Sunday, June 30, 2013

Christian Faith In Early America

“Blessed is the country with God for God…”
(Psalm 33:12, MSG)

In my June 30 sermon “Mending the Bell,” I invited our congregation to become better aware of the spiritual and religious background of our national heritage and history.  One place that we find examples of Christian “faith” in early America is in the written documents of the period:

For example, we find examples of “faith” in the wording of many  early Colonial and (later) State Constitutions, proclamations, and oaths.  The “The Declaration of Independence” itself contains religious phrasing such as “...endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights...”, “...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions,” and “... with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence....” 

And while it’s true that the U.S. Constitution contains no direct references to God or religion, one should not expect it to, as (in the words of author Gary DeMar), “The U.S. Constitution is not a source of fundamental values. It is an instrument whereby instrumental values can be protected, defining  the procedures, principles, and methods whereby government can function to allow people to give content to their lives. But the Constitution itself cannot give that content” [--Gary DeMar, God and Government, Vol. 1 (American Vision Press, 1997), p. 151].

Even so, the Constitution does possesses what many have identified as a Christian “spirit” through the implicit “Christian” ideals, values, and attitudes that it promotes and presumes, and which were prevalent throughout colonial America during the time of its writing (including ideals such as Natural Rights, Government by Consent, Separation of Powers, etc.)

On June 28, 1787 at the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin issued a now famous call to prayer that captured the essence of these prevalent religious values and attitudes:  “Have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we now imagine that we no longer need his assistance?  I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth -- that God governs in the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?  We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House, they labour in vain who build it.’  I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel” [Benjamin Franklin, cited in James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 (NY: W.W. Morton & Co., Original 1787 reprinted 1987), Vol. I, p. 504, 451-21].

My point is that while early America wasn't a bastion of Christian orthodoxy -- nor were our founders all active or orthodox either in their practice or beliefs about Christianity -- nevertheless there was an implicit Christian “spirit” that guided our nation in its early years that today is often minimized and dismissed. And I believe that without a return to it, as a nation we will continue to fall into moral chaos and disintegration.

So, I invite each of us to do our part to help restore the spiritual and religious heritage that has under girded our national moral fabric for over two centuries.  Pray for our nation, it’s leaders, and ourselves that we would honor God in all areas of life -- private and public -- so that we can continue to be “one nation, under God.” Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

[For much more details about what I’ve shared in this blog, read the session notes to a 3-part class I've taught on this subject called “America’s Christian Heritage.” You can read the class materials and notes HERE.]

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Boy Scouts & Jesus

...Extend hospitality to strangers.” (Romans 12:13)

By now most of you probably already know of the recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America to open their troops to openly gay persons for membership (though not for troop leadership).

In response, some Christian churches have taken the drastic and unfortunate step of ending the relationship with their own sponsored Scout troops, essentially kicking them out (this has happened at two large churches here in Marietta that have both sponsored Scout troops for many years!).

In my humble opinion, this kind of reaction is not only tragic, but inconsistent with the teachings and actions of Jesus.  While we don’t have to agree with the practice of homosexuality, the welcoming of openly gay persons in the institutions of our culture (like the Boy Scouts, and like our churches) is not a theological issue at all, but a hospitality issue.  Simply put: people have a right to hospitality and welcome regardless of whether or not we agree with their beliefs or stances on particular social issues.

We see this over and over in the actions of Jesus, who ate with sinners and kept company with those who were rejected by their society and culture.  He certainly didn’t always agree with the life practices of those with whom he ministered, but he nevertheless offered a place of welcome at his table (so to speak) through his actions.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I wanted you to know that not only does our church have no plans to change our sponsorship of Boy Scout Troop 435, but we’re also in conversation about sponsorship with another troop who was turned out of their church, as well.  And if you know of other troops who have been recently displaced, please have them get in touch either with me or Jim Perry and we’ll see if we can accommodate their needs.

Bottom line: hospitality is what Jesus would do!  United Methodist churches have supported Scouting for over 80 years, and are second only to Mormons in the number of congregations that sponsor Scout Troops. None of that will change.  We still proudly support Scouting as an investment in our youth!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

[NOTE: For a recent United Methodist News Service article on this subject (“Door Open to Southern Baptist Scout Groups”), CLICK HERE]

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"be BOLD" UPDATE - As of 6/30/13

It’s hard to believe that the commitment phase of our “be BOLD campaign is now at an end, and that the two-year giving phase has now commenced.  But what a ride it’s been!  In case you haven’t heard or seen in other communications, as of 6/30/13, we’ve achieved the following:

- 111 Commitments
- Commitments Totaling $696,964 
-Total project amount given so far: $162,015 (*)

It’s worth noting that our commitment total is the highest our church has ever committed to a single capital project, and represents about the same amount in “over-and-above” gifts as is usually contributed in a year’s worth of our regular offerings.  These are great results, especially for a two-year campaign in our current economy, and will lay the groundwork for us to begin resourcing God’s next vision for our church.  (NOTE: If we had done a traditional three-year campaign, the commitment amount would have probably been over $1 million. However, having “be BOLD” be a two-year campaign allows us to be ready to embark on a second campaign to pay more on our entire $2 million project, allowing us either to minimize debt or avoid it altogether.)

So what’s next?  As previously announced, this summer we will form an official building committee to begin formalizing the details of our plans to bring before both our entire congregation at a future Church Conference and before our District Church Development Committee.  As of 6/30/13, we are in the process of forming this Building committee, to begin their work in late July.  Ground-breaking can then begin after we have achieved all the necessary approvals (including required minimum cash-on-hand amounts).

In the meantime, let me say a special “thank you” to our entire “be BOLD Steering Team — Steve Hughes, Terry Standifer, Frieda Brown, Lee Bierce, Dean Kelley, Tom Woodliff, Rob Frank, Jackie Short, Nancy Carroll, Jim Perry, and our consultant Alan Wildes of Generis, Inc. — for all their dedicated work leading to the success of this campaign!  Without this team, we would not be where we are today!  Most importantly, thank you to each and every one of you who have committed and contributed to this project! Your gifts will have eternal significance in helping your church reach new generations for Jesus Christ.

You are a generous people. Thank you!  God bless you!  And thanks be to God for walking with us through this journey!  Let us all continue to “be BOLD for God!

Reminder:  the giving phase for “be BOLD” runs from June 2013-May 2015 (24 months).  If you would like to contribute any/all of your “be BOLD” contributions/gifts online, CLICK HERE and select “be BOLD” as your Fund.

For more information about our “be BOLD” campaign, or to make a financial commitment to it (using an online commitment card), CLICK HERE.

(*) Includes $42,460 given before the “be BOLD” contribution fund was established. 

A Father's Responsibility

“Fathers…bring [your children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

“Fathers have a special role
In each young child’s life, To mold and shape them to become
A follower of Christ

To show them the Father’s heart
And help them understand
How God’s love can be their guide
As they take Him by the hand.

Fathers have an awesome task
To show what love is made of,
So when their children look at them
They’ll see the heart of God

And grow to want to know God more,
To walk in all His ways
To learn from their Father’s wisdom
And be taught how to pray.

Dad, I just want you to know
That you mean so much to me,
Through all the years of growing up,
You taught me how to be
Someone that has faith in God
And accepts responsibility,

Someone that has a love for life
And hope for eternity
And there’s still more that you imparted
In everything you taught,
But one that meant the most to me
Was how to love the Lord.”

[ © M.S.Lowndes, cited from his website]

As we give thanks to God for our fathers and father-figures this Father’s Day, may we especially give thanks for the way(s) they have helped us find and grow in faith in God our heavenly Father.  Remember that God your Father loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

2013 North Georgia Annual Conference

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

This coming week (June 11-14), over 2800 delegates representing the 1000 churches and 360,000+ United Methodists in North Georgia will be gathering at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia for the North Georgia Annual Conference with the theme “Bridges to Mission." This year, Cindy Campbell, Peter Kaimathiri and I are serving as our church's clergy representatives, and Lee Bierce, Lisa Haman, and Pat Holcomb are serving as our laity delegates.

Each year’s Annual Conference makes important decisions that affect every United Methodist church in our geographic area: approval and ordination of new clergy and retirement of older ones; appointments of pastors to local churches are finalized (we celebrate that our Bishop -- Michael Watson -- has reassigned myself and Peter Kaimathiri to East Cobb UMC as your appointed pastors for this next year; Jim Perry is still serving in retired status, and Cindy Campbell’s status has changed non-appointed minister); adoption of the conference budget; support for and reports from conference missions and ministries; exciting worship and bible study opportunities to enrich our spiritual lives; present our “Bishop’s Offering” (“Bridges to Mission”); and much more!

Upon our return, we’ll be available to report on important decisions that were made, and how these might affect us as a congregation.  In the meantime, you can find more information about Annual Conference (including videos and other resources) by CLICKING HERE or going to our North Georgia Conference website and clicking on the links for Annual Conference.  Thank you for your prayers, both for ourselves as your representatives, and for the Conference itself. Always remember, God loves you and I do too!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

"Bridges To Mission" Offering

[Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation’(Mark 16:15)

Many of you are aware that each year our Bishop of North Georgia United Methodism (Michael Watson) designates an annual “Bishop’s Mission Offering” to be collected by North Georgia United Methodist churches in the weeks leading up to Annual Conference, and then shared by each church’s delegates at a worship service during Conference.

This year, Bishop Watson has announced that our 2013 Annual Conference Bishop’s Mission Offering will support our North Georgia Conference “Bridges” mission partnerships in El Salvador, The Bahamas, Russia, the Philippines, Kenya, and Portugal.  The greatest need for these six international mission partners is for assistance in leadership training, and your gifts will go towards helping bring training to the “next level” for these mission partners. For a video from our Bishop, and to find out more information about our “Bridges of Mission” projects, CLICK HERE

So, I invite you to join me in participating in this special opportunity with an over-and-above-your-regular offering financial gift. To contribute, please make your check payable to East Cobb UMC and designate either it or cash to our “Bishop’s Mission Offering.” 

We’ll be collecting funds through June 9th, and will present our church’s combined check during the offering time at the Annual Conference afternoon worship service on Wednesday, June 12th.  Please join me as we seek to connect with mission needs worldwide through this “Bridges of Mission”  offering. 

Remember that God loves you and I do, too!