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Monday, January 23, 2017

Genesis, Part 2 - Abraham

            This is the second in a series of blogs about Genesis, the first book of the Bible.  Last time, we examined the story of creation. God created humanity in Adam and Eve. Everything was perfect in the beginning, but they sinned and brought on the corruption of all creation—leading to evil and suffering. Yet God had a plan to restore people (and all creation) to a right relationship with God. God’s plan began with a man named Abram (later God changed his name to Abraham). God’s the plan of salvation—from the beginning—was based upon faith and we see that faith exemplified in Abraham.  Note:  Abraham was originally called Abram, but God changed his name to Abraham.  Thus, Abram and Abraham refer to the same man in scripture and this blog.

Genesis 12:1-6
1The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.

So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites.

The Chaldean Empire
Why Leave?
            In hind sight, it’s easy for us to say, God blessed Abraham.  Three of the world’s major religions call Abraham their father—over half of the world’s current population.  For Christians, Abraham is a hero, and his story is an essential part of our faith.  It is easy for us to admire him, because we know how his story turned out and the huge influence he had on the world.  However, we mustn’t forget Abraham’s did not know what we know. He did not know how things would turn out, but he did know what he was leaving behind.
            Abraham was born and lived in Ur of the Chaldeans[i].  The Chaldean empire was a wealthy, safe, and advanced civilization. They were a world power.  You can thank the Chaldeans the next time you drive a car; they invented the wheel.  Do you like looking out a window?  The Chaldeans discovered how to make glass.  They developed astronomy and were some of the first people to use a writing system and a yearly calendar with 12 months.  They invented the sundial[ii] and developed an advanced form of mathematics.  How many seconds are in a minute? You can thank the Chaldeans for that too.[iii] 
            I grew up thinking Abraham and Sarai were nomads who had always lived in tents and tended goats.  However, Abraham and his wife Sarai (later renamed Sarah) were city folk.  They grew up and lived in what was in their time the equivalent of New York City.  And God told them to leave the comforts of Ur to go off on a trek to some unknown land, all the while living in tents—far from everything they knew: the comforts of city life, their hometown, their family, friends, business relations, etc.
            So we look at the story and think, “Sure. It makes sense for Abraham to go when God calls.” But that’s not what people in Abraham’s day would have thought. Imaging the questions they would've asked: 
Chaldeans:  "Where are you going Abraham? How long will the journey take?"
Abraham:  "I don’t know. God will show me when I get there."
Chaldeans:  "Who is this God? Where is his temple? Where is his statue?"  (The Chaldeans gods all had an idol and a temple.)
Abraham:  "My God doesn’t have a temple or a statue. My God is invisible."
Chaldeans:  "What are you going to eat?"
Abraham:  "The Lord will provide."
Chaldeans:  "How will you get to this ‘Promised Land’?"
Abraham:  "My invisible God will show me the way."
Chaldeans:  "How can this ‘Promised Land’ your 'invisible god' is taking you to possibly be better than our incredible city?"
Abraham: I don’t know, but if God says it is better, it must be far better than anything we could imagine."

            All Abraham had was his faith in God. And his faith was the key to God’s blessing.  You might protest, “But Abraham was a holy man.”  No, not really. He was a sinner—just like you and me.  Abraham did some very questionable things: he lied multiple times, he killed, he became frustrated with God, he had sexual relations with multiple women other than his wife...  The Bible says Abraham was a righteous man, but it also says he was righteous because of his faith.  It was not good deeds that made him righteous.
            “But Abraham spoke to God.” Yes, but we can all speak to God through prayer.  And God speaks to all of us as well (through the Bible and other ways).  We just have to cultivate sensitive ears—through practice and (most importantly) through faith and obedience.
We are all called by God.  But who really answers the call? 
           I saw a post on Facebook this week that said, “Do y’all ever wish God would just walk into your room and sit on your bed and say, ‘OK, so this is what you should do…’”
            This is a common feeling. The problem is our attitude. God knows your heart. And God knows that—for most of us—if He did indeed come into our room and sit down on the bed and say, “OK, so this is what you should do…” Most of us would be like, “Yeah but…”
            We are a lot less like Abraham than we should be. We do not have the faith of Abraham. We want to argue with God. We want to explain ourselves or our situation (as if God doesn’t already know everything about you and your life and hasn’t already considered everything at a deeper level than you will ever be capable of…).
            And we always have written Word of God’s in the Holy Bible.  In these pages are already written so many of the answers to our questions if only we would read and obey.  We say “But I don’t understand the Bible…” That’s not necessarily true. There may be some parts you do not understand (maybe even a good bit you do not understand). But there are also many parts of the Bible that are very plain and easy to understand, and yet we still struggle to obey them:
  • “Do not worship any God accept the Lord.” “Do not steal.” “Do not bear false witness.” “Do not covet.” (Exodus 20)
  • “Don’t be greedy…” (Colossians 3:5)
  • The Bible is plain that we should engage in “…quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior.” (2 Corinthians 12:20)
We all struggle with these things, though they are easy to understand.  God speaks plainly to us about them, but we still don’t listen.
            But you say, “It’s still not the same. Writing is one thing, but if only God would speak to me, I would listen.”  Really?  If writing is not as valuable as speaking, why do we have the expression, “I gonna need to see that in writing”?  When you buy a house or a car, you sign a written contract. Everything is spelled out in writing. And you better obey the contract (even the fine print) or you will be in trouble!  Wouldn’t you comply if your boss wrote you an email or sent you a memo directing you to complete some task? Yes you would (or you would be in trouble). In many cases, it is preferred to have the request in writing so you can be very clear what is expected and you can refer to it again and again for clarification.  For those who are in sales: Don’t you often receive written purchase orders? Some purchases must be in writing to be valid.  
            So why is it so important to us that God speak to us in person rather than through the writing of His Bible?  It all comes down to faith. We want God to speak to us so we have some proof He is real. And yet, even that would not be enough.
            Jesus was real.  Jesus was flesh and blood.  Jesus spoke to people, healed people, taught people, fed people, and walked with people.  In case that were not enough, Jesus died on a cross for people. Then on the third day, Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to over 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6).  And yet many people still did not believe or obey him.  The problem is not God or the methods He chooses to speak to us. The problem is our lack of faith and unwillingness to obey. 

Children of Abraham 
            Galatians 3:7 – “The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God.”  If you are to be a child of God, you must trust in Him more than anything else.  Do not trust in your money.  Do not put your hopes in your marriage.  Do not let your family be the most important thing in your life.  Do not cling to your heritage or your hometown or your traditional way of life.  If you feel too at home in this world, watch out! You are in danger of missing out on the promise of God.  Why would you leave all these things behind when God calls if you trust or love them more than God? And if you don’t answer the call of God, you are—of all people—to be pitied.  What good does it do a man to gain the whole world and loose his own soul?
            God Calls us all, but who is willing to answer? Who is really a child of God, a spiritual ancestor of Abraham?

How is God calling you today?
  • Calling you to receive Christ - to turn away from your own selfish ambitions and to choose to follow Jesus as your Lord and Savior
  • Calling you to join a church
  • Calling you to be baptized as a sign of your faith
  • Calling you to be a minister - we are all ministers, but some are called to be pastors who work in a church
  • Calling you to serve in another way besides as a pastor
  • Will you trust and obey?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Guest Blogger - David Crawford - Spiritual Gifts

Today I am pleased to share a guest blog written by David Crawford.  David is the talented music minister at Pleasant Grove UMC in Dalton.  David has a great attitude and humble servant's heart.  He loves his family and his church and serves the Lord faithfully. 
Spiritual Gifts
 Well it’s been about three weeks since Christmas.  Everyone has had a chance to evaluate the gifts they received and make that decision.  Are you going to ‘love it” or “leave it”?  Yes, my wife watches Hilary and David, so occasionally I hear their catch phrase as I walk through the living room, don’t judge me.  I’m sure we all got plenty of gifts that we had hoped for, and perhaps a few surprises that made hiding the puzzling look on our faces difficult as the revealing piece of wrapping paper was torn away from the present.  Whether your presents took you to elation or consternation, gift giving is a big part of the Christmas season and that is in large part because of the wonderful gift God gave us.  Romans 8:32  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
When I read that I had to do a double take.  Did Paul say give us ALL things?  Because Steven Wright, the comedian has clearly pointed out, “You can’t have everything, where would you put it?”  Of course I don’t believe it means that I, personally, will have all tangible items ever made or ever to be made and all intangible qualities of all of humanity; and I’m sure if we asked Bill Caylor if he had enough stuff, he’d probably say, “More than I deserve.”  God gave His Son.  That was way more than we deserved, it was and is a gift that we can never repay.  So what else does God graciously give us?  I’m glad you asked.

According to Paul, in his letter to the Romans, we are all given gifts, Romans 12:6  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us...   Now, it doesn’t say, “Some of you have been given gifts…”   We have all been given gifts, and while we are all given gifts, I don’t believe we are given the same gifts.  A  pink Hello Kitty sweater might be great for 9 year old Samantha, but not so hot for 23 year old Jonathan.  God is a lot better at giving gifts than we are, and the gifts we receive from God are a little different.  They are spiritual gifts.  I used to think of our spiritual gifts as our talents or skills, and until I started looking at this message today had not really thought much more about it.  I thought, if you have a talent or skill you should use it for the realization of God’s kingdom here on earth, and I still believe that, but I found a section on the UMC website dedicated to spiritual gifts, and I found some interesting ideas that made me dive a little deeper into spiritual gifts.
According to the United Methodist Church’s Website, “our spiritual gifts are NOT our talents or skills, but the grace of God at work within us, empowering us to match our deep passion with the world’s deep needs.”  As I read this and saw the word talents, my mind went to this story from Mathew 25: 14-30 (Watch it on YouTube).  At first, I must admit, I had a lot of sympathy for the man given 1 talent.  What can you do with 1 talent?  It seemed a bit unfair, so I looked up what a talent was worth, and, as usual, when I delve deeper into the scriptures, I was surprised.  Of course this story took place a long time ago, and naturally there is some disagreement on the value of a talent during this story’s time setting, but I found the lowest estimates to be from about $1000 to $30,00 (today’s value), while the larger estimates put the value between $300,000 and $500,000.  The story began to take on a different light when I realized the value of one talent.  If we look at this story as it is traditionally taught, we see a parallel between the gifts God gives us and the way we use them; and the investments made by the servants on behalf of their master.  And when I discovered the value of the talent, it became sort of a “duh” moment.  I mean, what was I thinking, is God going to send me out on His behalf with less than what I need to represent Him and His kingdom well?  No.  Always No.  God will not send you out on His behalf ill equipped to represent Him and His kingdom.  Doubt me?  Let me drop a few names, like Esther, Noah, Moses, Mary, Joshua, Daniel, all 12 apostles, and you and me here today.  All of these were called by God to further His kingdom, and all were given the necessary gifts to accomplish God’s goal.  
And so the connection between the spiritual gifts and the talents in this parable became more clear to me, even the 1 talent, which I originally thought was not enough to make a fuss over, was more than enough to be invested in the will of the Master.  Whatever spiritual gifts you have been given, they are more than enough to be further the kingdom of God here on earth.
So, I still had a question lingering in my mind, what about this statement that our skills and our talents are not spiritual gifts?  According to the United Methodist Church’s Website, “our spiritual gifts are not our talents or skills, but the grace of God at work within us, empowering us to match our deep passion with the world’s deep needs.”  What were they saying?  All my life people have referred to skills and talents as gifts.  A craftsman has the skill to build, an artist the skill to inspire, a writer the skill to communicate, musician the skill to speak through sound, engineers design, doctors heal, mothers and fathers nurture, and the list goes on.  I think the distinction comes from the last two thirds of the statement. “...the grace of God at work within us, empowering us to match our deep passion with the world’s deep needs.”  All humans have an aptitude for and eventual develop skills and talents.  But not all humans have invited the Holy Spirit into their lives to work within them to match their skills and talents with the world’s deep needs.  You might have the gift of administration, and you might manage a large company to great success making many people, including yourself, lot’s of money, but if you don’t have the grace of God working within you to take that skill and use it to meet the world’s deep needs, then you have simply exercised a survival skill,
not used the spiritual gift of administration.  This doesn’t mean you can’t use your skills and talents to survive and thrive here on earth.  Of course you can and should, but what you do beyond that which is necessary to survive, what you do as a result of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, what you do as a response to the great gift of love and your own love for the giver of that gift, what you do with your skill or talent that addresses the world’s deep needs, that is the exercising of your spiritual gifts.  That is the investment of the talents in the parable we heard earlier.  

You have spiritual gifts.  If you are not sure what they are, you might try taking the survey on the UMC website, or you could discuss this with pastor Chris, or a Christian brother or sister, definitely pray about it, and ask the the Holy Spirit to reveal your gifts to you and motivate you to use your skills and talents to meet the world’s deep needs.
Now, as I was typing this up I kept thinking that, “The world’s deep needs” seems like an ominous task, an impossible mission, a ridiculous goal for just me here at Pleasant Grove UMC.  So start here.  In the church, in your family, in the community.  In case you didn’t know, PGUMC does exist in this world, as does Pleasant Grove, Varnell, Cohutta, Dawnville, Dalton, etc.  And there are deep needs in our community.  Start here.  Make it manageable. 
A friend of mine made a ceramic mug for me and gave it to me as a gift for Christmas a few years ago.  I thanked her, and among the many other coffee vessels I carry around, naturally hers was one of them.  One day as I was using the mug she gave me, she came up to me and said,”It always makes me feel so good when I see you drinking from the cup I made for you.”  And it wasn’t in a, “I’m so good and wonderful, boastful braggish, manner”, it was genuine joy in realizing she had created something for me that I was enjoying and using.   Well, God gave us spiritual gifts.  Don’t you think it makes Him happy when we used the gifts He gave us?  Can’t you see Him smiling as He witnesses us using the gifts He gave us, knowing that by doing so we will be broadening the kingdom of God on earth, thereby making even more people happy as they encounter the all saving grace of our merciful God?  And I’ll tell you something else.  That mug she made me, well, if I have failed to shave, as I often do, and if I sip from the mug at just the right place and in just the right angle, it’ll grab ahold to one of my pseudo beard hairs, and I won’t know it til I pull the mug away from my face.  And yes, then it stings.  But I still love using that mug!  It was made for me, by someone who cared enough to create it and give it to me, and that makes me feel good!  One of the greatest pleasure we get from receiving gifts is…..USING THE GIFT.  How crazy is it that God gave us gifts, and using gifts makes us happy, and using the gifts God gave us makes Him happy too?  Folks, this is almost too good to be true.  You need to get in on this deal.  Discover your gifts if you haven’t already.  Use your gifts if you haven’t been.  And find new and creative ways to keep using your gifts if you have been using them.
Almost every Sunday we say the Apostle’s Creed as our Affirmation Of Faith, and there is line in the Creed that reads: “There He shall judge the quick and the dead.”  That means that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God judging the quick, which is the living, which as far as I can tell is me and you right now, and the dead.  When we go home to our Master and He asks us how we fared with the talents He gave us, will we be able to show a return on His investment.  Or will hand Him a dust covered cloth filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit that have been buried in our bodies because we were afraid to use them.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Genesis, Part 1 - The Creation

            We are starting a new study on Wednesday nights and Thursday mornings at my church.  it's called THE STORY and it studies the whole Bible in chronological order, starting in Genesis.  So I thought I would share a series of blogs about the story of Genesis.  Today, I want to work through some of the highlights of the creation story from Genesis.  In particularl, I want to focus on how the story relates to people, how God’s perfect creation was spoiled, and the consequences of that spoilage on the world and us today.  So let’s look look first at Genesis 2:25

Genesis 2:25 Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.

            It's a short verse, but there is so much we can glean from it.  This is a picture of the perfect creation God made in the beginning.  Notice the total innocence of Adam and Eve.  They are naked, but they felt absolutely no shame.  When was the last time you could stand naked and feel as Adam and Eve?  They could because they were perfect in every way--just as God originally intended for humanity.
            Their bodies were yet to be touched by any sickness.  They had perfect sight, perfect senses, a body that functioned perfectly.  Have you ever known anyone who was a perfect physical specimen?  The closest we find to this in our time might be professional athletes or Olympians who are gifted with raw, natural talent and then spend their whole life developing that gift.  And yet, Adam and Eve were infinitely better than eve the best athletes we find in our world today.
            Their bodies were untouched by the slightest mental dysfunction.  They had perfect memory, perfect clarity of thought, perfect understanding.  Again, think of the most brilliant person you know or of whom you have heard.  Adam and Eve had infinitely better mental capabilities.
            They had no emotional problems, not eve the slightest.  For, no one had ever betrayed, harmed, spoken an ill word, had a misunderstanding or disagreement, been insulted or even perceived an insult, been depressed or sad or angry or anything other than at perfect peace and harmony with all God and all of His creation.
            So that Adam and Eve could stand completely naked before one another (and God) and have absolutely no shame.  They had no thoughts about blemishes, for there were none.  They had no feelings of vulnerability.  They felt perfectly safe.  They were not cold or concerned about getting a sunburn.  They did not have even a thought that there was anything to be ashamed of or that they were even naked.  To them—completely and utterly innocent as they were—it was an absolutely natural state of being. 
            And these attributes applied not just humanity. All of Creation was perfect. No wild beast threatened to harm Adam and Eve or any other animals, whether by malice or accident or necessity of food. No natural disaster existed on the earth—whether tornado or hurricane or wildfire or earthquake or frigid temperatures or scorching sun or flood or drought.  All nature was perfectly balanced and in harmony so as to make life completely sustainable and fit to enjoy.  And God and humanity were so close they lived in perfect harmony—talking to one another as friends walking through a garden on a beautiful day.  All this was the gift God gave to Adam and Eve. And yet, apparently, this couple wanted more.  The Serpent used that desire to tempt them.
Genesis 3:4-7
4 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

            You might ask: "What was so bad about eating the fruit?"   It was direct disobedience of the one and only commandment of God--a test of their loyalty and love.  It was distrusting God – Eve (and Adam) believed the Serpent who contradicted God and even insinuated God was holding out on Adam and Eve. They wondered if they could get more. (How could you possibly have more?). They somehow believed they could get more if they disobeyed God (even though God had never done anything to make them question His love for them).
            It was appealing to Adam and Eve to be free of total dependence on God.  When my son was a young child, he loved Cheez-Its.  I remember vividly on time we were sitting in the car together--he strapped into his car sit.  I gave him some Cheez-Its and he loved them.  He wanted more.  I was delighted to give him some decided I would give him as many as he liked, but I didn't give him the box for fear he would spill them or soil the contents with his sloppy hands.  So I handed him a handful again and again each time he asked for more.  After only a couple handfuls, Gavin determined he was not satisfied to let me feed him one handful at a time.  He wanted the whole box for himself.  Even thought I would give him as many Cheez-Its as he liked, Gavin didn't want to be dependent on me.  In that moment, I perceived an aspect of our human nature.  We want to be independent--even from God.
            Don’t you see the seeds of your own human nature at work in Adam and Eve?  We are so easily tempted to disobey God.  We often distrust God though He loves us completely and unconditionally--even giving up His own Son on a cross to redeem us. We say:
  • “Why is God so mean to me?”
  • “Why can’t I find a husband? ...have a baby?"         
  • "Why can’t I have more money?  ...a better house? ... a nicer car?  Why is God holding out on me?”
  • “Why do bad things happen to ‘good’ people?”  (As if we are good people.  Romans 3:10 clearly tells us, "No one is righteous--not even one."  There are no good people, thus bad things do not happen to good people.  Yet we accuse God of making this happen.)
            We just want to live our life the way we want to without God.  I mean, we want God in our life--especially when we are overwhelmed or in trouble--but we don’t want to be dependent on God.  “Just help us out, God, when we need You and, otherwise, we’ll visit when it’s convenient.”  Who really wants God to be their All in All?  So we see in Adam and Eve the birth of the very sickness in our own souls.       
            Adam and Eve took a chance on the Devil... and lost.  And now we see the aweful result:

Genesis 3:8-11
When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”
11 “Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”

            Adam and Eve were afraid of God--their best friend, the giver of all good things, their protector, sustainer, source of life and peace and love.  They were so afraid they hid.  So add to their malady: desperation and confusion.  For, how can you “hide” from the Creator of the universe--WHO created stars a trillion lightyears away and also created the very heart beating inside your chest?  But their fear filled them with desperation and--being otherwise innocent and unskilled in the black art of sin and deception--all they could think to do was “hide.”
            Oh, we are so much better at sin and deceit than Adam and Eve were.  We’ve had thousands and thousands of years of practice.  Some are so skilled they can go their whole life never letting a single person know the secret sins of their dark heart; some can even deceive themselves.  But NO ONE can hide it from God.  For THE ONE WHO KNOWS HOW MANY HAIRS ARE ON YOUR HEAD will come looking for you.  “Where are you?”  He calls and we cannot help but reveal ourselves, “I hid from you because I was afraid.”
            The innocence was completely gone.  Now Adam and Eve were agonizingly aware of their nakedness.  They were ashamed where before they were joyful and happy.  Their once perfect bodies now suddenly bore the awful marks of age and deterioration that must come upon every aging body. (Can you imagine terror that seized Adam and Eve as they saw for the first time in history their once perfect bodies reduced by stretch marks and wrinkles and age spots and a thinning hairline?  We take these things for granted now, but Adam and Eve had no experince to build upon.  Can you imagine their horror as they felt for the first time in history the aches and pains of old age and arthritis and the dulling of their senses--sight, sound, the ability to remember--the degrading of their reflexes, the onset of vertigo?)  And the ONE PERSON they could ask anything and completely trust for help they feared was now their enemy.

            However, despite their evil and rebellious and ruinous decision, God still was not their enemy.  They turned their back on God, but God did not turn His back on them.  God provided a sacrifice and protection.  

Genesis 3:21 – 21 And the Lord God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.

            Despite their sin, God took pity on Adam and Eve.  Concerned for their fear and shame and safety, God sacrificed the lives of animals to make clothing for the naked humans.  Imagine the horror of the man and woman as they saw animals slaughtered for the first time in history.  The animals’ innocent blood was spilt because of human sin.
            The only protection suitable was animal skin.  Adam and Eve needed protection from a now hostile world.  The elements now were a deadly threat--exposure to cold or scorching sun could wipe them out.  And the inevitable consequence of sin is death.  The animals died in place of Adam and Eve.  They wore the skins as a tangible reminder of the cost of sin and yet also of God’s continuing love for people as the most important part of His creation.

             God made Adam and Eve perfect and gave them the freedom to love Him or not.  They chose to love selfish desires and independence instead of God. They betrayed God for a deceiving snake and lost.  Their sin corrupted all of creation--sin, death, destruction, and disorder are now the norm of this life. The only thing holding back the doom is the loving hand of God--who despite being betrayed--still hopes and longs for a restored relationship with His people.
            Eve is the mother of all who live (Genesis 3:20). And so, we inherited Adam and Eve’s sinful nature and their resulting suffering. But God has not left us without hope.  Through Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are given new life and eternal life.  Through Christ, we can once more come before God and each other with an innocent heart.  For our sins are no more.  They have been crucified with Christ!  His blood has washed our sins away!  The blood of animals was only a temporary solution.  It was insufficient to truly wash away our sins.  But the blood of Christ is all-sufficient.  It washes us clean for all time--every sin we ever committed and every sin we might commit in the future are scoured clean by the blood of Christ shed on the cross. 
            One Day, God will even restore Creation.  Romans 8:21 - “...creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”  I invite you then, to take hold of this hope through God’s promise in Christ.  Turn away from your sin.  Stop chasing your own sinful desires.  Turn back to God.  He is your only hope, the hope of all Creation.
I invite you to bow your head and pray to God and turn your life over to Him completely.

“Lord God, forgive me my sin.  Just like Adam and Eve, I listened to the serpent in my heart and tried to find happiness on my own without You.  It did not work.  I am so sorry I turned away from You. Please forgive me.  Restore me, by the blood of Jesus Christ, to a right relationship with You so I may walk with You unashamed and unafraid all the rest of my days, and I can have everlasting life with You in eternity.  Amen.”


Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

Philippians 3:13-14 – No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.
It’s a brand new year.  What are your goals?  Goals give you something for which to strive.  I have some personal goals this year.  Our church also has goals.  Here are five goals for which Pleasant Grove UMC will strive in 2017.
Goal #1 – Provide Exceptional Ministry to Children.  We have made significant progress in re-invigorating our children's ministries.  New leadership and new volunteers have brought new excitement and as many as 19 children regularly participating.  I believe we can do even better.  One key to success will be to hire a part-time children's minister to lead our wonderful volunteers and develop a vision for children’s ministry at PGUMC.  Please pray for us and help spread the word that we are searching for a children's minister.  Talk to me or Sara Edmond for if you would like to be part of this great ministry.

Goal #2 – Visionary Youth Ministry.  Amy Harris does a wonderful job ministering to our youth.  This year, we will take our youth ministry to the next level by developing a clear vision and mission statement and building a team of volunteers to assist Amy in ministry.   Perhaps you would like to be on the team.  Talk to me or Amy if you would like to help.

Goal #3 – Invigorate Worship.  In 2017, we will work on ways to make Sunday morning worship more energetic, heartfelt, and inspiring.  We will experiment with new ways to make worship a true blessing.  Talk to me or David Crawford if you would like to help.

Goal #4 – Reorganize Our Greeters.  Another of our goals for the year is to reorganize our greeters so that everyone who comes to PGUMC receives a warm welcome.  We need volunteers and a way to organize our efforts.  We will also look for ways to train people as greeters so they know how to make people feel welcome.  Teresa Marlow has been very helpful in the effort.  Talk to me or Teresa Marlow if you have questions or ideas or want to lend a hand.

Goal #5 – More Outreach.  Love lives at PGUMC and we have always cared about our community.  In 2017, we will make a concerted effort to provide more organized opportunities to reach out and serve the people of Whitfield County.  We will work to provide service projects all year long as well as participate in community efforts like Family Promise and Be the Church.
These are the goals Pleasant Grove UMC will focus on in 2017.  Will you join me in praying about them, following the Lord’s direction, and helping wherever you can?  Of course, I’m no expert and certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…
Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Help Wanted - Children's Director

Pleasant Grove UMC is Dalton, GA is hiring a part-time children's director to coordinate and lead all church programs for children from birth to 5th grade.  Salary is $7,000 per year. 

If you are passionate about helping kids grow a relationship with Jesus, you might be the person for us! Please contact the church office at 706-259-3141 or email

Pleasant Grove is an outreach oriented, mission-minded Christian church seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We currently have 15-20 children participating in our Wednesday night programs.  We also have programs on Sunday mornings.  We are looking for the right leader to organize and lead our wonderful volunteers. 

The 2017 State of the Communion Address

Near the beginning of each year, the President of the United States gives a “state of the union address”.  This televised speech is made to a joint session of the congress reporting the condition of the country and outlining his legislative agenda and national priorities.
My message this morning is a blatant copy of this presidential tradition.  However, I hope it will be a useful one.  I wish to report on the condition of our church (our “Communion”) and outline our agenda and priorities for the coming year.  I invite you to also reflect on your own personal goals for the coming year.  As we reflect, I think of the God’s Word in Philippians 3:13-14 where it says: 

Philippians 3:13-14
No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.

Looking Back on 2016 at Pleasant Grove UMC
            There is always room for improvement in life. We learn from our mistakes. Even in our victories are opportunities to improve as we consider how to make our efforts even better in the future. We made some progress on each of the goals we set last year.  Let's review them.           
            At the beginning of 2016, we made a commitment to “do whatever it takes” to provide exceptional ministry to children. We have made significant progress in this difficult work. After much agonizing and prayerful consideration, we decided it was time to change the leadership of our children’s ministry. This has been a difficult transition, but it has also brought new ideas and new energy.  We now have 19 children engaged, learning, and excited to come build a relationship with Jesus on Wednesday nights.  Many of them have started attending on Sundays as well.
            This could not have happened without the excitement, enthusiasm, and dedication of many volunteers, such as: Sara Edmond, DJ Seifert, Allie Motley, Andrea Denson, Debra Sloan, Lori Roberts, Laurie Wilson, & many, many others. It has been amazing to watch the progress we’ve made with these volunteers and the commitment of parents wanting their children to know Jesus. We are still seeking a part-time Children’s Director to guide our volunteers. We will continue to push for exceptional children’s ministry at Pleasant Grove in 2017.
            Another goal of 2016 was spiritual growth through worship, study, and service. In 2016, our Sunday morning worship themes and sermon series covered the topics of homosexuality, deep relationships, core values, spiritual revival, our membership promises, and following God’s signs. On Wednesday Nights, we studied  church revitalization, Timothy Keller's The Meaning of Marriage, Mike Slaughter's The Renegade Gospel, the War Room study on prayer, and Max Lucado's Fearless. Our children's programs focused on how to pray, overcoming fear, and the Christmas story.
            We should all be proud of the members of our Thursday morning Bible Study We had 20 people participate in reading through the Chronological Bible this past year. They completed that journey on December 31.  These dedicated people read through the entire Bible in one year!  We will celebrate their accomplishment this Thursday!
            We continued our outreach to Pleasant Grove Elementary School and Northstar School by providing sack lunches for needy children.  This school year, we were blessed to find a new program coordinator—Susan Cooksey—who is doing a wonderful job coordinating with the schools. We provide 110 sack lunches each week. Susan has also expanded our efforts to encourage teachers with special gifts and service opportunities throughout the year.
            We participated in other service projects as well.  A group of men from our church built a wheel chair ramp for a needy family that included an armed forces veteran.  We packed 150 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child to give to impoverished kids around the world.  And we continued our support of Family Promise to help combat homelessness in our community.
            Last year, I challenged everyone be present at church every Sunday (missing no more than five Sundays in a year).  How did you do on your own personal attendance? Did you miss more than 5 Sundays? Average attendance at PGUMC was 115 in 2016.
            We received 14 new members at our church.  We were blessed to receive  Pamela White, Trevor Maddox, Will Maddox, Mattie Grace Maddox, Donald (DJ) Seifert, Jeremy Ptak, Dale Wallace, Valerie Wallace, Daniel Kai Wallace, Jason Childers, Deborah Childers, Alex Childers, Amaya Childers, and Beth Tessmer.  We had 2 reaffirmations of faith: Alex Childers & Jeremy Ptak.  We also baptised 2 people: Alex Childers and Daniel Kai Wallace.           
Dedicating our new PGUMC church van on Dec. 11, 2016
Church Fire
             There are some things for which you just can't plan.  Early in the morning on September 4, someone set fire to our church van.  The van was parked under the breezeway between the gym and the Promise Building.  The fire destroyed the beautiful van.  Fortunately, fire sprinklers kept the fire at bay until firefighters arrived, but the Promise Building sustained severe smoke and water damage, including the disabling of power to the building.  Much of our time, money, and resources during the last part of 2016 were devoted to recovering from the damage.
            We are making progress.  After negotiating with our insurance company and with the generous support of our church members, we took ownership of a brand new 2017 church van.  We also now have a new cover to park our van under (so we don't need to park in the breezeway anymore).  We also added security cameras to the Promise Building to make our campus even more safe.
            Let me update you on the progress of repairing our Promise Building.  We have repaired the damage to the vinyl siding outside the building.  We also repaired the power meter.  Later, William Ware was repairing a HVAC unit in the building and discovered the power was hooked up to the meter incorrectly.  So, we corrected the electrical problem.  We have negotiated with our insurance company and convinced them of the fact we need to replace the carpet in the facility.  Currently, we are review carpet samples and will soon have the old carpet removed and replaced.  Then, there will be some painting and other work before we are able to fully utilize the Promise Building once more.  I hope these repairs will be completed early this year.
            Dealing with the fire has been a learning opportunity for our whole church.  It was a lesson in forgiveness--forgiving the person(s) who would terrorize a church through arson.  There is still a $10,000 reward for anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of persons responsible for the fire and we hope for justice, but we are not bitter.  The fire was also a lesson in patience, trusting God, and working together.  I am very proud of the way our congregation has pulled together through a very difficult situation.

Looking Forward to 2017
            But the Scripture says not to dwell on the past. The past is the past and cannot be changed. What is done is done. Therefore, the Scripture says, “I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…”  Let us consider a vision for 2017.  Our goals for the coming year were aided by two recent meetings --facilitated by Dr. Phil Schroeder.  First we met to dream about our hopes for PGUMC.  Then, we met again on December 3rd to plan our 2017 calendar.  From what I learned at these meetings, I offer the following 2017 goals for PGUMC.

Goal #1 - Provide Exceptional Ministry to Children 
            We have made significant progress in re-invigorating our children's ministries.  New leadership and new volunteers have brought new excitement and as many as 19 children regularly participating.  We still have work to do and will continue our work to provide exceptional children's ministry.  One of the key tasks we hope to accomplish this is year hire a part-time children's minister to lead our wonderful volunteers and help develop a vision for children’s ministry at PGUMC.  Please pray for us and help spread the word that we are seeking to hire a children's minister.

Goal #2 - Visionary Youth Ministry
            Amy Harris does a wonderful job ministering to our youth.  This year, we will support her to take our youth ministry to the next level at PGUMC.  We have already begun work to develop a vision for our youth ministry, asking the questions: "What are we trying to accomplish with our youth ministry? What do our youth need to know to be the person we all want them to be by the time they graduate from high school?"  As we cast our vision and develop a mission statement, we will also build a team of volunteers to assist Amy in her ministry.   Perhaps you would like to be on the team.

Goal #3 - Invigorate Worship
            In 2017, we plan work on ways to make Sunday morning worship more energetic and flowing.  David Crawford sought insights from a focus group and is working on some new ideas for how to make worship more heartfelt and inspiring.  We will experiment with new ways to make worship a true blessing.

Goal #4 - Reorganize Our Greeters
            Another of our goals for the year is to reorganize our greeters so that everyone who comes to PGUMC receives a warm welcome.  We need volunteers and a way to organize our efforts.  We will also look at some opportunities to train people as greeters so they know how to make people feel welcome.

Goal #5 - More Outreach
            Love lives at PGUMC and we have always cared about our community.  In 2017, we will make a concerted effort to provide more organized opportunities to reach out and serve the people of Whitfield County.  We will work to provide service projects all year long as well as participate community efforts like Family Promise and Be the Church.

            Which of these is God leading you to help with?  How can you help?  I hope you will prayerfully consider how you can get involved so that 2017 is truly a great year for you and for Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.