Sunday, December 30, 2012

A 'Can-Do' Attitude

This is the season for New Year’s resolutions.   We want to start out the New Year on the “right foot,” taking care to improve ourselves and our habits.  For many people this means starting with two of the top ten resolutions made each year - getting out of debt and saving money.

We also tend to be facing a number of money crunches at this time of year:  Why does the car always seem to need a major repair in December or January?  How did we end up with so much on the credit card when we vowed to have a “simpler” Christmas?  When can we stop worrying about the heating bill?   Seriously, you want me to “Think Greater” about generosity? 

Yes that seems counter-intuitive, but generosity breeds a positive, “can-do” attitude in us.  It’s good to say thank you, even in tough times.   Consider making the first payment from your paycheck a “thank you” gift for the many blessings you’ve received.   And then saving an equal amount in an emergency savings account you can use when you truly need to overspend your regular budget for medical needs, car repairs, house repairs or emergency family travel.

Some folks find that giving 5% of their income to the church and saving another 5% each week or month in an emergency fund can be a helpful spiritual tool as they take responsibility for their finances.

--WI Ann Conf

Lessons Learned from Children!

Growing in Generosity with Children

Eleven year old Hallie sat quietly while the other children in her Sunday School class were talking about their allowances, particularly how low their allowances were in the face of all their expenses.   When asked if she thought her allowance was big enough she replied, “Of course, why wouldn’t it be?”  When asked how much it was, she replied, “Ten dollars a week.”
Even the children who received less than that per week didn’t understand how Hallie could think that was enough.

“It’s enough,” she replied stubbornly.  “I give one dollar a week to the church, and put three dollars a week into savings.  That leaves six dollars a week to do WHATEVER I want with.  As long as I don’t want anything that costs more than six dollars, it’s enough.”
--Shared by Rev. Heather Brewer, 
Pastor of the Bloomer and New Auburn UMC’s

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Message from God

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. 
--Isaiah 52: 7-10 

These verses from Isaiah foretell the coming of a messenger with good news. It was shared with the people of Israel at a time in their lives when they were being “challenged to purify themselves and give up their persistent reliance on ritual magic and political maneuvering” (The Spiritual Formation Bible, NRSV).

New insight into God’s plan
The purpose of the challenge was to give the people new insight into God’s loving plan for them in the midst of troublesome, difficult and painful times. The messenger was on the way, announcing peace and salvation, bringing good news of restoration of what was lost. The messenger assured God’s people that they would sing again and have the great grace of God’s protection.

In reflecting on this text, it occurred to me that Jesus was not only the messenger. He was the MESSAGE. Jesus was the peace of God who came to live in the midst of humanity. He demonstrated the salvation of God as he healed those who were sick and gave hope to the hopeless. Jesus was the GOOD NEWS that God’s power could do what human power couldn't.

A time to remember that God is with us
Christmas is the time when we celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus. It is a time to celebrate that God loved us enough to “come down here,” and live as we live. Jesus walked as we walk, enjoyed time with friends, suffered with the suffering, worked and rested--like we do. He also revealed to us the best message that we could ever hope to receive – God is with us. IMMANUEL. No matter what challenges, troubles or difficulties we face, God is with us and will never leave us alone.

Feel the power of love
So I pray peace for you in this season. I pray for the salvation, safety, wholeness, and wonder of God--born anew in us each day that we breathe the breath of life. May you feel God’s love for you and for all of creation in this sacred season and in every season of your life. I pray that through you the world will come to know that love and its power to create peace, restoration, reconciliation and new life! That’s a message worth sharing!!! How are you sharing this message of LOVE?

--Bishop Linda Lee

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Sunday, December 23, 2012

What happened to joy and peace of Christmas?

There are many reasons to relish the Christmas season: the celebration of our Savior’s birth, the wonderful holiday music, special events at church, gathering together with family and friends. The food. The gifts. The memories.

“Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth.”

But there is more to the holiday season than singing carols by the fire, retelling the Christmas story and sharing meals with loved ones. Increasingly, it seems, this is a stressful time for many people, the hustle and bustle, lofty expectations and added expense to already strained budgets.

A surveyed conducted with 1,000 Americans across a broad demographic stated that 45 % said the holiday season brings so much financial stress, they would prefer to skip it altogether. Almost half of the survey’s respondents said their level of stress is high or extremely high.

No wonder for many people the Christmas season has become more stress than joy, more burden than celebration.

Of course, there is a solution to taking the stress out of Christmas – by making Christ the center of it. We have already received the greatest gift anyone could ever get, without even driving to the mall: unconditional love.

We celebrate this season as a reminder of God's gift to us. Jesus was not born in an ornate palace surrounded by servants; He was born in a stable, clothed with rags, laid in a feeding trough.

Christmas was never meant to be about gifts under the tree, gifts that will never last. It is a season to remember God’s love and to share that with others: family, friends, even strangers.

May your home be filled with joy and peace this Christmas season, whether or not it is overflowing with wrapped boxes from the mall. 

---excerpt from a story by Glenn Hannigan, editor of the N. GA Advocate

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Believing is Seeing

"Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!'"

"When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.' So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them."
Luke 2: 9-20, NRSV

It's easier to believe when you see

This scripture takes me back to one Christmas Eve, when I was very young. Long after bedtime, I stepped out of the room my brother and I shared and looked down the long hallway into the dining room. There, where the Christmas tree was still lit, I saw Santa Claus – red suit, black belt and red hat with the white ball at the end. He was putting gifts under the tree!!! It was the best gift I could have ever imagined! It was a gift no money in the world could buy! Right about then, my mother appeared from somewhere and made me go back to bed. But that sight brought me such joy and excitement that I could only imagine what the morning would bring.
Of course, I found out not too long after that special Christmas, that Santa Claus had NOT been in our dining room. But the impact of that moment still comes to mind when I think of the shepherds who were the first people, besides his parents, to see Jesus. They probably didn't know what it all meant, but they believed. And because they believed, they were inspired to go and see. What a time it must have been for them. What a priceless gift – to SEE the Savior with their own eyes! To see and to understand the significance of the fact that he was there. What joy and excitement they must have experienced as they returned to their flocks.

Believe and you can see Jesus

When we believe, we can still see Jesus today – believe that the kingdom of God is in each of us, believe that Christ is within all of us, believe that all are made in the image of God. We too can see. And rejoice. And look forward to every new day. Because Jesus is in our dining room and everywhere that we are. He is loving us, guiding us, providing every need--so that we can love and walk with others who need to feel his love, and share the bounty we have received. Thanks be to God!!!

Have a blessed Christmas and a Spirit-filled new year!

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Practicing Gratitude: A Spiritual Discipline

Gratitude is in the spotlight every year around Thanksgiving day in the United States. However, more attention is being paid to cultivating that attitude as a lifelong, year-round spiritual discipline.

“Gratitude is one of the first result of a spiritual self-examination,” said the Rev. Ken Sloan, director of stewardship and connectional ministries at the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn.

“Teaching stewardship begins with that self-examination,” he said. “It focuses our thoughts on what we have, not on what we don’t have.”

The self-examination can also help shift the focus from what the church needs in terms of dollars and cents, to looking at what we have received, how God has blessed us, Sloane said. And when we see how God has indeed blessed us, we are grateful.

“When grown from the spirit of gratitude, stewardship is no longer seen as some ‘bitter pill’ that needs to be swallowed,” he said.

Scripture both mandates and offers expressions of gratitude. Thank offerings have an early place in the Bible. Leviticus 7:12-18 instructs how to make a thanksgiving offering. Ephesians 5:20 says, “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Common English Bible). Psalm after psalm begins with thanksgiving.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, realized that gratitude was the response to faith in God.

--The Rev. Erik Alsgaard, editor of the MI Area Reporter and pastor of St. Ignace (Mich.) United Methodist Church

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Practicing radical hospitality

It was cold and windy when I went to vote in my precinct 2 miles from my house. When I arrived about 8:00 a.m. there was a long line of cars trying to get into the parking lot from both directions. 

It did not really take that long to find a parking space. Nevertheless I was a bit irritated that I had to cope with this added frustration at the beginning of my day. As I approached the entrance to the school, I was met by several smiling teachers welcoming me and the incoming students with an enthusiastic greeting and smile. My attitude changed immediately.

Recently I was in a department store looking for a particular item but could not find it. When I asked a store employee he said, “Come with me and I’ll show you where to find it.” In similar circumstances I have often experienced “customer no-service” so the helpfulness of this clerk was a pleasant surprise. 

I am a baseball fan. I enjoy watching my favorite Atlanta Braves play. Fans attending games in Atlanta are greeted warmly by stadium employees that welcome you to Turner Field and thank you for coming when you leave. It makes you feel like they are really glad you came.

One of my favorite fast food restaurants is Chic-Fil-A. The attitude of the staff at every location that is really unrivaled. They seem always ready and willing to serve you and respond to every request with “My pleasure.” 

What does all this have to do with you and me? I am glad you asked. They are reminders to practice hospitality. Warmth, kindness, and generosity are attributes to cultivate and demonstrate.

United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase has identified five practices of fruitful congregations. One of these is what he calls “radical hospitality.” He says, “Radical hospitality means ‘drastically different from ordinary practice outside the norm,’ that exceed expectations, and so it produces practices that go the second mile, that take welcoming the stranger to the max”

The Apostle Paul counsels the Christians in Rome about what it means to put love into action. In the middle of those instructions he says, “Practice hospitality.”

 — excerpt of a story by Jamie Jenkins, N GA Ann Conf

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey

Web Content Producer

Monday, December 3, 2012

TRUST Your Call

It may not show up in a list of Christmas Words, words like wait and watch, joy, hope and love. Yet, the word is Advent. It's essential preparation for the fulfillment of God's promise. It's also essential to your call into ministry.

The Christmas story is all about call. In it, God calls people to do what God wants done. The call is part of the promise. God calls Mary. God calls Joseph. God calls shepherds, and all sorts of wise people. Do you think anyone in the story doubted their call, questioned the promise? I suspect so. Wise people ask questions. "How can this be?"

Notice in the story how quickly things move along. God doesn't wait for Mary and Joseph to file their FAFSA and get their finances set. God moves. God calls. God promises. God comes.

When you consider a call into ministry, in part it means the recognition that God has claimed your life with a promise, a promise to use your gifts to bring about what God wants done. So, this Advent ponder the call and promises God makes in the story that leads to Christmas.   Then, ponder your own story. "How can this be?" "How can I trust the promise?"

Advent Blessings,

Rev. Lee Johnson, Director of Admissions, Saint Paul School of Theology 

St. Paul is one of the 13 seminaries supported by the Ministerial Education Fund of the United Methodist Church.

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer