve got to be open to these values
What’s important to me is
What Lady Gaga is wearing
And I don’t really care all that much
What God could do with my life
I think it’s completely unbelievable
That God is actually listening to us
What’s important for you is
You’ll find peace on your Blackberry
On Facebook
Through email
Your ministry is
Don’t think it is
Going to survive.
It is…”

…the end of the church as we know it. But if you were at youth worship, you know that the reader then said… “UNLESS we open ourselves up to God to change us, and when we do that, we allow Him to turn it all around…” (and the reader began reading the same words backwards, with the same wording meaning something drastically different)…

“It is…going to survive. Don’t think it is dying. Your ministry is through email, on Facebook, on your Blackberry. You’ll find peace. What’s important for you is that God is actually listening to us. I think it’s completely unbelievable what God could do with my life, and I don’t really care all that much what Lady Gaga is wearing. What’s important to me is: you’ve got to be open to these values. What I hope you get is: God cares about each of us, and you should never think I just don’t get it. I enjoy reading the Word, and it’s just not true that my attention span is too short for the Bible. I have to tell you: my relationships are more important than my possessions, and I know what I need and when I need it. I need God’s presence in my life. It’s not true that we don’t have any spiritual connection, my church and I. We need to pray. No longer can it be said that worship is dead and boring and that the end of our church is nearing.”

[--From Trenholm Road UMC for their Youth Sunday 2010, adapted from a video by DK Publishing. Click HERE to see the original YouTube video version called “Youth Sunday Call to Worship Video”]

Wow! What a difference God’s altered perspective can make! I hope and pray you’ll remember what a difference He can make in your life, as well! Always remember, God loves you and I do too!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church

“Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans... to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Under the theme “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ to Transform the World,” our denomination’s top policy-making body (called “General Conference”) will be meeting from April 24-May 4th in Tampa, FL to make important decisions for our church’s future. According to church law, no person or organization except General Conference (including our own church Bishops, courts, or individual Annual Conferences) has the authority to speak officially for our denomination. Consequently, this body meets once every four years in a different location around the country, and is comprised of 1000 delegates (500 clergy and 500 laity), apportioned by the total membership of each Annual Conference from here in America, as well as our Conferences in other countries. This year our North Georgia Conference is sending 26 delegates (one of the larger delegations).

General Conference has several purposes: to revise or reaffirm policies and guidelines regarding local church structure, ministry, and the pastoral leadership by examining and/or revising our Book of Discipline (our church’s lawbook), our “Social Principles,” and adopt various resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues; to approve plans and budgets for church wide ministry initiatives for the next four years; to elect members of our church’s “Judicial Council” (our church’s “Supreme Court”); and (if necessary) to propose amendments to our church’s Constitution (which must be then ratified later by each of our denomination’s 64 Annual Conferences). This year there is a significant proposal being discussed that, if approved, may alter our denomination’s structure for ministry for the future.

The legislation for General Conference comes from petitions and proposals written by church agencies, organizations, Annual Conferences (and through them from any church organization, ordained minister or lay member). Though one of our church’s bishops presides over each session, in order to ensure the authority of elected delegates, bishops themselves have neither voice nor vote at General Conference.

The decisions made at General Conference have many potential ramifications for you and I as a local church here at East Cobb UMC, so I ask that you be in prayer for this assembly for God’s will and way to be done during and through it. You can sign up here for prayer devotions that can be sent to your email.

As with every General Conference, there will be controversial issues addressed which will incite intense passion and heated debate on all sides, and (as has happened in the past) may even get mis-reported by the secular press. So as you hear reports about this assembly on the news, I encourage you not only to be in prayer for all (including ourselves) to have Godly responses, but also for each of us to get our facts straight before we form opinions. For more information and impartial coverage of General Conference’s events and decisions, please visit our North Georgia Conference’s coverage here or visit the official General Conference website here. If you own a smart phone, you can even download an official app (Apple or Android compatible) to follow all the news and events (find information about the mobile app here).

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

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Christ Is Risen!!!

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!” (Luke 24:5)

“Christ is risen! Shout Hosanna! Celebrate this day of days.
Christ is risen! Hush in wonder; all creation is amazed.
In the desert all surrounding, see, a spreading tree has grown.
Healing leaves of grace abounding bring a taste of love unknown.

Christ is risen! Raise your spirits from the caverns of despair.
Walk with gladness in the morning. See what love can do and dare.
Drink the wine of resurrection, not a servant, but a friend;
Jesus is our strong companion. Joy and peace shall never end.

Christ is risen! Earth and heaven nevermore shall be the same.
Break the bread of new creation where the world is still in pain.
Tell its grim, demonic chorus: 'Christ is risen! Get you gone!'
God the First and Last is with us. Sing Hosanna everyone!”
       [–Brian Wren, from The United Methodist Hymnal, #307]

What appropriate words! After all, isn't that the message of Easter... that suffering and pain and death and evil are never the last word? All the sacrifices of Lent, and all of the tragedies and struggles of life merely lead us to the new life of Easter, just as Christ's own sacrifice and suffering led him to the victory of the Resurrection.

So remember, no matter what you're facing today, Easter has come to tell us that through faith in Jesus, God's victory can be ours, as well! So along with the hymn-writer, this Sunday our hearts all join to sing: “Christ is risen! Shout Hosanna! Celebrate this day of days!”

All of these things should help enable us to focus more on the reason for the day: Jesus Is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Old Rugged Cross

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

“On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left his glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For' twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

So I'll cherish the old rugged cross, ‘Til my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,  And exchange it some day for a crown.”

[--Verses 1-3 of hymn “The Old Rugged Cross,” #504 in The United Methodist Hymnal, by George Bennard]

As we begin Holy Week, it is good for us to remember how God used the cross of Christ as a tragic and ironic instrument for the salvation of all humankind, and how through that cross, God’s great, wondrous love was shown to/for each of us! Jesus suffered and died there so that you and I might have victory and life today as Christians. Our salvation might be free to us, but it cost Jesus everything! Blessed is Jesus, who allowed himself to be nailed to a cross for your sake and mine! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!