Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Power of the Bible

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

As God’s people, one of the tools we’re given to discover, grow, and mature in Christian faith is the Bible.  Unfortunately, many Christians have never unlocked the power of this God-given tool because they’ve never taken time to actually study it in-depth with others.  Consequently, beginning this Fall our church is re-introducing the power of group Bible study to our core ministry and programming through “Disciple” and “Believe.”

Disciple” is an interdenominational small-group Bible study that (to date) has been taken by over 2 million Christians, and is a common core discipleship offering in United Methodist Churches around the world. Through daily readings and a 75 minute guided group discussion once each week, participants not only come to understand the Bible better, but come to discover its relevance and power in and for their daily lives, while at the same time developing rich and long-lasting friendships with fellow participants. I’ve personally witnessed many lives changed and transformed in remarkable ways through this study. And this Fall, in order to better accommodate people’s busy schedules, our church will be offering a format called “Disciple Fast Track,” which is shorter in weekly meeting length and total duration.

In like manner, “Believe” is a guided group study we introduced this past Spring to whet the appetite of our congregation, and it proved so popular that we’ll be sharing the second of its three-installments this Fall.  It uses the Bible to focus on essential beliefs, practices and virtues that every Christian needs to know and live by, and how God’s word can help us think, act, and become more like Jesus in our daily lives.

Granted... neither “Disciple” nor “Believe” are for the casual Christian.  Both require hard work, commitment, and diligence -- but the rewards are literally “out of this world!”  Many of you are desiring to grow in and learn more about your faith -- being part of one of these two group Bible studies is one of the best ways to help you do just that! So if you’re serious about your faith growth and want to find out more, please pay attention to the information we’ll be sharing both in our newsletter, bulletin and in “Bible Sunday” worship on July 24th.

Your life will never be the same after you take a “Disciple” or “Believe” class!  So what are you waiting for? Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

North Georgia United Methodism Receives New Bishop and Prayers for France & Turkey

During last week’s Southeastern Jurisdictional United Methodist Conference at Lake Junaluska, NC, a number of new Bishops were elected to replace ones who were retiring, including our own Bishop Michael Watson.

So, it is with joy that I share with you the election and appointment of our new Bishop, Sue Haupert-Johnson, effective on September 1st of this year. She comes to North Georgia from the Florida Annual Conference, where she has served as Senior Pastor of United Methodist churches in Tampa, Cape Coral and Ocala, and as an associate pastor in Lakeland. She is married, has a husband and a daughter, holds a law degree from the University of Florida and is a graduate of Emory’s Candler School of Theology. 

We’ll share more information in the near future about ways our conference will be welcoming her.  For more information about Sue’s appointment, CLICK HERE.

In the meantime, we also celebrate the election of Sharma Lewis -- one of our own North Georgia UMC clergy -- as the new Bishop of the Virginia UM Conference.  She is the first African-American woman to be elected bishop in our Jurisdiction -- truly something to celebrate! For more information on Sharma’s election and appointment, CLICK HERE

Please be in prayer both for Sue, Sharma, and for North Georgia United Methodism as we share in this significant changes for the glory of God!  On a different note, please also join me in continued prayer for the families of those who lost their lives this past week both in the latest act of terrorism in Nice, France and in the attempted coup in Turkey.

In Christ, 
Pastor Brian

Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Christian Response to Injustice & Violence

Those who know me well know that I'm not usually one to rush to say the first thing(s) on my mind, but first to ponder and pray. Consequently, it has been challenging for me to write a response to yet another week of violence.  However, after prayer, God laid on my heart several things:

First, I urge us to be in prayer for all victims of injustice and violence, in whatever guises those present themselves.  That is what happened this week... yet again.  My thoughts and prayers are with the families of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens (those who lost their lives), plus the 7 other Dallas police officers and 2 civilians who were injured.  Though the circumstances that led to their respective deaths or injuries were different, each of these were victims of injustice and violence.

Second, not only are we called to pray for those affected by injustice and violence, but we are also called by God to act - not only to refuse to use their methods ourselves, but also to speak up and speak out against them when we see them in use by others, to call out those who would use their tools, and to non-violently confront the systems and processes that support and seek to justify them.

Finally, let me conclude with words from five passages of scripture that spoke to me about various dimensions of what happened this past week, and what an authentic faith-filled response might look like. They are words which call for oppression and injustice to be confronted, but which also insist that that confrontation be done peaceably and non-violently.  I share them without specific interpretation so that you may let God guide you into their meaning for your own life:

Psalms 94:1-7 (NRSV),
"O Lord, you God of vengeance, you God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O judge of the earth; give to the proud what they deserve!
O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O Lord, and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the stranger, they murder the orphan,
and they say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”"

Amos 5:14-24 (NRSV),
" Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord: In all the squares there shall be wailing; and in all the streets they shall say, “Alas! alas!” They shall call the farmers to mourning, and those skilled in lamentation, to wailing; in all the vineyards there shall be wailing, for I will pass through the midst of you, says the Lord. Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Jeremiah 12:1-4 (NRSV), 
" You will be in the right, O Lord, when I lay charges against you; but let me put my case to you. Why does the way of the guilty prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
You plant them, and they take root; they grow and bring forth fruit; you are near in their mouths yet far from their hearts. But you, O Lord, know me; You see me and test me—my heart is with you. Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and set them apart for the day of slaughter. How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither?
For the wickedness of those who live in it the animals and the birds are swept away,
and because people said, “He is blind to our ways.”"

Galatians 6:1-10 (NRSV),
" My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith."

1 Peter 2:13-17 (NRSV), 
" For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor."

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

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Upcoming Worship Opportunities at LaGrange First UMC

“Worship the Lord in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24)

Worship is one of the practices that lies at the very heart of what it means to follow Jesus Christ. When we worship God publicly, we are not only proclaiming our allegiance to His kingdom and ways, but we’re spiritually feeding our souls with the “truth” of the gospel.  When we neglect regular worship, we’re “starving our spirits” and leaving them spiritually vulnerable to the evils of our world.  That’s precisely why our church seeks to offer worship that not only speaks to the head, but also moves the heart and hands.

So, with that in mind, I want to let you know of several important upcoming decisions and opportunities to help enhance our offerings for congregational worship:

1) As one of the key recommendations from the prayerful work this past Spring of a task force of our Worship Committee, beginning Sunday, August 7, we will move the weekly start time of our “Morning Glory” worship service to 8:45am (the Chapel service start time will remain at 9:00am). This change will be one of several we’ll be implementing over the next few months to gradually transform the current format and physical space of this service in order to foster better opportunities for a more intimate and passionate “modern” worship experience to develop, grow and thrive.

2) During the first three Sundays of August, Blake and I will offer a new sermon series called Go for the Gold to coincide with the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.  This series will use metaphors from those games to challenge us all to grow and mature in our own spiritual walk with God.

3) At 10:30am on August 28, we’ll once again come together as one congregation in the Sanctuary to celebrate our annual Homecoming Sunday, featuring music from our choir, praise band, and the inspiring preaching of former pastor Greg Porterfield, followed by a congregation-wide covered-dish lunch in the MMC.

4) On Sunday, September 4 (Gideon Sunday), we’ll celebrate the importance of (and opportunities to) share God’s Word with the world around us through the message and ministry of Gideons, Intl.

I hope you will mark your calendars and plan to make your attendance at these upcoming worship experiences a priority. Worship is one way we express our love God -- I pray that you’ll make time to “love on Him” through regular worship this Fall!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!