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!