Sunday, November 24, 2013

What I'm Thankful For?

“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

This past year I have had much to give God thanks for.  Here are just a few.  I am thankful...

...for a wife who models the love of God by loving me just as I am, warts and all!

…for a daughter who makes Trish and I proud not only because of what she does but more 
importantly because of who she is and the beautiful woman of God she’s become.

...for parents who raised me in church to love, understand, and eventually follow the ways of God.

...for a church family who loves, supports, and prays for both my family and myself daily.

...for all of my fellow staff members -- Jim P, Cindy, Peter, Frieda, Rob, Jim H, Leanna, Nancy, Bronwyne, Lee, Barbara, and Nicole -- who, together with me, share in the cause and work of Christ through our church.

…for church members who love me in spite of the fact that we “go over” in worship far too many Sundays due to long-winded preaching!

...for Sunday School and Bible study teachers/leaders who live out their faith in the selfless way they lead and teach.

...for committee and ministry team leaders and members who give “above and beyond” to the work of Christ through their participation in and leadership of our church’s ministries.

...for the “behind-the-scenes” members of our sound, multi-media ministries and those who help prepare our bulletins and newsletters in the essential work that they do.

...for the members of our praise team, adult, children’s and youth choirs for the blessing and inspiration they share through their music.

…for all the volunteers and staff of our church nursery who give tirelessly of themselves to make sure our children are safe and happy.

…for the members of our Kenyan congregation who remind us of our calling to be Jesus to the whole world, even when that world is here among us!

…for the staff and teachers of Lighthouse Academy, in keeping us in touch with the needs of the community that we are tasked to serve.

...for church members who roll up their sleeves and pitch in to be part of "the answer," rather than whining about what someone else is not doing to fix "the problem."

...for all the great volunteers who lovingly help in all of our Sunday night and Wednesday evening activities.

...for church members who are willing to make God a priority through their financial giving to His church.

…for our “be BOLD” capital campaign and new Building Committee that will advance the vision of our church into the future.

...for fellow Christians who’re willing to step outside themselves by participating in serving and/or sharing ministries both locally and/or overseas.

…most importantly, for God who gave his son for me to give me forgiveness and salvation when I didn’t deserve it, and for giving me life and hope in the midst of a hectic world!

Of course, there’s many, many more, but have you “counted your blessings” lately?  When you do, I’m sure you’ll find that, like me, you have many things for which to “give thanks.”  Let us all strive to live out our thankfulness this Thanksgiving holiday!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!


Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Job Or A Ministry?

“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

Yesterday (Nov. 16) we commissioned our church’s leaders for 2014 during our annual “Leadership Commissioning & Orientation.”  Each of our leaders has been called by God to do the work of ministry in and through our church.  But how, exactly, can one tell if something we’re doing is just a “job”, or if it’s an actual “ministry”?  To find out, we should ask ourselves these questions…

“If you are doing it because no one else will, it’s a job. 
            If you are doing it to serve the Lord, it’s a ministry.
If you are doing it just well enough to get by, it’s a job.
            If you are doing it to the best of your ability, it’s a ministry.
If you will do it only so long as it doesn't interfere with other
           activities, it’s a job. If you are committed to staying with it,
            even when it means letting go of other things, it’s a ministry.
If you quit because no one praised you or thanked you,
            it was a job. If you stay with it even when no one seems
            to notice, it’s a ministry.
If you do it because someone else said it needs to be done, it’s
            a job. If you do it because you are convinced it needs to
            be done, it’s a ministry.
It is hard to be excited about a job.
            It is almost impossible NOT to get excited about a ministry.
People may say “Well done” when you do your job.
            The Lord will say “Well done” when you complete your ministry.
An average church is filled with people doing jobs.
            A great church is filled with people involved in ministry.”
                                  [--From the newsletter of Mt. View UMC in Kingsport, Tennessee]

I’m so glad to be part of a “great church” filled with people willing to do true ministry!  Always remember that whatever it is that we do or are called to, let’s do it as ministry with the world through God’s church. Remember that God loves you and I do, too

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Your Church Staff

NOTE: This is from our 2012 staff retreat, and so is missing several of our valuable current staff members:  Lee Busey; Rob Frank; Leanna Wilson; Barbara Stanley; and Nicole Taylor
“The gifts he gave were… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith… to maturity, …to the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
The first part of this week (Nov. 10-13), your church staff will be away on a retreat at Camp Glisson, our United Methodist youth camp in Dahlonega, GA.  While there, we’ll not only be inviting God to renew our passion and calling for ministry, but to become better equipped ourselves so we can help you (our members and friends) to answer and fulfill your calling for ministry, too.

In case you weren’t aware, our Staff Mission Statement accurately describes how we seek to carry that purpose out as we attempt to fulfill the words of the scripture above from Ephesians 4.  It’s our “reason for being”, if you will:  we as your church staff exist… “To glorify God together by Empowering and Encouraging East Cobb UMC members and leaders to be God’s Church in our world.” 

Let me remind us all of what these phrases mean for each and every church member and friend:

· To Glorify God means that we view our work not primarily as a “job” that has set hours and boundaries, but first and foremost as a “calling” and as a “ministry” that gives us opportunities to glorify God through what we do.  It means that we will be responsible to attend to our own spiritual walk with God, and that the ministry of “glorifying God” will at times be more important than individual tasks we may do.  It means we will work to identify our own spiritual gifts, passions and abilities, and will place a priority on cultivating and developing these.

· Together refers to “teamwork” — it means we believe our calling and ministry can best be achieved as we work together as a “team,” rather than merely as a collection of individuals who happen to work in the same organization.

· Empowering refers to equipping, training, educating and commissioning others with the
       spiritual authority to act.
· Encouraging refers to affirming other leaders/members in their work, helping them to
     embrace a “teachable spirit” (a willingness to grow/improve), and helping them to
     critically evaluate progress towards specific goals.

· To be God’s Church means that we believe that all of us as  church members and leaders (not just “church staff”) are “God’s Church.”  It refers to the fact that we are “God’s” church, not “our” church (hence God’s plans and visions need to take priority over our own self selfish wants)

· In the World means we are to be “God’s Church” not merely within the walls of our
     building, but within our local and world community — it refers to the fact that if we expect
    church members and leaders to do ministry “outside the walls,” then we as staff must do
    this, as well.
So, our prayer as your staff is that as we work to carry out our mission as God’s church, we’ll all remember these as we partner together – staff and members, guests and friends, clergy and laity -- to be the church of Jesus Christ in our community and world. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Family Promise - Jesus With Skin On

“’And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?’… And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:38 & 40)

Hopefully by now most of you know that -- beginning in 2014 -- our church will join 12 other area churches in hosting homeless families (parents with children) four weeks out of each year through the ministry of something called “Family Promise of Cobb County.”  While this may sound intimidating to some, it’s really a very practical and easy way that we can live out both our faith and calling as God’s people and church.

Back in 1998, I remember that this concept sounded very intimidating to many members of Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church in Augusta, GA, as well.  It was the “flagship” church of United Methodism in that city, and the place where I served as Pastor of Community and Congregational Care from 1996-2000.  Back then, “Family Promise” was known as “Interfaith Hospitality Network” (IHN), and when our church was first invited to be a host congregation, it was greeted initially by skepticism and doubt that we could actually do it, and some who wondered whether we even should do it.  Plus, there was the concern that our facilities would get messed up by “those people” (the homeless).

Nevertheless, our church took that “leap of faith” and became one of the host congregations in the network.  And the amazing thing was that over the next two years, we saw our entire church changed by the experience!  Walls, barriers, and stereotypes about homelessness came down, members’ hearts were softened and transformed, and the program itself provided opportunities for missions that we had not previously had.  Gradually, there grew a recognition that these homeless folks were just like us, except for their lack of having a permanent residence.  And while it’s true that “Family Promise/IHN” was not (and still is not) a “Christian” ministry, per se (there are other religious faiths who have and will be part of the program), volunteering and serving in it was one of the highlights of my ministry time in Augusta, and became one of the best and most successful ministries our church had ever done!

Sixteen years later, as we here at East Cobb UMC partner with Family Promise of Cobb County” both as a host congregation and as the site for the “Day Center” (administrative offices) for the entire network (in our former “Jr. Parsonage”), my prayer is that we’ll see God at work in the same miraculous way, not only to make a difference in the lives of homeless families, but in the way that this program will enable us to be “Jesus with skin on” to needy families in our community -- to literally fulfill Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 (above).

So, I pray that you will join me and my family not only in volunteering to cook and stay overnight with our host families when asked, but also to pray for them and for ourselves as we seek to be a “home” to those who temporarily have no other.  You’ll be hearing more about this important new ministry initiative of our church in the near future, but in the meantime, for more information read Cindy Campbell’s introduction article already posted.

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!