Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sharing Christmas

“And when [the Shepherds saw the baby Jesus], they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” (Luke 2:17-18)

Christmas is popularly thought of as a time to get and give gifts. But the actual biblical story teaches us that it is much more than that.  More accurately, it should be time for us to give not just gifts for Christmas, but to give and share the gift of Christmas itself.

And what does that mean?  In the words of one church newsletter article I read years ago, it means that this Christmas we should seek to…

…Mend a quarrel
…Seek out a forgotten friend
…Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust
…Write a love letter with someone you love
…Share some treasure with someone in need
…Give a soft answer
…Encourage youth
…Manifest your loyalty in a word and a deed
…Keep a promise
…Apologize if you were wrong
…Try to understand
…Flout envy
…Examine your demands on others
…Think first of someone else
…Appreciate others & their deeds, however imperfect they are!
…Be kind; be gentle
…Laugh a little
…Laugh a little more
…Work to deserve confidence from others
…Take up arms against malice and bitterness
…Decry complacency
…Express your gratitude
…Seek God
…Welcome a stranger
…Gladden the heart of a child
…Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth
…Speak your love
…Speak it again
…Speak it still once again.”

[--Shared in the newsletter of College Park First U.M.C.,  College Park, GA (Advent date between 1992-1996 unknown)]

You see, sharing Christmas is more than just about the material gifts we give.  It’s more properly about the attitudes and perspectives of God love and grace that we pass on to others.  Especially as there continues to be stories of violence and tragedy in the news, when you  and I experience Christmas this year, my prayer is that these ideas above would be true gifts not only that you receive but ones that you also seek to give and share with others!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!  Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 27, 2015


Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14)

I don’t know about you, but I have never been very good at waiting. Whether it is waiting in those long lines at stores or waiting on a parking space in the parking lot, it often seems that the closer something is, the more difficult it is to wait for it. In fact, our impatience seems built right into our culture and society – these days, Christmas carols and decorations usually appear even before Halloween!

And yet, the Christian season of ADVENT (from the Latin adventus, “coming” – a reference to the “coming” of Jesus in the past, present and future) encourages us to learn the hard and difficult lesson of waiting, of watching, of anticipating, and of expecting good things still to come. It encourages us to learn to wait for God to reveal Himself in His own way and time.

In the weeks leading up to our daughter Jennifer’s birth over twenty-two years ago, Trish and I both were very much on edge. The due date arrived, then passed, and I remember thinking constantly, “How much longer, Lord?!” I’m sure it was the same for the early Hebrews as they waited for the Messiah to be born, probably also thinking, “How much longer, Lord?!” And it’s the same for us today as we often ask of our problems, “How much longer, Lord?!” Maybe it’s God’s way of trying to remind us that some of the best things in life (including true, genuine fulfillment, contentment, and joy) often come only through long, hard waiting.

So, during this Advent season (which begins November 29th), I invite us all to let God teach us to wait… with patience, anticipation, and joy. One tool that can help us “wait” and prepare for the coming of Christmas is through our use of what is called an “Advent Wreath” — a circle of four candles which are progressively lit during the four Sundays of Advent, culminating in the lighting of the central white (Christ) candle on Christmas Eve. CLICK HERE for an order for a family Advent Wreath lighting that you can download and use each week leading up to Christmas. Always remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Art of Thanksliving

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.” (Psalm 100:4)

“The art of thanksgiving is thanksLIVING. It is gratitude in action.

It is thanking God for the gift of life by living it triumphantly.

It is thanking God for all that men and women have done for you by doing things for others.

It is thanking God for happiness by striving to make others happy.

It is thanking God for beauty by helping to make the world more beautiful.

It is thanking God for inspiration by trying to be an inspiration to others.

It is thanking God for health and strength by the care and reverence you show your body.

It is thanking God for the creative ideas that enrich life by adding your own creative contributions to human progress.

It is thanking God for each new day by living it to the fullest.

It is thanking God by giving hands, arms, legs, and voice to your thankful spirit.

It is adding to your prayers of thanksGIVING,... acts of thanksLIVING.”

[-Wilfred A. Peterson]

What great words to live by this Thanksgiving season! Let’s all strive together to live out our thankfulness through the way we live our own lives – through what we say, what we do, how we treat one another, how we help one another, and even how we work with one another! As you read this article, my prayer is that you and your family will have a blessed Thanksgiving holiday, and that you’ll remember to “give thanks to God, and bless His name” through how you live your very life! God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

I Sing A Song of the Saints of God...

“To the church of God that is in... [LaGrange], to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints...” (1 Corinthians 1:2)

“I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew;
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green;
They were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too.

They loved their Lord so dear, so dear, and his love made them strong;
They followed right for Jesus' sake the whole of their good lives' long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
And there's not any reason, no, not the least, why I shouldn't be one too.

They lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store,
In church, by the sea, in the house next door;
They are saints of God, whether rich or poor, and I mean to be one too."

[--From the United Methodist Hymnal, #712]

Some of you already know that this coming Sunday, November 1st is “All Saints Day” -- a day for God’s people to celebrate and remember the lives of all God’s “saints”:  those living now who call Jesus their Savior; and those who’ve gone on to be with the Lord this past year.

As we celebrate the “saints” of our church and the “saints” of our lives who’ve gone to be with the Lord since All-Saints Day last year, my prayer is that those of us who remain here will learn from the example of the “saints who’ve gone before” how to be people who live by the call of Christ.  In the words of the hymn, “I mean to be one, too.”  Will you?  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Operations Christmas Child

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

If you were at worship with us this past Sunday (October 4), you'll know that one of the ways we celebrated World Communion Sunday was by providing opportunities for us as a church to make a difference in the life of needy children around the world through an international, ecumenical ministry called “Operation Christmas Child” (

Since 1993, this ministry has partnered with local churches like ours throughout the U.S., Australia, Finland, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Spain and the U.K to deliver gift-filled shoeboxes to over 124 million children affected by war, poverty, natural disasters, and other crises in more than 150 countries and territories. And although we have participated in this ministry in the past, our church’s participation this year is a great way for us all to participate in Jesus’ call to minister to "the least of these" described in the scripture above.

Throughout October, individuals, families, and groups within our church are invited to fill empty shoeboxes with items like dolls, balls, and other fun toys, school supplies, hygiene items, as well as scripture messages and notes of encouragement to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who receive the shoebox gifts.  (If you didn’t get a box last week during worship, we still have a number remaining in our Fellowship Hall/MMC -- just help yourself to however many you want to pack).

After you fill your boxes, just include a $7 check (per box) to cover shipping costs and bring it back to one of our church’s designated drop-off points on or before November 7th.  We’ll then ship them to a processing center (one in Atlanta), where volunteers will then ship them out to children in some of the hardest-to-reach countries of the world to help them experience Christmas and the love of Christ.  You can even follow your box online to discover where in the world your gift is delivered using the donation form.

I hope you will join my wife and I as we seek to make a difference in the life of a child who otherwise might never hear of or experience the Christ of Christmas. Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Football Faith

“Tell them to do good, to be rich in the good things they do, to be generous, and to share with others. …That way they can take hold of the life that truly is life”  (1 Timothy 6:18-19)

In the game of football, the ultimate goal is to get the ball into the end zone.  No team ever wins a game without moving the ball forward, and -- likewise -- no quarterback can advance the cause of the team without distributing the ball to others. 

So it is with the Christian faith:  growing and maturing as disciples of Jesus Christ requires us to share the “ball” that God has given to us. In the scripture above from 1 Timothy 6, the apostle Paul advises his young apprentice Timothy that sharing is necessary not only for ourselves, but also in order for God’s “team” (the church), to move forward on the “playing field” of life. 

During the month of October, through a spiritual journey called Football Faith, we as a church will be exploring the value of being part of God’s “team” through the practice of generosity:  the sharing of our resources and lives for the work of God’s kingdom.  We’ll learn the difference between ownership and stewardship, the importance of being a “team player,” the great benefits of at least one God-given tool for sharing, and the joy that results from generosity itself.

And by the time we celebrate “Touchdown Sunday” on October 25, our hope is that we will have been challenged to understand and claim how true life – true “victory” -- is not found in what we have (i.e., in “keeping the ball”) but in what we give away (i.e., in “passing the ball to others”).  You won’t want to miss a single Sunday in this unique and special spiritual journey!

In the meantime, however, I ask you to join me and your church leadership in praying that God will prepare our hearts to hear His message of transforming generosity, and to commit to being present in worship each week as we do so!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Worship First

“I was glad when they said to me ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1)

Corporate worship is the very heart of the Christian faith.  Through it we both glorify God and lift ourselves up, we connect both with God and each other through prayer and praise, and we are reminded of our calling to be God’s hands and feet in the world around us. No wonder the Bible continually talks about the importance of corporate worship for the life of a disciple, for it can be fairly said that Christian faith begins and ends with worship.

No other Christian tool fulfills the purpose or accomplishes the mission that worship alone can. As important as Sunday School classes, Bible studies, and other small groups are to our spiritual and relational growth as Christians, they were never intended to be a substitute for weekly worship with the whole body of Christ. And while the various ministry programs and events that we sponsor and host as a church are all important ways to connect with and serve others, programs and events alone will never grow the church -- only worship can do that.

It should trouble us, then, when some Christians treat worship like an “optional extra” -- a part of their faith that is either attended to only sporadically, or in sometimes skipped altogether.  In some cases, folks attend a Sunday School class, Men’s or Women’s group, Bible study, etc. but then go home and skip worship.  What they don’t realize is that by doing so they are starving their spirit and (if they stay away long enough), it will spiritually cripple their walk with God.

But not only is worship the life-blood of those who claim to follow Jesus, but it’s also usually the first portal that visitors and guests experience of our faith community (and even when it’s not the first one, it’s always the deciding one in eventual faith decisions).

Consequently, we have no more important task as Christian disciples than that of both participating in and helping develop and grow worship at our church.  So, what are YOU doing to foster these?  First and foremost, are you yourself participating regularly in worship at LaGrange First UMC?  If not, why not?  At all of our worship services on September 27, Pastor Blake and myself will be inviting everyone to make a commitment to God to be in worship every week, unless sick or out of town.  I pray that you will join us in that commitment.

But in addition to your own worship commitment, I also want to ask what you are doing to help grow and develop our worship experiences at LaGrange First UMC?  Have you invited someone lately to attend and sit with you?  Or do you only invite them to programs, events, and your own small group? God’s church grows in direct proportion to how its people make worship a priority.  So, is worship first for YOU?  Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Friday, August 21, 2015


 Some friends play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.” (Proverbs 18:24)
This past Thursday morning, I was awakened by my cell phone.  It was a family friend and member of my former church, sharing with me the heartbreaking news that the “Minister of Music and Worship Arts” at my former church had suffered a sudden heart attack and died just an hour or so earlier.

I was shocked and stunned:  Frieda Brown, my colleague and dear friend for the past ten years at East Cobb United Methodist Church, was now with the Lord.  And while my heart rejoices over her homecoming in heaven, my heart grieves not only for her husband Jeff and two sons Aubrey (a college Sophomore) and Mack (a high school Senior), but also for the members and friends of my former “flock,” as well as  for myself and Trish (who considered Frieda one of her absolute best friends in the world!).  My prayers are with them and with us all.

I wish that those of you who are members and friends of my current church at LaGrange First UMC would have had the opportunity to know Frieda and her contagious joy, her love for music and all worship arts, her compassion for others, her creativity, her love for people, but most of all her love for God and Jesus, and how that love shown through in all she said and did – Soli Deo gloria ('glory to God alone') is how she always signed her notes to our choir.  Our loss here on earth is surely heaven’s gain as she has now joined the choir eternal!

Lux Aeterna Frieda, my friend!

But even if you didn’t know Frieda, each of us surely knows people like her who we value, respect, and look up to. So, I’m writing this article today simply to encourage you (and all of us) never to take those special relationships for granted – to find time and ways to tell those around us who are special to us how much they mean to us and to say “thank you” for their influence on our lives.  We never know how much (or how little) time we have here on earth. Cherish every moment and every relationship that’s special!

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

"Getting to Know Us" Survey Results Summary

“Plans are established by taking advice…" (Proverbs 20:18)

You may remember that the first week of worship after I arrived as your new Pastor, I invited you to participate in a “Getting to Know Us” survey to help me better understand the overarching values and vision of LaGrange First UMC so that I can better lead us in the future.  That survey remained open until the middle of July.  So, here at last are highlights of those results for us all to celebrate and consider:

First of all, THANK YOU to the 100 of you (yes, exactly 100!) who turned a survey in (64 via paper; 36 via online).  And while each one was prayerfully read and considered, bear in mind that what I share below are simply summaries of those results that relate specifically to our church’s values and vision:

QUESTION #1:  If there’s one thing you hope NEVER changes about LaGrange First UMC, what would it be?

● 25 responses referenced the variety and diversity of worship options, styles, and experiences that we offer.  While different responses obviously focused on differing things that people liked about our three Sunday morning services, what was clear across the board is that we all have a deep appreciation for worship and for making it as excellent and relevant as possible

● 11 responses mentioned the importance and value of our hospitality and friendliness as a congregation

● 8 responses focused on how much they loved the various small groups we have, including Sunday School classes, Bible Studies, Wednesday night programs, etc.

● 7 responses affirmed the many ways our church both connects with and serves our community, including the diverse offerings of our music ministry and various missions ministries like our soup kitchen, drug assistance program, meals on wheels, Camp Viola, etc.

QUESTION #2:  If you could wave a magic want and CHANGE any one thing about LaGrange First UMC, what would it be?

● 33 responses expressed in various ways their desire that our church continue to grow and be relevant in and for our community.  Some responses suggested doing this through expansion of current weekly programs, others through more outreach and mission, and still others through a more intentional focus on children (9 mentioned this), youth, and young adults through our connection with LaGrange College. So, even though there are differing ideas about how to do it, it’s clear that our congregation wants to grow and better connect with our community and world.

● 15 responses referenced the need to change various aspects and/or elements of our worship experiences to help us better connect with today’s culture and community.   Some of these involved suggestions for music, others were suggestions for changes in worship times, styles, and use of technology. So, while question #1 revealed an appreciation for our current worship, there is also a sense that work is still needed in this area in order to grow and stay relevant.

● 12 responses referenced the need to become more inviting, welcoming and hospitable, and less “clique-ish” (including responses about better accessibility in our Sanctuary and in our parking lots for senior adults).  I should point out that even though this area was referenced in question #1 by some respondents as a strength, it’s clear that others feel it is an area in need of growth, as well.

● 12 responses mentioned the need to change or modify our administrative and leadership structures to be more effective and efficient in our ministry.

QUESTION:  #3:  What’s the best piece of advice you could give Pastor Brian as our new Senior Pastor?

● 28 responses indicated that pastoral care, listening and communications, and being accessible to all should be areas of prime importance to me as your Senior Pastor.

● 18 responses mentioned their hope that I would take care of myself, be myself, and lead by following my heart and the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit (including the importance of offering loving challenge when appropriate, and not get lost in “church politics”, and even of maintaining a sense of humor and fun about ministry).

● 11 responses indicated the importance of partnership, teamwork, being available to all members and avoiding the appearance of “playing favorites”

● 8 responses asked that I seek to offer and encourage bold ministry that is relevant to people’s heart needs (such as preaching God’s word, connecting with current world and community events, and being involved in our community itself)

● 6 responses shared their hope that I would lead us to discover God’s vision for our church

What I’ve shared above are merely the “highlights” and my “take-aways” from the survey and not a recitation of every individual response.  If you wish to see more detail about the raw responses themselves, you can either contact the church office to request it, or you can click HERE for an online version.

Again, let me say thank you for your valued input in helping me to know and understand what you consider to be the most important things to our church’s mission and ministry! I and our leadership will be taking these themes into consideration as we together seek both to discover and then implement God’s Vision for us as His people here at LaGrange First UMC.

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

I Am A Guest To Your Church

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

“You cannot know the reason why I am here this morning. It may be as simple as a move to your community, or as complicated as a personal crisis that leads me to seek strength from God. In any case, I am here. And I will probably come back to worship here with you next Sunday if you will do something for me. Won’t you please...

• Smile at me as I walk in your door. You are my first impression of the church during the few moments I am in your building, and this impression will probably stay with me for a long time.

• Speak to me during the greeting time and after the service. I know you want to see your friends, but if you don’t I may find it hard to believe that you truly care for ‘the stranger in your midst.’

• Tell me good things about your church and pastor. I want to believe that I’ve come to a place where people love each other and believe that they are doing something exciting and important for God.

• Notice me even if I am not a ‘traditional’ family. I don’t want to feel invisible just because I am unmarried, a single parent, a teenager, or an older person.

• Invite me to become part of your class or small group. I need more than worship every Sunday -- I need to know that I’m accepted and affirmed by a group of people who know and care for me by name.

If you can find it in your heart to do these things for me, I will come back... a second and third Sunday, and maybe forever. I’ll worship with you, sing in the choir, work on projects, teach in your Sunday School, make financial commitments, and become a highly involved member. In so doing, I’ll find my life immeasurably and eternally enriched.”    [--Author Unknown]

LaGrange First members and friends, Fall is one of the key times of the year that we have new faces in our midst as we worship and gather. I trust that you’ll do your part to welcome each and every one of them with the hospitality and compassion of Jesus! Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Guidelines for Church Membership

“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another” (1 Peter 4:10)

Seen in the newsletter of First United Methodist Church Franklin, NC…

"From time to time, we need to be reminded of the fact that we joined the church...

...NOT to receive special attention, but to render special service;

...NOT to get our name on the roll, but to get God’s kingdom into our hearts;

...NOT to promote our private secular business, but to become a partner in God’s business;

...NOT to be petted and nursed as a baby, but to grow in Christian maturity;

...NOT to improve our own earthly reputation, but to strengthen our Christian character;

...NOT to be served, but to serve;

...NOT to be praised by others, but to direct others to the praise of God alone;

...NOT to save our own souls alone, but to help save others;

...NOT to do as we would please, but to be found pleasing God;

...NOT to make our own rules, but to live by God’s rules;

...NOT to appear respectable to others, but to become respectable to God;

...NOT to find a group of perfect people, but to worship a perfect God;

...NOT to show how good we are, but to learn how good we can become;

...NOT because God’s church might fail without us, but because we might fail without God’s church.”

If everyone at LaGrange First U.M.C. practiced being the kind of church member described above, what kind of church would we have? Better still, if everyone practiced their membership in the above ways in our community, how would our community be different?

My prayer is that each and every one of us will continue to find wasys to be the “hands and feet of Jesus” in our world, and that we'll have the grace and courage to be faithful in whatever it is that God wants us to do. Always remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pastor's Top Ten List

“Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” (James 1:22)

Being new to a church, I am often asked, "Pastor, how can we help you the most?"  While the following thoughts and sentiments are not original with me, here is a list of "Top Ten" things we pastors (myself included) most love to hear from church members...

10.       Hey, it’s MY turn to sit in the front pew!

9.         I was so caught up in the sermon, I never 
            noticed that the service went 10 minutes 

8.         Personally, I find sharing my faith with others more enjoyable than golf.

7.         Pastor, I’ve decided to give our church the $200 a month I was spending on the 

6.         I want to volunteer to be the permanent Sunday School teacher for the Middle 
           School class.

5.         In addition to what we give to our Conference Apportionments in our church budget, let’s give more than that to missions!

4.         Pastor, I just love it when we sing songs and hymns that we’ve never sung before!

3.         I was thinking “somebody ought to do something about that,” and then I thought
            “I’m going to do something about it!”

2.         Pastor, we’d like to send you to that Bible conference at the Walt Disney World.

1.         Pastor, would you help me discover some ministry that God could use me in?

[-Modified from a 1996 newsletter article by Rev. Don Underwood from 
  Bowdon First UMC, Bowdon, GA]

My prayer is that we would be a church filled with people who seek God and seek to find a place where they can serve Him!  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

"A More Excellent Way" -- A Christian Response to the June 26 Supreme Court Ruling

Strive for the greater gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way…
(1 Corinthians 12:31)

First, I share my apology to those of you who have been waiting patiently (or perhaps not so patiently) for your new Pastor to share his thoughts (as promised during worship this past Sunday) on the June 26th Supreme Court ruling that all states must allow same-sex marriages.  If you’ve ever moved to a new town and had to start from scratch getting to know new people in a new job, then you understand that the demands on one’s time from the new environment are sometimes greater than anticipated or planned.  Nevertheless, here at long last is my promised response.

I should begin by stating that those who know me well know that I am not easily swayed or impressed by passionate politics or theology, one way or another.  So, if you are reading this blog looking for either a scathing diatribe against the Supreme Court’s decision, or excited support for it, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.  Instead, like what I think you’ll find with most United Methodist congregations (including our own), I find my own thoughts mixed.

On the one hand, the ruling affirms what I hope and pray we all know and understand to be biblically true:  that all persons – gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, black, white, red, yellow, mixed, male, female, transgendered, Democrat, Republican, Independent, conservative, progressive, rich, poor, middle class -- are of sacred worth, and deserve to be treated with respect and justice, especially under the law of our land.  In like manner, the ministry and teachings of Jesus himself affirm that his Church (of which LaGrange 1st UMC is a part) should be a place where all God’s children are welcome.  Jesus did not place limits on whom he welcomed, and neither should we. On the contrary, Jesus intentionally welcomed those who society often shunned and shut out, and consequently, our doors should likewise be open to any and all who seek God through our ministries, regardless of their race, gender, status, sexual orientation, or marriage preference.  Baptism, Communion, funerals, and Confirmation continue to be  open and available to all people.

On the other hand, even though the ruling affirms what two-thirds of Americans now believe about same-sex relationships, it should be noted that Christians do not determine our morals or ethics either by public opinion polls or by court decisions.  The Supreme Court, after all, is charged with interpreting the U.S. Constitution, not the Bible.  The Court is not asked to discern God’s will, or what constitutes moral or ethical behavior for Christians (nor does this ruling profess to do that).  As a practical matter, then, this ruling does not affect current church teachings or practice at all:  all churches and clergy still maintain their First Amendment right to participate in or perform a marriage only if they elect to do so, and clergy in any tradition still have the legal right to decline performing a wedding for whatever reason, as they do now.  The ruling likewise does not change the official stance of the United Methodist Church on these subjects – only our United Methodist General Conference (meeting next May 2016) has the power to do that.  As such, even though same-sex marriages are now legal, UM clergy at present cannot perform them, nor do we ordain “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.”  Though there are many who wish to change these policies in the future, at present they are still church law.

Still, if anything, this ruling has again revealed how divided we are as a United Methodist church and as God’s people over questions such as these.  Deeply committed Christians hold firmly and passionately to both sides of this debate, and demonstrate how it is possible for faithful Christians to interpret scripture differently on these issues.  Within our own congregation, there are those who have strong opinions about one view or its opposite.

So, yes, there are many dimensions about these subjects on which we can disagree.  That is inevitable:  any time one opens up a controversial topic to a roomful of people, you’ll have a roomful of opinions.  Yet, I can’t help but wonder if there is not a better way to address these issues than merely arrogantly asserting our own opinions and the “correctness” of our own positions (quoting from the Bible, of course!), as we are so fond of doing.  I can’t help but wonder if there is a “more excellent way” (as Paul puts it in the scripture above) than fighting and posturing over issues that (while important), may not lie at the heart of Christianity.

Two quotes from John Wesley, the founder of Methodist Christianity, may be helpful here: “As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think” (from Wesley’s tract “The Character of a Methodist”); and “Although a difference in opinions… 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” (from Wesley’s sermon “Catholic Spirit”). Wesley’s point (and Paul’s in his description of love as the “more excellent” way) is that rather than focusing on the things that divide us (the minority of things over which we disagree), as Christians should we not focus on the majority of things which unite us, and “agree to disagree” (or as Wesley said, “think and let think”) about the rest?  In times of controversy, should we not focus on what binds us together, rather than what keeps us apart?

With that in mind, I want to wrap up my own words about this issue with the words from another UM clergy colleague (Rev. Jeremy Troxler of Spruce Pine UMC) whose response to this ruling I found especially helpful – words that I cannot improve upon but feel compelled to repeat here:

“The Bible says that the church is like a family, where we are brothers and sisters with each other.  If your family is like mine, then there are a lot of important things that you and your family members disagree about or even fight about.  But at the end of the day you are still a family; you are still held together by something deeper than whether or not you agree.  You are held together by the fact that you have been made part of one another, and you are held together by stubborn, durable, steady love.

The church is a family like that.  We are a family that can disagree about important things, but at the end of the day we are held together by something deeper than the fact we agree about everything, or even about every important thing:  we are held together by the fact that God’s grace has rescued us and is remaking us and has made us a part of one another. We are held together by love, the love of Christ.

That love does not banish disagreement, but it does join us in a oneness deeper than all difference, a fidelity more enduring than our fights, a reconciliation that outlasts our wrongs.

Perhaps we even need some level of disagreement for this love to grow among us…. Perhaps God has God’s own purposes in putting us very different people, with our dueling Facebook posts and our rival news sources, all together next to each other in the pew.  Perhaps one of those purposes is to learn the meaning of love.  Perhaps it is only by learning to love people we disagree with, only by learning to love people who we know are wrong, only by learning to love sinners that we learn what love, Christ-like love, even, yes, married love, really is.

In 1 Corinthians 12, we find the Apostle Paul writing to a divided church about how we are all part of the body of Christ, a body where the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor can the head say to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  We are a body, where, paraphrasing what the Bible says about marriage, the many become one flesh. Here’s what I think that means:  [And I (Pastor Brian) would affirm these words to those of you reading my blog, as well…]

● If you celebrated on Friday [when the Supreme Court ruling was announced], you belong here and are needed here [at our church].
● If you were upset on Friday, you belong here and are needed here.
● If you didn’t know how to feel on Friday, you belong here and are needed here.
● If you think what I have said here is too wishy-washy, and you wish your preacher took a stronger stand with your side today, you belong here and are needed here.

The only way you might not belong here is if you believe the body of Christ should be a place where everybody agrees with you 100%, and where what you hear from the pulpit every week should just confirm whatever you came here already believing; basically if you think the body should be made up of one part:  your brain. I would say that if that’s what you want, the only way to get it is if you keep your own company….  Perhaps if you searched hard enough you might finally be able to find another group of believers who agree with each other on things like this 100% – but if you do, whatever it is, it won’t be the church of Jesus Christ.

So I guess we’ll just have to accept God’s own mysterious purposes and continue struggling to seek God’s bigger-than-we-thought will with each other. I guess we’ll have to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, even all at the same time, even if it means we try to force a smile through our tears because at least our friends are happy, of if it means we celebrate but with a catch in our throat because we can’t totally forget those who find it hard to rejoice with us because of conscience.
I guess we’ll have to stay together and try to respect and love each other and fail and ask forgiveness and forgive and then try again.” [See citation below]

Amen, Pastor Troxler!  The way of love IS God’s more excellent way.  It’s not easy, and it’s not what the rest of the world would do, but it’s what we’re called to do and be as God’s people.  I look forward to seeking ways we can do this together as your new Pastor!  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

[NOTE:  For more reading about this subject, including sources from which my thoughts have been shaped and formed, I invite you to read the articles in the following links:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Faith-Bits Welcomes LaGrange 1st UMC

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may now that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)

I’d like to extend a warm welcome to members of my new congregation (LaGrange 1st UMC in LaGrange, GA) to  “Faith Bits,” my blog about life and faith in the 21st-century.  Although I use this this forum primarily to host my Pastor’s articles for our church’s newsletter, you’ll also find here some of my personal thoughts and musings on life, faith and Christian living relating not only to our local church, but also to our local, state, national and world community at large. 

Over the course of time, within this forum you’ll find words and stories of inspiration, information, challenge and humor.  I encourage you to subscribe at right (i.e.,"Follow My Blog By Email") to receive all posts as they appear, remembering that I will sometimes post articles here that will not appear in our bi-monthly church newsletter.  And, as I designed this to be an interactive online forum (where my articles are merely discussion-starters), please feel free to share appropriate comments as you feel led (click on the “comment” link at the bottom of each post), and/or share them with a friend via email or social media.

Finally, on this blog you’ll also find “Links to Life” websites that can help resource you in your walk of faith, as well as resource links to a few of my sermons (and other materials) that address common questions of faith and spirituality that I’m often asked or that I hear.

In the same way and spirit as the apostle Paul writing letters to his congregations (letters that we today call “Epistles” in the Bible’s New Testament), my hope and prayer is that this blog -- “Faith Bits” -- will become a connection point not only for life within our faith community at LaGrange First UMC, but will also provide each of you with an important and trusted source (and resource) for your own personal walk with God.

Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Prayer for Charleston Violence

This is the prayer that I used today during worship as we prayed for our sisters and brothers in Charleston following the tragic shootings there last Wednesday...


"Oh Lord, violence has broken out again in our land,
Striking down clergy and laity of your church
In a city just across our state line, in a church
Which is part of our fellow Wesleyan-Methodist family,
In a house of worship called Emanuel (God with us).

We cannot imagine the grief being felt by those family members
Who knew that their loved one went to church to pray and did not return home.
We pray for all who are managing the aftermath
in hospitals, counseling sessions, homes, huddles of friends,
and in our congregations, where we face the brutal realization
that even our “sanctuaries” are no longer considered sacred or safe.

We are shocked, pained, astounded, angry at the injuries one person has caused,
And at the injury and hurt of his own soul that could allow him to act so brutally toward others of your children. We pray for him, O Lord, that he would find your peace and healing from the anger and prejudice of his heart.

But we also pray for ourselves today, for what happened last Wednesday in Charleston is still happening all over our world and to us all the time.  For if we have even spoken ill of another person because of the color of their skin, the content of their politics, the character of their religion, the nature of their sexual orientation, or any other reason then we have wounded them.  Forgive us, and give us courage and grace to confess our sin and apologize for our un-Christ-like actions and behavior.   For we know that the words once spoken by your servant Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are true which say that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

So,  Lord, break into our world with the power of your Holy Spirit.  Help us. Save us. Redeem us. Restore us. And help us be your instruments of love right here. 

Empower us to be your church -- a church of love that overcomes hate.  A church of peace that overcomes violence.  A church of forgiveness that overcomes fear.  A church who’s love and grace shocks the world and leads them to a better way.  
Work in us. And through us. May it be so.

Lord, we pray this, not knowing all the answers, and beyond seeking answers, but simply seeking you.  Jesus, as the waters of life and of our world roll and threaten to overwhelm us, let us fly to you, the healer of our souls and the only hope for our world.
We pray this to the honor and glory of your holy name -- the name above all names, and the name of ultimate peace and healing -- and the one who taught us to pray, saying [THE LORD’S PRAYER]…"

          [--Prayer by Rev. Dr. Brian Germano, compiled from a variety of sources, including a prayer by Bishop
              Michael Watson, NGA Annual Conference (6/18/15), a prayer (“Prayer Following Recent School 
             Violence”) by Taylor Burton-Edwards at, & a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.]


Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family” (Proverbs 18:24, The Message)

Packing up the dreams God planted
In the fertile soil of you
Can't believe the hopes he's granted
Means a chapter in your life is through
But we'll keep you close as always
It won't even seem you've gone
Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong

And friends are friends forever
If the Lord's the Lord of them
And a friend will not say "Never"
Cause the welcome will not end
Though it's hard to let you go
In the Father's hands we know
That a lifetime's not too long
To live as friends

With the faith and love God's given
Springing from the hope we know
We will pray the joy you'll live in
Is the strength that now you show
But we'll keep you close as always
It won't even seem you've gone
Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong”
[Chorus:Repeat x2]

[--"Friends" by Michael W. Smith, album The Michael W. Smith Project (1983), re-released in album Change Your World (1992)]

As we move to a new church, please know that we thank God for our ten years among and with you, our friends in Christ, and that we pray for you God’s richest blessings in the future! And never forget that God loves you and we do, too!  Brian & Trish

Sunday, June 14, 2015

2015 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 15-19), over 2800 delegates representing the 1000 churches and 370,000+ United Methodists in North Georgia will be gathering at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia for the North Georgia Annual Conference with the theme “We Are God’s People Connected: A Focus On Global Health.” This year I am serving as our church’s clergy representative, and Pat Holcomb will serve as our laity delegate. In addition, Lee Bierce, Cindy Campbell and Frieda Brown will be present and serve 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 (as most of you already know, effective June 25th I will be appointed as the new Senior Pastor of LaGrange First UMC in LaGrange, GA, and Rev. Nanci Hicks will be appointed as the new Senior Pastor here at East Cobb UMC); 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” (“Imagine No Malaria” to end malaria on the African subcontinent); and much more! This year, Annual Conference will also be electing 11 clergy and 11 laity delegates to represent North Georgia Methodism at the 2016 General Conference of world-wide United Methodism -- the body that meets every four years to make official decisions that affect the entire denomination. 

Upon our return from Athens, your delegates will 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 7, 2015

Welcoming A (Female) Senior Pastor

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a minister of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you.” (Romans 16:1-2)

If you were at worship on June 7th, you’ll know that during my message I shared some of the biblical and historical background for why we have women as Pastors and senior church leaders in our United Methodist Christian tradition. While most of you don’t have any issue with this practice, for those who still have questions I encourage you to read my sermon online HERE.

For the rest, I want to share selections from a recent “Leading Ideas: To the Point” newsletter by Dr. Lovett Weems, where he shares advice gathered from clergywomen graduates of the Lewis Fellows leadership development program about how to properly welcome a female Pastor:

“Celebrate your new pastor. Know that your new pastor continues a tradition of women in ministry going back to biblical times. Do all that you typically do to welcome a male pastor, including praying for her daily. Give her a generous opportunity to fulfill her ministry, and let any judgment be by the biblical standard of fruitfulness.

Treat her as your pastor first. Avoid putting gender first in conversations about her. Talk about her as you would a new male pastor. Use the proper title, or ask what she would like to be called. Avoid using terms of affection, and resist language such as “woman pastor” or “lady pastor.”

She will bring unique gifts for ministry. Learn your pastor's gifts rather than making gender assumptions. She has both strengths and limitations, just as your male pastors had. Most of your delights and objections will not be gender-based. Respect different types of leadership. Some male pastors are not very good. The same goes for women. If she isn’t serving your church well, it is not because she’s a woman.

Expect some resistance but avoid making very much of it. Expect some push back, especially if this is a new experience for your church. A few may leave, but far more are likely to join. Resist assuming the worst and making too much of it. Clergywomen are common in today’s world. Avoid allowing negative voices to dominate. Ask people to keep an open mind. Most resistance is based on the unknown.

Avoid stereotyping and assumptions. Keep pastoral expectations as before. Don’t assume she will be good with children but not finance. Don’t expect her to bring treats for meetings. Women often have family responsibilities but so do many men. Resist asking about her personal life, relation-ships, or family plans that you would not ask a male pastor.

Some things may not fit. Be open to repainting the office and replacing the pastor’s chair if it no longer fits the occupant. The pulpit may need adjustment for height, and make sure the sound system works for a female voice, especially if it’s high or soft.

Make sure there is a trusted feedback group. Your
new pastor needs regular honest feedback from those committed to her success. Assure that someone is asking your new pastor how things are going and listen. A trusted group that listens makes the pastor more open to receiving feedback she needs to improve.

Avoid references to appearance. Avoid making comments about her size, shape, or appearance. How she dresses or does her hair should not be a topic of conversation. Avoid such comments that would never be made to a male pastor.

Pay attention to boundary issues. Take seriously any concerns a female pastor expresses about sexual harassment or unwanted actions involving staff, parishioners, or others. All clergywomen encounter such situations at some point. Train church leadership in how to recognize when harassment or sexism is at play. Members need reminding that “If you didn’t say it to a male pastor, don't say it to a female pastor. If you didn’t kiss your male pastor, don’t do it now.”

The all purpose question to remember: “Would you honestly ask (say, criticize) this if the pastor were a man? If so, okay. If not, drop it."

I pray that you will remember these words of advice as you welcome Pastor Nanci in a few short weeks to be your new Senior Pastor.  Remember, God loves you and so do I!