Monday, December 30, 2013

Can We Make it New Again?

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
2 Corinthians 5:17

It was hard to tell what was more painful to look at, the shattered toy on the living room floor or the shattered expression on my young daughter’s face. The one gift that she had wanted and longed for at Christmas was now a broken mess thanks to the carelessness of her younger brothers. Once the tears had stopped and the anger subsided, the question came that I was not expecting “Daddy can we make it like new again.” So that afternoon, with tools and superglue in hand, we started to rebuild her shattered dream. The “rebuilt” toy looked nothing like the original, but it was functional and for a little while at least, I was her hero.

As we begin the countdown of the last few days of 2013, take time to celebrate accomplishments, remember dreams that were shattered, loved one’s lost and new creations that took their first breath in the year that is quickly wrapping up. But be also reminded of the incredible opportunity that we have in Christ Jesus that not only on January 1, but everyday He offers us a new beginning. He offers to take our shattered lives and make them new again. He offers to rebuild that which we have destroyed and make it a new creation through Him.

On Youth Sunday the youth of Dacula UMC wrote the following affirmation of faith for the New Year:

“We believe that God is eternal and holy, so that whoever believes in him shall not die, but live forever. We believe that God's existence is a circle, with no definite beginning or end. We also know that our lives are a line, with a start and finish. We must make the best of our lives. We know that time wasted is time taken away, while time spent for God is time earned forever after. We should not live in the past, but continue forward, and strengthen our faith and relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.”

--Bill Martin, North Georgia Annual Conference

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer


Monday, December 23, 2013

Preparing for The Glorious Celebration

Christmas Eve is awesome. Once again the world awaits in hopeful expectation for God’s glorious breakthrough. 

Charles Wesley’s words express the hopes of so many:

“Come, thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.”

As we make our final preparations for the upcoming glorious celebration, let us pray that God’s most gracious gift will be received by a sinful world in desperate need of a Savior. Let us pray for peace in the name of the Prince of Peace. Let those of us who name the name of Jesus also show the love of Jesus to all people as we labor for justice and mercy for all God’s children everywhere.

We must ask ourselves if we are truly prepared to have God break into our world through the Christ-child. Are our hearts open? Will we offer our lives in grateful service to our God who loved us enough to be born in a manger, preach, teach and heal a hurting world, suffer at the hands of sinful people, and be crucified to save us from ourselves?

Before many in the world will receive God’s Good News in Christ, the world needs to see Christian lives radically transformed by Christ’s love. They need to see us love each other and love all people in the name of Christ.

Are we ready for Christmas? 

-- Bishop Mike Watson, North Georgia Annual Conference

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, December 16, 2013

“Christmas, is it more than the Celebration of the Birth of Jesus?”

Many times the celebration of Christmas especially in the United States has become an opportunity for commercialism to creep into our lives in enormous amounts, disrupting our normal day-to-day schedule that we maintain the rest of the year.

We are bombarded with once-a-year advertising, merchandising, and changes to our daily lives and to our Christian lives at our churches and elsewhere.  In many ways it seems we are victims of commercialism to the point we cannot escape, and we get the feeling the real meaning of Christmas is lost in the ribbons, glitter and wrappings of gifts.

Yes, this is true; we let Christmas become very big in our lives and very dominating in our attitudes toward others, our time is consumed in events and in ways we never consider the rest of the year. 

Christmas and the pageantry of Christmas in the United States are so large the other religions of the world take exceptions to our total immersion into Santa Clause and the Birth of Jesus. There are groups in the world that don’t believe in Jesus, that are constantly trying to keep Christ out of Christmas.

Those of us in the Christian Church that truly believe will never leave Christ out of Christmas, or if we do, even unintentionally, then we missed something along the way in our Christian learning.

Perhaps, even though we are overwhelmed by all that seems to come along with Christmas, we may be missing the greatest chance of the year to take God’s message to a hurting world.

Because of the pageantry of Christmas the door is open for the believers, to declare the message to people on an individual basis and for churches to declare the message of Jesus on an even larger scale.

With the ice of normality broken, the time is perfect to interject the message of the Messiah into the world.  So what, if they hear the same message about the Birth of our Savior over and over in music and in testimony during the Holiday season, the good news may eventually sink in to those that really need to hear the message.

The message may be two thousand years old but Christians the world over anticipate the good news of the Birth of Christ just like they did the first time they heard it. 

If you are in a mood of just going through the motions of Christmas, then do something out of the ordinary for someone, maybe someone you don’t even know. If you make a concerted effort to do something nice for someone, they may receive a gift, but you will receive blessings that will lift your spirits.

-- The Lay Ministry team of the North Alabama Annual Conference

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, December 9, 2013

Listen in Anticipation This Advent

“And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song, ’Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.” The power of song and shared story to communicate and to create community never ceases to amaze me. Several years ago I was blessed to travel to Israel on a mission and study trip. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I was prepared with camera and notepads to capture every moment. I was less prepared for the moments that captivated me. One such moment occurred during a simple Sunday worship service.

We traveled from our hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem to Bethlehem where we were scheduled to worship with a Palestinian Christian congregation. I remember being disappointed by the nondescript building and worship space set for contemporary worship. Compared to all the wondrous sites we had seen, rich with history and religious art, this plain room had as little atmosphere as any school in the States being used for temporary worship space. But our group was warmly welcomed, and we were given headsets for hearing the translator. 

A few of the songs were new to me, and I relied on the voice in my ear to help me tentatively sing English lyrics in unison with the Arabic voices around me. Some of the praise choruses were so familiar that I didn’t need the translator’s prompting, and the two languages blended as one. Then the music started playing one of my favorite hymns, How Great Thou Art.

I was taking off my headphones to sing from memory when I suddenly realized that the translator had misspoken the opening line. Listening carefully, it was soon apparent that he did not have a copy of the English version; he was paraphrasing this song from Arabic. When he reached the third verse and sought to put into words the redemptive act of Christ’s offering for us, his voice broke with emotion. In that moment, all differences and expectations melted away. Christ alone mattered.

During Advent we have an opportunity to retell the continuing story of God’s love and grace.  But there is no mistaking that this old, old story is filled with song from Mary’s Magnificat to the shepherds’ repeating of the angelic chorus. Advent invites us to listen in anticipation for new songs and even for old songs sung in new ways that open us to the constant newness of God’s activity in our midst.

Rev. Teresa Lilja, pastor of Alcovy UMC, North Georgia Annual Conference

God Is Still in Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent Greetings

        As we enter this season of Holy births, new beginnings, and the hope of peace, I want to extend my deepest blessing upon you, your church, and our world. It is a time for all of us to take stock of our faith as we celebrate the One who for us is the hope for all of creation.

       May this be our time to model the grace of God who has given us the child who set in motion a lasting faith, new hope and a different way to be. May our churches be a place of refuge and welcome for all the weary travelers of the world, and may we reach out to model our faith so that others might know the joy in our hearts.

      My prayers go to each one of you during this Advent and Christmas season. Feel free to drop me a message if there is any special prayer that you wish me to include during my own daily spiritual practices.

          May we all revel in the sheer joy of the birth of our Lord!
Be the Hope,

-- Bishop Grant Hagiya, 
Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, November 25, 2013

I was a stranger and you welcomed me

In 1982 I agreed to coordinate a night shelter at Trinity UMC near the State Capital. I had been volunteering at the nearby shelter at Central Presbyterian. As that shelter became dangerously overcrowded, the need for additional space became apparent. Trinity’s shelter operated during the cold months of February and March that year, and I was often scrambling for volunteers. If you had told me then that thirty-one years later, the problem of homelessness would be even worse, I would not have believed it. Those of us who were coordinating church shelters in 1982 thought that we would be able to solve the problem of homelessness by opening a few shelters.

Over these 31 years, I have accepted that God has called me to connect the church to those we would call “the least of these” according to the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. When Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” I see this as an opportunity to see the face of Jesus in the faces of those we serve. If Jesus comes as a homeless person, sometimes Jesus has had a bad day! He may come to us as one who is ragged, smelly, or delusional. When I accept these encounters as a way to experience Jesus, I look for what he wants to teach me through these meetings. An encounter with Jesus challenges me to question my assumptions, to put my faith into action, and to work to bring about change to policies and systems that cause people to fall into homelessness.

As Director of the Housing and Homeless Council, I have had the opportunity to see people all over the North Georgia Conference who are putting their faith into practice by serving people in need in their communities. When churches contribute to the Homeless Offering, the funds are distributed as grants to ministries all over the Conference. Members of the Housing and Homeless Council make site visits to the applicants, and we come back and report on all the good work that is going on as we seek to serve Christ in the person of the homeless and hungry.

--Rev. Virginia Tinsley, director of the NGa Conf. Housing and Homeless Council.

God Is Still In Control! 

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, November 18, 2013

Re-Advent Yourself

The prayerful preparation of Advent seems to always compete with the constant call of Christmastime conspicuous consumption. I have wondered what could actually slow us down enough to change the way we make decisions in these hectic days before Christmas.

Anne Rex, pastor at Fields Chapel near Canton, designed a unique Advent gift for members of her congregation. She passed out a laminated “master” card (pictured below) and asked everyone to put the card in front of the credit cards in their purse or wallet. Then during the intensity of the Christmas shopping season, she invited her people to look at the card and to ponder the five questions before making any purchase.

The questions continue to echo:

1. Do I really need this item?
Does the person I am buying it for really need it?
2. Can I afford to just buy something rather than investing myself more fully in my relationship with the intended recipient?
3. Does my giving recognize the injustices that litter our world today?
Will this product be a dust catcher or merely find its way to a future yard sale?
4. How might we give gifts that really endure?
5. Have I remembered the real birthday boy on my shopping list?
Can you ever BUY Christmas? Maybe Christmas can only be born.

Ideas are just ideas unless they actually change our behavior and change us. So now I keep one of these cards in my wallet, in front of my credit cards, forcing me to ponder my own spending habits every time I reach into my wallet, calling me to go deeper in my own Advent journey as I make more room for what Christ is trying do with me. So perhaps it’s not just how I spend the money God has entrusted to me, but how I spend my time, my energy, and my thoughts.

How might your spending change this Advent?

-- Blessings and Peace, Rev. Dr. Phil Schroeder, North Georgia Annual Conference

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer