Sunday, December 28, 2014

From Little Things

“You, O Bethlehem…  who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.” (Micah 5:2)

Many of you already know that my wife and I spent most of this past Friday evening and all day Saturday at Kennestone hospital waiting on the birth of our first grandchild.  Knowing “the date” was near, we knew there was certainly the possibility that the baby would be born near Christmas, but with the “official” due date not until January 8, most of us didn’t think it a very realistic possibility.  And yet, at 5:33pm on Saturday, December 27, Hannah Lynne was born.

For those of you who are already grandparents, forgive the self-indulgence, but I’m sure you can agree that it certainly is an amazing feeling to experience your own child becoming a mommy or daddy for themselves!  Jennifer and Zach will make great parents, but as I have been at the hospital since then watching little Hannah, it strikes me how prophetic were the words of the article I shared in our church’s Advent Devotional (the one my daughter Jennifer edited).

Pardon me sharing its words again, but here is what I wrote back in November when I was asked to submit an article…

"Good things come in small packages."  We've all heard that many times.  But it was never so true as in the place where Jesus was born.  In the time of Jesus' birth, the town of Bethlehem was a relatively insignificant place -- one of a hundred or more small, old, poor, sleepy villages that dotted the landscape of Palestine in that day... not exactly a place for the birth of the "King of kings and Lord of lords!"

And yet, as is shown time and time again throughout scripture, God often choses small and seemingly insignificant things to teach us something of the values and priorities of His kingdom -- ones which often seem opposite and counterintuitive to those of our world.  They teach us that with God, out of weakness can come strength, out of insignificance can come importance, out of nothingness can come some "somethingness," and that out of despair and poverty can come the greatest hope and true riches the world has ever known. The "little town of Bethlehem," you see, is a metaphor for each of us, reminding us that no matter how small, insignificant, unloved or unappreciated we may feel, we are valuable and special to God, and that our lives matter to him!

So, as you open (or have opened) gifts this Christmas Day, remember that the greatest gifts we can receive (or give) are not necessarily the largest or most expensive, but the ones which impart the value and blessings of God with them -- it’s the small, unexpected blessings of life that often are the ones that are the most meaningful.  So today, give someone around you a “Small Christmas” blessing!

Prayer:  O God, thank you that you came that first Christmas not in power but in smallness.  Teach us this Christmas to appreciate and value the seemingly "small" things and experiences of life and of our world, so that we might truly inherit your kingdom. In Jesus' name, Amen. ....

Little did I know that -- for me and my family -- those words about being on the look out for “small Christmas blessings” would refer to Hannah’s birth.  Yet, we believe that that is, indeed what God had in mind for us this Christmas. 

So, even though Christmas day is past, what “small Christmas blessing” are you experiencing in your life this holiday?  It doesn't have to be as obvious as a new baby, but if you have one to share, please reply back to this article and share it as a way of saying thank you to God.  And always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

The Twelve Days of Christmas

“God is love… [and] God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:8b-9)

I've shared this before, but its worth sharing again... Usually when we hear the song The Twelve Days of Christmas,” we think of it as a fun secular song to be sung before Christmas. But at least some scholarship claims that it has distinctly religious origins, and was meant to be sung not before but after Christmas.

The story is that when King Henry VIII formed the Anglican Church in England back in the 16th-century, Roman Catholic Christians were not allowed by law to worship openly (they weren’t allowed to do this until 1829). So, in an effort to find a way to teach their faith to their children without the risk of persecution, English Catholics composed this song that had two levels of interpretation: (1) a harmless, secular, surface meaning with which we all are familiar; and (2) a spiritual interpretation that was originally known only to English Roman Catholics.

It’s the second interpretation that we Christians need to remind people of today, for each item in the carol was actually a “code phrase” to help teach a religious reality. The “twelve days” refer to the 12 days of the Christmas season in the Christian liturgical calendar – beginning with December 25th and ending on January 6th (the day of “Epiphany”). The “true love” is God, the giver of all good gifts (See Matthew 7:11 and Luke 11:13).

The other gifts represent...

1) “Partridge in a pear tree”-- a partridge bird sitting up high in a tree was said to be easy prey for hunting in medieval times, so it’s appropriate that the first and greatest gift represents God’s greatest gift to us: Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself as easy prey on our behalf.

2) “Two Turtledoves” –Symbolize the Old & New Testament. Recall also, that Mary & Joseph offered 2 turtledoves as a sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple when Jesus was dedicated to God (Read Luke 2:22-24).

3) “Three French Hens” – represent either the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), or the three things that I Corinthians 13 says abide... “faith, hope, and love.”

4) “Four Calling Birds” – represent the four great early evangelists who told Jesus’ story through their writings... the writers of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

5) “Five Golden Rings” – symbolize the first five books of the Bible (Hebrew “Torah”=Law), upon which all our faith is based (remember that Jesus himself said he had not come to “abolish the law, but to fulfill it” --Matthew 5:17).

6) “Six Geese A-Laying” – since they are in the process of creating new life, these represent the six days of creation from Genesis 1.

7) “Seven Swans A-Swimming – the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit referred to in Romans 12:6-8.

8) “Eight Maids A-Milking” – the eight Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12.

9) “Nine-Ladies Dancing” – the nine fruits of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23.

10) “Ten Lords A-Leaping” – Since England in Medieval times was ruled by the laws of the King and his “lords,” this represented the “laws” of the Christian faith: the 10 Commandments.

11) “Eleven Pipers Piping – stand for the eleven faithful disciples (the 12 minus Judas Iscariot).

12) “Twelve Drummers Drumming – represent either: the twelve tribes of Israel; or (more commonly) the twelve points of the Apostle’s Creed.

Whether or not this story is 100% accurate, it’s clear that this song can convey all of these reminders for those who have “ears to hear them” in this way. So, as we continue the Christmas season (which always includes New Year’s Day), may you be filled with a reminder of the many good “gifts” God gives to us, not only at Christmas but into the new year, as well. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Mission Offering

"[You are to] do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life" (1 Timothy 6:18-19)

The following is a copy of a letter from myself and our Finance Chairperson Alan Wrenn  that our whole congregation should have received by mail this past week.  I share it again in the interest of encouraging your participation...


Dear Members & Friends of East Cobb UMC:

These are challenging yet exciting times both in our world and in the lives of people all around us.  The world seems to be changing faster than we can catch up.  Yet, in the midst of all the change, God’s Word and faithfulness remain steadfast.  As a result, ministry in His name is always fruitful.  Consider, for example, some of the ways that your investment in God’s work through our church has enabled us to achieve God’s mission for us in 2014.  Your gifts have enabled us to…

         Reach nearly 350 people each week through our three principle worship services, Wednesday Night Supper, and other opportunities for fellowship and networking  …GATHERING to embrace God and others
         Impact over 450 people weekly through 45+ small groups and community ministry resources, including continued significant growth of our Lighthouse Academy Daycare Center… GROWING in faith, hope and love
         Welcome 40 new members and over 150 regular guests, and be in ministry to over 550 people weekly through various local church mission ministries, and to even more through special opportunities like Mountain T.O.P., annual Great Day of Service, Family Promise, M.U.S.T., and others  …GOING into our world to serve and share Jesus

Consequently, the Christmas season is an ideal time for us to pray about ways we can share in year-end giving that will continue to make a real difference in people’s lives:

(1) First, we celebrate your faithfulness this year to our 2014 General Ministry Fund -- thank you!!!  If you are behind on your annual financial commitment, please remember that the holidays are a great time to “catch up”!  And even if you are up to date, it’s also a great time to make additional gifts in order to take advantage of current tax laws.

(2) As one idea, we’re excited to continue the ECUMC Christmas tradition of designating offerings collected at our Christmas Eve services as a Christmas Mission Offering. This year the focus of that offering will be Imagine No Malaria, a ministry of our own United Methodist Church that seeks to eradicate malaria in Africa – this ministry is described in the brochure you can download below, or you can also find out more HERE.  We ask that, in the spirit of Christmas, you prayerfully consider joining us in giving “over and above” your general fund tithe or gifts to this special offering during one of our three Christmas Eve services (or before if you won't be in town).  Please mark your checks/envelopes “Christmas Mission Offering”, or donate online HERE.

Thank you for your faithfulness in praying for, attending, serving in, and giving financially to His Church this year.  We trust that God will honor your faithfulness as you continue to grow in His kingdom.  We wish you, your family, and all your loved ones a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2015!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

12 Great Christmas Gift Suggestions NOT Advertised on TV

“God so loved the world that He gave His only son…” (John 3:16)

1) Give your parents the words "I love you."

2) Give your children a full day of your time.

3) Give an ear to someone who needs a listener.

4) Give a hand to someone less strong.

5) Give an old friend an unexpected visit or letter.

6) Give a former neighbor a telephone call.

7) Give a kind word to a weary sales clerk.

8) Give a prayer for peace in the world.

9) Give more gifts you have made; fewer money has bought.

10) Give the money you save to someone in need anonymously.

11) Give yourself time to reflect on this holy season.

12) Give God thanks for sending His Son as the Redeemer of His world.

During this holiday season, let’s all remember that the best and most meaningful gifts we can give (and receive) don’t come from stores, but from ourselves. They are relational gifts – gifts that connect deep meaning to and for our relationships with one another.

After all, isn’t that the kind of gift God gave to us on that first Christmas (a relational one)? He didn’t send a retail gift… He sent us Himself, wrapped in cloth, lying in a manger as a baby. This season, let’s focus on doing the same for each other! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!