Friday, June 12, 2009

What I Love/Hate About Annual Conference

Next week I will make my annual trek to Athens, Georgia for (no...not a Georgia Football game...I wish) the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. For the last sixteen years, I have traveled to Annual Conference for the church's annual decision-making session. For you non-United Methodists, don't quit reading. If you are Baptist, it's like going to the Georgia Baptist Convention. If you are Presbyterian, it's like going to the annual meeting of the Regional Presbytery. If you are Pentecostal, well, it's kind of like going to campmeeting...sorta. If you aren't of the Christian faith or even if you are a United Methodist and simply choose not to care, there are some good things about going to Annual Conference (A.C.) that are worth mentioning. Here's my list:

1. Worship - I look forward to worship at A.C. more than anything. This year, my former Senior Pastor and my mentor, Rev. Al Turnell, will be preaching the memorial service on Wednesday afternoon. I can't wait to hear Al! At A.C., we ordain new ministers, remember our brothers and sisters who have passed on, celebrate Holy Communion, hear great preaching, meditate on good devotionals, and listen to outstanding music. This year, the Hope of Africa children's choir will be singing. Hands down - worship is the best thing about A.C.

2. Catching up with friends - fellow ministers and friends I rarely get to see will be at A.C. Sometimes the best things about A.C. happen in the hallways and restaurants where friends catch up.

3. Food - It is hard to maintain a healthy diet at A.C. There is a Krispy Kreme donut shop AND a Dunkin Donut in Athens. Where else can you eat at The Varsity, Harry Bissett's (a local cajun eatery), and The Noodle House (Chinese fare) all in the same day?....not even in Atlanta. You know, Athens isn't known as the Holy City for nothing.

4. Influencing the future of the church - A young minister like me has the opportunity to use his/her vote to influence the direction of the church. At A.C. one can exercise justice, grace, and conviction with the simple raising of the hand numerous times each day. This year there are 32 Constitutional Ammendments to be voted upon. Pray that our delegates seek God's guidance in these votes.

There are some things I don't like about Annual Conference, however, but I won't bore you with a long list. I can sum up my dislikes by A.C. with one word - politics. Yes, politics is at play in the church as much as it is in Washington, D.C. We sometimes distort the Good News of the Gospel by raring the ugly faces of politics and division. With that said, being a delegate to Annual Conference is a privilege, and I look forward to spending a few days in Athens with 2000 of my closest friends. If I listen carefully, I just might hear the faint roar of my other 92,000 friends down the street in Sanford Stadium. O.k....maybe not.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Wearing The Winning Team's Jersey

I am amazed and perplexed in one sense that it has been since February that I wrote in this blog. In another sense, I can easily understand how the busyness of life and the passage of time put three months in between this writing and the last. Nevertheless, today's blog post has been on my mind since November 2008.

Yes, in November, that cultural event that happens annually in the state bearing King George's name took place once again. Georgia and Georgia Tech squared off in battle on the football field. For the first time in eight seasons, Georgia Tech triumphed, and I lost a bet. No, no money changed hands. I lost a friendly bet with our Minister to Students, Brad Groce. I was sure with Stafford and Moreno playing for the Bulldogs that I was sure to win this wager. But a few Sundays after Tech pulled off the upset, I had to pay my debt to Brad.

My debt was wear a Georgia Tech jersey while I preached the morning message during our 9:45 a.m. worship service. What could have been an act of disgrace as a loyal Georgia fan actually turned into fun. You see, the jersey I wore belongs to one of our members, Scott Blair. Scott is the kick-off, punting, and field-goal ace of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. We have cheered him on since the days that he played for our local Yellow Jackets here at Calhoun High School. It was an honor to wear his number and his actual game jersey while preaching.

Deep down inside of me there is still a high school football player who wishes he could have played college football. So it was fun and exciting to put on a real college football jersey while doing what I do best nowadays which is preaching the morning message for Calhoun First United Methodist Church.

I was reminded while wearing the jersey of two things. First, worship should always be joyous and fun. We gather at church, not to mourn the loss of a Savior who died, but to celebrate the Savior who died and rose again to live forevermore. We, like King David, are called to sing with joy, laugh with happy hearts, and dance to God's tune for our lives. Second, just as I put-on a football jersey to preach, God has called us to "put-on" Christ - His love and His character - each day that we live. We are to clothe ourselves with Christ and represent His presence in our midst.

The Sunday after the Tech win (and Bulldog loss) could have been a day of humiliation for me. In the same way, our lives can be filled with shame and humiliation. But through the grace of Jesus Christ, we can live with victory and wear the jersey of the winning team with pride knowing that we all win with Jesus.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A New Focus For Lent

The Season of Lent in the Christian Year begins next Wednesday, February 25 on the day called Ash Wednesday. Lent, a forty day period leading up to the celebration of Easter, is a Season during which followers of Christ journey with Jesus toward the Cross and reflect on the love of God. Typically, Lent is also a Season of fasting and repentance during which Christians examine themselves and seek forgiveness for the ways they "fall short of the glory of God." As a part of their fasting, some Christians often "give-up" something during Lent. Favorite foods, pleasureable activities and even bad habits are placed aside for forty days to focus commitments and desires upon Christ.

I'm thinking that maybe this year should be different. Yes, we still might give-up something for Lent, but maybe we should focus more intently this year on what matters most in our lives. Thousands upon thousands of people (hundreds in our own small community) have lost their jobs. They have already "given-up" things for Lent through necessity. Prognosticators forecaste worse days to come before the economy gets better (if it gets better) as the government seeks to "stimulate" jobs and spending. Maybe giving up expensive coffee or chocolate is almost spiritually juvenile this year considering that many of our neighbors are struggling to buy mere staples at the grocery store. Maybe instead of giving-up something we should focus on life's most important things this Lent as a way of renewing our faith and journeying with Jesus.

1. Give thanks to God for relationships - for Christ, for the presence of God's Spirit, for spouses, for parents, for relatives of every sort, for friends, for neighbors, for church family, etc. As our economy weakens and the pleasures of life we once could afford are no more, let us focus on the people in our lives and build on those relationships. We will need each other in the coming days, that's for sure. We will need to rely on each other in ways that my individualistic generation has never had to in the past. We will need each other's love, support, and care. Most of all, we will need the hope and joy that Christ gives us each day. Therefore, build upon your life in Christ - pray fervently, study God's Word deeply, and love passionately the people in your lives.

2. Listen carefully to the call of God - I believe every human being is gifted by God to serve others in His name. We each have a calling to fulfill. In the coming days of crisis, fulfilling our calling will be important. We each have a role to play in helping our neighbors and caring for each other. Thus, this Lent should be a time of asking God, "what is most important for me to do with the gifts and talents you have given me?" When we find the answer, we should waste no time in employing our talents for His service.

3. Love/Help your neighbor - Let's get out of our wooden and brick boxes during Lent and reach out to those in our community who are hurting and struggling. Jesus taught us that loving our neighbor was second only to loving Him. Who needs your help right now? An elderly neighbor? A struggling relative? A neighbor who recently lost their job? A single parent who can barely make ends meet? Take some time to reach out and love with the love of Christ. You have something to share - a favorite recipe, valuable time, an encouraging card, a prayer, an invitation - you have something to offer that will bring someone hope.

There are other important things to think about and do. These are only some of the important things in life. Whatever you to decide to do as an act of faith this Lent, remember to move outward with every step inward so that Christ - His hope, His love, and His salvation - will be shared with all during these trying times.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jesus' Prayer For Us

As I watched the inauguration of President Obama yesterday, I listened closely to the prayer of Reverend Joseph Lowery. I had missed the opening prayer of Pastor Rick Warren, but I was able to hear Reverend Lowery's benediction and join him in a prayer for our nation and our new President. Reverend Lowery is a member of my Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in North Georgia. In addition to serving with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Lowery served formerly as Senior Pastor of Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta. To say the least, Reverend Lowery prayed powerfully for President Obama and our nation. At the conclusion of his prayer, my wife said, "Now that was a prayer!"

My thoughts turned afterward to the prayer of Jesus found in John 17. In the beginning of that chapter, Jesus prays for his twelve disciples who will carry His Gospel to the world. He prays that His Holy Father will protect them and make them one. (Vs. 11). But then Jesus prays for the future generations of His followers...those who would come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through the first disciples' witness.

First, Jesus prays that we would be one just as Christ and the Father are one. (Vs. 21) Jesus prayed that His followers would come to complete unity for the purpose of showing the world that Jesus was the Son of God. (vs. 23)

Second, Jesus prays that His love would reside in the hearts of His followers. (vs. 26)

Does the Church reflect Jesus' love and unity with the Father? In answering this question, we may too quickly think of all the ways the Church does not reflect Christ's love and unity. However, let me encourage you to do differently. Instead of thinking too critically, pray that the love of Jesus will be manifested in the Church. Pray that we are so filled with the love of Jesus that it is readily recognizable by every person. Pray that churches unite in the love of Christ to accomplish all that Jesus has called us to do. After all, this is Jesus' own prayer and desire for His Church.