Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mary's Dream

"Mary treasured all these words [of the Shepherds] and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

“I had a strange dream, Joseph. I'm not sure, but I think it was about a birthday for our son. The people had been preparing for it for six weeks by decorating the house and buying new clothes. They'd gone shopping many times and bought elaborate gifts. It was peculiar, though, because the presents weren't for our Son. They were wrapped in beautiful paper and tied with lovely bows and stacked under trees. Yes, Joseph, a tree, right in their house -- with branches decorated and full of glowing balls and sparkling ornaments. And there was a figure on the top of the tree -- an angel I think.

Everyone was laughing and happy and all excited about the gifts, and they gave the gifts to each other, Joseph, not to our Son. I don't think they even knew Him. They never mentioned His name. Doesn't it seem odd for people to go to all that trouble to celebrate someone's birthday if they don't know Him? I had the strangest feeling that if our Son had gone to this celebration, He would have been intruding. Everything was so beautiful, Joseph, and everyone so happy, but it made me want to cry. How sad for Jesus -- not to be wanted at His own birthday party. I'm glad it was only a dream, though. How terrible, Joseph, if it had been real.”
[–By Lloyd D. Lance]

As we prepare for Christmas, please don’t get so caught in all the consumerism, partying, and family get togethers that you forget Jesus as the real “reason for the season”! Instead, make plans to focus on him by worshiping Christ on Christmas Eve at church with your family and friends. 

Because of the way the calendar falls, this year we’ll celebrate the fourth Sunday of Advent at our combined 10:30am worship service in the Sanctuary on December 24th. Then, we’ll celebrate Jesus’ actual birth at our two other services later that day (both in the Sanctuary): 
--5:00pm Candlelight Family and Children’s service, featuring a short children’s drama, carols, and short Christmas message
--11:00pm Candlelight Communion service, featuring traditional readings, carols, and Holy Communion

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate Jesus birth again on Sunday December 31st (the “first Sunday of Christmas”) with one combined worship service at 10:30am in the Fellowship Hall before we return to our regular three services on January 7th. And always remember that God loves you and do, too!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

1 Corinthians 13 - Christmas Version

“Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

“If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shining balls, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my relatives, I'm just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my spouse and in-laws, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crystal snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir's cantata but do not focus on Christ in my own household, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child or grandchild. Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the spouse or call the relative. Love is kind, though harried and tired. Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens. Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way. Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who can't.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust. But giving the gift of love to our families (and all people) will endure.”

As we prepare for the coming of Christmas, I pray that we will all recall love as the greatest gift we can offer each other, especially as we give it in and among each other as the family of God! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Three Ways To Be Thankful

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night.” (Psalms 92:1-2)

Back when I was still living at my parents' home, I remember hearing my pastor share a Thanksgiving sermon that was especially meaningful to me -- enough that I wrote down the main points and have kept them all these years!  As we prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, I share with you these same “Three Ways To Be Thankful” in the hope that they will inspire you as they did me.

During Thanksgiving, we are challenged to have…

1) Thankful Minds - learn to become aware of all the blessings given to you by God… your family, friends, health, and for people that helps us be the best we can be.  In the words of a famous hymn, “Count your many blessings, see what God has done.”  In other words, learn to acknowledge the outward blessings of God.

2) Thankful Hearts -- Philippians 4:6 says “Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking Him with a thankful heart.” Learn to be thankful for the inner, spiritual “gifts” of God in our lives… blessings that may not be outwardly apparent, but which one can choose to see as blessings with the right perspective.  This could include things like being “thankful” for being laid off, for an illness that causes us to see our need for (and reliance on) God even more, and even learning to be thankful for the troubles and trials of life that help us grow.  In other words, learn to acknowledge the inward blessings of God.

3) Thankful Hands -- James 1:22 says that we are to “be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”  “Hands” here represents our actions and deeds.  In other words, we are not called to keep our thankfulness of “mind” and of “heart” to ourselves.  Instead, we’re called to show thankfulness through what we do…  through our loving and caring for others, sharing their joys and sorrows, their good times and bad.

My prayer is that this Thanksgiving holiday, you’ll remember and enjoy God’s blessings in your life.  But more than that, I pray that you’ll also allow those blessings to inspire you to practice your thankfulness in the three ways above.  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Prayers for Sutherland Springs, TX

Our prayers go out to the members and friends of Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church in Texas after yet another tragic, senseless shooting that left 26 dead and at least 10 wounded during worship yesterday morning.

While no church or organization can fully prevent an occurrence like this, our church's Safety and Security Committee will be meeting very soon to formulate more proactive response practices  for our church, not only hopefully to lessen the chances of tragic acts such as this occurring, but also to minimize potential injuries if it did.  If you would like more information about how you can be involved in this effort, please contact our church office.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

LFUMC’s 2017 “Rise Against Hunger” Event

“When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.” (John 6:12-13)

On behalf of our Missions Committee, I’m pleased to invite you to participate in our second annual “Rise Against Hunger” packing event (formerly called "Stop Hunger Now”) on Sunday, November 12 from 12:30-2:00pm in the MMC, where we will be packing 20,000 meals for those in need around the world.  

This ministry is a world-wide interfaith initiative (started by a United Methodist minister in 1998, by the way) designed to help people in developed communities like our own combat hunger and starvation in developing communities around the world.

Some of you remember that we sponsored this same event last year, but due to its popularity we moved it from the worship and Sunday School hour to after lunch so that you could invite friends, relatives and neighbors from other churches to help pack.  Plus, your generosity through last year’s Lenten change collections allowed us to significantly increase the number of meals we’ll be packing.

We’ll begin that day with a lite soup and sandwich lunch (donations accepted) in the Small Dining Room in shifts beginning at 12Noon, then move into the Fellowship Hall about 12:30pm for the packing event, which will be a great service opportunity for appropriate for children, youth, college students, and adults. If you know that you’ll be participating, please help us prepare by registering ahead of time HERE.

Remember, Jesus fed over 5000 with the simple offering of one little boy’s lunch.  At our event, we’ll be preparing meals to feed four times that number!  Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind when he spoke the words of John 14:12-14, “whoever believes in me will do even greater works than these [that I do].”

So, on November 12th, dress casually for Sunday School and worship, enjoy lunch at 12Noon, and then join your fellow church members as we “rise against hunger” in the name of Jesus!  And don’t forget that God loves you and I do, too!

[P.S., to find out more about this initiative, visit their website HERE]

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Why I Tithe

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse… and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” (Malachi 3:10)

“With my tithe I seal a bargain, with my tithe I pay a debt.
With my tithe I serve a purpose that my God will not forget.

With my tithe I fish for sinners, with my tithe I find the lost.
With my tithe I gird the winners, with my tithe I share the cost.

With my tithe I love my neighbor, with my tithe I pass a test.
With my tithe I clothe God’s image in a form one-tenth divine.

With my tithe I build a temple, with my tithe I feed its fire.
With my tithe I still a yearning of my soul’s innate desire.

With my tithe I heal the stricken, with my tithe they rise again.
With my tithe I walk with giants, in the wake of Godly women and men.

With my tithe I walk in honor where the great and strong have trod.
With my tithe I store my treasures in the treasure house of God!”
                              [--Written by Peter E. Long]

My wife Trish and I have tithed faithful to God through our church for nearly 28 years, and God has never yet let us down, even in tight financial times -- it’s the first check we write when we get paid (or, these days, the first online payment we set up).  The “tithe” (the first 10% of our gross income) is a tool shared in the Bible that helps us be faithful to God, enabling Him to be faithful back to us. 

So, are you honoring God in how you use your financial resources, starting with a tithe back to Him?  Even if you’re not able to tithe immediately, are you willing to take a step forward and move towards it now so that you can eventually tithe in the near future? 

I pray that as we on October 29th share in “Commitment Sunday” for our “TREASURE” stewardship journey, you will prayerfully consider tithing (or moving towards a tithe) as an important step of faith in your spiritual life.  It’s never too late to start!  You’ll be blessed by it as is anyone who does it!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

TREASURE: Investing in God through our Living and Giving

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

 What do you most want to be investing your life in?

• What are you actually investing it in?

Our honest answer to these questions may surprise us.  Often we think that our treasure (our time, talents, energy, and money) follows our hearts and passions.  But in the scripture above, Jesus suggested just the opposite – that whatever and wherever we invest our treasure, our hearts will follow after that.

It’s no wonder, then, that many of us feel a sense of tension about our lives and our finances.  We want to give our lives to our church, our family, our God. Instead, our hearts follow our debts, our bills, our jobs, and often we don’t even realize it. We are left feeling stretched, conflicted, and empty.  

What we often fail to consider is how much our view and use of treasure affects our heart. It’s true that “treasure” involves more than money.  But money IS a big part of the problem in many of our lives.  Whether we’re in plenty or in want, money has a direct connection to our stress level, our anxiety, and the health of our relationships.

It’s no wonder, then, that Jesus talked about the relationship between our treasure and our hearts. And because he cared so much about our hearts, he therefore talked about what we do with our treasure.

Each Sunday October 8-29 in a new series called “TREASURE,” we’ll explore Jesus’ teachings about treasure found in the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 6.  We’ll consider how financial challenges in our personal lives affect our relationships both with people and with God. We’ll see how giving helps to determine the way we feel and act. Most importantly, we’ll discover how we can experience the power found in making God our ultimate treasure through our living and giving.

Then at all three worship services on October 29 (“Celebration/Commitment Sunday”), we’ll have the chance to begin to make personal investments of our treasure in God through our church in the coming year through the sharing of either a physical or online commitment.

At the end of these four weeks, it’s my prayer that we’ll all have a better awareness not only of what we invest our lives in, but also of how we can do a better job making God our ultimate treasure through our living and giving.  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Praying for Victims in Las Vegas

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

In the wake of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, what can or should be said?  Words have escaped me most of today.  Like most of you, I am still in shock over how and why this happened.  While there will certainly be things we can commit ourselves to do and be about in the days and weeks ahead, in the meantime I simply want to offer two scripture passages that speak to me -- I pray they will for you, as well:

Psalm 130:1-8

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord -- my Lord, listen to my voice!
Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy! If you kept track of sins, Lord-- my Lord, who would stand a chance? But forgiveness is with you--that's why you are honored. I hope, Lord. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God's promise. My whole being waits for my Lord—more than the night watch waits for morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for morning! Israel, wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God! He is the one who will redeem Israel from all its sin

Isaiah 43:1-5a (The LFUMC staff shared and prayed this earlier today as part of our weekly staff meeting) 

But now, says the Lord—the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel:
when through the rivers, they won't sweep over you.
Don't fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; 
When you walk through the fire, you won't be scorched and flame won't burn you.
I am the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, your savior.
I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place.
Because you are precious in my eyes, you are honored, and I love you.
I give people in your place, and nations in exchange for your life.
Don't fear, I am with you. 

Here’s a few additional faith-responses and resources that you are invited to prayerfully read and consider:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

World Communion Sunday - One In Spirit

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,... that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

"I'm Methodist." "I'm Baptist." "I'm Catholic."  "I'm non-denominational.” “I’m just plain Christian!” With all our different labels and so many varieties of Christianity, no wonder non-Christians get confused when we try to share our faith in Jesus with them! 

Yet, consider the fact that our differences in belief and practice need NOT keep us apart in heart and spirit. Reflect, for example, on the words of John Wesley (founder of Methodist Christianity), spoken in one of his sermons over 250 years ago:

“Although we do not think or worship 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.  Every wise person... will allow others the same liberty of thinking which they desire others to... allow them. One should only ask... 'is thy heart right with God? Dost thou believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?  Is he revealed in thy soul?  Is thy faith... filled with the energy of love?  Do you show your love by your works?... 'If thine heart is as my heart,' if thou lovest God and all humankind, I ask no more -- 'give me thine hand.'"                                                                                             (--From Wesley’s sermon Catholic Spirit)

Remember, when we get to heaven, God won’t ask what denomination or Christian tradition we belonged to. But He WILL ask (and know) what’s in our hearts!  With that in mind, I hope you’ll join me on October 1st for World Communion Sunday worship!

As we’ve done in the past, we’ll have one combined, blended worship service at 10:30am in the Sanctuary with our sisters and brothers in Christ from the Korean United Methodist Church of LaGrange. Their Pastor (Rev. Daniel Kim) will help lead us in worship, and the Korean church choir will join both our BRIDGE praise band and choir in leading our singing. I hope you’ll join me as we celebrate our oneness with Christ in heart and spirit across cultures and the globe, starting right here in our own backyard with our Korean friends!  And remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Parable of the Lobster

“God is our refuge and strength.... Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change....” (Psalm 46:1-2)

As our church experiences several significant changes this Fall through transitioned worship and a new outreach to young adults, I thought it would be helpful for us all to remember the blessings and challenges of CHANGE – of being willing to stretch and become more than we already are.  Highlighting this, the following modern day parable comes from Rev. Carolyn Wittwer of the New York Annual Conference by way of Rev. Doug Smith, former Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Morristown, Tennessee:

Long ago, when the world was very new... there was a certain lobster who determined that the Creator had made a mistake.  So he set up an appointment to discuss the matter.  “With all due respect,” said the lobster, “I wish to complain about the way you designed my shell.  You see, I just get used to one outer casing, when I’ve got to shed it for another; very inconvenient and rather a waste of time.”  To which the Creator replied, “I see.  But do you realize that it is the giving up of one shell that allows you to grow into another?”

“But I like myself just the way I am,” the lobster said.  “Your mind’s made up?” the Creator said.  “Indeed!” the lobster stated firmly. “Very well,” smiled the Creator.  “From now on, your shell will not change... and you may go about your business just as you are right now.”  “That’s very kind of you,” said the lobster, and left.

At first, the lobster was very content with wearing the same old shell.  But as time passed, he found that his once light and comfortable shell was becoming quite heavy and tight.  After a while, in fact, the shell became so cumbersome that the lobster couldn’t feel anything at all outside himself.  As a result, he was constantly bumping into others. Finally, it got to the point where he could hardly breathe.  So with great effort, he went back to see the Creator.

“With all due respect,” the lobster sighed, “contrary to what you promised, my shell has not remained the same.  It keeps shrinking!”  “Not at all,” smiled the Creator.  “Your shell may have gotten a little thicker with age, but it has remained the same size.  What’s happened is that you have changed inside, beneath your shell.”
The Creator continued: “You see, everything changes... continuously.  No one remains the same.  That’s the way I’ve designed things.  And the wisest choice is to shed your old shell as you grow.”  “I see,” said the lobster, “but you must admit it is occasionally inconvenient and a bit uncomfortable.”

“Yes,” said the Creator, “but remember, all growth carries with it both the possibility of discomfort... and the potential for great joy as you discover new parts of yourself.  After all, you can’t have one without the other.” “That’s very sensible,” said the lobster. 

“If you’d like,” offered the Creator, “I’ll tell you something more.” “Please do!” encouraged the lobster.  “When you let go of your shell and choose to grow,” said the Creator, “you build new strength within yourself and in that strength you’ll find new capacity to love yourself... to love those around you... and to love life itself.  That is my plan for each of you.”

How is God calling you to stretch and change in your life?  in your faith?  What new thing(s) is He challenging you with lately?  In what ways are you and/or our church being called to be more than you/we have been?  Whatever transformation challenge you are facing, my hope and prayer is that even though change is often difficult and uncomfortable, you and we will all welcome it as a tool from God to help us become who He wants us to be.  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Ways You Can Help Following Hurricane Harvey

In the wake of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey, here are several ways that you and fellow United Methodists can respond now:

1. Continue to pray for those whose lives have been impacted by this storm.  Pray also for first responders, early Response Teams, disaster coordinators, and many volunteers in the Texas, Louisiana, Rio Texas, and Central Texas Annual Conferences who are working tirelessly to provide initial help.

2. Make a flood bucket or relief kit for United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).  Our church currently has been 50 flood buckets and a supplies donated by LaGrange Home Depot that you can pick up either in the Fellowship Hall, Sanctuary or Chapel after worship that you can take, fill it up with items on the list, and return to the church by September 10th.  The buckets will then be combined with buckets from other UM Churches and sent to an UMCOR distribution center in Louisiana and distributed to flood victims in Texas and Louisiana.  Alternately, you can make your own UMCOR bucket or relief kit at using the instructions at the FOLLOWING LINK.

3.  Purchase a Cupcake (or a whole bunch!) from our Children's Ministry.  Our children's ministry is being the "hands of Christ" by decorating and selling cupcakes to benefit the children of the First UMC of LaGrange, TX, many of whom have lost everything.   Our children are also donating a prized possession (toy, stuffed animal, etc) to a child there so they will have something to love on, but the main thing our congregation can do to help is purchase cupcakes.  They'll be available for sale in the Fellowship Hall Wednesday, September 6th or email our children's ministry HERE.

4.  In addition to UMCOR Relief Kits, please consider donating larger-ticket items for muck-out, including:
--Box fans (To dry out houses following flooding.)
--25’ heavy duty 14 gauge extension cords (To move the fans around inside a home)
--2 gallon garden sprayers (To fight mildew and mold)
--Flat billed shovels (Remove mud, wet carpet, pads, sheet rock insulation, etc.)
--Rakes with 3” tines (Remove tree limbs, leaves and muck from inside homes and yards)
--Wheel barrows (2 wheels, so they will not turn over going to the street)
If you want to donate any of the items above, please email our church’s Missions committee for instructions of how & where to take them.

5. Give money. You can donate through any North Georgia Conference United Methodist Church (including LFUMC) by clearly marking your donation “Hurricane Relief.”  Alternately, you can also give online directly at UMCOR’s website 

6.  Donate only those items requested.  Please wait for an invitation to volunteer.  The communities in the path of this storm are still in the emergency phase, and in this phase local emergency responders and community officials control the response and will let the public know what they need and when they need it.  Unsolicited items and volunteers only complicate and slow down relief to those affected. Proper response will take time to play out, and will require our time and attention long after the fact.  So, please wait for instructions and an invitation before doing more than what’s requested.

Thank you for your prayers, finances, and help providing relief to the victims of Harvey!  God bless you!

Pastor Brian

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Let Peace Begin With Me - EMBRACE LOVE

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21)

“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. (Psalm 34:14)

This past week has been filled with news stories of violence and hatred from both around the world (in Spain) and right here in our own country (Charlottesville, VA).

Some of you were at worship on August 13 when – with Pastor Blake standing at my side -- I read and reinforced the message of our North Georgia United Methodist Bishop, Sue Haupert-Johnson:

            “We in North Georgia need to, with one
             voice, speak  from our pulpits and
              condemn white supremacy, racism,
             the Alt-Right, and any of our church
             and governmental leaders who even
             appear to support these dangerous
             and sinful attitudes. You simply cannot
              be a white supremacist and a follower
              of Jesus. We need to pray and take action.”
                                          [--Bishop Sue’s August 12, 2017 
                                              email message to N.GA UM clergy]

Neither Blake nor I could have said it better ourselves!  As followers of Christ, there is simply no room in either our words or our behaviors for bigotry, racism, or prejudice -- anything to the contrary clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of the true ways and teachings of Jesus found in the Bible.  In his care for and ministry with Samaritans, “ladies of the night,” lepers, and even Gentiles, Jesus reached beyond the established racial and social customs of the day and sought to love everyone – and as his followers, we are called to do the same.

And yet, the love and peace of Christ is sometimes elusive because we find that – at times – there are tempting forces within ourselves vying to be heard.  The biblical story of Pilate asking the crowd to choose between releasing either Barabbas or Jesus metaphorically also asks them to choose between the way of violence and hate (represented by Barabbas), and the way of love and compassion (represented by Jesus).  Read this story in Matthew 27:15-23, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:18-25, and John 18:39-40.  In many ways, this choice haunts us today, and challenges each of us to ask ourselves, “What part am I playing in enabling peace and love to win out over prejudice, violence, and hate?

The plot of the 1986 movie The Mission highlights this choice between choosing the way of love or choosing the way of violence, and how – just as with Jesus – too often we choose the latter.  The very last scene of the movie shows a 18th-century religious leader in Paraguay who had ordered the removal of missionaries by force questioning those who carried it out why the brutality and slaughter that ensued was necessary.  One of them replies, “You had no alternative, your Eminence. We work in the world, and the world is thus.”  The religious leader replies, “No, SeƱor Hontes. Thus have we made the world….  Thus have I  made it.”

So, before we go around complaining about what someone else is not doing to bring peace and understanding, we need to first look deep inside ourselves and ask what we are doing to help foster them, and to make sure our actions are not the inadvertent cause of strife, prejudice and hatred.  The words of a famous hymn (that we actually sang at the end of the 9am Chapel service on August 13) say it well:

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me;
 Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
 With God our creator, children all are we.
 Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
 Let peace begin with me; let this be the moment now.
 With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow:
 To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.
 Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
            [--Words by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson (1955),  
                   cited from the United Methodist Hymnal #431]

May this be our prayer as we struggle in our world to choose the ways of Jesus (the “prince of peace”).  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

NOTE:  Our own United Methodist Church tradition is currently promoting a national campaign to encourage a unified stand against racism, challenging people to learn how we all can be a force for good. A compilation of articles and denominational statements is available at the FOLLOWING LINK.
            Resources from across the connection are also available, including liturgies, discussion guides, videos to use in worship and on social media, and tips for talking to kids. Explore some of these the FOLLOWING LINK.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Homecoming Coming!

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!  Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!.. [For] I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you,... says the Lord.” (Zephaniah 3:14 & 20)

Homecoming (Noun): “A return home; the return of a group of people... to a place formerly frequented or regarded as home” (Mirriam-Webster Dictionary).

“Homecoming” is a great tradition in many churches throughout America.  It’s a time to invite former church members, pastors and staff back “home” for a special time of fellowship and worship and eating to celebrate a common history and heritage.  Homecoming worship usually involves lots of great, rousing singing, inspiring special music, occasional special presentations, and a challenging sermon preached by a former pastor or staff minister.

It’s a time to reminisce about the past (what the church was like in the “good ole’ days!”), to celebrate the present (how the church has changed to meet current needs), and to be challenged with plans and visions for the future (how the church plans to grow to meet the needs of future generations).  In fact, it’s a foretaste of the great “homecoming” celebration that Zephaniah describes in the scripture above.

Here at LaGrange First U.M.C., the time has arrived as we celebrate this great tradition each year in the early Fall!  So, mark your calendars for Homecoming Sunday on August 27, from 10:30am to 1:00pm with food, fellowship, and worship featuring the preaching of former Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Gil Watson (now retired from our North Georgia United Methodist Conference). Worship will begin at 10:30am that day in the Sanctuary (with elements of our three weekly services in one, combined service), Sunday School classes will not meet (although we’ll still provide Nursery for young children), and we’ll conclude with a great covered dish luncheon in the Fellowship Hall (the church will provide meat).

I hope you’ll make plans now to be present!  It’s a day in the life of your church that you won’t want to miss!  I hope to see you there!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Lesson Of The Fire Coals

"Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another." (Hebrews 10:25)

There once was a member of a certain Christian congregation who, though once very active in her church, got “out of the habit” one summer and stopped attending and participating regularly.

A ministry team from church soon came to her house to let her know that she had been missed at church.  It was a chilly evening.  The team leader found her at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire in her fireplace.  Guessing the reason for the visit, the woman welcomed them, led them to a big couch near the fireplace, and waited.

The team made themselves comfortable but said nothing.  After a few minutes, the team leader took fire tongs sitting nearby, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember, and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone.

Then she sat back in the couch with the rest of the team, still silent.  The host watched all this in quiet fascination.  As the one ember's flame diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more.  Soon it was cold and "dead as a doornail."  Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting.

Just before the team was ready to leave, the leader picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.  As the team reached the door, the host said, "Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the 'fiery sermon.' I shall be back in worship Sunday."

This summer, if you’ve accidentally slipped into the habit of missing worship, remember (as this woman did) that  Christians grow and “glow” with the love of Christ best when we gather together to worship, study, and pray (as the scripture above indicates).  For those of you we’ve missed seeing this summer, I hope you back in worship soon!  After all, as the scripture above indicates, worship matters to God, so it should matter to us!

Here at LaGrangeFirst UMC, there’s a place for you in worship (click the previous link to find out more) Whether it’s using formal ritual, tradition, and music at either our 9:00am Chapel and 11:00am Sanctuary services, or using casual liturgy and song at our contemporary service that will move to 10:55am on September 10th and be renamed “THE BRIDGE, each of us needs regular corporate worship in order for our souls to be fed properly.

So, regardless of your pattern of worship up to now, I hope you’ll remember the lesson of the fire coals and plan to make a regular habit of worshipping with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as we move into Fall at LFUMC!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

2017-18 Bible Study Opportunities

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 spiritual people have never unlocked the power of this God-given tool because they’ve never taken time to actually study it in-depth with others.

That’s why each year our church offers various small-group experiences where you can spiritually learn and grow together with other Christians as you study God’s word.  Through daily readings and guided discussions 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 the power of group Bible studies.

Granted... such studies are not for the casual Christian.  They usually involve hard work, commitment, and diligence – but the rewards are literally “out of this world!”  I’ve heard many spiritual people talk about their desire to grow in and learn more about faith – being part of a group Bible study is one of the best ways around to help each of us do just that!

Next year (2017-18), here are four signature small group Bible studies that our church will be offering this Fall:
Disciple I "Fast Track" -- a 24-week introduction and overview of the entire Bible. This course is the prerequisite to any other "Disciple" course.  Offered on Tuesdays from 5:30pm-7pm, beginning August 15 (with time off before Thanksgiving thru Christmas). Find out more about this study HERE.
Disciple II "Fast Track" -- a 24-week in-depth study of Genesis-Exodus and Luke-Acts.  Offered on Sundays from 5:00pm-6:30pm, beginning August 13  (with time off before Thanksgiving thru Christmas). Find out more about this study HERE.
6-week study on the minor prophets Hosea, Joel, Amos, Habakkuk, and 
Malachi, using Scripture and other material.  Offered Wednesdays, 6:00-7:30pm, September 6-October 18 (but not Oct. 11).
           ● A 6-week study on David, using Scripture and other material.  Offered Wednesdays, 6:00-7:30pm October 25-December 6 (but not Nov. 22).

So if you’re serious about your faith growth and want to find out more, then I invite you to worship at any of our services on Sunday, June 23rd for our annual “Discipleship Sunday” to hear how our group Bible studies from this past year have impacted the hearts and lives of some of your fellow church family, and how you can experience it for yourself beginning this Fall 2017.  Your life will never be the same after you take a group Bible Study class!  So what are you waiting for?

Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Our Church's El Salvador Mission

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care – then… forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2:1-2 & 4, THE MESSAGE)

As you read this article, I and seven others from our church and community are representing LaGrange First UMC on a mission trip in Ahuachapan, El Salvador (about 2 hours west of the capital of San Salvador). And though we’ve had members and friends in the past who’ve participated in the mission trips of other churches, groups, and organizations, to my knowledge this is the first time in recent history that our church has sponsored a mission trip on its own -- that’s something to celebrate!

While there, we’ll be doing construction work helping to build a new Methodist church, we’ll lead a children’s Bible school, and will participate in a feeding and evangelism ministry.  All of this will be coordinated through the “SalvadoranMission Projects”, a ministry partnership between the Evangelical Methodist Church in El Salvador and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission in the United States, and who’s purpose is to improve the spiritual and physical lives of economically disadvantaged people living there.

Many of you have donated financially and otherwise over the last year to help make this trip possible -- thank you!!!  Please mark your calendars for July 9th, where trip participants will be sharing testimony during all our worship services about the work that God accomplished through the team (and they’ll be available after that for Sunday School and other group programs, as well).

In the meantime, however, please continue to be in prayer not only for our team’s safety and safe travels, but most importantly for the work we’re doing there as your (and God’s) representatives.

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

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 ““Show Your Work: Creative Worship That Inspires Action.”  Linda Frano, Trish Germano, Blake Trent, and myself are all attending as our church’s delegates, and others from our church will also 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; appointments of pastors to local churches are finalized (we celebrate that our Bishop – Sue Haupert-Johnson - has re-assigned both myself and Blake Trent to LaGrange First UMC as your Senior and Associate Pastor, respectively); 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 our denomination’s Ministerial Education Fund”); 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 ( and click on the 2017 Annual Conference banner).  Also, thanks for your prayers, both for ourselves as your representatives, and for the