Sunday, May 26, 2013

You Never Let Go

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Your perfect love is casting out fear
And even when I'm caught in the middle of the storms of this life
I won't turn back I know you are near

And I will fear no evil
For my God is with me
And if my God is with me
Whom then shall I fear?
Whom then shall I fear?

Oh no, You never let go
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh no, You never let go
In every high and every low
Oh no, You never let go
Lord, You never let go of me

And I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
A glorious light beyond all compare
And there will be an end to these troubles
But until that day comes
We'll live to know You here on the earth


Yes, I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
And there will be an end to these troubles
But until that day comes
Still I will praise You, still I will praise You”

(Chorus Twice)
            [--Lyrics by Matt Redman © 2006 Sparrow]

No matter what tragedy or challenge you or your loved ones or friends face today, always remember that God will always be with us.  And while His presence doesn't always protect us from bad things happening, His presence will always give us hope to persevere and have hope through it!  Whatever you’re facing, hang in there!  And remember always that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Never Give Up!

“Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before:  “Good things come to those who wait.”And this is certainly true.  However, “waiting” does not necessarily mean that we are (or need to be) passive or inactive during our time of waiting.  That’s why “active waiting” is just another way to describe the concept of perseverance, and it’s something that truly makes a difference when we practice it.

Perhaps you know the true story of the man who lost his job in 1832.  In that same year, he ran and was defeated for  State legislature, as well.  His business failed a year later (in 1833), and was finally elected to the State legislature in 1834.  His sweetheart died in 1835, and he suffered a nervous breakdown in 1836.  He was defeated for Speaker of his State House in 1838, defeated for nomination for U.S. Congress in 1843, and then elected to Congress in 1846.  He lost his re-nomination for Congress in 1848, was rejected for Land Officer in 1849, defeated for U.S. Senate in 1854, and defeated for nomination for Vice President in 1856.  He was again defeated for the Senate in 1858.  But in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected 16th President of the United States.  Now that’s perseverance!

The scripture above reminds us that no matter what challenge, difficulty, obstacle, or negative mindset we face, perseverance will usually enable us to achieve what we set out to do.  And this is especially true when we trust in God to see us through -- “God plus me make a majority,” I’ve also heard it said.

So, what seemingly insurmountable challenge are you facing in your individual, family, or church life that needs perseverance?  If you ask, God will give you the strength and resources to persevere if you will but trust in Him.  We need only be BOLD in perseverance to see the victory of God in our midst!

Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Value of Sacrifice

“I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24)

To “sacrifice” means to give up something we hold dear in order to gain someone else even more valuable.  Although this is an idea and practice that’s considered archaic and unrealistic in today’s self-centered, narcissistic world, if we think about it, sacrifice is really at the heart of any great culture/society. 

For example, as Americans we’ve built our freedoms and liberties as a nation on the sacrifice of men and women of our past, many of whom have given their very lives for the freedoms we now enjoy.  The same can be said of both our Christian faith and of the story of our own church here at East Cobb UMC:  the faith we possess and the church we have today is the result of the life sacrifices of our forbearers before us.  And the same can be said of the sacrifices our parents made so that we could have an education, clothes, food, etc.

The bottom line is that all we have and enjoy in life today can be said to result from the sacrifices of others.  So, our world is just fooling itself when it claims that “sacrifice” is an archaic and out-of-date practice in today’s contemporary world.

The story is told of an old Japanese farmer who had just harvested a rice crop that would make him rich.  His farm was on a high plain overlooking the village at the ocean's edge.  A mild earthquake had shaken the ground, but the villagers were used to that, so they took little notice.

The farmer, looking out to sea, saw that the water on the horizon appeared dark and foreboding.  He knew what that meant --- a tidal wave.  "Bring me a torch, quick, " he shouted to his grandson.  Then he raced to his stacks of rice and set them ablaze.

When the bell in the temple below rang the alarm, the people scrambled up the steep slopes to help save their neighbor's crop.  But the farmer met them at the edge of the plain, shouting "Look! Look!" The saw a great swell of water racing towards them.  As it crashed ashore, the tiny village below was torn to pieces.  But because that farmer willingly sacrificed his harvest, hundreds of people were spared.

Again, sacrifice is when we give up something valuable in order to gain something more valuable.  As we prepare for the Commitment Sunday of our “be BOLD” capital campaign [Read more about it HERE], it’s important for us to take stock of what valuable thing(s) we’re willing to sacrifice (like our finances) so that something even more valuable (God’s vision for our church) can come to pass for future generations

[CLICK HERE to read ideas about how you can be more sacrificial in your financial giving to God’s church].  How are you going to “be BOLD” in Sacrifice for God’s kingdom?!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The "Bold" Gift of Love

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

“Though I may speak with bravest fire,
 And have the gift to all inspire,
 And have not love, my words are vain,
 As sounding brass, and hopeless gain.

 Though I may give all I possess,
 And striving so my love profess,
 But not be given by love within,
 The profit soon turns strangely thin.

 Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control,
 Our spirits long to be made whole.
 Let inward love guide every deed;
 By this we worship, and are freed.”
          [–Hal Hopson, from The United Methodist Hymnal, #408]

If there’s ever been a time when we needed to practice bold love, it’s today!  We can have all the “correct” theology, do all the “right” religious rituals, worship God the “correct” way, hold all the “right” political views, etc.  But in the end, we believe as Christians that if we don’t put love into practice boldly, then we’ve missed the point!

Bold love means we love people more than “correctness,” that we practice loving those who we don’t necessarily agree with -- that we love those who are unlovely, unlovable, unlikeable, and just plain “wrong”!  For one example of how Christians are called to “love boldly” even those with whom we disagree, READ HERE my article about the Muslim response to the recent violence in Boston, MA.

In the meantime, remember that we are called to “be BOLD” in love -- in our demonstration and practice of love, both for God and for others.  May our bold practice of love begin to make a positive difference in our families, community, and world!

How will you “be BOLD” in loving God and loving others?  (Read more about our “be BOLD” capital campaign HERE) Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Local Muslim Response to Recent Boston Violence

Many of you are already aware of our church’s commitment to Interfaith dialogue as one way to tangibly demonstrate the love of Jesus to others, even when we don’t necessarily agree with all their beliefs or practices.   After all, loving others is not limited merely to those who worship, believe, or look like us, or who have the same politics or religious practices as us.  Instead, the religion of Jesus Christ builds bridges of peaceful dialogue with others across all kinds of cultural, racial, theological and religious lines.

That’s why, in light of the recent violence and terrorist acts in Boston supposedly motivated by Islam, I’m happy to share the response of the “Atlanta Islamic Speakers Bureau” (from the same speaker who came to our church in 2012 to share about Isalm) to those events as a way of encouraging further dialogue and love with our Muslim neighbors.  (By the way, this response was shared with us today by a leader of the East Cobb Islamic Center just around the corner from our church):

ISB Condemns Terrorist Act in Boston, Commits to Interfaith Dialogue

This has been a difficult last few weeks for us, both as Americans and as Muslims. We were all horrified as our country was again attacked by extremists in Boston. Additionally, and sadly, those same extremists attempted to justify their heinous actions by citing Islam, in direct contravention of everything that we know and believe to be the true nature of our religion. A sentiment that is very well expressed by comedian, writer and producer Dean Obeidallah, “I’m a Muslim, and I hate Terrorism.”

Indeed, these last few weeks have tested us as communities and as a nation. But as so often has happened in the past, we as a nation have begun to pull together to heal and mourn the national loss of lives. Thankfully, this seems to be a strong national characteristic that all Americans share - irrespective of heritage or religion. When challenged, we fall back on the ideals that have come to define and unite us. And so our hearts are with those who lost loved ones and who were negatively impacted by what happened. …

These tragedies serve as a reminder that we need to appreciate and love people around us…. The ISB sends well wishes to the Orthodox and Coptic Christians who celebrated Palm Sunday on Sunday, April 28 and will celebrate Easter on May 5. Finally, I would like to send love and appreciation to all ISB friends and readers.  Sincerely,
            --Soumaya Khalifa, Executive Director, ISB Atlanta (in their March 2013 online newsletter)

Please pray for our Muslim brothers and sisters as they discern how to deal with those who use Islam inappropriately, and pray for ourselves that we may know how to demonstrate true Christian love to and for them. It’s what Jesus would do! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!