Sunday, June 29, 2014

15 Things God Won't Ask

“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Here are 15 Things God Won’t Ask when we reach heaven:

1.    God won’t ask what kind of car you drove, but will ask how many people you drove who didn’t have transportation.
2.    God won’t ask the square footage of your house, but will ask how many people you welcomed into your house.
3.    God won’t ask about the fancy clothes you had in your closet, but will ask how many of those clothes helped the needy.
4.    God won’t ask about your social status, but will ask what kind of class you displayed.
5.    God won’t ask how many material possessions you had, but will ask if they dictated your life.
6.    God won’t ask what your highest salary was, but will ask if you compromised your character to obtain that salary.
7.    God won’t ask how much overtime you worked, but will ask if you worked overtime for your family and loved ones.
8.    God won’t ask how many promotions you received, but will ask how you promoted others.
9.    God won’t ask what your job title was, but will ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability.
10. God won’t ask what you did to help yourself, but will ask what you did to help others.
11. God won’t ask how many friends you had, but will ask how many people to whom you were a true friend.
12. God won’t ask what you did to protect your rights, but will ask what you did to protect the rights of others.
13. God won’t ask in what neighborhood you lived, but will ask you treated your neighbors.
14. God won’t ask about the color of your skin, but will ask about the content of your character.
15. God won’t ask how many times your deeds matched your words, but will ask how many times they didn’t.                                   [--Author Unknown]

To this list, I would add that God also won’t ask whether we were Democrats, Republicans, or Independents.  He won’t ask whether we were conservative, liberal, evangelical, progressive, or moderate.  He won’t ask whether we were gay or straight, supported “Obamacare” or not, where we stood on local and national gun laws, or whether we worshiped in “traditional” or “contemporary” ways.

He’ll simply want to know if we had (and have) Jesus in our hearts, and if we did our best to practice loving others the way Jesus did. That’s the standard by which we’ll be judged when we reach heaven. So, how will your life be remembered and celebrated when you reach the “pearly gates”? And what are you doing to make that a reality now / today?  Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A United Methodist Church Split???

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-5)

Some of you already know that for the last few months there has been increasing talk about the possibility of our beloved United Methodist Church splitting into two (or more) new denominations following our upcoming 2016 General Conference (Read more about these discussions HERE).

While the subject was intentionally not the subject of any official discussion or action at the recent North Georgia Annual Conference that I and other delegates from our church attended last week in Athens, nevertheless over 600 clergy and laity from our Conference (myself included) have voiced strong opposition to schism in an unofficial petition (Read it HERE), claiming that such a split will not realistically solve the theological and practical challenges that face us as a denomination.

And yet, at the same time, I and many others also believe that maintaining the current “status quo” will be equally insufficient going forward – splitting is not the answer, but something must change.  One influential pastor/leader of our denomination has proposed a “local option” solution that may have merit, and that many have already voiced support for (Read it HERE). And yet, others are opposed to this proposal, as well (Read HERE).

While I am honestly still wrestling with exactly where I stand, I do know this:  neither Methodism as a tradition nor the church of Jesus Christ in general has ever been defined solely by its positions on specific social issues. 

In his 1749 sermon “Catholic Spirit, the founder of Methodism John Wesley wrote “although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works” (Read Wesley’s entire sermon HERE).  

What’s more is that in his tract The Character of a Methodist,” Wesley states that “The distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort. His assenting to this or that scheme of religion, his embracing any particular set of notions, his espousing the judgment of one man or of another, are all quite wide of the point. Whosoever, therefore, imagines that a Methodist is a man of such or such an opinion, is grossly ignorant of the whole affair; he mistakes the truth totally.”  Instead, he goes on to say, “a Methodist is one who has ‘the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;’ one who ‘loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!’" (Read Wesley’s entire tract HERE).

The bottom line is that our identity as people of faith should be determined not by our loyalty to a particular theological or social position, but by our open commitment to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  Does that mean that we as Christians may have to “agree to disagree” about some (important and controversial) things?  Absolutely!  Does it mean that in doing so we have compromised the gospel?  Not a bit!  Even the first followers of Jesus had to “agree to disagree” about things from time to time as they established the Church (For example, Acts 15:36-41). 

I don’t know what the future holds for our denomination, but I do know that Jesus will still be Lord over His church, whatever form that takes!  Please join me in praying for unity (not uniformity, but unity) as we go about the primary business of “making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day Scriptures

As we celebrate Father’s Day, here is collection of just a few inspirational Bible verses that are especially for men and fathers:

Deuteronomy 1:29-31
“Then I said to you, ‘Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.’” (NIV)

Joshua 1:9
Be brave and strong... Don't be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (CEB)

Malachi 4:6 
[God] will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. (NIV)

Psalm 103:13 
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. (NIV)

Proverbs 3:11-12
Don't reject the instruction of the Lord, my son; don't despise his correction. The Lord loves those he corrects, just like a father who treats his son with favor. (CEB)

Proverbs 10:9
The man of integrity walks securely, but one who takes crooked paths will be found out. (NIV)

Proverbs 23:22 
Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old. (NRSV)

Ephesians 6:4 
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (NRSV)

Colossians 3:21 
Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart. (NRSV)

This Father’s Day, be sure to take time to thank God not only for your father but also for the father-figures in your life.  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

2014 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 9-12), over 2800 delegates representing the 1000 churches and 365,000+ United Methodists in North Georgia will be gathering at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia for the North Georgia Annual Conference with the theme “Together We Make Disciples.” This year Peter Kaimathiri and I are serving as our church=s clergy representatives (although Peter will be absent as he is still in Kenya), and Lee Bierce and Pat Holcomb are serving as our laity delegates. In addition, Cindy Campbell and Frieda Brown will be present as at-large delegates from our Atlanta-Marietta District.

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); 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” (Global AIDS fund and the Experimental Leadership Institute for our camp and retreat ministry); 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.

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 1, 2014

Parable of the Lobster

“God is our refuge and strength.... Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change....” (Psalm 46:1-2)

As our church staff undergoes significant change this summer as we say “goodbye” to some friends and “hello” to new ones, I thought it would be helpful for us all to remember the blessings and challenges of CHANGE – of being willing to stretch and become more than we already are.  The following modern day parable is a follow up to that message, and comes from Rev. Carolyn Wittwer of the New York Annual Conference by way of Rev. Doug Smith, former Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Morristown, Tennessee:

Long ago, when the world was very new... there was a certain lobster who determined that the Creator had made a mistake.  So he set up an appointment to discuss the matter.  “With all due respect,” said the lobster, “I wish to complain about the way you designed my shell.  You see, I just get used to one outer casing, when I’ve got to shed it for another; very inconvenient and rather a waste of time.”  To which the Creator replied, “I see.  But do you realize that it is the giving up of one shell that allows you to grow into another?”

“But I like myself just the way I am,” the lobster said.  “Your mind’s made up?” the Creator said.  “Indeed!” the lobster stated firmly.
“Very well,” smiled the Creator.  “From now on, your shell will not change... and you may go about your business just as you are right now.”  “That’s very kind of you,” said the lobster, and left.

At first, the lobster was very content with wearing the same old shell.  But as time passed, he found that his once light and comfortable shell was becoming quite heavy and tight.  After a while, in fact, the shell became so cumbersome that the lobster couldn’t feel anything at all outside himself.  As a result, he was constantly bumping into others. Finally, it got to the point where he could hardly breathe.  So with great effort, he went back to see the Creator.

“With all due respect,” the lobster sighed, “contrary to what you promised, my shell has not remained the same.  It keeps shrinking!”  “Not at all,” smiled the Creator.  “Your shell may have gotten a little thicker with age, but it has remained the same size.  What’s happened is that you have changed inside, beneath your shell.”
The Creator continued: “You see, everything changes... continuously.  No one remains the same.  That’s the way I’ve designed things.  And the wisest choice is to shed your old shell as you grow.”  “I see,” said the lobster, “but you must admit it is occasionally inconvenient and a bit uncomfortable.”

“Yes,” said the Creator, “but remember, all growth carries with it both the possibility of discomfort... and the potential for great joy as you discover new parts of yourself.  After all, you can’t have one without the other.” “That’s very sensible,” said the lobster. 

“If you’d like,” offered the Creator, “I’ll tell you something more.” “Please do!” encouraged the lobster.  “When you let go of your shell and choose to grow,” said the Creator, “you build new strength within yourself and in that strength you’ll find new capacity to love yourself... to love those around you... and to love life itself.  That is my plan for each of you.”

How is God calling you to stretch and change in your life?  in your faith?  What new thing(s) is He challenging you with lately?  In what ways are you being called to be more than you have been?  My hope and prayer is that even though change is often difficult and uncomfortable (even for a church staff), you and we will all welcome it as a tool from God to help us become who He wants us to be.  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!