Sunday, March 24, 2013

I Am A Christian

“Then the father said to him… ‘We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:2)

“When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m not shouting ‘I’ve been saved!’”
I’m whispering ‘I get lost!  That’s why I chose this way.’

When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I don’t speak with human pride.
I’m confessing that I stumble – needing God to be my guide

When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m not trying to be strong.
I’m professing that I’m weak and pray for strength to carry on.

When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m not bragging of success.
I’m admitting I have failed and cannot ever pay the debt.

When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible but, God believes I’m worth it.

When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I still feel the sting of pain,
I have my share of heartache which is why I seek His name.

When I say... ‘I am a Christian,’ I do not wish to judge.
I have no authority – I only know I’m loved.”
         [--Attributed to Maya Angelou, this poem was actually written by Carol Wimmer in 1988,
             and it is cited here from the book Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul]

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Story of Saint Patrick

“During the night Paul had a vision: …a man of Macedonia pleading with him… ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” When we had seen the vision, we crossed over… being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” (Acts 16:9-10)

If there ever was an example of God’s compassionate grace at work in our world, the man known today as Saint Patrick (387-460 A.D.) certainly was it.  One of the first Christian missionaries to Ireland, his ministry there is said to have eventually led to the conversion of the entire island to Christianity.

Born to a Christian family in Roman Britain, at age 16 he was captured and carried as a slave across the water to Ireland.  While in captivity, he remembered and began to practice the Christian teachings of his parents and grandparents, and his own faith slowly grew.  Six years later he escaped and returned to Britain.  Back home, however, he experienced a vision in which he saw Irish people begging him to “come walk” with them and teach them the faith of Christ.

So, he returned to the place of his enslavement -- this time voluntarily as a missionary -- and began preaching and teaching the ways of Jesus to the inhabitants of the island, and supporting the work of those Christians already living there.  Even though his work was challenged in the early years, within a few decades, he was respected throughout Ireland, converting many important leaders, including sons of various Irish kings.  As a result, he became the first Bishop of Ireland and eventually its patron saint.

He is remembered today for many things:  using a shamrock to teach people about the Holy Trinity of God (Father, Son & Holy Spirit); supposedly banishing all snakes from Ireland (there are none there); the famous St. Patrick’s cross; his walking stick growing into a tree; and for his mythical debates with pagan warrior kings from Ireland’s past, convincing them of the truths of Christianity.

In honor and remembrance of his life and ministry, today every March 17th (the date of his death) is celebrated around the world as Saint Patrick’s Day.  Although many places ignore or downplay his religious influence and teachings, as Christians we should take time to give thanks for the life and ministry of one who brought God’s Grace to an entire nation. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Life Saving Station

AWe are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works.@ (Ephesians 2:10)

The following modern parable was told by the Rev. T.O. Wedel of the Washington Cathedral about the light houses and Alife-saving stations@ still found along North Carolina Outer Banks.  As you read, consider how the lesson it teaches could be applied both to the older son in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), and to us today:

            AOn a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station.  The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost.  Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous.  Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work.  New boats were bought and new crews were trained, and the little life-saving station grew.
            Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and so poorly equipped.  They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea.  So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in an enlarged building.  Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they re-decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as sort of a club.  Fewer of the members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired life-boat crews to do this work. 
            However, the life-saving motif still prevailed in the club decoration, and there was even now a liturgical life-saving boat in the room where club initiations were held. About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crew brought in boat loads of cold, wet, half-drowned people.  They were dirty and sick and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin.  The beautiful new club was considerably messed up.  So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of ship wrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.  At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership.  Most of the members wanted to stop the club=s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. 
            Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station.  But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people which were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station down the coast.  So they did.
            As the years went by, however, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old one B it, too, evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded.  History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore.  Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but most of the people now drown!@

As we welcome new guests each week at our worship services and other activities, I hope you=ll remember our true purpose and Areason for being@ as a congregation at East Cobb United Methodist Church.  Far from being an exclusive Aclub@ just for “older sons (& daughters),” we are a life-saving station for our world and community!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Amazing Grace

By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." (Ephesians 2:8)

AAmazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
                   [-John Newton, from The United Methodist Hymnal, #378]

Many of us probably grew up learning the words to this famous and popular hymn of the church.  Even those who didn't learn its lyrics have probably heard its haunting melody played or sung at some point... by famous singers, at music festivals, and even at funerals and memorial services (often via bagpipes).  But while this song easily moves our spirits, often today I find that its words are also easily taken for granted. 

In her book Putting the Amazing Back in Grace, Ann Weems explains:
            A...What worries me still is how easily we in the church forget the poetry of God, how easily we in the church extract the amazing from grace, how easily we turn Hosanna in to ho-hum and belief into bureaucracy and righteousness into rules. Addicted to our agendas, bound to our budgets, we fail to remember that the Love of God is written upon our hearts.... Jesus told the people to love their enemies, and the people were amazed. He told them to have compassion for strangers, and the people were amazed. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers, and the people were amazed. He told them to pray for those who persecuted them, and they were amazed. He told them to set the captives free, and the people were amazed. He broke the rules, and healed on the Sabbath, and the people were amazed.... I don't know how we ever got so un-amazed.  The amazing thing is this: Even now Jesus speaks... Even now we can touch the hem of his robe and be healed. Even now we can share our bread and our wine with a starving world. Even now God the poet pours grace upon our heads... Even now we can be amazed."
                  [-Ann Weems, Putting the Amazing Back in Grace(Trade Cloth, 1999)]

How about you?  Have you remembered what's so amazing about God=s grace?  Have you allowed that grace to turn your "ho-hum" into Hosanna?  An addiction to rules into righteousness?  A fumbling with life's awkward "prose" into God's profound "poetry"? 

The amazing thing is that God's grace touches each of us in unique ways. If you're willing, I invite you to respond back to this message and share in 1-2 sentences/phrases how God's grace has uniquely touched you.  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!