Book Review: TOUGH AS THEY COME

February 4, 2017

This is a true story of a modern American hero. Staff Sargent Travis Miles grew up in small town America. He was raised in a typical large family of the midwest, excelled in high school sports, pulled pranks on his friends like other kids and aspired to make something of his life. He joined the army and wanted to serve his country. On his second duty to Iraq, he was wounded by an IED and lost all four of his limbs.

As the medics transported him to an area hospital, his only concern was his fellow soldiers and remarkably, he cheered them on without even focusing on his own loss of all mobility in his body. His recovery was long and difficult as expected. He experienced an extended coma, the ups and downs of physical therapy and tremendous pain. Yet Travis never lost hope and always was protective of his extended family and newlywed wife. Together they persevered as a family. Travis received artificial limbs and rallied to learn to use them to the fullest.

Today, he is now a dad, walks and lifts on his own and is eager to share his story to encourage his fellow injured warriors and challenge young people to serve their country and be a person of courage and hope. The book is a good read for people who enjoy a powerful story, crave testimonies of faith and need a reminder that heroes are still emerging in our culture.

(“I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”)

 

 

 

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My Bucket List

February 24, 2015

It seems many of the men my age have a Bucket List. Recently some people asked me what is on my bucket list, so here we go:

1. To spend a day with my grandchild all by myself. Yes, it’s the first thing I think of because our first grandchild is expected in four months. I would like my daughter to leave the child with old dad and let me care for her, sing to her and show her off to all my friends. I am not afraid and my daughter should not be either. I did just fine by her!

2. To write a book that gets published. I wrote one in 2004 that was condensed by the publisher into a magazine article. It got published in two journals yet I still want to write a book. On what subject, I have no idea. I’ll come up with that later.

3. To return to my childhood camps and spend a night or so. I loved growing up at two great camps in Alabama. Camp Winnataska is about an hour east of Birmingham. I learned to ride a horse there, make a hemp rope necktie, enjoyed pillow fights, dressing in native clothing for Indian night, singing around the bonfire and competing in Derby Night. The second camp is my Ebenezer. Camp Sumatanga, located about an hour northeast of Bham, is where God hammered out my call to ministry, introduced me to creative worship, the place I got my first kiss, learned to square dance and loved to escape/retreat to at least one weekend a month during high school. I had friends there that were as close as siblings. Wonderful place!

4. Travel to some places Meri and I still want to get to: New Zealand, the Hershey Plant in Pennsylvania, and the Amish Country there. Hawaii and even Las Vegas, not to gamble, just to enjoy the sights, sounds and attractions. Also to stay at Animal Kingdom in Disney World and go across the city to Hogwarts at Universal. And take an Alaskan cruise.

5. Some places I still have not convinced Meri to visit yet are on my list:  China, fish the Amazon River, go back to the Congo and worship in the churches where I helped raise funds for new roofs, and take a cruise through the Panama Canal.

6. Refinish some old furniture. I did this when we first married and have not done a piece in 20 years. Takes a lot of time and patience.

7. Catch a largemouth bass of 8 pounds or more, take a picture of it and release it. Then have a picture of it in my office, but not a mounted fish. I would rather know it’s still out there producing more bass for me to catch! And take Anna with me to fish once again and see her catch a large fish, but not larger than mine.

8. Cook breakfast for my children and have all of them in our home with their future kids for a whole weekend. The last time I did this the grits were terrible. How do you mess up grits?

9. Eventually work for my son in the church where he is the lead pastor or the teaching pastor. I already learn so much from him and would like to work on his team.

10. Live long enough to do all this with my sweetheart Meri and be with her as she completes her list as well. And I do look forward to the day in retirement when she gets to choose where we live and where we worship. She has been a good sport to always go where I am sent and support my ministry there through blessings and challenges.

Well…that’s enough for now. Time to get to it!!

JONAH and ISIS – there is a connection.

February 10, 2015

Jonah is the reluctant prophet who did not want to go and preach Good News to the people of Nineveh. He was not scared of them, lazy, or unprepared. He knew that God would do what God does best – God would show them mercy and save them. What’s wrong with that? Well, Nineveh is in present day Syria, you know, the land of ISIS. Get it now? Many of us do not want mercy and salvation for this terrible group of terrorist thugs. Right!? It is more than a coincidence that this group destroyed the tomb of Jonah.

This morning a young prophet/youth minister friend of mine said the biggest need of the student generation is their desire for mercy. They long for it from their parents, their teachers and friends. They experience it in very few people, so his team seeks to show mercy and teach them all about it through words and actions. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful…” (Matthew 5: 7).

One of the hardest things to do is to show mercy to those we deem evil and have brought pain into our lives. Yet God is calling present day Jonahs to go to Syria and bring Good News even to ISIS. This morning I read of a Japanese Christian who wanted to go and his government revoked his passport.

There is someone in your circle right now that needs mercy. Will you share the very mercy that God has poured into you? Are you a judge, a Jonah or a merciful servant? What’s the connection for you?

A New Church Down the Street: Competition or Cooperation?

January 26, 2015

Recently another mega-church moved to our church’s community. So yesterday we prayed for them and I told my church we welcomed them. You see,  only 20% of our county is active in a church. Even if this new church attracts 10,000 people, it will only increase this percentage by 1.5%. We need them and they need us – so my prayer is we will work together to reach those who do not yet know Jesus and need a church home.

The amazing fact is yesterday when this new church opened with much publicity and buzz, we had our largest attendance in over a year in worship and our largest turnout for our Discipleship Classes ever! We also had 21 youth start in our Confirmation Class and we baptized 20 youth and adults. This was huge! And a sign we need more churches in this area, certainly not less.

Research shows that when a new church opens, all the surrounding churches grow as well. That is, all the healthy churches. So our emphasis on worship, small groups and calling everyone to places of service has made us stronger. We emphasize a “church of connections” where you will be known by name, where you can be part of a small group and have a place of service that makes a difference in this community. When you are in the hospital or crisis, a pastor will contact or visit you personally. People looking for this find a home here and stick with us.

I well know of the church that just opened around the corner. They are doing good, kingdom work in many places. Their youth minister, Reed Moore, used to be on my staff in a previous church. He is a great guy who reaches young people who would have never come to a church. He was my son’s mentor and now my son is a Youth Minister! Pray for our sister churches, welcome them and invite them to join us in showing the amazing love of God to this community. We need to be the church, the body of Christ, TOGETHER! God will bless our unity!!

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Suicide: talk about it and respond as Christ’s body

January 15, 2015

Two weeks ago I lost a very good friend to depression and suicide. He was a fellow pastor and a confidant of mine. His humor was contagious, his insights brilliant and he was a mighty encourager to me and hundreds of people. His pastor said at the funeral, “Sometimes even the experts get lost.” This is so true. All of us can feel lost, trapped in hopelessness and surrounded by darkness.

I already miss Chris. I am angry he won’t be there next week when we had planned to meet together. I am confused and ask God, “Why?” The lesson I am learning is that the church needs to talk more about mental illness. When someone in our church has cancer, we pray publicly for them, take them a prayer quilt and deliver meals to their family. When someone is suffering from mental illness, is chronically depressed or bipolar, we are embarrassed, few people go to visit them, take a meal or sends cards. We do not know how to respond or what to say.

Last year, over 500,000 people attempted suicide in this country, and one-third of them succeeded. If you or a loved one is depressed, bipolar, suffers from dementia or has ADHD, schizophrenia or any mental condition, our staff, prayer ministers and Stephen Ministers care about you, will walk with you and will never condemn you or look down on you. Our church, our pastors, the Healing Rooms and the Haven of Hope Counseling Center are here FOR YOU AND THIS COMMUNITY.

I ask you to be attentive, alert and available to your neighbors who are suffering, many times in silence. Our churches can make a big difference. Let’s live and share God’s love with all people and let others know we need not fear, for our God is with us and came to save us. Call me anytime. I am honored to serve as a pastor to broken, imperfect people, for this is me as well.

A Millenial’s Quest for Faith and Answers

July 25, 2014

Recently I read a book about a young man going through a crisis in his relationships, his life purpose and his faith. His story is told in a novel by Trevin Wax entitled, Clear Winter Nights. I read the book after being asked to write a review of it. This turned out to be a generous gift of understanding.

The book takes us along on a journey with Chris Walker, a millenial raised in the Christian faith yet now questioning everything in his life as a young adult out of college and trying to find his path. His fiancé challenges him to go see and talk with his grandfather, a retired pastor who Trevor loves dearly and respects. His visit is a timely one where Trevor debates, argues and listens to the mature faith and wisdom of his grandad.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is when Trevor asks how a Christian is to respond to someone who is a follower of Jesus yet living a life and making choices contrary to Biblical teaching. His grandad tells him:

“God makes us in the image of Christ.So, yes, we will grow and become better than we were. But if you think the whole moral point of Christianity is about moral reformation, you’ll find out quickly how powerless you are to make that reformation happen.” (Page 31)

He goes on to explain how God’s Spirit works in us in what is called the process of sanctification, that is, being made holy not by our strengths, but by the grace and leading of God. I recommend this book to Millenials, people who serve among them and just want to understand this generation better. They are a thoughtful generation that is attracted to relationships and authenticity, and not to closed systems or easy answers.

When Your Mom Has Alzheimer’s

May 10, 2014

Five years ago my mom was diagnosed with memory loss that pointed to the beginning of Alzheimer’s. The doctor started her on medicine to slow its progression and gave us advice. This disease has no cure even though research is improving the lives of those diagnosed with it. There is not even a definitive diagnosis. My mom is now suffering from severe memory loss and the ability to function on a daily basis without constant care and attention. She still recognizes her children and grandchildren and even her closest lifelong friends. I know this will continue to change for I have seen the pattern of this terrible disease and the way it slowly shuts down vibrant, wonderful lives of people I have loved.

I often ask God to show me His will in all of this, to heal my mom and help us cope with this daily loss of our mom and my dad’s wife of 63 years. I even argue with God and have even been angry with our Creator for allowing this disease in our lives; and I have asked God to take my mom onto Heaven now rather than let her continue to suffer. God has responded with some answers, much grace and strength. Alzheimer’s has taught me to value every day and every memory and to realize life is still a mystery. I know my mom still loves us and I have even witnessed her grief of knowing she is loosing control and the power to remember.

So I will seek to remember and be thankful for her and all that God has given me through her. I wrote this message to my church this week as we celebrate Mother’s Day and thank God for ALL the women who have nurtured and loved us along our life journeys.

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Greetings Church Family,As we move toward Mothers Day, I am thinking of my mom and how much she loved her three sons. I am who I am today because of the love, sacrifices, encouragement and discipline that my parents gave me. They invested in our lives their time and resources. On Saturdays, they were at my ball games cheering me on even in the summer heat. On Sunday mornings, they got us ready for church, took us to Sunday School and taught us by example that prayer, service and generous giving was the way of Christ-followers.I can still see my mom at the organ playing the hymns and singing along with the choir. She loved hymns and passed this love for church music onto me. I often went with her to weddings, funerals and Sunday night worship. I would sit right behind her in the choir loft where I would watch the services. Little did I know that our Lord was using these times to shape my call to ministry and grow in me a love for preaching the Word and leading worship.She said she knew God had called me to His work when I was very young. She saw it in my sensitivity for children, my concern for the poor and my zeal for Bible study and sharing my faith. When I decided to stay in Georgia and be a pastor here, she grieved that I would not be closer to her. Yet she and dad swallowed hard and said they supported my decision. Several years ago she sat in the sanctuary at Snellville UMC where I was the preacher. I looked at her and she was smiling with pure joy as she observed the church full of people singing the praise of God. It would be the last time that she heard me preach.This Sunday will be a day of mixed emotions for me. I will miss my mom and wish she was here with me playing the organ and hearing her son preach. Yet I will also be full of joy for another reason. This Sunday my son, her grandson, will be commissioned as the new Youth Minister at St. James UMC in Athens, Georgia. She would be so proud and pleased. God is good…and his mercy endures from generation to generation. (Psalm 103: 17)

Pastor Richard

Sugar Hill United Methodist Church: Passion for Christ. Compassion for People.”

Parents and Children Together in Worship

April 15, 2014

Here at Sugar Hill United Methodist Church we believe and practice that parents are the spiritual leaders of their children and our task is to enable you to be effective in this calling and duty. We believe that families should worship together. This has been the pattern of the church for 2000 years. This did not begin to change until the last decade. The early church, the pioneer church and new church movements worldwide practice this. So starting in August, we will invite and encourage parents to include their children and youth with them in worship. We will still offer Children’s Church, but we will encourage you to bring your children with you when they are ready. I will even provide them an activity sheet to help them follow along with my message called “Little People – Big God!”

Our culture causes families to be fractured and divided by age groups. Churches should unite and bond families not separate them assuming we are incompatible for cross-generational worship. What makes us so different or better informed than the church’s practice for over 2000 years of keeping families together? And how can we expect Young Adults to choose corporate worship with a body of Christ filled with people of all ages if we separate them out until age 18? Maybe this is why the church landscape today in America is full of churches by age-groupings. This does not look like or feel like the unified church of believers that Jesus called “his body gathered on earth.” We learn across generations and this inspiration flows from older to younger and vice-versa.

I envision us being known as a church that graciously and genuinely receives children. We already do this in so many ways. So let’s do so in worship as well. Who is the greatest in our church? Not the senior pastor, not the worship leader or the chair of the Church Council – the Bible tells us the greatest among us are the ones who welcome and receive children! (Luke 9: 46-48) Today’s Millennial Generation (those born 1984 – 1993) are telling us this is what they will do, bring their children into worship with them. They are very nuclear and want more time together as a family unit.

The church of Jesus Christ is an assembly of the child-like. We need to observe the children among us to be reminded of authentic faith: open, curious, excited about discovery and trusting. Most important is this fourth quality: trusting God like a little child. When Austin was about four years old he had to have a mole cut off of one of his toes. The doctor thought it could become cancerous later in his life so we agreed to let him cut it off our little boy’s toe. We drove to the Emory Clinic for the procedure where Austin (and his parents) were very apprehensive. I thought he would want his mom to hold him during the procedure. Instead, he said he wanted his daddy to hold him so I placed him in my lap and immediately he became completely relaxed, calm and quiet. He never even flinched as they froze his toe and shaved off that mole!

This is how we are created to survive, thrive and grow in this life. When we are faced with change, obstacles, bad news and difficult circumstances, we can follow the example of children and place ourselves in the very lap of our Heavenly Father. With a childlike faith, we can be open, curious, excited about our future and most of all, full of trust, because we know who holds us and that God’s love will never fail us.

A Bomb Could Not Stop Them

March 16, 2014

This morning as I sat in worship I noticed all the empty seats because the rain kept many people at home. My mind went back to last November when I was in the Congo.  One Sunday it was raining like a River was flowing out of the sky. I turned to my host and said that this rain would probably cause people to stay home from worship. He laughed and said that even bombs going off in the village would not keep his people away from God’s house.

He was speaking literally. During the rebel incursion in their region land mines were placed in the roads and along the foot paths. Yet the people longed to worship God together in songs, prayers and even offerings. So they came and filled the churches. The rebels were astounded and impressed. Some left the area for it was obvious these people belonged to God and their faith confounded their  oppressors.

The morning I was among them the rain never let up. It fell in torrents and flooded the streets. Yet the people joyfully filled the church. Their bodies were soaked and their faces were ablaze with the glory of The Lord. Today in Georgia many people let a rain shower keep them home. They missed experiencing the beauty and glory of worship in spite of the rain.

The prophets would say some oppression might do us some good in realizing how much we need to worship God together regardless of the threats all around us.

 

What is LENT and why observe it?

February 25, 2014

Next week is Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of LENT. Lent is the season of fasting and self-denial observed by many Christians in the days preceding Easter Sunday each year. The word “Lent” comes from a word meaning “lengthening days,” with the Lenten season consisting of forty days in early spring. Since Easter’s date moves each year based on the lunar calendar, Lent’s dates vary from year to year. However, each year it begins on Ash Wednesday, which occurs sometime in February or early March.

Where Did Lent Come From?
Lent is neither commanded nor implied in the Bible. Instead, it is a tradition that developed slowly over the first several centuries of church history. During the first three centuries of the church Christians often prepared to celebrate Easter with a short preparatory fast of one, two, or more days. In about 190 AD the church father, Irenaeus, called Christians to fasting for short periods of time before Easter. These early, pre-Easter fasts were used to mark the time between the death of Jesus and his resurrection, and to prepare one’s heart for Easter Sunday.

How the short pre-Easter fasts of the first three centuries evolved into Lent is not entirely clear. Some early Christians in Egypt held a forty day fast beginning January 6 in imitation of Jesus’ own time of fasting. Those preparing for baptism on Easter in Rome would fast for three weeks prior, and something similar happened in other places at different times of the year. By the fourth century as Easter came to be seen universally as the primary occasion in the year for baptism … these customs developed everywhere into a standard forty-day season of fasting immediately before Easter.

Christians from a variety of traditions see it as a time of prayer, repentance, and self-sacrifice for the purpose of focusing their attention on Christ and His sacrifice in the days leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Lent begins on a humble note on Ash Wednesday when people make their way to church to receive an imprint of ashes on their forehead in the form of a cross. These are to remind us of our mortality and our dependence on God as well as the sacrifice of Christ, which makes it possible for sinful people to go to God.

Why Forty Days?
Forty is a significant number in the Bible. It is a number associated with anticipation and preparation. Moses waited on Mt. Sinai forty days to receive the Law (Ex. 34:28), Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years before entering the promised land (Ex. 16:35), Elijah walked forty days to meet with God at Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8), and most significantly, Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness before his temptation (Mark 1: 6f)

Today Lent lasts six and one half weeks, with exactly forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Sundays have never been included as fast days, since celebration rather than fasting should characterize every Sunday—the day Jesus rose from the dead.

So join us at Sugar Hill UMC next Wednesday, March 5 at 7 pm for our AshWednesday service and let’s start this journey together. The service will be interactive and family friendly for all ages 4 and up. We will also provide weekly devotions for individuals and families to use to focus on the main themes of Lent: focusing on God’s presence, confession, forgiveness and trusting in Jesus who came and lived, died and was resurrected. You can pick a copy up a free copy in the church lobby or download it each week starting March 10 from our website.

Source for much of this research: Jack Santino, All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 102.