Saturday, July 13, 2019

These Enduring Tasks remain Essential for All of Us

   While the sound of fireworks can still be heard all around my house most nights, the official celebrations have ended. Everyone knows July 4, 1776, the day that the Continental Congress finalized the formal Declaration of Independence. But, what about July 9? Here is the background... 
   In the summer of 1776, as many as 32,000 British troops were gathering on nearby Staten Island. They were preparing to engage their enemy - the rebels of the American colonies. Knowing that the first official battle of the American Revolution was coming, General George Washington conveyed two direct orders to the Brigade Majors who commanded the troops. 
   First, he ordered that the brand new Declaration of Independence be read out to soldiers of the Continental Army in Manhattan. He believed reading the Declaration "will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer, and soldier, to act with Fidelity and Courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of his Country depends (under God) solely on the success of our arms." He wants them to be inspired.
   Second, he passes along the news that the Continental Congress has made funds available to hire a Chaplain for every regiment! He writes that the "Commanding officers of each regiment are directed to procure Chaplains accordingly; persons of good Characters and exemplary lives - To see that all inferior officers and soldiers pay them a suitable respect and attend carefully upon religious exercises. The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger - The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavour so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country." He wants them to be spiritually cared for.
   Similarly, these are the primary tasks of the local church: to be a place where people encounter the God who inspires us and cares for us. I am humbled to serve a church that lives this out. God wants to connect with us and does that best through our relationships with others. 
   Grace and peace, Scott

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The God who remembers

   The earth has circled back to Memorial Day. What does it mean to set aside a weekend, or even a day, as a memorial? It is a fair question. Some would argue that to spend time dwelling on the past is a waste, and not a good use of the most precious present. I would tend to agree when it comes to many of the ways we memorialize the past. Time spent on regrets, grudges, or perceived wrongs is a waste. Spending time asking 'what if' about a thing we should have moved on from, is also not the best use of our time. There is value, however, in revisiting the past if neglecting to do so diminishes us. 
   Elie Wiesel was a survivor of the Holocaust in Germany that murdered his family, along with 17 million others. He once said, 

"Without memory, there is no culture. 
Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future." 

Wiesel went on to say that, "After all, God is God because he remembers." He remembers promises to save and provide, and he remembers our suffering. That is powerful. To be the church that seeks after God, we must also be dedicated to remembering. 
   May we set aside time - truly dedicate time this weekend - to remembering those who have offered their very lives for freedom. May we honor everyone who has served. 
   Grace and peace, Scott

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Act Like You Love People and You Will

   I have been thinking about actions and in-actions. Like many Christians, and many people within this church, I have given something up for these 40 days leading up to Easter. My Lenten observance involves not doing something that I normally would do everyday, and the amount of time saved has been a delight.
   The saying goes, "You are what you eat." I think it is also true that we are what we do. "Actions speak louder than words," would be the phrase to capture that. I think our actions, and inactions, have the power to steer our lives. Which is probably why the early church started suggesting that we "do" something or stop doing something as a way of preparing for Easter.
   This power of what we choose to do and not do extends to our relationships with others. C.S. Lewis even suggests acting lovingly has the power to change our feelings towards other people.

The rule for all of us is perfectly simple.  Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did.  As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets.  When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.  If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more.  If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.
- C. S. Lewis

   How we act has the power to influence how we feel. So often, we believe that only the opposite is true. He is saying that if we act like we love people, we will.
   No wonder we find a mysterious power in laying aside things, or fasting, during Lent that draws us closer to God. The actions have the power to change us from the outside inward. May you continue to find God's power at work in what you do - and choose not to do - this Season. Grace and peace, Scott
 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Out of Balance

   I had been running on Monday long enough for the sharp pain in my ankle to subside, and the burning of my lungs to be dulled, that I was almost enjoying it. Through the tears my eyes landed on something shiny ahead and I scooped it up to see what treasure I had found. It was a wheel weight and I immediately thought of the Season of Lent.
   As most people know, when the an automobile tire rotates at a high speed, asymmetries can cause it to hop or wobble. They are often felt in the entire vehicle. When tires are fitted to wheels at the shop they are balanced and corrective wheel weights are applied to counteract the effect of the unbalance. Put another way, even well-made tires often have some imperfections, magnified when spun around quickly, that need to be adjusted and corrected periodically.
   I think this is true of disciples of Jesus Christ. We need, from time to time, to come in for inspection and correction. Our lives often feel like they are spinning quickly, maybe even close to out of control, and the vibrations make it difficult to steer. The Church offers us the Season of Lent for introspection and re-balancing. Every year I hear myself saying, "Put something down in order that you can pick something else up." This is the very language of rearranging and finding balance, again.
   Somewhere down the highway is a car that needs to be balancing, since this missing weight is sitting on my desk. I pray that they get help before the vibrations do damage or cause harm. I pray the same for you and for me. Grace and peace, Scott

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Without failure, who would you be?

   Allow me to pass along a powerful word that I heard earlier this week. The value of the lesson extends far beyond the football field. Nick Foles, who nearly quit football 18 months ago, began this season as a forgotten back-up on a team most considered to be a long-shot this year. He shared this after his Philadelphia Eagles beat the Patriots and he was named the game's MVP:

"I think the big thing is don’t be afraid to fail. In our society today, Instagram and Twitter is a highlight reel. It’s all the good things. When you look at it, you’re like ‘Wow’ when you’ve had a rough day and thinking your life is not as good as that. Failure is a part of life. Without failure, who would you be? I wouldn’t be up here if I hadn’t fallen thousands of times and made mistakes. We all are human. We all have weaknesses, and I think being able to share this and be transparent — I know when people speak and share their weaknesses, I’m listening, because I can resonate. So, I’m not perfect. I might be in the NFL and we may have just won the Super Bowl, but I still have daily struggles. That’s where my faith comes in and that’s where my family comes in. And I think when you have a struggle in your life, just know that’s just an opportunity for your character to grow.”

   It has been widely shared that Foles is a student in a Christian college and intends to become a minister with students when he finishes his career. I can see why! The depth of his understanding of how God uses the struggles of our journey to bring about the holy-making work of sanctification is beautiful. Lisa Klug shared how she finds this very truth in James 1:2-6:
My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.
   May God be glorified in the words he shared and may we all take them to heart. Grace and peace, Scott

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Greatest Non-Showman: Jesus

   A friend took my brother and me to the movies last week to see The Greatest Showman. Featuring Hugh Jackman and a really talented cast of actors, the movie is sped along by catchy tunes with great lyrics, and inspired me to see the gospel good news at numerous points. Before the week was out I had seen it again, this time taking friends with me to share the joy.
   It is very loosely based on the larger than life story of P.T. Barnum, who lived in the 1800's and is best known for the circus company he started. While he never actually said the quote about suckers born every minute, he did say his personal aim was "to put money in his own coffers." He did a lot of good, in the end, but the movie title gave me pause to consider how Jesus would compare. A similar movie title about Jesus might be The Greatest Non-Showman. Now, lean in for this. Many people who only know the high-points of the Gospel stories might take exception, but I think the evidence is strong. Consider:

  • Jesus' 'career' only lasted three years, by his choice
  • Jesus rarely traveled outside the circuit of small country-side villages
  • Jesus would change locations whenever the crowds would seek to elevate him to something he was not (rebel leader against Rome, etc)
  • Jesus instructed his followers that generous acts are to be kept secret from even your other hand
  • Jesus' messages were so challenging, crowds got smaller over time
  • Jesus' message was about sacrifice, submission, forgiving, humility - the opposite of an attractive show
  • Jesus chose to basically not speak in front of the crowds at his trial and instead submitted to the will of God

   Jesus was the opposite of a self-promoter. In John 5 he says he does not testify about himself, but lets God take care of that. Opting not for self-promotion, Jesus chose the way of humility and submission. It led to the greatest story ever told, and retold!
   Grace and peace, Scott

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Caution, Bridge Ices Before Road

  I had no experience of driving on ice until my second quarter of college. I was living through my first winter in the far-up-north world of Atlanta, after spending the first nineteen years of my life in sunny South Georgia. It was twenty-five years ago this past week, and classes were out for the MLK holiday. Headed back to campus after having breakfast with friends, I had just pulled out onto the many lanes of Peachtree Street as big flakes of snow fell all around. I hadn't traveled a quarter of a mile when I realized the tires of my Chevy Blazer were not pointed the same way as the steering wheel. I looked up to see that one-hundred yards in front of me a delivery truck was completely stopped in my lane. Time actually slowed down, and I pumped the brakes repeatedly, praying that rubber would connect with road and I would slow down. I didn't. Instead, I ran into and under the elevated liftgate of the truck going no faster than 25 miles an hour. The front of my car was smashed, with the engine block being push up to the windshield. The truck I hit wasn't scratched.
   I learned so much in the hour that followed. First, I learned that that section of Peachtree Street is actually a bridge over Interstate 85, and therefore ices before the rest of the road. I learned that the truck was stopped because it was the third car in a chain-reaction crash that had happened some time earlier. I became the fourth. I also learned that law enforcement can opt to not write up an accident if they are busy, as the Atlanta City Police Officer drove off and told us to work it out among ourselves. My parents and my insurance did not like that part of the story. Most of all, I learned that living in Atlanta for six weeks without a car was not much fun.
   I am still learning. At the time, I considered it a terrible hardship, resulting in more meals on campus and many more miles walked on foot. It is funny what we think constitutes suffering in our youth. Kids today believe the absence of wi-fi is cruel and unusual punishment. If I am so fortunate, what I will look back on in another twenty-five years and recognize was not as difficult as it seemed at the time?
   Grace and peace, Scott

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Praying Forward for Good

   This Sunday marks the beginning of a week of concerted prayer for United Methodists across South Georgia. We are being invited to pray for our global church, God's work in local churches, and specifically for the United Methodist Church’s “Praying Our Way Forward” initiative, which launched January 1 and kicked off seventy-five weeks of focused prayer. Each annual conference around the world will take one week to pray for the mission of The United Methodist Church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. You can read daily prayers at https://www.sgaumc.org/prayingourwayforward
   This is something many in our church have been keenly following and lifting up in prayer for some time, even before our town-hall meetings in the fall of 2016. The Commission, created at the 2016 General Conference, was asked to bring proposals for how we might move forward as a denomination, especially concerning matters of biblical interpretation and human sexuality in the midst of broken trust by lay and clergy persons, and explore options to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church. Bishop Lawson Bryan, who was our guest speaker in September, mentioned in his invitation, “We are called to a posture of prayer, praying for God’s leadership to guide us effectively in fulfilling the mission of the church. All persons – clergy and laity, conferences and congregations – across the denomination are invited to pray for God’s guidance.”
   I was included in a group discussion with one of the members of the thirty-three person Commission a month ago, and heard early sketches of possible proposals that General Conference delegates would vote on in thirteen months. I felt good about their work, and believe that God is making a path. I heard options that allow most of the church to remain together, while giving some a graceful exit based on their convictions.
   There is much spiritual warfare being battled on this topic within every local church and denomination. We would be wrong not to join in or double-down on our efforts of praying for God's will to be done. As your pastor, I remain committed to seeking God's leading in ways that draw people in our community closer to God and with each other. Let us pray. Scott