Sunday, May 31, 2015

Patience, Patience

“Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be... complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4)

We live in the world of instant cash, the ten-minute oil changes, one-hour photo processing, same day dry cleaning, and 30-second fast food.  As a result, waiting has grown today to become one of life's most trying experiences.  If things don't happen right now, a turbulence of impatience blows through our inner world -- I know, because like many of you, I sometimes have a trouble dealing with this.  And impatience can be thought of as “waiting in a hurry”!

As Christians, we sometimes direct our impatience toward God -- especially when undergoing a trial.  If God ca n create things out of nothing, then why doesn't He act NOW!?  He seems to always take His own good time! Yet, we know that God's timing is always right.  He is never in a hurry, but He’s also never late.  There is a "right time" for us, just as God waited until "the fullness of time" to send Jesus (Galatians 4:4).

A student asked a college professor once, “Can I take a shorter course of studies than the one prescribed?”  “Oh, yes,” replied the president, “but it all depends on what you want to be.  When God wants to make a giant oak, He takes many years.  But when He wants to make a squash, He takes a few months.”  The moral: we need patience to become what God intends for us to be.

What is it that God is calling you to do or be that requires patience?  Whatever it is, if you’ll trust in Him, He’ll guide you to persist and persevere, so hang in there and ask for strength to be patient!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, May 24, 2015


"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place....[And] all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit...” (Acts 2:1 & 4)

What do you think of when you hear the word APentecost@?  For some, it conjures up negative images of emotionalism, obstinacy, and religious fanaticism.  For others, it evokes the positive images of God's constant presence, power, and peace in our lives today.  And for still others, APentecost@ has no real impact or meaning at all B some of us know a lot about God as Father and about Jesus as his Son, but are a bit confused as to how Pentecost and the Holy Spirit fit into our faith.

But no matter what stereotypes you might have, we all need to be aware that without Pentecost and the Holy Spirit, there would be no Christian Church today.  Consequently, there would be no Christians, either, for the Holy Spirit is that manifestation of God who brings us to salvation, enables us to respond to God's grace given through Jesus, and gives us the power and ability to grow in that grace for the rest of our lives.  Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot even begin to live a Christian life.  The day called APentecost,@ then, is the holiday that we Christians celebrate as a reminder of this need.

You see, contrary to what some people or churches may think or imply, the Holy Spirit is not the sole possession of select Asuper-spiritual@ Christians, or of certain denominations or churches, but belongs to ALL who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  If we are a Christian, the Spirit already lives within us.  The question that each of us needs to answer, then, is NOT ADo we have the Holy Spirit?@ but rather ADoes the Holy Spirit have US?@  Who is in the pilot seat of YOUR life:  You? or God?  This Pentecost (Sunday, May 24), my prayer is that you will open yourself to God=s Spirit as the pilot of your life.  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Your New Pastor

"I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Isaiah 43:19)

If you attended worship this past Sunday, you'll know that along with sharing our “REACH” commitments, we also shared the name of my successor.  If you weren’t there, allow me to catch you up:  I am both pleased and excited to announce that the new Senior Pastor of East Cobb UMC will be Rev. Nanci Hicks.  Her first Sunday with you in worship will be June 28th.

Nanci will be coming to you from Briarcliff UMC in northeast Atlanta, where she has served as Senior Pastor for the past two years.  Before that, she served as interim Pastor of Sacred Tapestry UMC here in Marietta (on Johnson Ferry Rd.), as Senior Pastor of Mossy Creek UMC in Cleveland, GA (where her church, like East Cobb UMC, was connected to a Camp Meeting ministry), as Director at an area Christian Retreat Center, and as Associate Pastor of Roswell UMC.   She and husband Steve have grown children.

Over the next month, she and I will be working closely together to ensure a smooth leadership transition.  However, since Nanci will not only be the first female Senior Pastor in our church’s history (although we’ve had multiple female Associate Pastors), and since the process of changing pastors may be new to many of you, part of that transition will include me sharing sermons and newsletter articles over the next month to remind us all of the biblical and practical reasons both for women as clergy leaders, and for our United Methodist “itinerant” system (the system whereby we rotate pastors).

For those who’ve not yet experienced either having a female Senior Pastor or any kind of pastoral change, I invite and encourage you to please give both a try before making hasty judgments or decisions.  Both can (and I believe will be) great blessings if you’re willing to stretch (to REACH) beyond what you’ve been comfortable with before in order to experience the “new thing” God has in store for you through your new leader.  Even though it may be challenging, don’t miss the opportunity to grow and mature as a believer through this transition!

In the meantime, the work of God’s church here at East Cobb UMC goes on without missing a beat!  Yes, be in prayer both for Nanci and myself as we prepare for this transition, and be in prayer for yourselves that you would be open to what God would do through it.  But at the same time, continue the great work of God’s church here at East Cobb UMC:  pray; worship; serve; study God’s word; give your tithes to the ongoing church ministry fund; and (if you haven’t already) make a three-year financial commitment of your “offerings” (that which is over-and-above your tithe) to our “REACH” capital journey so that East Cobb can fulfill its vision from God(My wife and I have already made ours -- won’t you do so, as well?)  [Click HERE for a digital REACH commitment card if you’ve yet to turn one in]

Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

REACH and A Pastoral Move

I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)

Some members have asked me (or wondered privately), “Brian, how will the news of your upcoming reappointment to a new church affect our REACH capital campaign?”  Well, the simple answer is:  It shouldn't one bit! (and I pray that you will not let it do so!)

Our REACH capital journey has never been about an individual person or their vision (mine, my successor’s, or anyone else’s), but about the vision that God has given to His people at East Cobb UMC to reach more of our community and world for Jesus Christ, using a new building as one tool to do that.

There are plenty of examples in scripture where this was the case.  For example, while Moses saw the “promised land” from a distance, it was his successor Joshua that actually lead the people of Israel to enter it. Later, while God gave King David the initial vision for the great Temple in Jerusalem, it was his son King Solomon who actually got to build and complete it.

And even in the scripture above (from 1 Corinthians 3), the apostle Paul highlights the biblical process of successor leadership when he says (listen to the entire passage in Verses 6-9): “I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow.  Because of this, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but the only one who is anything is God who makes it grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together, but each one will receive their own reward for their own labor. We are God's coworkers, and you are God's field, God's building.”

In case you didn’t know, Paul (like all United Methodist pastors) didn’t stay in one place too long.  Instead, he would preach and teach and lead in one place for a period of time, then move on to another place with someone else following him to pick up where he left off (in this case, a man named Apollos).  But his point is that neither the one who “plants” nor the one who “waters” is “anything” -- the only one that truly matters is “God who makes it grow.”  The “vision,” therefore, was never really about Paul or Apollos, but about God’s vision and work among them all.

So it is with our REACH journey: REACH is not about me or my successor, but about God’s call to His people at East Cobb UMC to reach more of its community for Jesus Christ. True, I may have I may have led us to better understand and clarify that vision, and my successor will help you to actually execute and carry it out, but the only one who truly matters in the whole process is “God who makes it grow.”

I trust that you will take this into consideration as you prayerfully discern the commitment(s) that God is calling each of us to share next week (May 17) on REACH Commitment Sunday.  I invite (and challenge) you to make your commitment not about me or my successor, but about the vision that God has for East Cobb UMC, and the exciting things that will take place when you as a church fulfill that vision!

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Thoughts On "Being Sent"...

"The apostles and the elders... agreed to send some delegates chosen from among themselves to Antioch, together with Paul and Barnabas." (Acts 15:22)

If you were at worship today you'll know that it was announced by our District Superintendent that after serving 10 years as our church's Senior Pastor, I will be reappointed ("sent") by our Bishop to serve a another church beginning June 26th.

While this news at first came as a surprise to my family and I, upon subsequent prayer and reflection we have come to see God's hand in it in the some remarkable ways. Not only are we excited about the possibilities  for ministry in the place to which we (like Paul and Barnabas) are being sent, but I'm confident that the person God is sending to follow me as Senior Pastor here at East Cobb UMC is His choice to lead you in into the next phase of growth.

Most of you know that the process of moving (or "reappointing") pastors every so often (called the "Itinerancy") is one of the unique qualities of being a United Methodist congregation.  Based on the early church model of "sending/appointing" leaders, while it's often difficult for everyone when there is a pastoral transition, it does mean that churches don't need to have "search committees" or hire interim pastors, and pastors don't have to go "sell" themselves on the "open market" in order to find a new church. Instead, "no church is ever without a pastor," and "no pastor is ever without a church."

What's more is that since no single pastor possesses all the leadership qualities necessary to lead an individual church, over the course of several pastoral tenures (over, say, 20-30 years), a congregation led by several pastors will be more well-balanced than one who's had only one or two in that time, since each pastor will bring to them differing leadership skills:  some pastors are better speakers; some better organizers; some more people-oriented; and some better with evangelism or missions; etc.  While all of these are important, each pastor brings differing strengths to a congregation at differing times in its history.

Most importantly, when our Itinerant system works properly, it encourages congregations to be built around the people, rather than around a particular pastor.  In doing so, it lessens the likelihood that church members turn the pastor into an idol by becoming merely a "cult following" of that pastor.  So as you can see, while our system is challenging when there are transitions, there are plenty of good reasons to have it.

You may know that in order to protect the relationships of persons in the other congregations involved, we will not be sharing where I'll be moving or the identity of who is being appointed here until May 17.   After then, I'll be sharing a variety of sermons geared to help ease the transition.  In the meantime, however, I hope you'll join me in praying not only for me and my family as we prepare to leave, but for our entire congregation as we make our REACH journey commitments also on May 17 (I'll be making one, as well!), and for your new pastor as they prepare to arrive and begin leading  you in late June.

Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!