Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Safe Families for Children

“True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.” (James 1:27)

In the last week of 2007, Chicago was shocked by the actions of a young mother who quietly exited a train with her 3-year-old daughter leaving behind her two sons, ages 6 and 4.  Fellow passengers frantically attempted to get the mother’s attention, but she walked away, abandoning her young boys. Similar incidents of parents being unable to care for their children occur with greater frequency than many of us are aware, and not just in big cities. 

Here in LaGrange/Troup County, as well, many parents often find it difficult to adequately care for their children during times of crisis. For example, under current economic conditions, many families experience financial crisis, unemployment, and homelessness. Often these situations result in, or are made worse by, other hardships such as family violence, drug or alcohol use, physical or mental illness, or incarceration.

“Safe Families for Children” [www.safe-families.org] is a volunteer movement across the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Africa that connects the children of parents in distress with host families from local churches who’ve answered God’s call to open their hearts, arms and homes to serve vulnerable children in need.  

The experience starts at church, where host families are invited not only to change the lives of a fellow family for the better, but to enrich their own with untold blessings by living out the gospel of Jesus Christ. By hosting vulnerable children temporarily (on average slight less than 40 days) along with support from the church, this extended family environment helps keep children (usually 5 years old or younger) safe and reunite families (93% return to their parent or relative).

Since its beginning in 2003, Safe Families has placed over 20,000 children in host families in over 1000 participating churches across the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Africa, and Sunday, April 30th our church will officially be added to this number as we become a partner congregation of this international ministry (sponsored locally under the umbrella of Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services).

I hope you will join me on that day not only during worship but also for the “no-strings-attached” luncheon at 12Noon in the Fellowship Hall where we’ll have a brief program sharing more details about this ministry and how you can be a part of it.  The Bible is clear that – among other things -- one of our tasks as followers of Jesus is to look after the needs of at-risk children and other vulnerable people (the “orphans and widows” of the James 1:27 scripture, above).

I am excited that our church (through the leadership of our Missions Committee) has chosen to partner with Twin Cedars to become a “Safe Families for Children” church. To find out more about how you can become involved, be sure to attend worship and the luncheon on Sunday, April 30th, or if you have to miss that day you can email missions@lagrangefumc.org.  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

He's Alive!


Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!” (Luke 24:5)

Growing up as a young Christian, I remember one of the most meaningful songs I heard on the radio was a Contemporary Christian rock ballad by Don Francisco called “He’s Alive!”  It later went on to become the 1980 Dove Award’s Song of the Year. Because it is written in ballad form, you don’t need to know the tune to enjoy the power of its words:

“The gates and doors were barred and all the windows fastened down,
I spent the night in sleeplessness and rose at every sound,
Half in hopeless sorrow half in fear the day,
Would find the soldiers crashing through to drag us all away.
Then just before the sunrise I heard something at the wall,
The gate began to rattle and a voice began to call,
I hurried to the window and looked down to the street,
Expecting swords and torches and the sound of soldiers feet,

There was no one there but Mary so I went down to let her in,
John stood there beside me as she told us where she'd been,
She said they moved him in the night and none of us knows where,
The stone's been rolled away and now his body isn't there.
We both ran toward the garden then John ran on ahead,
We found the stone and the empty tomb just the way that Mary said,
But the winding sheet they wrapped him in was just an empty shell,
And how or where they'd taken him was more than I could tell.

Something strange had happened there but what I did not know,
John believed a miracle but I just turned to go,
Circumstance and speculation couldn't lift me very high,
Cause I'd seen them crucify him and then I'd watched him die,
Back inside the house again all the guilt and anguish came,
Everything I'd promised him just added to my shame,
But at last it came to choices I denied I knew his name,
Even If he was alive it wouldn't be the same.

But suddenly the air was filled with a strange and sweet perfume,
Light that came from everywhere drove shadows from the room,
Jesus stood before me with his arms held open wide,
And I fell down on my knees and clung to him and cried,
He raised me to my feet and as I looked into his eyes,
Love was shining out from him like sunlight from the sky,
Guilt and my confusion disappeared in sweet release,
And every fear I'd ever had just melted into peace.

He's alive, He's alive, He's alive and I'm forgiven,
Heavens gates are open wide.
He's alive, He's alive, He's alive and I'm forgiven,
Heavens gates are open wide.
He's alive, He's alive, He's alive and I'm forgiven,
Heavens gates are open wide.   He's alive!”

[--Written & performed by Don Francisco, 1980 Dove Award Song of the Year
© Warner/Chappell Music Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group]

May the news that Jesus is alive bring hope and joy to your life today!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Paradox of Jesus

Think of yourself the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God, but... instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.”  (Philippians 2:5,8, The Message)

On that first Palm Sunday, with all the shouts of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”, one would have expected Jesus to enter Jerusalem on a mighty horse --a symbol of might and power. 
But instead, he chose a lowly donkey.  Before he could come as a King to reign, he had to come as a Savior to die.   Consider the many contrasts of Jesus' life, described by one writer:

            “He who is the Bread of Life began his ministry hungering;

             He who is the Water of Life ended his ministry thirsting;

             Christ hungered as a human, yet fed the hungry as God;

             He was weary, yet he is our perfect rest;

             He paid tribute, yet he is a King himself;

             He was called the Devil, yet he cast out demons;

             He prayed, and yet he is the one who hears our prayers;

             He wept, and yet he is the one who dries our tears;

             He was sold for 30 pieces of silver, yet he redeems sinners;

             He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, yet he is called 'The Good Shepherd';

             He who is the Resurrection gave up his own life, and by dying, he destroyed
                  death itself.”

As we approach Holy Week (beginning April 9), it is good to recall the wondrous love that God has for each one of us in giving his only son for our salvation.  Remember, Jesus suffered and died then so that we might have victory and life today as Christians.
Our salvation might be free to us, but it cost Jesus everything! Blessed, therefore, is Christ, who comes in the name of the Lord!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!