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!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Marietta Camp Meeting - Celebrating 175 Years!

“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 175 years of bringing souls into God’s kingdom, and East Cobb U.M.C. is helping celebrate!  In case you didn’t know, our church is their spiritual “child,” being formed out of a spiritual revival there back in the 1870s.  Granted, that makes us a grown, adult “child,” but they and we are spiritual “family,” nevertheless.

As I prepared this article, I ran across some interesting facts from Campground’s history.  For example, did you know that…
  • The original campground contained 40 acres, and was bought at $1/acre
  • The first meeting was held under a brush arbor
  • During the first meeting, the men brought guns to protect themselves from the ruffians who declared they would drive out the worshippers
  • Campmeeting was discontinued with the start of the Civil War, but resumed once again in 1870 (about when our church was established)
  • A trumpet was used to call everyone to the services (a practice that originated from the words of the scripture above)
  • Water was supplied by natural springs
  • Minutes taken and recorded from the business of the tentholders go all the way back to 1919
Of course, there’s more that you can find on the history link of their website, but I want to encourage all East Cobb U.M.C. members and friends to share in this celebration -- it is, after all, our heritage, as well.  In addition to daily services at 11am and 7:30pm, several additional events you’ll want to especially note and attend:
  Saturday, July 14, 12Noon-10pm, 175th Anniversary Celebration “on the grounds”

  Tuesday, July 17, East Cobb UMC Music Night

  Sunday, July 22, our annual COMBINED WORSHIP service at 11am “under the arbor” (there will not be 9:30am or 11am services in our Sanctuary that morning)
I hope you’ll join me in participating as much as possible in the special events of Campmeeting 2012.  Let’s help celebrate God’s work and presence in our community for the past 175 years!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"I Must Tell Jesus"

“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

We all face problems and troubles.  There’s no way to get away or around that fact, because it’s simply part of being human.   Yet, many people go through life trying to face them in their own strength.  As people of faith, however, we believe that we follow and serve a God who can help us in and through the tough and challenging issues and times of life.

That’s why the scripture above encourages us to “cast all [our] anxiety on him, because he cares for [us].”  We don’t have to face problems by ourselves.  We’re invited and urged to let God through Christ help us.  Back in 1893, Elisha A. Hoffman penned these lyrics that say it well:

“I must tell Jesus all of my trials,
 I cannot bear these burdens alone;
 in my distress He kindly will help me,
 He ever loves and cares for His own.

Chorus: I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear my burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.

I must tell Jesus all of my troubles,
He is a kind, compassionate friend;
if I but ask Him, He will deliver,
make of my troubles quickly an end.

Tempted and tried, I need a great Savior,
One who can help my burdens to bear;
I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus;
He all my cares and sorrows will share.

O how the world to evil allures me!
O how my heart is tempted to sin!
I must tell Jesus, and He will help me
over the world the victory to win.”
[Hymn “I Must Tell Jesus” found HERE

Whatever you’re facing, please don’t try to face it alone -- “Jesus can help [you]. Jesus alone.”  Never forget that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Thoughts About "Christian" America

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord….” (Psalm 33:12)

As we celebrate America’s birth, I invite us to remember that for most of its history, our nation was and has been distinctly “Christian” in spirit (even if not always in practice).  This is the source of the popular phrase “Christian America.”

It does not mean that every American was, or is (or needs to be) a Christian in either belief or practice.  Nor does it mean that those who are/were are from immune from hypocrisy, misuse, and misappropriation of the gospel in their practice of faith. Nor does it mean that people cannot or should not hold viewpoints and offer opinions which differ from Christian values or principles.

On the contrary, saying that America has historically been AChristian@ merely reflects to the reality that the prevailing ideals, values, and attitudes of much of its history has either been taken directly from, or are generally in accord with, those of orthodox Christianity.  Historian Sanford Cobb once wrote that AThe religious quality of a people is... determined by [their] spirit and life@ [Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America, p.524], and a study of America’s historic “spirit and life” reveals the presence of ideals, values and principles rooted and grounded in Christianity. 

For example, in its early history, political ideals like Natural/@Inalienable@ Rights, government by consent, the concept of limited government (AKA the “separation of powers”), and even prevailing assumptions about the nature and duties of government all are philosophically rooted in content and concepts that come directly from the Bible.  What’s more is that the sources of these ideals -- from the values of the Puritans, to the effects of the AFirst Great Awakening,” to the origins of our educational systems, and even to the nature and concept of “Civil Law” -- were similarly distinctly Christian in principle.

My point here is that while America can in no way claim now to be (or to have ever been) a “Christian nation” in practice (after all, we are flawed like all other nations and peoples), nevertheless it’s spirit, character, and strength has always lay in its reliance (even if at times tacitly) upon the ideals, values and principles of Christianity. 

So, my prayer is that as we celebrate our nations’ heritage and freedoms, we would remember and celebrate the God who gives them, and recognize that without our corporate acknowledgement of His work and presence in our national life, we not only turn our backs on what has made us great in our past, but we also jeopardize our present and future by doing so.

Thomas Jefferson put it this way, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever@ [Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII, 1781-1782, p. 237; Paul Leicester Ford, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 3, p. 267].

Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

(P.S., If you’d like more information on the history and biblical basis for the ideals and values of early America that I’ve talked about above, please contact me and I can share notes and a handout with you)