Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Defying Gravity


“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” (Matthew 19:21-22)

Many of us want to experience the significance of blessing others, but feel trapped by past decisions, and misled by a society that bombards us with messages about the need to “have more” and “have better.”  The good news is that Jesus offers us a way to defy this pull and break free from the culture of “more”!

To equip us for this task, during the month of October, McKendree UMC will be celebrating a church wide stewardship journey called “Defying Gravity.” Each Sunday, we’ll explore aspects regarding the “gravity” of the cultural obsession with “more” and “better,” and examine Jesus’ remedy for “defying” it:  a generous life.  We’ll learn what the Bible says that is, why it brings people joy, and why it can be so hard to experience. 

There will also be exercises and challenges to help us all to consider how to actually achieve it through a proper understanding of, and relationship with, money and possessions.  One of these opportunities will be a community-wide Clothing Drive October 13-20 — please mark your calendar now and start setting aside your gently-used clothing that you can donate.  It will all culminate with a Celebration Sunday on October 27.

I pray that you’ll join me and your fellow sisters and brothers in Christ during the month of October as we explore what it means to “Defy Gravity” and reach the potential that’s within each of us to become the people and church that God wants us to be!  For more information, visit www.mckendreeumc.org/defying-gravity.  Remember, God  loves you and I do, too!


Monday, September 23, 2019

"Bless Your Neighbor" Inspiring Stories


A little over a month ago – during the first sermon in our “Party Planning” sermon series -- I offered an invitation and challenge to reach out over the next month or so and to “bless your neighbor” using one or more of the ideas shared in the bulletin insert that day (Click HERE for the posting of these in this blog). 

Then, I invited you to share some of those stories with me as a form of inspiration and encouragement to/with your fellow church members.  While many of you verbally shared things that you did to “bless your neighbors,” as promised, here are a few of the stories that I received via email:

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We had to take some trees down in our yard, and went ahead and paid for the neighbor’s tree to come down too. Not a random tree, of course, one that needed to come down anyway.

We had a woman in our neighborhood whose house was repossessed last week. She’s older, with 2 full time jobs. She was caring for her autistic adult son was living with her, and I guess he’s now living with his dad, which is a bad situation for him. She was also the main caregiver for her grandson, and other random family. She’s currently sleeping on a friend’s couch,… and I don’t know if we can go that far to help her with GDOS. I’m trying to get to the bottom of what services she may need (besides money, of course) so we can get her on the docket.

There are many children in our neighborhood that have absent parents. I am so blessed to be the neighborhood “mom” to many of these children. They come over just to show me their new shoes, or share a good grade, play games with [my husband], or just hang around with a family who accepts them in with real generosity of love.


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Pastor, I dropped off this blackberry cobbler and card at a new neighbor's house Sunday. I had thought of doing it before the sermon series began and once you preached on it, well, it was a done deal.

I got to meet our new neighbors from Kansas and their two preschool daughters. It was a front porch visit that only lasted a few minutes. Pretty painless - for me at least - don't know how that cobbler tasted!

Thanks for the extra "nudge!"











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A few days later, this same member shared this note…)

This one moved in next door and got a pineapple crisp. Look what you started!



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My wife and I just moved to a new neighborhood, so this sermon gave us the “excuse” and nudge we needed to introduce ourselves to our new neighbors. We learned not only the names of the families around us, but where their kids went to school and where the parents worked. It was a great way to get to know our new neighborhood! Thank you!

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Thank you all for the blessings that you shared with your neighbors!  Keep up the good work throughout the rest of this year and the next!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

McKendree Beyond the Walls: New Online Worship Ministry Coming Soon!


“[Jesus said,] ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.’” (Mark 16:15)

Over the last ten years, increased access to the internet has transformed the way people interact and communicate. It’s almost impossible to be in a public place for more than a few minutes without seeing someone use a smartphone to check Facebook, read an article, or send a quick text.  In observing this, churches across the world have increasingly acknowledged the need to stay relevant to the needs of today’s high-tech era meeting contemporary people where they are:  online.   

We here at McKendree UMC already offer a great church website, a helpful weekly “Happenings” eBlast email, and a robust platform for online sign-ups and giving.  However, starting September 15th, we are proud to introduce and add live-streaming and online worship to our repertoire of ministry tools to help us to be about “nurturing community, [and] connecting all to Christ.”

As you’re reading, you may be asking yourself, “Why would someone sit at home and attend a virtual church on their computer when they could go to church with their neighbors and be together in the same building?”  Let me share three important benefits that this new ministry will help us do better in our church’s mission and ministry:

1.         Introducing New People to McKendree UMC
Live online video streaming (and storing several weeks’ worth of online worship for later viewing) will allow us to reach people we’ve never reached before. Imagine someone who’s never set foot in a church, whose parents never spoke about God, and whose friends don’t identify with religion. Still, that person might be curious about the Bible and wants to learn more. Though we’ve all driven by hundreds of churches, most people who fit this description will start their search on Google instead of walking through the doors of a church.  Offering our services online can show them a glimpse of who we are as a faith community that they may eventually choose to visit. 

What’s more is that even for those who are already Christians, before they move here, many  often search online for the new church they want to be part of.  Showcasing our sermons and services online can allow them to be more comfortable with who we are, what we’re about, and what they should expect from our ministry; it lets new families see if we are the right fit for them as a church

2.         Connection for Those Who Are Away
On an average Sunday morning, most churches in America (including our own) could fill the rosters of several baseball teams with people who have stayed home - either because they’re sick, or because they’re caring for someone one who is. One of the most practical and consistently relevant applications of streaming is that it allows (for example) the 34-year-old mother to stay at home with her coughing 6- year-old while still tuning into take part in her weekly Bible study, or the 95-year old shut in who was a backbone of our church when he was younger but not now able to attend – with the help of his family, online worship can be a way for him to re-connect with his church family.

And what about members of the military or missionaries from our church who may be deployed or temporarily living abroad?  They can watch one of our services at the same time as family members who are still at home. Perhaps afterwards, the family goes home for lunch and Skype with the missing parent. Now, around the dinner table, they can all talk about the same service, share what touched them, etc. It might be midnight where mom is deployed, but she feels like she just stepped out of church and is having lunch with her family. For just a moment, she feels like she's home instead of half a world away.


Finally, what about when we’re on vacation? Most of us have good intentions while we’re away, but visiting a new congregation as a guest is different than experiencing worship with your own church family. With live streaming, you’ll be able to worship with your fellow McKendree family, even if you’re away on vacation.

3.         Sharing of Important Moments/Events in Life
Every year, our church hosts hundreds of important events - weddings, holiday concerts, bible studies, Baptisms, Confirmations, VBS, funerals, and more.  Sometimes, however, the people who want to be there just can’t make it.  Being able to watch the event streamed live (or even recorded) lets these people share those important moments, despite their physical distance.

You might be able to think of a lot more, but these are just a few to demonstrate that, when used properly, online worship and ministry never takes the place of in-person ministry, but merely enhances and strengthens it!  By offering this new form of worship, we have the possibility of taking McKendree’s ministry beyond our walls and connecting with more people than ever before! 

So, join us September 15 for the inaugural pubic streaming of our worship services (normally we’ll stream the 9:30am service, but that day we’ll be streaming both 9:30am and 11am services) either by visiting our church’s website mckendreeumc.org and clicking on the “Sermons” tab (HERE), or by going to YouTube.com and searching for “McKendree UMC” (HERE).  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!


[Note: the points of this blog are inspired by an April 5, 2017 article by Lena Kelly at https://www.boxcast.com/blog/top-5-reasons-your-church-should-be-live-streaming]



Sunday, August 11, 2019

"Bless Your Neighbor" Creative Ideas

This past Sunday, our bulletin contained the following message "from God" and ideas about how to "bless our neighbors," and I invited and challenged us all to do at least one of the following over the next 2-3 months and then to email me the story of what happened when you did that.  For those who were not present, or for those who would like to see the list again, here are some ideas to get you started about ways to "bless your neighbors":

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Over the next few months, you are cordially invited to “Bless Your Neighbors” using any of the following creative ideas (or others inspired by these).  May they help you both get to know and bless your neighbors with simple acts of kindness, so that you can have opportunities to invite them to my “party” (a relationship of faith with me!).  Love, GOD

● Learn the names of five neighbors on your street who you don’t presently know. Introduce yourself and ask your neighbors’ names when you run into them at the mailbox, in the yard, etc. Then call them by name and say “hello” the next time you see them. Also, pray for these neighbors on your own for at least a month.

● Make an effort to smile and wave to neighbors whenever you are driving or walking in your neighborhood. Be the friendly face to your neighbors.

● Take a “Prayer Walk” in your neighborhood. Say hello and even stop to chat with any neighbors you encounter. As you walk, silently pray for each of your neighbors.  You can also take a trash bag with you and pick up litter.

● Sponsor a Block Party for your neighborhood (If there are several fellow McKendree UMC church members that live in your neighborhood, consider co-sponsoring this jointly with them).

● During back-to-school month, look for a way to bless a school crossing guard who works in or near your neighborhood. You could drop off some cookies with a note of appreciation, then pray on your own for God to bless that individual. Also, pray for each school that you drive past during the day.

● Look for people in your neighborhood who are going through life changes, such as a retirement, birth of a baby, death in the family, etc. Send this person an appropriate card and pray for them on your own during their time of transition.

● Invite a few neighbors that you have been getting to know over to watch a baseball or football game and eat hot dogs, burgers, chili, or nachos.

● Take something to your neighbors that was either cooked or grown by you (such as cookies, tomatoes, flowers, bread, etc.), along with simple note in a friendship card. Consider including a simple Bible reference to a verse about loving and serving your neighbor (like John 13:34, Romans 12:10-12, or 1 Peter 4:10).

● In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, give a neighbor a loaf of pumpkin bread. Focus on a neighbor who might not have Thanksgiving plans (the elderly, single folks, families with extended family who are out of town, etc.) and invite them to share your Thanksgiving meal. Enclose a note saying that in this season of thanksgiving, you give thanks for them as a neighbor.

● In December, go Christmas caroling in your neighborhood with your family or a few neighbors you already know. Pass out a bag of hot chocolate mix with a note at each house. Then invite each neighbor that you serenade to meet at your house in an hour for Christmas cookies and coffee. Also, invite them to grab their coat and join you in caroling if they can.  Have our church’s Advent invitation cards available to use as invitation tools at your home.

● Ask God for other creative ideas and things that might bless your neighbor and then try them out!  (A good test is: would such an act/action bless you?  If so, it will probably bless your neighbor, too).

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Back to School... Back to Church


“Return to me and I will return to you, says the Lord of heavenly forces.” (Malachi 3:7b)

Within the next week or so, our children and teenagers will be heading back to school to start a new school year.  This should be a reminder to the rest of us that it’s also time to start back to church if we’ve gotten out of the habit over the summertime!  And just so everyone feels welcome and “at home”, here are some special things we’ll be providing this Fall:

--Cots will be placed in the Narthex for those who say ‘Sunday is my only day to sleep late’

--Steel helmets will be provided for those who say ‘The roof would cave in if I ever came to church!’

--Blankets will be furnished for those who say the church is too cold, and fans will be given to those who think it’s too hot.

--We’ll have hearing aids available for those who say ‘the preacher talks to soft’, cotton for those who think that he talks too loud, and a few “Slow Down” road signs for those who think he talks too fast.

--There will be TV dinners for those who say they can’t go to church and cook lunch for their family at the same time.

--We’ve renovated part of our Sanctuary to have grass and trees for those who feel closest to God in nature, and part of the grassy area will have a putting green for those who think that Sunday morning should be for golfing.

--We’ve turned some of the pews to face backwards, so that those who say ‘I’ll come to church when I get my life turned around’ will feel at home without ever having to do that.

--We’ve also built several small, private rooms connected to the Sanctuary for those who say that they worship God at home alone, by themselves.

--And finally, the Church will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never been to church without them.

Okay… so we won’t really be doing all of these things.  But it does highlight some of the many silly excuses we use for not coming to church!

This Fall as our children and youth head back to school, why not put away your excuses and renew the habit of coming back weekly to the place where you can meet and grow with God, fellowship with people who care about you, and find a sense of purpose and meaning to life.  “Seven days without worship make one weak!  I hope that won’t apply to you! 

I look forward to seeing you in church!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, July 1, 2019

2019-20 Small Group Bible Studies




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 school year (2019-20), our church will be offering at least three signature small group Bible studies:

Disciple I -- a 34-week introduction and overview of the entire Bible. This course is the prerequisite to any other "Disciple" course.  We’ll have two Disciple 1 groups beginning in August, one offered on Sunday mornings, and another offered on Wednesday evenings. Find out more about this study HERE.

Christian Believer -- a 30-week class giving an overview of essential Christian beliefs. Participants learn classical teachings of the Christian faith through the use of words, symbols, and hymns, exploring writings of ancient and modern Christian commentators to help understand the basics of Christian faith.  Offered Sunday afternoons starting in August.  Find out more about this study HERE.

Alpha – an 11-week introduction to the basics of Christian faith – what it means to be a Christian and live life as a Christian.  We’ll be offering this study on Sunday afternoons beginning in August.  Find out more about this study HERE.

Biblical Perspectives on Human Sexuality  -- an in-depth study of how the Bible address human sexuality.  Participants will study and learn about different biblical interpretations, with the goal not being to change opinions but to broaden understanding.  Offered Tuesdays at 7pm, September 3-October 8.

Good News That Changes Everything -- a six-week study by Melissa Spoelstra about faith, grace, daily life, God's plans, relationships and eternity based on the Book of Romans.  Monday nights starting September 12.

Discerning the Voice of God -- a 7-week study by Priscilla Shirer discovering the route to clear and daily communication with God through humble obedience.  Wednesdays at 9:30am starting September 18.

Women of Valor -- a women's Bible study group meeting Wednesday at 10am starting September 4.

In addition, we’ll also continue to offer additional short-term small group studies like Wednesday Night “Hot Topics,” Sunday morning “Connect Groups,” and others. 

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, July 21st for “Grow in Love 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 these and others for yourself beginning this Fall. We’ll also feature more details about each of these opportunities in upcoming Sunday bulletins and weekly church-wide “Happenings” eBlasts.

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!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

2019 North Georgia Annual Conference


“And 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)

June 11-14, over 2800 delegates representing the 1000 churches and 350,000+ United Methodists in North Georgia will gather at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia for the North Georgia Annual Conference with the theme “One With Each Other.”  Linda Kent, Danielle Neal, Ryan Miller, and myself are all attending as our church’s delegates, and several other McKendree members will also be attending as general delegates from our Atlanta-Emory 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 (we celebrate that a former Youth and Associate Minister, Joe Palmer, will be commissioned this year!); appointments of pastors to local churches are finalized (both Ryan and I celebrate that we will be re-appointed as your Pastors here at McKendree UMC); 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” (this year, it will support the pastoral care program of Wesley Woods Senior Centers); and more! And this year, we will also be electing clergy and laity delegates to represent us all at the regular session of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in May 2020.

Upon our return, we’ll give a 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 (HERE),  Also, thank you for your prayers, both for ourselves as your representatives, and for the Conference itself.  Always remember, God loves you and I do too!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Spring: Signs of New Life


“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.” (Mark 13:28)

If you’re like me, apart from the pollen, Spring is among my most favorite times of the year. Plants begin to bud, trees and flowers start to bloom, there is a warmth in the air, and everywhere one can see signs of new life springing up after the cold and apparent deadness of winter.

This is, of course, why springtime is often used as a metaphor for the Christian season of Easter (which is not just a day but an entire season lasting for 40 days after Easter Sunday!).  During this time, we celebrate the new life that Jesus spent with his disciples following his resurrection.

But Spring is also a metaphor for our own personal lives – for the fact that every one of us has “winters” from which God’s power can wake us up and bring us back to life through the warmth and new life of his “Son” Jesus.  For some of us, those “winters” take the form of grief, job loss, pain and hurt from the severing of a relationship, financial insecurities, and other things.  But the resurrection of Jesus can give us not only hope for a better future, but actually begin in us a new life in that hope, as well.

Yet, I believe that Spring is also a fitting metaphor for what our church here at McKendree UMC is experiencing this year, as well.  While we certainly have a strong past to celebrate, this Spring we are also seeing signs of renewed life and vitality in and through our church’s ministries and programs.  If you were around for Holy Week, you know that we experienced very meaningful and moving services on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. But in addition, we also saw over 1100 people in worship on Easter Sunday itself, we welcomed 30 new members into our fellowship on April 28th (including 19 youth confirmands!), we’ve experienced increased financial giving in April, are already having great response to signs up for our upcoming children’s Vacation Bible School, summer camps, and Fall 2019 Preschool program, and our church’s Vision Team continues their good and fruitful work on our behalf to discern God’s future for all of us.

As with Spring and Jesus’ resurrection, all of these things are indicators that something good is happening here at McKendree, and that even greater things are still to come!  So, wherever you find yourself in your own personal spiritual walk with God, my prayer is that you will use this season of Spring as a time to re-engage and re-connect with the God’s work through McKendree UMC.  You’ll be blessed when you do!  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Christ Is Risen!!!

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

“Christ is risen! Shout Hosanna! Celebrate this day of days.
Christ is risen! Hush in wonder; all creation is amazed.
In the desert all surrounding, see, a spreading tree has grown.
Healing leaves of grace abounding bring a taste of love unknown.

Christ is risen! Raise your spirits from the caverns of despair.
Walk with gladness in the morning. See what love can do and dare.
Drink the wine of resurrection, not a servant, but a friend;
Jesus is our strong companion. Joy and peace shall never end.

Christ is risen! Earth and heaven nevermore shall be the same.
Break the bread of new creation where the world is still in pain.
Tell its grim, demonic chorus: 'Christ is risen! Get you gone!'
God the First and Last is with us. Sing Hosanna everyone!”
       [–Brian Wren, from The United Methodist Hymnal, #307]

What appropriate words! After all, isn't that the message of Easter?... that suffering and pain and death and evil are never the last word? All the sacrifices of Lent, and all of the tragedies and struggles of life merely lead us to the new life of Easter, just as Christ's own sacrifice and suffering led him to the victory of the Resurrection.

So remember, no matter what you're facing today, Easter has come to tell us that through faith in Jesus, God's victory can be ours, as well! So along with the hymn-writer, this Sunday our hearts all join to sing: “Christ is risen! Shout Hosanna! Celebrate this day of days!”

All of these things should help enable us to focus more on the reason for the day: Jesus Is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Fast and Feast


“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call an assembly” (Joel 2:15)

A number of years ago, Dr. Kevin LaGree, former Dean of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, once shared a message about the spiritual disciplines of the Christian season of Lent (the 40 days before Easter), which we are currently a little more than halfway through.  

Most of us are familiar with the custom of “fasting” (e.g., giving up) certain things during this period, especially certain types of food.  But Dr. LaGree also challenged those who were listening that the taking on of certain spiritual things is just as vital as the things that we “give up.”

During that message, he said, “Lent is a time to FAST from certain things and FEAST on others.  For example, during Lent, we should….

FAST from judging others; FEAST on Christ dwelling in them.

FAST from discontent; FEAST on gratitude.

FAST from complaining; FEAST on appreciation.        

FAST from bitterness; FEAST on forgiveness.

FAST from discouragement; FEAST on hope.

FAST from apathy; FEAST on enthusiasm.

FAST from suspicion; FEAST on truth.

FAST from thoughts that weaken; FEAST on promises that inspire.

FAST from idle gossip; FEAST on purposeful silence.

FAST from problems that overwhelm; FEAST on prayer that sustains.”

LENT is indeed a time for both fasting and feasting.  My prayer is that as we continue in the remaining weeks and days of this season before Easter, if we haven’t already, each of us will take time to look deep within our lives first to discover those things from which we need to FAST from (give up).  Then, let us also FEAST upon (take on) good things that can draw us closer to God’s presence, plan, and purpose in and for our lives.  

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Remembering Our Brokenness


“Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love! Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion! Wash me completely clean of my guilt; purify me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:1-2, CEB)

This Wednesday (March 6, “Ash Wednesday”), Christians around the world will begin our annual journey towards Easter with 40 days (not including Sundays) of spiritual preparation.  Known as “Lent” (from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, “spring”), it’s a season in which we are reminded of how – like springtime bringing life back to the deadness of winter – the “winters” of our spiritual lives can be brought back to life through Jesus Christ.

As such, one of the major themes of this season is the remembrance of our brokenness and inclination toward sin and wrongdoing as human beings.  In the words of one traditional liturgy for the receiving of ashes, we are asked to “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  All of this invites us to confront our own mortality, and to confess our own sin and shortcomings before God within His imperfect community of faith, the Church.

When we recall this reality, it tends to put all of our prideful human wisdom and knowledge into proper perspective.  In our human divisions, no longer can we arrogantly proclaim that our “side” has all the “answers” to life, or holds the one and only “correct” view about truth or God’s kingdom.  It reminds us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1-5 about the dangers of judging others of the unrepentant sin in their life before we first judge ourselves for the unrepentant sin in our own – “first take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye,” Jesus says there.

The reality, you see, is that none of us as broken and imperfect human beings is worthy of the love of a holy and perfect God.  Consequently, a major message of Lent is that we ALL stand in need of prayer, repentance, and God’s healing and forgiveness.  And the good news is that Lent is also a recognition of God’s power and ability (and desire) to do all of these in our lives!  The ashes that we place on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are a way of God saying to each one of us, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).  The entire Lenten season, in fact, is God’s way of saying that our human brokenness – though significant and deep – is never the end of the story… that His power through Jesus overcomes even our human brokenness and sin.

So, I don’t know what you stand in need of forgiveness from God for in your life today.  Perhaps it’s a spouse or family member who has hurt you that you are holding a grudge against.  Perhaps it’s something you did or said that you know you shouldn’t have done or said.  Perhaps it’s the way you treated a workmate, schoolmate, or fellow member of your church.  Perhaps it’s a feeling of despair or even anger over the recent General Conference decision.  As for me (while much improved)… I still am in need of healing from a hardness of heart I allowed to develop within me from my experiences at a previous church – that is my brokenness.

But whatever it is for you, this Lenten season, I encourage and invite you to allow God to bring you His healing and forgiveness, so that you may be whole once again.  Remember the words of Psalm 51 at the top of this post – God always has “faithful love” and “great compassion” towards us, and that it’s that love and compassion which enables Him to “Wipe away [our] wrongdoings…”, to “wash [us] completely clean of [our] guilt” and to “purify [us] from [our] sin!”

Yes, you and I (and all around us, in the church and outside it) are broken human beings.  However, through Jesus Christ, we can be forgiven, healed and made whole again!  During these next 40 days of Lent, will you claim his wholeness for you? Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Results of General Conference 2019

"With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love…" (Ephesians 4:2-3)

I

As most of you may now know, 864 delegates (half lay, half clergy) from United Methodist churches all over the world met for a called special session of General Conference in St. Louis, MO through yesterday afternoon (February 26) to discuss and act on the report called the “Commission on a Way Forward” relating to the matter of human sexuality.   After passionate debate, two efforts to pass what was known as the “One Church Plan” failed by small margins, and the delegates instead passed what is known as the “Traditional Plan” by a vote of 438 to 384 (52% approval rate).

This plan essentially leaves intact the current denominational policies that do not allow ordination of LGBTQ clergy candidates, and which do not allow our clergy to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.  However, it also adds new mandatory accountability structures for clergy who violate these policies.  While it’s unclear how constitutional these new structures will end up being, the intent was clearly to uphold and better enforce our current policies regarding human sexuality.  A minority report petition on “disaffiliation” also passed, which would potentially allow graceful exits from the denomination for clergy and churches who disagree.  (For a more complete article on the results, read HERE, or also find a variety of result links from our North Georgia delegation HERE).

II

In light of this decision, some UMs are ecstatic and have a great sense of satisfaction. Others are in great shock, anguish, and deeply hurt by what transpired.  Regardless of where you are personally, please know that I am praying for you -- that God would be with you wherever you are, and will use this decision to bring about a more perfect and faithful church, even while using broken and imperfect people like you and me to do it.

To those who hold traditional views, I would invite and urge you not to gloat or feel smug in this decision, which was by no means a mandate (the Traditional plan passed by a slim 54 votes; nearly half of the delegates did NOT vote for it). Instead I encourage you to exhibit humility in what transpired, and invite you to reach out and extend biblical charity and comfort to your brothers and sisters who have felt deeply hurt and betrayed by this decision. Practice the words of 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.” You may not agree with them theologically, but they are still your sisters and brothers in Christ.

To those who feel hurt, I would likewise urge you not to do anything rash, but instead to trust that God is working even now to bring about a greater good that we can’t yet see -- God always has a way of doing that through the biggest and most painful disappointments in our lives!  Please remember, too, that 2/3 of American United Methodists do not and did not support the plan that was adopted – its support came from a coalition of 1/3 of the American delegates and almost all of the international delegates (who make up 40% of our denomination’s membership).  Also, we do not really yet know how this decision will play out (or if it will):  the adopted plan (or parts of it) may be ruled unconstitutional by our denomination’s Judicial Council at its meeting April 23-25;  there are also rumors of a new denomination that may emerge to more faithfully represent a different vision for the UMC.  My point is that since God is bigger than this decision, you do not need to fear the present or future -- He will be with you and us all!

III

On a personal basis, I feel it important to share full disclosure that I am among those who are deeply disappointed by this decision. …not because I am “progressive” in my views of human sexuality – in general, I am not.  No. I am disappointed because the approach taken by the Traditional Plan, in my opinion, lacked charity and a gracious spirit in failing to acknowledge or even allow for the reality that deeply committed Christians can, do, and will continue to hold differing views on this and many other subjects, and yet still be faithful, deeply committed, biblical followers of Jesus Christ

The adopted plan mandates that all United Methodists must think exactly the same on this particular subject, with no room for any contrary opinions – a view which I believe is not only unbiblical, but inconsistent with a truly Methodist vision of Christianity.  In his 1771 sermon “Catholic Spirit,” the founder of Methodism John Wesley once wrote “although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think 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. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works” (Paragraph 4 of his sermon Intro; Read the entire sermon HERE). 

Some have tried to frame this debate in terms of biblical authority – as if one “side” is based on scripture and the other is not.  But nothing could be further from the truth. In my humble opinion, this debate was not (and still is not) about biblical authority but about biblical interpretation -- both conservatives and progressives claim the Bible to be God’s authoritative word.  What’s under debate is not the authority of scripture, but what exactly that means.  Wesley’s words above illustrate that for centuries, Methodist Christians have felt it possible to have a gracious spirit that allows for differences of biblical interpretation, while still holding to the fundamental authority of scripture itself.

What I fear that this decision will do is embolden some (as others already have done) to create within the church a pharisaical atmosphere similar to the one that Jesus experienced in his own ministry -- one where genuine, prayerful, Spirit-led dialogue and debate is not only discouraged, but is at times ruthlessly silenced (we’ve seen that multiple times throughout church history, in fact).  Such an environment stifles the God-created, God-inspired diversity found in holy scripture, and is inconsistent with the diversity of our God who is “three in one” and “one in three” (the Holy Trinity).  Consequently, I believe that adoption of this plan will not really “settle” the debate, but may instead actually inflame and invigorate it even more (which may be a good thing).

From a legal standpoint, in mandating prescribed punishments for clergy who violate its rules, the plan deprives offenders of due process -- something alone which may be ruled unconstitutional in April by our Judicial Council. 

Finally, contrary to scripture itself, I believe this decision has sent a signal to the world -- however unintentionally -- that truth is indeed more important to us United Methodists than love, and that the legalism of the Pharisees (holding to the “letter” of the law) is more valuable to us than the gracious spirit of Jesus (holding to the “spirit” of the law).

So yes, I am hurting for my more “progressive” friends and colleagues who hold a different view than my own, and who (I fear) think that their voice and presence in the church is not  welcomed or important.  Consequently, I still dream of a church where people can honor and respect one another’s differing views without the need question their fidelity to scripture or their faithfulness to God’s word. Unfortunately, this is not what was adopted yesterday.

IV

Despite all that I have said, however, I do need to point out that while the adopted plan will not change our current official UM view that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that LGBTQ persons cannot be ordained as clergy, it nevertheless also continues to affirm (paragraph 161(G) of our Book of Discipline) that…All persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.” Consequently, we will still accept LGBTQ persons into church membership and engage in ministry with them – this decision does not change that reality, even for my Traditionalist friends.  After all, Jesus did not come to call people to their need for a particular sexual orientation, but to their need for a Savior. As Gods church, we should do no less.

As to where we are headed as a denomination generally (and as McKendree UMC specifically), at this point it is really too soon to say.  There are many things still be worked through from this decision.  I and other clergy and laity throughout our North Georgia United Methodist Conference will be meeting with our Bishop, Sue Haupert-Johnson on March 21, and will be with others in our Atlanta-Emory District on March 24 to debrief about what happened and talk about “next steps.”  After that, I should hopefully be in a better position to answer specific questions about where all this will take us.  In the meantime, I urge you to stay the course!

As I was writing this, I was inspired by a very helpful, pastoral, and affirming video message from Bishop Sue that I encourage you to watch HERE.  She ended with words that I feel are very important to remember:  "At the end of the day, the most important thing is our life together as followers of Jesus Christ, and the mission that we share together" of making disciples for the transformation of the world. I couldn't have said it better myself!

Regardless of who or where you are in all of this – whether you are lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, conservative, traditionalist, evangelical, centrist, liberal, progressive, or anything else you can label -- I want you to know that as your Senior Pastor at McKendree UMC, I love you, care about you, and if you’ll allow me the chance, I want to honor and respect what you feel God is calling you to in this matter, even if or where it may not be my own. As always, my “door” is open if you want to talk with me about what you are feeling or struggling with related to this or any other subject.

As we continue to prayerfully discern where all of this takes us, most importantly let’s also continue our work and ministry together here in Gwinnett County, seeking to be God’s “nurturing community, connecting all through Christ.”  And please never, ever forget that God loves you and I do, too (I mean that!)

Friday, February 1, 2019

United Methodist Called Special General Conference


“Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans...  to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

As many of you already know, our United Methodist Church’s top legislative body will be meet later this month (February 23-26) in St. Louis, Missouri for a called, special session of General Conference.  The purpose of this gathering will be specifically to address our denomination’s approach to the issue and experiences of human sexuality.

For those who may not be aware, General Conference (GC) is the only body that can speak for our entire United Methodist Church in matters of organization and belief, and is comprised of an equal number of both clergy and laity delegates.  As we are a representative system of church government, we at McKendree UMC are represented at GC through the 22 North Georgia Conference delegates that our local church helped to elect.

Regarding the content of this month’s GC, you may remember that this past Fall, we hosted
a series of “Finding Our Way Forward” sessions in which we shared and discussed the three major proposals that will be presented.  If you missed those, you can read a brief summary of these (plus several others) HERE or HERE
or you can also read the complete, detailed 99-page report that’s being presented HERE. All of these proposals are grounded in different interpretations of God’s holy scripture, and they each have their merits and challenges. However, since it’s unlikely that any one of them will be adopted unanimously by all delegates, there will probably be much discussion as delegates seek to prayerfully discern God’s wisdom regarding a possible decision to guide us in addressing these issues and experiences.

In the meantime, I invite you to join Pastor Ryan and myself in doing several things:

1) BECOME KNOWLEDGEABLE about the topics and proposals about human sexuality that are being voted on. You can find a variety of resources to help with this through our North Georgia Conference’s General Conference 2019 page HERE.

2) STAY INFORMED with correct information.  As with most gatherings of this kind, the controversial nature of the topics being discussed often cause debates and decisions to get mis-reported by the secular press.  So, please get correct information before you form personal opinions about what did or did not happen.  You can do this by subscribing to follow GC’s daily proceedings HERE (check “General Conference Updates” at bottom of page). You can also live stream General Conference sessions HERE.

3) Most importantly, please PRAY for the delegates and their work and deliberations... that God's will would be done through them in a spirit and way that both honors Him and draws others to Him.

When GC2019 is completed, I’ll share more about how their decisions may or may not affect us locally at McKendree. Meanwhile, always remember that God loves you and I do, too!