Thursday, June 23, 2016

RE-UNION SUNDAYS IN JULY

“My goal is that [your] hearts would be encouraged and united together in love so that they might have all the riches of assurance that come with understanding.” (Colossians 2:2)

​“RE-UNION: The act of getting people together again after they have been apart; an act of reuniting the organized gathering of people who have not been together for a long time.”

The fact that our church offers different styles and times of worship throughout the year sometimes gives us and others the false impression that we are more than one congregation. But the fact of the matter is that whether we worship in a more traditional style at 9:00am in the Chapel or 11:00am in the Sanctuary, or in a more contemporary style at 9:00am in the MMC, we are one congregation in spirit and soul here at LaGrange First UMC.

Therefore, in order to celebrate and be reminded of this “oneness” we share with one another, this summer we will be worshipping together as ONE CONGREGATION at 10:30am during the five Sundays of July.  While the services on July 3 and 31 will be held in the MMC and the other three will be held in the Sanctuary, the location will not determine whether they are “Traditional” or “Contemporary,” but instead all of these services will be “Blended” to include some of the best elements from all our services (though all of them will be casual dress).

In case you haven’t read it yet in one of our bulletins or newsletter, here’s the details (all services at 10:30am, with Sunday School at 9:15am each week):

July 3: “Patriotic Sunday” in the MMC – a Sunday celebrating our nation’s heritage and our patriotism

July 10: “Camp Meeting Sunday” in the Sanctuary – a Sunday celebrating Camp Meeting, worship featuring inspiring old-time hymns and preaching, complete with a church-wide covered-dish “dinner on the grounds” in the MMC afterward.

July 17: “Global Friendship Sunday” in the Sanctuary – a Sunday celebrating the partnership between our church and the LaGrange Korean UMC, complete with music and message from both churches

July 24: “Bible Sunday” in the Sanctuary – a Sunday celebrating the power of God’s word, featuring testimonies from fellow members who’ve transformed by their study of the Bible

July 31: “Family Sunday” in the MMC – a Sunday celebrating the children and families of our church, including the closing celebration of our summer Vacation Bible School. Following the service we’ll also have a family-style fair and cookout with hamburgers, hot dogs, “jumpies” and other fun things for families in the Fellowship hall and MMC parking lot.

So, unless you’re sick or out of town, I hope you’ll make plans to be present for each and every one of these special Sundays!  You’ll have the chance to worship with folks you don’t normally worship with… to see old friends and make new ones!  Most importantly, it will help us as a church to (in the words of Paul, above) “be encouraged and united together in love…”

Let’s come together (again) to celebrate our unity this summer!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jesus and the Way of Violence

“[Jesus said,] 'Those who use the sword will die by the sword'” (Matthew 26:52)

Following the June 12 mass shooting at the “Pulse” nightclub in Orlando, this week my heart has been both sad and angry at the same time.  “Sad,” of course, because of the tragedy itself, and the great loss of life.  But at the same time, I’m “angry” because, in light of one of the most horrific single acts of violence in our country’s history, the response of some who profess to follow Jesus has been either to praise it (as in the case of a California Baptist Pastor who stated that the victims “deserve what they got” and that “the tragedy is that more of them didn’t die” [READ HIS STORY HERE]) or to question why we should care about the sexual identity of those who were the victims [READ EXAMPLES HERE].

Yes, I am incensed that (once again) a shooter has used religion as a pretext to justify his own selfish prejudices against a certain group of people who offended him (1). But I am equally incensed that some so-called “believers” are na├»ve enough about the way of Jesus (the “Prince of Peace”) to take his teachings and twist them so drastically as to believe that the shooters’ motivations were in some way actually justified.  To the contrary:  if one looks carefully at the gospels, we find that individual violence against others is never justified.

John 8:1-11 tells the story of a woman caught in adultery who is brought before Jesus, and who the crowd wants to stone to death for her sin.  Yet, instead of acquiescing to her death, Jesus confronts her accusers by announcing that “those who are without sin should throw the first stone.”  It is true that he later tells the woman to “go and sin no more,” but his first response is to those who are arrogant enough to think they have the right to judge others for sin, while ignoring the sin in their own life.

When Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his death, all four gospels tell the story of one of his followers (who John says is Peter) taking a sword and cutting off the ear of one who was sent to arrest him (2). In Luke’s account, Jesus tells them “Stop! No more of this!” and promptly heals the man’s ear, and in Matthew’s account, Jesus goes on to say that “All those who use the sword will die by the sword.”

After Jesus’ trial, Pilate paraded him before the crowd in Jerusalem along with a man named Barabbas, a member of a radical Jewish nationalist group called the Sicarii (3).  Their job was to incite rebellion against Rome through acts of terrorism and violence, making them the first-century equivalent of Al-Qaeda or the Klu Klux Klan.  By offering the crowd a choice to release either Barabbas or Jesus, Pilate was, in essence, giving them a choice between choosing the way of prejudice, hate, and violence, or the way of peace, love, compassion, and forgiveness.  The sad truth is that, as all too often happens today, the way of Barabbas (violence) is often the way chosen over the way of Jesus (love).

Finally, the words of Paul in Colossians 3:12-15 & 17 should likewise be instructive to any of us who claim to follow the way of Jesus:  “As God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body…. Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.”

There are more examples I could share, but my point is that the Bible is clear that individual violence against others is not the true way of Jesus Christ, that those who perpetrate, encourage or even condone it are not following that way, and that even when we don’t condone violence itself, we also should be very, very careful of our judgement of the “sins/wrongdoing” others that can eventually lead to it, lest our harsh judgement of them fall on us, as well (4).  If anything, the way of Jesus involves us loving our “enemies,” respecting those who we disagree with, and even at times laying down our lives for others, rather than us taking the lives of others (5).

Of course, some will invariably point to various biblical texts to “prove” that God uses human violence to dole out punishment and discipline against other humans for their sin. While it is true that some Old Testament texts can be interpreted this way, the contexts in which those apply are usually corporate in nature (e.g., a whole nation going to war against an injustice or wrongdoing (6)), and the reality is that for true Christians, Jesus’ teachings about love, compassion, and forgiveness should always override (or at least clarify) those earlier interpretations (7).

The bottom line is that all people have the right to live safe and secure from violence, regardless of what we personally think about their political views, sexual preferences, practices and/or beliefs.  This is the way of Jesus, and it should be the practice of all who claim to follow him.  Remember that God loves you and I do, too (no matter what you believe or think about my article here).

ENDNOTES:

(1) In this instance the perpetrator used the teachings of the Muslim faith to justify his actions.  But lest those of us who are Christians judge too quickly, let’s not forget how Christians have used (and still do use) our faith teachings to justify violence in the name of God (consider, for example, the Crusades of the 11th and 12th-Centuries, the “Inquisition” of the 12th and 13th-Centuries, the Irish “Catholic-Protestant” conflict of the 20th-Century, and others).

(2) Read Matthew 26:51-52, Mark 14:47-49, Luke 22:49-51, and John 18:10-11

(3) Meaning "dagger bearers,” a reference to the hidden daggers they carried and used to kill others.

(4) Read Matthew 7:1-5, Matthew 5:21-26, and Galatians 6:1.

(5) Read Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-38, and 1 John 3:16.

(6) This rationalization for corporate/national violence is sometimes known as Just War Theory”, which sets forth very strict and narrow conditions by which nations can engage in corporate violence (i.e., war) in order to rectify a wrong. I should add that I believe this same rationalization justifies its use by those in law enforcement (when it meets the same criteria) allowing for the use of force to prevent others from doing harm to others.

(7) Read Matthew 5:17.  Even in the stories of Jesus “Cleansing the Jerusalem Temple” (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, and John 2:14-15), his actions – while meant to express his disapproval of certain actions/behaviors by harming pocketbooks -- never physically harmed people.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Prayer In Response to Orlando Shooting

Remembering the victims, families and all those affected by the June 12 shootings at the "Pulse" nightclub in Orlando...  Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer...
Lord God, we don’t know how to pray.
This immense disaster feels overwhelming.
We can only imagine how the victims feel,
and we are so many miles away that we feel helpless.
Surround those directly involved with your loving presence.
Comfort the families of the dead and injured,
Sustain those waiting for word of those they love.
Protect, strengthen, and uphold
the rescuers and emergency personnel.
Help all of us to remember that your love
is bigger and stronger than despair and destruction.
Guide and strengthen us to reach out to those affected
in ways that will bring healing.
Give them and us a sense of your peace and hope.
In the name of Jesus, our friend and healer. Amen.
     [--Prayer "In the Face of Disaster" from page 60 of Prayers for Life’s Ordinary and Extraordinary Moments, compiled and edited by Mary Lou Redding. Copyright © 2012 by Upper Room Books.]

You're also invited to watch my WJCN-TV "Inspirational Minute" video "Peace Begins with Me" to be reminded of what we all can do in the midst of senseless acts of violence such as this.
(For suggestions on other appropriate ways to respond, read articles at this United Methodist Church site:  "Responding to Violence") 

In Christ, Pastor Brian

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Annual Conference Is Here!

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 week as you read this article, over 2800 delegates representing the 1000 churches and 364,000+ United Methodists in North Georgia will have gathered at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia for the “North Georgia Annual Conference” with the theme “Bound for Greater Things.”  Linda Frano and myself are attending as our church’s delegates, and
others will be attending on behalf of our LaGrange 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 (on June 7th we celebrated the commissioning of our own Blake Trent!); appointments of pastors to local churches are finalized (we celebrate that our Bishop - Michael Watson - has reassigned me to LaGrange First UMC as your Senior Pastor, and that Blake is being assigned to us for his first official year under appointment as our new “Associate Pastor”); 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” (to support the work of Action Ministry’sRaise the Roof about Poverty” initiative); and 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 (as well as “real time” updates) on our North Georgia Conference website (www.ngumc.org and click on the 2016 Annual Conference banner).  Also, thanks for your prayers, both for ourselves as your representatives, and for the Conference itself.  Always remember, God loves you and I do too!