From the Desk of

March 5, 2015

Dear Church,

I hope this finds you doing well and having a great week. As we move through the season of Lent, I hope and pray that you continue to find a deepening in your spiritual journey and in your relationship with God. As we continue to move through Growing Together, I hope you see all the ways in which our church is making a difference.

 

This Sunday we will be looking at Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus. If you grew up going to Sunday School, you are probably singing “Zacchaeus was a wee little man; a wee little man was he.” We will not be singing that this Sunday but we will be seeking to understand how his story challenges some of the common narratives about the church today. Last week, one of my friends and neighbors asked me if I wanted to be on our neighborhood pool board. I asked him why he thought I would want to be on the neighborhood pool board. His response was striking, “well, I know you are in the church, so I figured you are okay with sitting through long, unproductive meetings.” At the time, I thought he was kidding, but maybe not. My neighbor’s image of the church illustrates to me one of the image problems that Christian community faces. I know that what people hear and read about church sometimes is not true because I have witnessed firsthand the power of the church, the same power that enabled a man like Zacchaeus to be transformed through an encounter with Jesus. We will take a look at what Jesus and Zacchaeus have to say to us about what it means to be church today. My sermon is entitled “Talk” and I hope you will invite someone to worship with you this Sunday.

 

Finally, I want to lift up the Serve part of Seek, Serve, and Grow. One of the greatest things the church does every week is send people out to serve in the name of God. I had two conversations this past week that illustrate the ways in which we are doing that. Samantha French is a freshman at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. Last week she was informed that out of 7,000 students she ranked in the top 30 people in the whole school in number of service hours. She did so by taking advantage of SSCC’s mission opportunities- Mexico Mission, Rattlesnake Ridge, teaching, serving at Vacation Bible School, and the list goes on and on. I think it great to we are a place that provides one enough opportunity to rank in the top 30 of a school when it comes to serving. Congrats Samantha and thanks for being an example for everyone. I also was talking this week to one of our homebound members who are no longer able to serve the way she once had, but still wants to do something. She told me one of her ministries is to write letters to deployed troops each month. Recently, she had purchased ten boxes of Girl Scout cookies to be sent overseas to troops. I am so proud that not only do we offer chances to serve at SSCC but that we also empower people to serve through so many avenues in life. I am so grateful to serve with you and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

 

Grace and peace,

 

February 26, 2015
Dear Church,


I hope this finds you doing well and having a good week. As I write this, a fairly significant snow/ice event may be on its way to us. I'll go out on a limb and suggest that it either will or will not happen. In all seriousness, I hope you are able to stay safe and warm. If you have elderly neighbors, check on them and make sure they are okay and have everything they need. We also lift up in prayer those experiencing homelessness in this time that they may find what they need to make it through inclement weather.

 

We continue our Growing Together series this Sunday by taking a look at Jesus' first sign in the Gospel of John, turning water into wine. Signs usually tell you how to get somewhere or how long it will take you to go somewhere. In John's Gospel, signs are used to point out the obvious; signs are used to tell you that you are in the right place. When Jesus turns water into wine, it's a sign that you are in the right place. If you are looking for the holy, for the presence of God, you are in the right place. If you want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is a God of abundance, you are in the right place. This is a happy scene except for the wine steward. He can't understand where the wine came from and why it is so good. We don't often want to admit this, but we can be like the steward. When the signs are there, we dismiss them or we can't understand why they are so good. Come Sunday and hear why the signs are there and what they tell us about the nature of God and our lives. It promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to church with you.

 

It's hard to believe but 2015 marks the 20th Anniversary of the Mexico Mission trip. It has been amazing to see how this impactful mission has been carried through in the last 20 years. As a celebration, anyone who has been to Mexico as a youth or sponsor is invited to a Mexico Alumni party on Saturday evening, March 14. As best as we can tell, over 400 different people have made a trip to Mexico with SSCC. If you are one of these alumni, I hope you can come and celebrate this life changing mission.

 

Have a great rest of the week and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

 

Peace to your path,

February 19, 2015

Dear Church,


 I hope this finds you doing well and having a great week. We have entered the season of Lent, a period of 40 days leading up to Jesus' death on the cross and the empty tomb of Easter. This is a time for us to reflect upon our relationship with God and to discover deeper meaning for our life with God. Some give up something during this time, while others take up a life giving activity. The aim is the same-- to clear the clutter from our lives so that we may truly focus on God.

 

During the season, we will be engaged in the sermon series Growing Together. This series reflects upon the growing together portion of our identity statement and I believe is perfect for Lent. Referencing some of Jesus' actions in ministry, we will use verbs to guide us through this season towards what it means to grow. This week, we focus on the word "turn." The word repent appears in both the First and the New Testament. In the Hebrew language, the word for repent means to "turn" or "return" whereas in the Greek language the word means "go beyond the mind you have." When Jesus calls us to repent and believe in the kingdom of God, he is calling us to both turn towards God and to go beyond the mind we have. In fact, in order to discover God, we need to do both, turn towards God and go beyond the mind (and spirit) we have. Most people look for God inside the box, but Jesus seems to challenge us to look for God outside of the box. I hope you will join us this Sunday as we begin this Lenten sermon series.

 

Violence in the name of faith continues to be on the rise. Early this week, video footage of the beheading of Coptic Christians at the hands of ISIS came to light. There is much debate over what to do and who should be doing it. Distrust and fear of Muslim people is also on the rise.  We certainly keep the Coptic Christian community in our thoughts and prayers and we condemn violence of all types, most especially violence committed in the name of God. We shouldn't be too quick to condemn Islam as a whole as every major religion bears responsibility for violence in its history. Atrocities committed in the name of God transcend any one religious affiliation. I continue to think of the type of people that God wants us to be and the type of world that Jesus gave his life for and wonder if this is not the best starting point. At some point, we must lay down our weapons and begin building bridges. We must look past the fear mongering from both sides and begin to see people as fellow human beings. We must become the testimony that those with harmful and destructive agendas will not be more prevalent in this world than those with loving and peaceful agendas. I realize this is easier said than done, but rarely does anything worth doing come to us easily.

 

One of my spiritual disciplines during Lent is to write a new blog post each of the 40 days. Many of the daily posts will be connected to our Growing Together series. You can follow me at https://therevdanny.wordpress.com. I hope you will find the posts meaningful and also be willing to share with a friend or two.

 

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday. It promises to be a great day to invite someone to SSCC.

 

Peace to your path,

 

February 11, 2015

I hope this finds you all doing well and having a great week. I have had the privilege of spending this week on spiritual retreat with 10 other Disciples clergy at Christmount just outside of Asheville. We just completed 24 hours of silence, the opportunity to listen for the voice of God. My habit during this period is to use our directory and visitor lists to pray for each one of you. I am so grateful to be a part of a church that cares for one another and cares for our community.

 

This Sunday we will be taking a look at the concept of love through the lens of Paul's letter to the church at Corinth. The 13th chapter of Corinthians is one of the most well-known pieces of scripture we have. If a person has been to a wedding, chances are they have heard these verses. I hope we can take them a little deeper this Sunday as Paul meant them in a way that would guide community, that knowing a person "face to face" is the reflection of the intimate way that God loves each and every one of us. For one to proclaim that "the greatest of these is love" is to acknowledge that the deepest love we have to give is rooted in the love of and for God.

 

I hope to see you on Sunday and I hope you will invite someone with you to church to experience God's love.

 

Grace and peace to you,

January 29, 2015 

Dear Church,

Hope you are having a great week as we keep our friends in the Northeast in our thoughts and prayers.

Last year about this time, I was thrilled that Marcus Borg was going to be our Real People, Real Faith speaker in September.  Then just a few weeks before the event, we received a call that Dr. Borg could not be with us as he was beginning immediate treatment for cancer. Last week, Dr. Borg passed away, surrounded by family. I regret that he did not get to be with us but I am grateful for his work, which continues to open doors to faith for so many.  He was instrumental to my theological thinking beginning in college when I read

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. Borg opened a door to faith for so many who were seeking a more generous orthodoxy. One of his early quotes that greatly influenced me was this: 

"The way of Jesus is thus not a set of beliefs about Jesus. That people ever thought it was is strange, when we think about it - as if one entered new life by believing certain things to be true, or as if the only people who can be saved are those who know the word "Jesus."  Thinking that way virtually amounts to salvation by syllables. 

Rather, the way of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection - the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being. To use the language of incarnation that is so central to John, Jesus incarnates the way. Incarnation means embodiment. Jesus is what the way embodied in a human life looks like."

-- Marcus J. Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally

Last September we received a call that Dr. Borg could not be with us as he was beginning immediate treatment for cancer. Last week, Dr. Borg passed away, surrounded by family. I regret that he did not get to be with us but I am grateful for his work, which continues to open doors to faith for so many.

Your feedback to our Life Before Death series has been tremendous. I have appreciated the conversations and kind words. I think this series strikes a chord because no matter what stage of life we are in, we want live a meaningful life. We all have the gift of God within us. We sense that God's greatest desire is for us to know the fullness of life in the here and now. We will conclude the series this Sunday with my sermon "Know the Blueprint" based on 1 Peter 2:1-10. We will also have Andrew Black, a local Atlanta musician, with us in both services, providing some great music in addition to our normal wonderful music offerings. I hope you will invite someone to church with you.

Grace and peace,

 

January 22, 2015

 

Hope this finds you doing well and having a great week. It has been nice to enjoy some sunshine and a bit of warmth during the day. A lot of attention this week has been paid to the State of Union Address, which in the social media age has become almost a must see event. I thought the President did a good job of framing the debates and discussion which hopefully will help lead to some meaningful discussions in Congress over the next few years. We have largely lost the ability to have meaningful public discourse and I think this is an area where the church can model for society what it means to have healthy discourse that moves us forward.

I hope you are finding the Life Before Death series both challenging and comforting. I am continually challenged by these ideas and the biblical texts of this series. This week, I have been thinking about what happens when life no longer works for you. What happens when a formulaic faith fails? When A+B=C no longer works. Where does that leave us as one who has been created in the image of God? While in seminary, I had to work one day a week as a chaplain at Metro State Prison, a state women's penitentiary. There was an active faith life and one of the signature ministries was a choir. These ladies were incredible and one of my favorite pieces they did was called "Stir Up the Gift." I always found it to be a glimpse of the kingdom of God to hear a group of people for whom life stopped working singing about stirring up the gift inside of them. Life may fail us, but the gift of God in us does not.

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday as we look at what it means to "Take Heed Unto Thyself." It promises to be a good week to invite someone to church with you.

The 2015 Leadership Council had our first meeting this past Monday and it was a great meeting. We have such gifted and faithful leadership and I am looking forward to a fantastic and meaningful year of ministry. Our Annual Congregational Meeting to approve the 2015 budget and a few other items will be held in the Sanctuary at 12:15 this Sunday, following the 11:15 worship service.

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Grace and peace,


January 15, 2015

I hope you are doing well and having a great week.  We are fully into the swing of a new year and new possibilities and I am so grateful and excited for what is ahead for us as a church.  I hope the gray weather this week has not dampened your spirit.

I have been thinking about a question this week as I have been engaged in the book of Philippians in preparation for Sunday's sermon. Does God pull us forward or does God push us back? Paul uses language such as pressing, straining, pushing, and stretching. It's an athletic image but is also very forward language. We think about moving forward in life, community, church and in most places we think about pressing, stretching, straining. It calls to mind the sometimes difficult but always life-giving process of moving forward. I came across an interesting article this week entitled, ''The Future of the Library Has Very Little to Do with Books." As books and writing become more digitized and memory of the Dewey Decimal System fades, you may think the public library has a  grim future. Many public libraries are doing the work of moving forward, focusing on the need to create digital literacy and digital fluency. In 2013, the first bookless public library opened in San Antonio, an all-digital collection of over 10,000 works. It is a blessing that generations will continue to know the value of the public library through acts of moving forward. I also recall the words of Dr. King from the jail in Birmingham in the midst of the civil rights movement; his first words from that letter are "While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities "unwise and untimely." It's difficult many years later to fathom that there was a time when civil rights would be "unwise and untimely" but to many it was. Thankfully, God and God's people kept moving forward. I am excited to see you and worship with you on Sunday and hope you will invite someone to come with you as we continue Life Before Death with "Live Forward" based on Philippians 3:10-14.

 

Lastly, I will ask that you keep our church staff in prayer as we take some time away on Sunday evening and Monday for our annual retreat. This is a time of learning, renewal, community, and rest for the staff as we reflect and look forward. It's a short but important time of self-care. We spend time in prayer for the congregation as well and covet your prayers. It's truly a pleasure to serve with you all in the church. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

 

Grace and peace,

January 8, 2015
Thank you for taking part in a wonderful retirement celebration for Rev. Linda Whitmire this past Sunday. I know your presence in worship and at the lunch meant so much to her, as she loves this church so deeply. I have been blessed to serve with her as a part of the ministry team and to have her as a colleague. I am also grateful that she will continue to be a part of our congregation and I know that she will continue to share her gifts with us. We thank Linda for her wonderful and faithful ministry. It has been a privilege for me, Katie, Bryant and Micki to serve alongside her in pastoral ministry.

This Sunday we begin a new four week series entitled Life Before Death: Living the Good Life Now. During our lives on earth, what most of us are really seeking to do is to really live, to know the fullness of life. It's why we have priorities, set goals, and make resolutions; we want to be really alive. There are many biblical images that show us what the good life really looks and feels like and it is available to us in the here and now. Jesus spoke often of the kingdom of God and many throughout the years have assumed that he was speaking of somewhere else. This has led many to believe that Christianity's main point was a correct belief system so that one could be in that kingdom after they die.  While we have confidence that we return to God once our earthly life is over, this was not the focus of the early church or Jesus' ministry. His focus was creating a world and lives where all people could know the fullness of life in the here and the now. There was an urgency to his mission that you can sense throughout the Gospels. This life is still available to us and I hope you will join us over the next four weeks as we challenge ourselves to really come alive. My message this week is entitled Created in the Image of God and is based on Psalm 8. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

 

This past Sunday, Stuart Scott passed away from cancer. Scott was an anchor with ESPN who broke down many of the stereotypes in the broadcasting world and was a loving father of two children. He has been an inspiration to many through his perseverance and courage in the face of this terrible disease. Last year, as he was being awarded the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance, he shared these powerful words, "When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live."

I hope you have a great rest of the week and are able to stay warm. See you on Sunday.

Grace and peace,

 January Wellspring

 Rejoice always. Pray continually.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

A New Year signals new opportunity. The turning of the calendar is in many ways a tangible sign of the promise that God is doing a new thing. It is a time to re-evaluate and make changes that will bring us closer to being the person God has created us to be in this world.

As we begin to think about what to do better in 2015, many will choose time in prayer as something that will shape our life. We will work hard at creating a disciplined prayer pattern, setting aside time to be in prayer, or purchasing material that will be a guide to us as we seek to better engage in prayer. As our lives get busy, we misplace the book, or we can't find the "right" words to say. We will get frustrated, discouraged, and feel as though God is one who is unconcerned with humanity.

In his letter to the people of Thessalonia, Paul challenged them to rejoice always and pray continually. This challenge has always confused and discouraged people who felt like they have neither the time nor the discipline to rejoice always and to pray continually. Fred Craddock offers this help:  "Christian faith embraces the whole of life and is not a matter of moods or giving God his part. All of life can be a joyous celebration of the presence of God and salvation. This is not a matter of how one feels but of what God has done."

Some would go so far to say that all of life is prayer. The truth is that there are no right words, universal discipline, or formula for prayer. The first and most important step to prayer is being open to the presence of God in your life. One must have the vision to see God everywhere and everything. Prayer is the ongoing practice of both talking and listening to God. This may very well be what Paul means when he challenges the people of Thessalonia to "pray continually." All of life can be considered prayer, the holy is always in our midst. Begin each day with the idea that you will recognize the holy, and you will find yourself filled with prayers of gratitude, thanksgiving, and true joy.

Peace to your path in 2015,

 

December 11, 2014

Dear Church,  

I hope you are doing well and having a good week. The Hanging of the Green last Sunday was an amazing way to deck the halls and prepare our spirits for Christmas. Thank you to all who helped make this evening possible. It took many people behind the scenes to create this fantastic experience.

This Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, we are continuing our Christmas Presence series and the sermon will challenge us to think about family. When you hear the word family, who do you think about? Who do you include in family? Jesus' first sermon in his home synagogue in Nazareth was drawn from Isaiah 61, which speaks of our mutual accountability to one another and God's desire to "bind up the brokenhearted." That phrase gets to the heart of the purpose of the church and what it means to be a part of God's family. My sermon on Sunday will be "'The Gift of Family" and I hope you will invite someone to share in church with you as we continue our journey towards the manger.

Christmas Eve is always special at SSCC. My hope and prayer is that you are planning on being present at one of the two services and that you are thinking about who you will invite to join you. Many people are looking for a place to worship on Christmas Eve, so why not give them the gift of an invitation to SSCC? The Family Communion Service with Children's Play is at 5 pm, and our traditional Candlelight Communion Service is at 7 pm. I am so looking forward to both of these worship opportunities on the most sacred night of the year.

As the season of Advent moves closer to Christmas, at times it feels like we are a more weary world. Grand Jury decisions in Ferguson and in New York and now a report on the use of torture by the United States. In 2007, the General Assembly of the Christian Church passed a resolution stating that "Torture violates the basic human dignity of the human person that all religions hold dear." Linda's prayer on Sunday captured the tension between wanting to have the perfect Christmas while not being blind to the pain and hurt around us. While there may seem like there are no easy answers and no way for us to move past what divides us to what unites us, I am reminded of this. Many of the greatest Biblical images contain the promise of God showing up in the midst of the turmoil, of God showing up in the wilderness and offering a new way. We are moving into the homestretch of preparing for God to come to us in a real, life-giving way. Let's make the most of that time so that we will be ready to be transformed by a child in a manger, so together we seek a better way.

Lastly, the Gulden family hosted our tremendous staff for our annual Christmas Party on Tuesday evening. I am extremely grateful to serve with our staff and thankful for all that they do for our community. Saturday, we are hosting our annual open house for New Members and our Elders, who have served as new member sponsors this year. I am grateful for all that these folks bring into our church life.

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday and we continue to prepare for the Christ child.

Grace and peace,

December 4, 2014
Hope this finds you doing well and having a great week. I am looking forward to Sunday, sharing in together in the 2nd Sunday of Advent as we continue our journey to the manger. This is a big weekend in the life of the church with our Annual Women's Christmas Communion Service and Brunch on Saturday and the Hanging of the Green service on Sunday evening.

On Sunday we continue our Christmas Presence series with "The Gift of Acceptance." Marshall Rosenberg writes in Speak Peace in a World of Conflict about his son Brett, who when it snowed would run down the street to the home of a woman with a severe handicap. Though she couldn't walk, she could drive her car, but had no mobility when her driveway was filled with snow. Brett shoveled her driveway, which took over an hour. He never told her who did it or asked for money. But Marshall could never get Brett to clear a tiny walkway at his own home. Marshall concluded that it was because he was demanding Brett to do it in a domination structure: I'm the father, and I know what you have to do. Whereas for the neighbor, Brett could act from a place of divine energy that makes giving to others joyful. "We've been educated to think in terms of rewards and punishment instead of what's alive in us and what would make life more wonderful." This Sunday, we will look at Mary's story and consider what is alive in each and every one of us. Once we are able to accept ourselves as loved by God, then we are  better able to understand our call and unique mission in this world. I look forward to seeing you at at 9:00 or 11:15 AM for worship on Sunday.

Sunday evening is an annual favorite tradition, the Hanging of the Green service. Join us as we deck the halls for the season through a festive worship experience. The service begins promptly at 5 PM, followed with Sandwiches, Sweets, and Santa in Dunlap Hall at 6PM. This is a beautiful way to usher in your holiday season, and I hope you will be present for this wonderful night.

I want to share some good news on the stewardship front. For 2014, we are currently on a 99% track when it comes to current pledged giving, and our Grace Alive! giving remains strong. I cannot say thank you enough for your faithfulness and generosity. December is an important month for us when it comes to giving. Let's finish strong, making sure our pledges are fulfilled. Also, if you are looking for a place to give a little extra at the end of the year, I hope you will consider the church. How wonderful it will be to have our projected income for the year at 100% percent so that our mission and ministry are fully funded. Also, if you have not made a pledge for 2015, there is still the opportunity to do so. Every pledge, no matter the size, matters. I so appreciate serving such a generous group of people.

I hope you will invite someone on Sunday as we continue to journey towards the manger.

Peace to your Path,

November 26, 2014

On behalf of all of our clergy and staff, I say "Happy Thanksgiving" to you and to yours. We have been tremendously blessed in many ways at SSCC, and we are beyond grateful to serve with you and among you. Your gifts to the church throughout the year are what fuels our mission and ministry and enables the spirit of God to move among us. However you may spend Thanksgiving, my hope and prayer is that it is a meaningful time with family and loved ones, a day in which we celebrate the abundant gifts of God among us.

This Sunday begins the season of Advent, a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ child. Advent is a version of the Latin word Adventus, which means "coming." It calls us to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Messiah. During the next four Sundays, our sermon series will be Christmas Presence, which will focus us on the gifts that we really need, not the gifts that we necessarily want. People often get their wants and needs confused, especially during this season. The key to truly receiving the gift of a Messiah is to grasp what it is that we are preparing for. It's my favorite season in the church as I know it is for many of you, and I look forward to beginning our preparation together this Sunday. My sermon is entitled "The Gift of Expectation" and it promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to church.

One of the church's favorite traditions of the season is the Hanging of the Green service, which will take place on Sunday, December 7 at 5 PM. This Sunday we will have postcards to hand out so that you may give them to a friend or neighbor as a way to invite them to this service. I hope you will join me in taking advantage of this opportunity.

You may or may not be aware that Mary Michael, my spouse, works as a travel agent. She has to go to Cancun next week for a trade show and has graciously invited me along! Church leadership is gracious enough to allow me to take advantage of this opportunity, so I will be gone Tuesday, December 2 through Saturday, December 6. I will be back and in the pulpit on December 7. Please keep us in your prayers for safe travel.

I do want to say a word about Ferguson, Mo. The grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown was released on Tuesday night.  We don't know all the facts nor do we know what the Grand Jury wrestled with, but what we do know is that whatever happened in Ferguson, a young life has been lost, a community has been torn apart, and mistrust along racial lines and between police and citizens is rampant. I'll quote our Disciples General Minister and President, Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, who was talking to a group of Pastors when the topic of Ferguson came up. She says, "One thing is sure; the God of love and the people who follow that God are needed there and in all the Fergusons across the land." If we proclaim that God is a God of love, then we must be willing to proclaim that as our response to injustice, pain, and division. We each have the power and the responsibility if we build up or tear down, bridge or create divide, embody the love of God or give in to our fears and anxieties.

I know that the outrage is not only about this decision, but a systemic issue we have with racial injustice. Far be it from me to pass judgment upon anyone's experience in life and how it shapes them for today .As our hearts are broken, God's heart was the first to break. Racism of any kind is sin and one that we are still working through in our nation. I do know that God has placed inside each and every one of us the spirit and gift of reconciliation. Let that gift and God's love guide us as we seek to bring the fullness of life and shalom to all of God's people.

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!

With gratitude,

November 20, 2014 

"The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it."  
Frederick HYPERLINK "http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19982.Frederick_Buechner"Buechner

 

Dear Church,

 

I hope this finds you doing well and having a good week. Bitter cold has set in across the United States and our area has been no exception. I always think about those who struggle for shelter and the threat the extreme cold has on them. We are beginning a partnership with Family Promise, which helps families transition from homelessness to a home through housing, meals, job training, and transportation. We are dipping our toes in by helping our friends at Dunwoody United Methodist Church with their week December 14- 21. I encourage you to read more below about this opportunity to serve and pray about whether this might be a place where you are called to serve.

 

This Sunday, we conclude our sermon series, Seeking God, the first series that highlights our new identity statement, which is:

Seeking God

Serving All

Growing Together

 

Most people desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to somehow be a part of God's desire to bring the fullness of life to all people. Too often, we are so fearful, anxious, or worried about what will happen next that we miss God at work. We are all seeking something, whether we realize it or not. The big question is what exactly are we seeking? The answer to that question largely determines the course of our lives. I hope you will join us Sunday as we are challenged by Jesus' words to "seek first the kingdom of God."

 

I want to wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving. I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to serve with you and be a part of this church. For people of faith, giving thanks and practicing gratitude are key components of life. I hope you will take the time (rather than shopping) on Thanksgiving day to be at peace and to give thanks to God for the blessings in our lives and in our church.

 

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday! As an added bonus, we have a special gift this week for everyone that I hope you will be happy to receive.

 

Grace and peace,

November 13, 2014
"Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don't simply learn or study or use Scripture, we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love."  Eugene Peterson

Dear Church,
I hope this finds you doing well and having a great week. We are moving into one of my favorite times of the church year, late fall leading into the season of Advent. This is such a joyful time to be the church together.

When I was younger, my Sunday School class was challenged to memorize the names and order of all 66 books in the Bible. The carrot that was dangled in front of us was a trip to the local pizza place as a class if we could all memorize the books. I worked for weeks on this project, and when the time came I was able to successfully memorize in order all 66 books of the Bible. Our class got to go for pizza one day after church. Many years later, as I began my seminary studies, I realized that although I had been in church all of my life, I knew very little about a good number of those 66 books..

I think the Bible is the bestselling book of all time because it holds very powerful words and experiences. There is a sense of assurance and enough mystery to draw us into the overarching story of God's love and grace that is still unfolding before us. In our tradition, we affirm the importance of scripture while also understanding that it is not intended for an absolute literal translation. We are fond of saying, "We take the Bible seriously, but not literally" --but the truth is that sometimes we fall short of seriously taking it and it's call and claim upon our lives. There are also problematic texts that have been misused and misunderstood, which has also prevented many from being engaged with Scripture. The design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) states, "We hold the centrality of scripture, recognizing that each person has the freedom--and the responsibility--to study God's word within the community of the church."

This Sunday, we will continue our series, Seeking God, by examining exactly what both the freedom and the responsibility to study God's word means and looks like. As people on a journey of faith, our interaction with God through the Bible is paramount. I hope you will feel inclined to invite someone to church with you on Sunday as we share in "The Head and the Heart." I look forward to sharing with you in God's grace this weekend.

With gratitude,

 November 6, 2014

"For me, there would be no road to Damascus, no bolt of lightning, no white-light revelation. I was finally okay with that. My intention, my choice, the choice God gave me, was to seek. And in seeking I find, again and again."

-- Michelle DeRusha, Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith

Dear Church,

I have good news for you - there will be no more campaign ads, at least for a little while. The election season has come and gone and now the work of actual governing and leading begins. Some people are pleased with outcomes, some are disappointed and some remain indifferent. Now is the time to support those that we have elected, pray for them and pray for our common witness as a nation. You may have seen the story about the 102 year old Los Angeles resident who voted for the first time in her life.  She came to this country when she was in her 80s, gained citizenship in 2013 and wanted to be able to vote at least once before she died. One other thing to think about as well; the midterm elections cost a total of 3.7 billion dollars in advertising. I wonder what else we could do with 3.7 billion dollars. Might some of our issues be solved and might a large number of people find themselves better off if we redirected that money?

At the Town Hall meeting in March, the congregation asked us to identify more clearly our "brand" in this community and that we come up with strategies for sharing that "brand." A Branding Task Force was commissioned and our new identity statement was formed- Seeking God, Serving All, Growing Together. In addition, a new logo which we will begin using has been designed by a member of that team, Laura Campbell. I think you will love the new look.

It occurs to me the best way to share our brand is if the people of the congregation own the brand, to the extent they are willing to share who we are as a church, without even thinking about it. We will have three separate sermon series over the coming months which I hope will engage us in who we are as a church as well as whom we are as people of faith. Reflection on our own journey is important. I also hope you will be willing to invite someone to church, as this will be an excellent time for people to see if SSCC may be the church God is calling them to. We begin with a three-week series, Seeking God, looking at the Seek part of the identity statement. My sermon this Sunday will be "Seeking the God Who Is Seeking Us." I hope you will make plans to be at church to hear a challenging and encouraging message. 

As we enter this month of Thanksgiving, I am so grateful to be in ministry with you. See you on Sunday.

Grace and peace,     

October 30, 2014

I trust by now you have received Rev. Linda Whitmire's note that she will be leaving her role as Associate Minister on January 4, 2015. I know that she is excited about moving into this next stage of life, and I rejoice with her at this opportunity for her. We have had many conversations, and I know that she spent much time in discernment and prayer before making this decision. I am so grateful to know Linda as pastor, colleague, and partner in ministry. I look forward to our final couple of months of serving together and look forward to celebrating this next phase for her life.

You may be wondering, "What's next?" First, we will be making plans to celebrate Linda's ministry on January 4, 2015. Stay tuned for the details on this celebration. The Leadership Council and I will be putting together a team to assess the ministerial staffing needs for the future and look at the potential scope of an Associate role that will help us grow into our future at SSCC. When Linda's ministry concludes at the beginning of January, Bryant, Katie, lay leadership and I will work together to fill in the gaps as we move through the process of identifying the scope and the search for a new member of our team. I want us to be patient and thorough in our assessment and search to make sure we have the right person in the right role for our growth and success together.

I also want to again welcome Gale Koven and Ufuoma Ogaga to our team in the Finance and Operations office. Gale will be serving as our Operations Director, and Ufuoma will be serving as our Bookkeeper. They both started this week and have hit the ground running. They will both be at church on a Sunday very soon so that you can meet them.

This Sunday is a sacred day in the life of the church known as All Saints Sunday. This is a day to remember and celebrate the saints in our lives and in the church. There will be beautiful music in both services, and we will take pause to remember the way of Jesus embodied in the people who have gone before us. My sermon in both services is "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" as we explore how we honor the past without living in the past. The saints in our lives call us and teach us how to live meaningful lives that move us forward.

I'll leave you with this video from Jeremy Affeldt of the San Francisco Giants on how one is remembered. By the time you read this, he may very well be a World Series champion, but that is not how he wants to be remembered. Take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPT1Jz3A6mw&feature=youtu.be

I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday. Please make every effort you can to be at church and to invite someone with you. You will be glad you did.


October 23, 2014

I hope this finds you all doing well and having a good week. It has been a beautiful fall week and should be a beautiful fall afternoon this Sunday for our annual Trunk n Treat. New this year is a fundraiser for the Mexico Mission trip, Pete's Wicked Good BBQ. You can come and eat some fantastic BBQ for a suggested $10 donation to the Mexico Mission trip. There will also be some for purchase to take home. I am looking forward to seeing the costumes, the trunks, and eating some great food while supporting our Mexico Mission. Join us this Sunday from 4-6 pm

We are also winding down election season, which means there are more and more political ads running on television. If you are registered to vote, please do so. The United States has one of the lowest voter turnout rates for elections in the world. Make time to vote either early or on Election Day. I also encourage you to do your research; don't let others do it for you. Of course, every ad wants us to believe that their opponent is a bad person and would be bad for the country or state. Do your research into which candidate, regardless of party, holds your values and would best move us forward as a nation, state or community. Your faith shapes your values, so don't be afraid to lean on those understandings of who God is and what God desires for our world when you step into the voting booth. We shouldn't mistake a political election as the main vehicle for bringing God's dreams for this world to life, but is it important to ask who God is and how would God desire us to live and be in this world. 

I wanted to pass along this article for you to read. I thought it had a great point, and several of you have sent it to me this week.  So I thought it would be great to share with everyone, http://wearethatfamily.com/2014/10/dear-world-lets-stop-giving-our-crap-to-the-poor/.

Thank you so much for your positive feedback about our stewardship series and your commitment to the church. We currently have around 65 percent of what we believe will be our number of pledged giving units as of Commitment Sunday, which is a great number at this point historically for the church. If you still need to turn in your pledge for 2015, you can bring your card to church and place in the offering, mail your card, or email your pledge to Barb Duren at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank" shape="rect">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Rev. Linda Whitmire will be preaching this Sunday on "No Strings Attached." It promises to be an excellent Sunday to be in worship and a great chance to invite someone to experience SSCC with you. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Grace and peace,

October 16, 2014

This is has been an exciting week at the church. Yesterday, the sounds and smells of  The Day School's annual Craft Show and Kitchen have filled the air as hundreds of people have come through to shop, eat, and support The Day School. Today we are preparing the host a Cluster Gathering of fellow Disciples of Christ so that all may meet and hear from our new Regional Minister, Rev. Denise Bell.

This Sunday will be exciting as we will bring our financial commitments forward in worship and share together in a celebration brunch in between worship services. The brunch will begin at approximately 10 am at the conclusion of the 9 am worship service. I hope that our time of emphasis on generosity has given you cause to think about how you manage your resources and why you give to the church. This is an interesting time culturally in terms of giving. One writer suggests that we are moving from an age of obligation to an age of discretion. We have more choices than ever as to what to do with both our time and our income. Listen to what Diana Butler Bass says in regard to these choices:

"Americans, even those of modest means, exercise more choices in a single day than some of our ancestors did in a month or perhaps even a year. From the moment we awaken, we are bombarded with choices- from caffeinated or decaffeinated, to flipping on one of a hundred television stations as we ready the children for school, to getting our news in print, online, or via a mobile device, to what sort of spinach to buy for dinner (frozen, local, organic, fresh, chopped, or bunched)."

One could argue that we have too many choices. I think this has been good for the church and for people in faith when it comes to giving. People rarely give out of duty anymore, so the church is forced to think about and tell its story when it comes to resources. How are we using our resources to be and share the Good News in this community? How are we using our gifts to seek, serve, and grow together? Our gifts are the gifts that help people find the love of God in a challenging, complex, and ever changing world. My hope and prayer is that you feel good about the story we are telling collectively with our gifts and that this is the best investment you are currently making.

This Sunday, you are invited to bring your pledge cards for 2015 with you to church as we will offer these to God during worship. We will have extra cards on hand in case your forget yours or need one.

I hope you will invite someone to worship with you on Sunday.  I look forward to seeing you in church.  Know that I am deeply grateful for each and every one of you.

Grace and peace,

October 9, 2014

Dear SSCC Family,
You may remember that at one time, the Butterball Turkey Company had a hotline that people could call to ask questions about their turkeys. One call was from a person who had found a turkey in the bottom of her freezer that had been there for 23 years. She wanted to know if the turkey was safe to prepare and serve. The verdict from the hotline was that it would not be a good idea to eat the 23 year old turkey. The woman replied, "That is what we thought; we will just give it to the church instead."

 

We have been entrusted with so much. God has entrusted humanity with God's very creation and called us to be stewards of God's resources. This week, we will continue our Fearless Generosity series taking a look at what it means to be a fearless sower. The fear of something less than our desired outcome often prevents us from being the "ingredients" of God's work. It's Anne Lamott who reminds us, "We are not responsible for the outcome of things, only for the ingredients." We will explore what this means, how it relates to money, and how it calls us often to give up control.

 

Two other notes for Sunday I want to pass along to you.

 

The Outreach Ministry is inviting all people to wear pink to church on Sunday in support of breast cancer awareness. They will have a table set up for information on screenings, and we will honor and remember those who have survived and struggled with breast cancer. Hopefully you have something in your closet that is pink and that is clean!

 

Also, we will welcome Dr. Stan Saunders back to teach our Community Sunday School Class, as all of our adult classes come together in Dunlap Hall. Stan is the Associate Professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur and a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We look forward to having Stan back with us.

 

This promises to be a great Sunday at SSCC. I hope you will feel compelled to invite someone with you to church.

 

Grace and peace,


September 25, 2014

Dear Church,

It finally feels a bit like fall outside. The cool mornings and late evenings seem to work as a tangible reminder of God's presence with us, refreshing our spirits and nurturing our souls. 

That same refreshing spirit is moving through the church. The last few Sundays together have truly been wonderful, and I am looking forward to another great Sunday this week. We are continuing our Fearless Generosity series by looking at serving fearlessly. Daniel Gilbert is a Harvard psychologist who has written a bestseller, Stumbling on Happiness. He writes that when it comes to the future, human beings create an illusion of foresight. We believe we can see and control the future, so we make plans accordingly. When we make these plans, they tend to be far more focused on one's self rather than on others and their needs. We plan ourselves into a little bubble that we believe will bring us happiness but instead leaves us isolated and without purpose. Jesus made a grand announcement to his home congregation at the beginning of his ministry, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me." This began a proclamation that things were about to change. This Sunday, we will wrestle with and be challenged by Jesus' words to his home congregation and what they mean for us today. It promises to be an excellent week to invite someone to SSCC. 

This week, the United States and its allies initiated airstrikes on ISIS strongholds in Syria. Throughout history, there have been groups of many different religious traditions, including Christianity, who believed that they were doing the "will of God" through violent acts as we are currently seeing in the Middle East. The will of God is always for life, and true life is marked by peace. Let's continue to pray for our leaders, for those in harm's way and commit ourselves to being ambassadors for peace and wholeness for all people.

I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday!

Grace and peace,

 

September 18, 2014


Dear Church,
Hope you are doing well and having a great week. It was truly a magnificent Sunday at the church last week as we celebrated our 54th Anniversary during the morning, and in the afternoon we celebrated the ribbon cutting of our expanded and renovated playground. Thank you once again for being such an amazing congregation. The Spirit is moving in our midst and for that I give thanks.

 

This Sunday, we begin a new sermon series, Fearless Generosity, focusing on the generosity of God and our response to it as well. This series is about stewardship and our ministries for 2015, but is most importantly what living generous lives devoid of fear looks like. You will be hearing from people in the church on what generosity looks like for them and how that generosity has impacted their lives and our community. At 10:10, you are invited to the second congregational town hall of the year in order to hear and share in the vision and some exciting ministry plans for 2015. Walt Disney once said, "You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality." We are those people entrusted with making God's dreams for SSCC come alive and become reality.

 

Lastly, I want to encourage you to keep the leaders of nations around the world in your prayers, including our President. There are several difficult issues of various natures that we are currently facing. As people of faith who hold peace, justice, and wholeness for all God's people as important, one of the many ways we can partner with God is to pray for those facing and making critical decisions.

 

This promises to be an excellent Sunday to be at church and to invite someone to experience God's grace at SSCC.

 

September 11, 2014

 

Dear SSCC Family,


I hope this finds you doing well and having a good week. I am inspired by your response to the Love Does challenge that concluded our sermon series last week. If you were not in worship last week, let me offer the challenge to you again. Find an issue in the world that you are passionate about and over the next couple of weeks find one way to become engaged in that issue on a local, personal level. You can email me and share what you are doing. There is great power in our church community making a difference in the lives of others. Many of you have already shared some powerful ways in which you are becoming involved. I look forward to hearing more from you. 


As you read this, the date is September 11. Most people will never forget where they were on September 11, 2001 around 8:45 EST. It was a day our sense of security was shattered. Try telling someone that before that date, you could pretty much go into any area of an airport without a ticket. It was a day that we experienced both the worst and also the best of the human condition. The worst in those who believed they were doing the will of God in taking human life. The best witnessed in those who gave of themselves in service, those who showed enormous love, compassion, and mercy to those in need. When it comes to a peaceful existence, most of the world still lives somewhere between memory and hope. We can easily recall the violent and unjust acts of history while having glimpses of how God calls the world to be. There is a truth that transcends religious divisions, and that truth is that God's will is always for life for all people. Today, let's offer prayers of remembrance, acknowledging the grief and fear that still exists, and also offer prayers of hope, unity, courage, and peace. 


You will not want to miss this Sunday at Sandy Springs Christian Church. This will be the day we celebrate our 54th Anniversary. Let me emphasize the word "celebrate." We have a rich history that is to be celebrated and an even greater future ahead of us. Nearly three years ago when I accepted the call to be in ministry with you, the driving conviction behind the call for me was that God's future was for us was more than we could even begin to imagine. I am grateful for the ways in which that future is playing out and sense that we are being prepared for even bigger and better ministry together. This Sunday we will celebrate who we are as a church. My sermon in each service will be "Welcome, You Are Home" based on Isaiah 56:1-8.

This promises to be an excellent week to invite someone to church with you. See you on Sunday.

 
Grace and peace,

September 4, 2014
 

 

Dear SSCC Family,

I hope you are all doing well and enjoyed the Labor Day weekend. We've had a great week with The Day School orientation and classes beginning. I always love the opportunity to work with Kathy Gregory and speak to parents about the school, the church, and our shared mission of helping children, grow, learn, know they are accepted, and know that they are loved. The new Playground also is getting rave reviews and will be ready for our children on Sunday.

This is traditionally a time when people get fully back into the routine and back to attending church on a regular basis. It is also a time when people begin looking for a church. We have spent time working on our welcome, our greeting process, and our follow-up with visitors. This Sunday, our new Hospitality team will begin serving, an evolution of the Host Ministry. They will be wearing green host tags and will be seen all over the building greeting people and helping them get to the right place. This is such an important role. Did you know that the first three minutes of a church visit usually is the deciding factor for someone's church experience? Three minutes! Before a single hymn is sung, any word preached, or any lesson taught someone has most likely formed the overarching opinion about SSCC. When we welcome someone, we are welcoming them in the name of Christ, in the name of the one who welcomes each and every one of us. Even if you are not a part of the Hospitality or Welcome team, you are an ambassador, not just for SSCC, but for the love and welcome of God. There may be nothing more important you will do on a Sunday morning at church than to welcome someone as God has welcomed you. 

This Sunday will conclude our Love Does sermon series. I appreciate all the great feedback and words of encouragement on how meaningful this series has been to you. This week we will close by looking at the hardest part of being the hands and feet of love--living it out. Eugene Cho is the founder of the global anti-poverty movement, One Day's Wages. He admits that often, 'I like to talk about changing the world, but I don't like to do what it actually takes." We are often very good at talking about following Jesus but when it comes to actually following Jesus, that becomes a more difficult story. The toughest gap to close may be the one between knowing and doing. When love is merely a theory, it doesn't work as God intends for it to work. This promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to SSCC. 

Finally, If you have some time on Saturday morning, join us for the Great Day of Service. There are several projects available where you can serve. We will gather for a short devotion at 8:30 and be ready to work until about noon. All ages are welcome. 

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!

Grace and peace,

 August 21, 2014 

Dear Church,

I hope you are all doing well and having a good week. This weekend brings many exciting things going on in the life of SSCC:  renovation of our playground as part of Grace Alive!, the women's Rest and Reclaim retreat, and an outing for the ThirdAgers. Coming up in the next few weeks are the Fall Youth and Children's Ministries kickoff, the Great Day of Service, and Real People Real Faith featuring Dr. Marcus Borg. I hope you can take advantage of these opportunities to connect, be inspired, and to serve in the coming weeks as we move into fall at SSCC.

In many respects, it is hard to understand what is taking place in Ferguson, Missouri. The level of social unrest is something we rarely experience so close to home. There are a lot of unknowns at this point, but what we do know is heartbreaking. There is the death of a young man, Michael Brown, and the surrounding grief of his family and friends. We also desire to give the benefit of the doubt to law enforcement, who often face circumstances that we cannot begin to fathom. The people's right for peaceful assembly and a communal voice should be honored and protected. We also want to believe in our justice system to conduct a fair investigation with a just outcome. We still have much work to do as people of faith and as a nation to reach a point where all people can experience the wholeness God intends for them. There are issues of inequality, mistrust, and fear that pervade our thinking and acting. I don't have the answers, but I do recall the words to the church at Galatia: "There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

This Sunday, we continue to make love more than a theory in our series Love Does. In most rearview mirrors on a car, there is a statement, "Objects are closer than they appear." Many live their lives with a rearview mirror mentality, where we continue to be broken by our past. We can't seem to move past previous hurts and disappointments. Bob Goff gives us the wonderful image that God is continuing to unfold something magnificent in people, in humanity. Our lives don't look like a series of folded over mistakes and do-overs, rather lives look like pieces of human origami--with the more creases we have, the better.

This promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to experience God's hope and grace at SSCC. Thanks for being the church you are and for being a part of transforming lives and our community. I will see you on the playground this weekend and at church on Sunday.

Grace and peace,

August 14, 2014 

Most metro school systems are back in full swing by now, which means that the roads of Atlanta are at full capacity, and everyone is leaving for work earlier and arriving home from work later. One of the unique things about living in metro Atlanta is our combination of sprawl, long commutes, and lack of adequate public transportation that leads to a five mile drive taking an hour. Hopefully, you had a good week and handled whatever inconveniences many have come your way.

This Sunday, we continue putting hands and feet on love with Love Does. We will explore a concept we are all familiar with yet rarely admit to--failure. Thomas Edison is famous for the statement, "I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 different ways that won't work." Edison's factory once burned down, the factory that contained his life's work. His only comment was, "There can be great value in disaster. All of our mistakes are burned up and thank God we can start anew." This week, I have been thinking about what the church might look like if we gave ourselves not only the room, but the permission to fail. What chances might we take? How might we be more faithful in answering God's call? What could we do if we can give up any notion of being perfect? This Sunday, we will look at how God's work has been entrusted to imperfect people.

The world is saddened this week by the death of Robin Williams by suicide. He was a beloved figure who made people laugh for many years. He was also living with depression and his struggle has brought to the forefront of our minds the perils of mental illness. Mental illness has carried such a stigma that those who suffer from this disease have had to do so in silence. I suspect more than one person you know suffers from depression, often suffering alone, afraid to seek help from professionals or friends. I have been in several pastoral counseling sessions where I suggested people see a mental health professional, yet they were very nervous to do so because of the stigma. As people of faith, let's work on our interactions to erase this stigma so that people may find the healing and wholeness that God intends for all people. As a community of faith, let's continue to find safe places for people to be open about their struggles, responding to these struggles in love.

This promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to church with you. There are so many wonderful things going on in the life of SSCC. I will see you on Sunday!

Grace and peace,

August 7, 2014

 

Hope this finds you doing well and having a great week. Many students, teachers, and school staff have begun a new school year while others will begin this coming week. Please know that we as a church are in prayers for a year in which all grow in wisdom and understanding. Last week, Linda began our new sermon series, Love Does, in the most powerful way. Do you remember the old phrase "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?" It's a phrase that is well used and also not true. Words can hurt, and words can heal. Words can tear down, or words can build up. Jesus' words had great power. Just ask the sick man on the border between Galilee and Samaria, who Jesus told, "your faith has made you well." Words have incredible power. When was the last time that you really took into consideration the power of your own words to give life or to take life? This week, we will look at two themes, the power of words and the power of persistence as we continue to put hands and feet on love. My sermon is entitled 'Go Buy Your Books" and I hope you will feel compelled to invite someone to church with you this Sunday.

We have three major events coming up that I want to invite you to be a part of:

As part of our Grace Alive! capital campaign, the Playground renovati
on and rebuild will take place the weekend of August 22, 23 and 24. People of all skill levels are invited from SSCC and The Day School to work together to make this dream a reality. You can follow the links in the article below (Help Build the New SSCC Playground) to sign up for a four-hour shift. 

 

On Sunday, August 24th from 1-6 PM there is a fantastic Women's Retreat, of which women of all ages are invited to come to rest and reclaim. Please take a moment this Sunday to register for this retreat.  

 

Lastly, our 54th Anniversary weekend is right around the corner. We will be hosting Dr. Marcus Borg, acclaimed theologian and scholar, the weekend on September 12 and 13, and he will be our guest preacher on Anniversary Sunday, September 14. You can register online or at church for Dr. Borg's lectures on September 12 and 13. 

 

Thanks for being such a wonderful church and for sharing God's grace. 

 
August, 2014 Wellspring

The prophet Hosea had visions for a new beginning and a renewed covenant between the people and God. He wrote that what he was ultimately searching for was "a love that lasts, not more religion. I want you to know God, not go to more prayer meetings." To know God is to know love. Love that lasts is rooted in God. This may be the simplest concept to understand, yet the most difficult to get right. Preacher types like me have been guilty of giving people more religion, when what they were really seeking was love. People of faith have spent countless hours busying ourselves with church while all we really needed was simply to be still and intimately know the presence of God.

 

We are beginning a new sermon series called Love Does, inspired by a book by the same name by a gentleman named Bob Goff. In a span of a week, this book was suggested to me by five different people. I can eventually take a hint! Listen to what Bob Goff writes, "Living a life fully engaged and full of whimsy and the kind of things that love does is something most people plan to do, but along the way they just kind of forget."

 

We get so busy, so caught up, that we forget to engage fully in life. Have you ever seen a group of friends sitting together somewhere and they are all on their phones? Instead of the joy of being present with one another, their minds and spirits are somewhere else. Perhaps you have been on an amazing trip and have been so worried about work or home that you don't even fully appreciate the experience you are having. There is much in this world that tempts to rob us of the gift of presence. Instead of being fully engaged with life, we simply go through the motions, ready to move on to the next thing that we believe will bring us life.

 

Hosea still speaks to us today- we are looking for a love that lasts- perhaps we find that love when we commit to being fully engaged in what God has in store for us in the present moment. That's the kind of thing that love does and as Goff puts it "when love does, life gets interesting."

 

Grace and peace to you,I hope this finds you doing well and having a great week. Between the cooler weather and school gearing up to start once again, we are becoming aware that fall is right around the corner. It will not be long before you can purchase anything you would like that contains pumpkin flavoring. For many, this is the time to get back into a routine. Beginning this Sunday, we will return to our regular Sunday schedule, with worship at 9 and 11:15 AM and Sunday School for all ages at 10 AM. The Worship Band returns at 9 and the Sanctuary Choir returns at 11:15. We also have a great line-up of Sunday School classes for all ages.  I am looking forward to an exciting fall at Sandy Springs Christian Church.


July 31, 2014
We are also beginning a new sermon series this Sunday called "Love Does: Living a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World." This is often a time of year when we reexamine our priorities and our lives, and my hope is that this series will encourage us to do just that. The series, inspired by a book by the same name, is by a gentleman named Bob Goff. Listen to what Donald Miller writes in the foreword of the book, "We don't like to put hands and feet on love. When love is a theory, it's safe; it's free of all risk. But love in the brain changes nothing. Love is too beautiful a concept to keep locked up behind a forehead like a prisoner." I am looking forward to the ways in which we are challenged and encouraged to move love from being a theory to having hands and feet, to being made real. The truth is that love is not real until love does. Rev. Linda Whitmire begins our series this Sunday and her sermon is entitled "I'm With You." I look forward to seeing you all this Sunday, and I hope you will take this opportunity to invite someone to church with you. 

 

There is much to pray about and worry over in our world today. The conflict between Israel and Palestine in Gaza continues to grow, with violence seemingly escalating each day. Russia and its actions continue to make relations with the United States tense, with growing shades of the Cold War era beginning to emerge. Situations are being brought to our attention where children in the world are being abused, neglected, and treated as property. We hear more and more stories of religious persecution. The world as a whole is tense. As followers of Jesus, we are called to live with open hearts and open minds as we seek a more peaceful and just world for all of God's children. While I don't know the answers, I do know that each day we have a chance in some form or fashion to help create God's kingdom here on earth. Let us not shy away from these opportunities, rather let's embrace them as an opportunity for blessing. And let's remember that love is not a theory, but God's greatest gift to humanity.

 

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday in worship at either 9:00 or 11:15 AM. Thank you for the privilege to serve with you.

July 24, 2014

Dear SSCC Family,

I hope this finds you doing well and having a great week. It has been a fantastic week at church as our Workshop of Wonder Vacation Bible School has been in full swing. We are at full capacity with children and have had over 30 volunteers of all ages helping this week. Please offer a thank you to Katie Gibson, Bryant Gibson, Chris Dalton and Hannah Gunter for putting together this amazing ministry.

Thank you for the wonderful response to our Animated Faith sermon series. We will conclude this Sunday with our final summer 10 AM worship service by looking at the movie "Frozen" alongside the promise that perfect love casts out all fear. "Frozen" was released last November and to date has grossed 1.2 billion dollars worldwide. It features the empowering song, "Let It Go," which Emily Abernathy will sing along with any children who wish to join her this Sunday. At its core, "Frozen" is a tale about the power of love to overcome all, most especially fear. I hope you will invite someone to share in worship at SSCC this weekend.

 

Whether you've seen "Frozen"  50 times or have yet to see the film, we invite you to join us for our all church movie night this Friday, July 25 in Dunlap Hall. We will begin at 6 PM and you are invited to bring a picnic dinner with you. We will be providing drinks and snacks. This promises to be fun for everyone.

I am currently working on sermon planning for 2015 and would like your input. Are there sermons you would like to hear? Do you have a sermon series idea? A particular book of the Bible you would like to know more about? If so, please send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and let me know your ideas and thoughts.

I look forward to seeing you on Friday evening and on Sunday. Thanks for the opportunity to serve in ministry with you.

 

Grace and peace,


July 17, 2014

 

I hope you are having a great week. I am looking forward to continuing our Animated Faith sermon series this Sunday by taking a look at the movie Despicable Me. It's appropriate that this week has seen a very large full moon on display because Despicable Me focuses on a guy who believes life's crowning achievement will be to steal the moon. The only thing standing in his way are three orphan girls who see him as much more than the world's greatest villain. They see him as a surrogate father, a role Gru never expected to hold. It promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to experience God's grace at SSCC. Will you share the gift of an invitation to church with someone this week?

 

Following our all church worship at 10 AM, we will hear from our Rattlesnake Ridge mission team, as they share stories and pictures from an incredible experience. You will want to stay following worship for this celebration on Sunday. Nancy McDaniel deserves a round of applause for leading and coordinating such a meaningful mission experience.

 

You will notice on Sunday that the Grace Alive! roofing project will be complete, including the Sanctuary roof. We have gained approval from the city for our new signage and you should be seeing our new signs going on at each entrance very soon. A big thank you to Bryant McDaniel and John Mills for representing us before the city Board of Appeals. There will be pictures of these signs available for viewing this Sunday in the Centrum. The playground renovation is also in the final stages of approval from the city and we are hoping to have a couple of joint SSCC/Day School workdays in August, pending city approval, as we transform our current playground. This will be a valuable ministry resource for our Children's Ministry, The Day School, and the surrounding community. Your gifts and giving to Grace Alive! continue to make a difference.

 

There are many great things happening in our midst. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday. Here is a preview clip for Despicable Me: http://bit.ly/1oHFA84 

 

Grace and peace to you,

 

 

July 10, 2014 


I am writing from the Fellowship Hall of the Whitley City Baptist Church, who is hosting our mission team this week. We have had a great week so far, doing home additions, repairs, and a VBS type camp for the children and teens of Rattlesnake Ridge. I wish you all could have seen all of your donations being unloaded on Monday morning. Today was Thrift Store day in Rattlesnake Ridge, and we witnessed your donations already being given to people in this community. Faith is central to the people here, although it is a theology and worldview we might not recognize or with which we would be comfortable. It's been a good reminder to me that sometimes we fall more in love with our theology than we do with God. In the midst of serving and building relationships in this community, those differences in our view of God fall away and we see each other as brothers and sisters in the family of God. It's been an amazing experience, and I know our entire mission team is looking forward to sharing this with you.

This Sunday, we continue our Animated Faith series as Bryant and Katie take a look at "Toy Story."  This was the first movie the Pixar Company made and has spawned two sequels. "Toy Story" is in many ways a modern day parable about what the kingdom of God is like. This will also be the Gibsons' first time to preach at SSCC, and I know Bryant and Katie are very much looking forward to this opportunity. Remember that we are in the second Sunday of Mid-Summer Worship with all church worship at 10 AM. We will make sandwiches for MUST Ministries following worship, so make sure to plan to stay after worship to help provide lunch for children during the summer months.

I am looking forward to seeing you on Sunday as it promises to be an excellent week to invite someone to experience God's grace with you.  If you would like a preview of "Toy Story," you can watch it at this link, http://bit.ly/VZggnq

Grace and peace to you,

 

July 3, 2014
Dear SSCC Family,
I hope you are having a good week and planning some down time this weekend for the 4th of July holiday. Our nation's patriotism has been on display in full force the last few weeks as the United States made a run to the round of 16 in World Cup soccer. It has been nice to see people united behind this courageous team that represented our nation well. It is unfortunate that in our partisan day, the meaning of patriotism has been limited to particular ideologies, political parties, and other such interests. It has become a litmus test of division rather than a uniting spirit.  True patriotism is a love of country and, most importantly, those with whom we share this land. As people of faith, we are citizens and residents of the United States, but even more importantly we are citizens of the kingdom of God. We belong to God and to one another. That sense of identity calls us to be agents of peace, reconciliation, justice, and love, whichever nation we may call home.

We start a new series this Sunday, Animated Faith, with an all church worship service beginning at 10 AM. During July, we will be looking at four recent animated films whose combined earnings in the US alone tops one billion dollars. The lines between secular and sacred have probably always been a little more blurry than we have believed, as each of these films teaches us a deep truth about what it means to live a faithful and meaningful life. We begin this Sunday with Wreck-it-Ralph. I will put a two-minute link to a preview of the movie at the bottom of this email for you, and I encourage you to make time to watch it in the coming days. It's a great film that calls us to consider the important ideas of who we are and what we do at the deepest levels.

 

Finally, I will soon begin sermon planning for 2015. I would love to know what is on your mind and spirit when it comes to sermons. Perhaps you have a suggestion for a series or a particular sermon topic. Let me also suggest that you think about what sermon topics would be appealing for your friends, neighbors, relatives, etc. who do not attend church, sermons that will help you grow deeper in your faith, sermons that will help you pastorally with life concerns, and sermons that will enable us to grow as agents of justice in our community and world. You can send any ideas you have to me during the month of July at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I look forward to all of your wonderful thoughts and ideas.

 

Here is the link to watch a preview of Wreck It Ralph:  http://bit.ly/TOJ00z 

 

I'll see you for all church worship at 10 AM this Sunday. It promises to be an excellent week to invite someone to experience God's grace with you.

 

Grace and peace,

 

June 26, 2014
I have been wrestling with this quote from Richard Rohr quite a bit this week: "Every time God forgives us, God is saying that God's own rules do not matter as much as the relationship that God wants to create with us." Forgiveness is one of the greatest things that we can offer ourselves and offer to others. Forgiveness is rooted in the love and grace of God. For God, a relationship with all humanity for the healing of the world is the ultimate goal. Rules are not as important as relationship. Jesus used a metaphor to describe this type of life, one rooted in relationship with God and with others, using the images of vines and branches. The fruitfulness of each individual branch depends on its relationship to the vine, nothing else. This challenges our notion of individualism, when it fact God has designed a world in which we are greatly interdependent. This Sunday, we will conclude The Real Social Network series by looking at "The Way of Relationship." I hope you will consider inviting someone to church with you this Sundayto experience the grace of God.

During the Sunday School hour, you will have a chance to eat pancakes and hear about the incredible work our mission partners Drs. Anil and Teresa Henry are doing at the Mungeli Hospital in India. They share an inspiring story that you will not want to miss.

 

Also, remember that beginning next Sunday, July 6, and continuing through the month of July, we will have one worship service at 10 AM. We will begin a new sermon series, Animated Faith, looking at some eternal truths through the lens of some of the biggest animated movies of the last few years. Make plans to arrive early for worship each week, as seats will go fast!

 

I look forward to seeing you this Sunday at either 9:00 or 11:15. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve with you.

 

Grace and peace,
 

June 19, 2014

I hope this finds you all doing well and having a great week. It was a privilege for me to co-direct CYF Conference for high school students at Camp Christian last week. SSCC should be extremely proud of our high school students as they represented the church in a magnificent way. It was also a privilege to serve with an amazing staff of counselors, many of whom are from SSCC. Their gifts and faithfulness are making a difference not only in the lives of students, but in the world as well. These are people we have grown, learned from, and sent out into the world. There is no doubt in my mind that our ministry with students will not only remain as historically strong as it has been, but it will flourish and grow in even greater ways. 

Imagine you are sitting in your living room and, suddenly, a group of people take off your roof so that they can get your attention. Imagine a group of your friends willing to take off someone's roof so that you could receive what you needed. This Sunday, I look forward to returning to the pulpit as we explore one of the most powerful stories from Mark's Gospel. Henry Stack Sullivan was a pioneer in interpersonal psychology and during the course of his work made this observation, "It takes people to make people sick and takes people to make people well." We will dive into friendships rooted in real relationships, wrestling with why they are important and why they are essential to our faith journey. My sermon is entitled The Faith of Four Friends.

 

Also, on Sunday at the 11:15 service, we will dedicate the Connie Cannon Endowment Fund for Music Ministry. Connie was a faithful member of the church, the choir, and the Handbell Choir who loved SSCC, its mission, and its ministry. Upon her passing last year, her family made a very generous gift that will support and sustain music here for many years to come. We will dedicate and honor that gift this Sunday. It is a powerful testimony to Connie's overall generosity which inspires us in our own generosity.

 

Speaking of generosity, it is important that we continue to be generous in our giving in the summer months. I realize that it is easy to get behind in our giving in the summer; however, our ministries continue. We are making it even easier for you to be generous through online giving. Did you know you can give using a bank account, debit, or credit card through our website? You can even establish a recurring gift, which means you don't even have to remember from week to week. Visit http://bit.ly/1iavwrJ where you can give securely and confidentially to God's mission and ministry at SSCC.

 

This promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to church. I look forward to seeing you Saturday at the pool party and at church on Sunday.

 

Grace and peace,


June 5, 2014 
 

It was only 10 years ago that a new movement began, one that would come to define and shape what we now know as social networking. A Harvard dorm room bore witness to the launch of thefacebook.com by a student named Mark Zuckerberg. The original goal was to connect people in the university online. It was a fairly small movement; after all it was housed in a college dorm room. Ten years later, Facebook has over 1 billion users with a market value as a company of around $100 billion. If Facebook were a country, it would be the second largest country in the world behind China.

 

Many, many years ago, long before Facebook, another social network began. The followers of a wandering rabbi were gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover. Their beloved teacher, whom they believed to be the messiah, had been crucified, raised from the dead, and had appeared, entrusting his mission to them. He had spoken of the Holy Spirit, which would be with them, which would empower them. This is the setting for the original social network, the church. The church would become known as the body of Christ, God's best hope.

 

This Sunday we begin a new sermon series, The Real Social Network, where we will look at the power of Christian community. We start on Pentecost, the giving of the Holy Spirit to the church. I encourage you to wear something Red this Sunday, as this is the liturgical color for the day. Let's fill the pews with red (sorry Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Florida, etc. fans). It promises to be a wonderful day to invite someone to experience God's powerful grace at Sandy Springs Christian Church.

 

In about a month, we have a group of over 30 people headed to Rattlesnake Ridge, Kentucky, one of the poorest places in the United States. We will have two groups, one doing home construction and another providing a Vacation Bible School for the children in the community. If you cannot physically go, you can still be a part of this mission. Look for the Rattlesnake Ridge board outside the Sanctuary this Sunday, where you will find items needed. Take a sticker with the item and bring it to church before June 30. It's an easy way to serve a community in need with God's love.

 

Finally, as we enter the summer months, please remember that our ministry continues. The ministry of Sandy Springs Christian Church is dependent upon your generosity, and it is your generosity that empowers God's spirit to be at work in our midst. Your gifts Do make a difference. I am blessed to serve with such a generous community of people. See you on Sunday!

 

Grace and peace,

 June 1, 2014 Wellspring

The arrival of summer means longer and lazier days, giving us more time for leisure activities such as reading. A trip to the lake, beach, or mountains often includes a good book. While the below may not be traditional beach reads, they are interesting and enlightening books that I found to be good reads. One or more of these will hopefully be of interest for you.

 

Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor

Matt McKinney gets a big thank you for giving me a copy of this book. I usually read anything by BBT soon after it is published, but I hesitated with this book.  This book is best described as a spirituality of the darkness, guiding us in gaining our footing with God in times of uncertainty. The truth that we often grow the most in the difficult times of our lives is surfaced here, encouraging the reader to keep moving forward.

 

The President's Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

This book has been out for a couple of years and is now available in paperback. The book takes a look at the relationships between former presidents, beginning with the relationship between Harry S. Truman and Woodrow Wilson. Our nation is too often fraught with stark political and ideological differences and this book shows us the human side of the people who have held the highest office in the land. Often, relationship trumps any differences between the few who have shared that common experience.

  

Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today              by Adam Hamilton 

Adam Hamilton leads one of the largest mainline churches in the country and has written an accessible book about the nature of scripture and how we read the Bible. When dealing with tough issues, he gives a guide to how we can approach scripture in a thoughtful and faithful way.

 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness

by Michelle Alexander

Admittedly, probably not a beach read, however an important one. Legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that we have not ended racial caste in America, we have simply redesigned it, primarily though the criminal justice system. This is an eye opening read for anyone.

 

Immortal Diamond: The Search for our True Self by Richard Rohr

I have been using this as a devotional or it can be read straight through. Rohr is one of the most prolific spiritual writers of our time and delivers as always in this book. Rohr makes the distinction between our false selves (who our ego tells us we should be) and our true selves (who God has created us to be.) The book takes us on a journey which moves one from false self to true self. True self must be resurrected through a process of spiritual transformation.

  

Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game by John Sexton and Thomas Oliphant

A summer reading list is not complete without a book about the intersection of America's pastime and God. Tony Chimera introduced me to this great little book a few months ago. It iluminates the surprisingly large number of mutual concepts shared between baseball and religion: faith, doubt, conversion, miracles, and even sacredness among many others.

 

Sycamore Row by John Grisham
This is Grisham's best work since his first novel, A Time to Kill. The book is set in Clanton, MS, where lawyer Jake Brigance is once again involved in a trial with deep racial tensions. The book features storytelling at its best. 

Grace and peace to you,

May 29, 2014  
This time of year is full of rites of passage, acts or accomplishments that transition us from one stage of life to another. Common examples in our culture are graduations, getting a driver's license, retirement, and marriage among others. Religious rites of passage consist of acts such as baptism in our tradition, bar and bat mitzvahs in the Jewish tradition, and the Hajj, which is a pilgrimage to Mecca, in the Islamic tradition. Life is full of these moments and milestones in which we transition from stage to stage, call to call, and place to place.

 

As we conclude our CSI: Christ Scene Investigation series, we will investigate a major rite of passage for the earliest followers of Jesus. As Jesus leaves the earthly realm for the final time, his challenge to his followers is simple: You will be my witnesses. We will close our investigation into the resurrection by examining the expectations for what comes next. It promises to be a great day to invite someone to share in God's grace at SSCC.

 

We will celebrate the act of baptism in the 11:15 am worship service this Sunday.  At the 9:00 am service we will bless our campers, counselors, and directors who are going to Camp Christian this summer.  We have around 50 campers, counselors, and directors going from SSCC over the course of the summer months. Come and be a part of the celebration of all that God is doing in our midst.

 

Thank you for the opportunity to take vacation this week to rest and recharge for the summer months. It promises to be a great summer at SSCC. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday and bringing the final message in our CSI: Christ Scene Investigation series.

 

Grace and peace,

 

May 15, 2014  


Sandy Springs Christian Church faced some pressing questions as it prepared to begin its ministry in 1960.

  • Open Membership. Would baptism be accepted in any form or would members be required to be immersed?
  • Would communion be open to anyone and everyone?
  • Would Sandy Springs Christian Church support integration or would the congregation be segregated by race, color, or creed?

You may know that the answer to all of these questions was a resounding "yes." The implications of this decision by our founders are still with us  today. Our slogan, "Grace Spoken Here," embodies the yes answer to each of the above questions. The answers to these questions were not as easy in 1960 as they may be for us today, and I am grateful for their vision and courage.

 

Implications are an important consideration. The resurrection carries serious implications for people of faith. This week we continue our CSI: Christ Scene Investigation series by exploring a sermon from Peter in the book of Acts, one in which he begins to fully grasp the implications of the resurrection. He discovers he must put old assumptions away so that he can embrace what God is doing through the resurrection. I hope you will invite someone to church this Sunday to share in the Good News of God's grace.

 

We are in the midst of a wonderful period of growth, welcoming new members into the life of the church on a regular basis. Few things bring me more joy as a pastor than bearing witness to someone saying that SSCC is making a difference in their life and that they wish to make a commitment to this community of faith. Perhaps this is something you have been considering. If you wish to talk further, please let me know.  Call the office at 404-256-2582 to come see me and talk further. It might be that the Spirit moves you one Sunday and you come forward. You will also find an article from Linda below about the baptism we are offering for adults on June 1, as we have had several people inquire about baptism. Let us know if that is something on your mind and heart. I spend part of my weekly prayer time with our visitor list, praying that they may find the place where God desires them to be so that they may growth in faith and service, and it is always a blessing when that place is SSCC.

 

With summer approaching, I just want to share a quick reminder about giving. It is easier than ever these days to stay current on our giving to the church through automatic gifts, online giving and other means. Your generosity enables our ministry to remain strong and life-changing. Thank you in advance for your generosity and faithfulness in giving in all seasons.

 

Sabbath is important for all of us and I will be taking some Sabbath time on vacation May 22-30. Linda will be in the pulpit continuing our CSI series on May 25, and you know that Linda is not to be missed. I will return to conclude the CSI series on Sunday, June 1.

 

I am blessed to serve in ministry with you. I look forward to seeing you this Sunday.
Grace and peace,

 

 

May 8, 2014  

 

As a suburban teenager, one of the most formative faith experiences I was blessed to have was as a counselor at Camp Balaam. During my high school years, kids came from inner-city Macon to spend a week at Camp Christian with high school students as their counselors - much like today. We had a camper one year whose name was Ice. We suspected it was not his given name, yet it still was a curious nickname.  One day I asked him why he wanted to be called Ice.  I did not receive the answer I suspected.  Tears began flowing down his cheeks as he shared how for most of his life, one adult after another had used his name as a bad word. He spoke of verbal and emotional abuse, guilt and shame.  He saw coming to camp as something different, a place where he could get away from the pain of his life. He decided for one week, in a new environment, he would have a new name. This week, we continue our CSI: Christ Scene Investigation series by looking at an essential piece of any investigation, Evidence. Mary Magdalene does not recognize Jesus in the garden until he calls her by name: Mary. We will investigate how such a powerful and grace-filled moment that begins with hearing one's name called affects our living today.  It promises to be a great day to invite someone with you to church.

 

We continue to be heartbroken and pray over the abduction of around 300 school-aged girls by a terrorist group in Nigeria.  It is situations like this when we feel so helpless. When we come up short of something to do, we can pray.  A list of the girls' names has been released online (http://allafrica.com/stories/201405050092.html) and many have shared a list on Facebook.  It has been suggested that people of faith pick one name each day from the list and pray for that girl. We can also pray for people and organizations working for their release and a more just society in Nigeria.

 

Sunday is Mother's Day and we honor mothers while also acknowledging that it is a painful day for some.  We do our best at SSCC to honor the wide continuum of mothering and the way in which mothering reflects the image of God.  We celebrate the joy while also knowing that days like this bring great pain to some for one reason or another.  We hope our efforts will reflect the love of God for all people and the wholeness intended for all our lives.

 

I am looking forward to a wonderful day on Sunday and feel blessed to be serving this community with you.

 

Grace and peace,

 

 

May 1, 2014 Wellspring 
The early part of this week was heartbreaking and painful.  It actually began late last week when the owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers was recorded making hateful, racist remarks. A tornado destroyed First Christian Church in Tupelo, MS and on the same day, a fire destroyed First Christian Church in Washington, NC. Early Tuesdaymorning, before dawn, an armed 19 year old opened fire at the Fed Ex facility in Kennesaw, shooting six people before turning the gun on himself.
 

It's times like this in which I wish I could come up with something extremely prophetic to share, yet I find myself with nothing to say. I trust that if we are heartbroken, then God's heart was the first to break. If we are pained, then God is surely pained as well. God also knows that we can do better. We can continue, as people of faith, to work to eradicate racism, from our own spirits and from this world. We can acknowledge that there are factors that contribute to the violence in our world that we too often ignore or do not protest, and as people of faith, we can resolve to speak out and to work for the peace that God calls us to work towards. We can do better. In fact, God is counting on us to be better. 


This week we continue CSI: Christ Scene Investigation with "Evidence." We will dive into the Apostle Paul's testimony to the church at Corinth about the resurrection to the church. For Paul, the evidence of resurrection lies not in an empty tomb, but in his own life. He sees resurrection when he looks in the mirror. His very existence is proof of the power of the Gospel. Most believe that Paul was writing before the Gospels, so he goes with the evidence he knows--his own life and the transformation that occurs. Perhaps humanity is the best evidence of the power of resurrection? What difference would that make?

This promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to share in God's grace at SSCC. Thanks for the opportunity to serve with you!

Grace and peace,

 May 1, 2014  
No doubt you experienced or have heard about the fruitful town hall meeting that took place last Sunday. I left thinking that "town hall" probably wasn't the name that best captured what transpired. God was present as over 80 people of all ages got together to vision, dream, and talk about what God might have us put forward as our focus next year. If you have been in my office, you may have noticed I have a white board. You also may have noticed that it is often filled with words, phrases, and ideas that sometimes make sense and sometimes don't. The white board is my venue to capture dreams and thoughts throughout the day.  I often tell people that I would like to think that everything written on that board is in one way or another, Spirit led.

 In a way, our town hall gathering was representative of a congregational white board. It was a place for us to share, to dream, to vision together what God may do with us and through us. All movements, big and small, begin with dreams that at times seem too big or too unrealistic, but possibe none the less. Do you have a mechanism in your life in which to dream? To vision? Your own white board perhaps? Something similar?  I think the key is learning to dream. Great vision originates with big dreams. A favorite quote of mine, comes from Walt Disney, "You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality." How awesome a responsibility to find life abundant through making God's vision a reality in our congregation, our community, and the world.  Yet, that is the invitation God puts before us each and every day.

 Grace and peace,

 April 24, 2014  

 It was and is a glorious Easter celebration at Sandy Springs Christian Church. I cannot say enough about you and your hospitality, grace and embodiment of God's love throughout Holy Week and most especially on Easter Sunday. You blessed me through your celebration of the empty tomb and I am grateful.

 This Sunday we begin a new series for the Easter season entitled CSI: Christ Scene Investigation. We will be spending time with those who first bore witness to the resurrection, heard about the resurrection, and testified to the resurrection. Each week, we will be doing our own investigating into how the empty tomb transformed their lives and the world around them so that we can understand how the empty tomb changes everything today. I hope that you will invite someone to worship with you over the Easter season.

 This Sunday during the Sunday school hour, we will have our first of two Town Hall meetings. This is a time for our Leadership to share with you some exciting ideas and possibilities for our shared vision that they discerned during our Leadership Retreat. We think it will be a fun and informative time together. Please make plans to come as the gathering will begin at 10:10 AM this Sunday in Dunlap Hall. We will be having the regular Sunday School for children and middle school youth, while the high school youth are invited to the Town Hall gathering.

 Lastly, I want share with you this excellent piece from Richard Rohr entitled "12 Ways to Practice Resurrection."  I look forward to our shared practice of resurrection in our life together over the coming weeks and months.  

  • Negativity: Refuse to identify with negative, blaming, antagonistic, or fearful thoughts (you cannot stop ''having'' them).
  • I am Sorry: Apologize when you hurt another person or situation.
  • The Power of Positivity: Undo your mistakes by some positive action toward the offended person or situation.
  •  Lies: Do not indulge or believe your False Self-that which is concocted by your mind and society's expectations.
  • Your Relationship with God: Choose your True Self-your radical union with God-as often as possible throughout the day.
  • Look Within: Always seek to change yourself before trying to change others.
  • Do for Others: Choose as much as possible to serve rather than be served.
  • Good: Whenever possible, seek the common good over your mere private good.
  • Look after Others: Give preference to those in pain, excluded, or disabled in any way.
  • Justice: Seek just systems and policies over mere charity.
  • Your Voice: Make sure your medium is the same as your message.
  •  L-O-V-E. Never doubt that it is all about love in the end.

  Grace and peace to you,

 

 April 17, 2014  
   

I first heard about the shooting when I saw Kansas City friends' Facebook postings. A man, intent on committing a crime against our Jewish sisters and brothers, had opened fire in a Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, a Kansas City suburb. My good friend Laura Phillips serves the Disciples church in Overland Park. Our friend and former senior minister, Glen Miles serves in Kansas City. We discovered that one of the people who lost their lives is a retired Disciples minister. In Sandy Springs, the Christian and Jewish faith communities have a unique and strong relationship. This act of hatred hits close to home. In the midst of Holy Week, how quickly we moved from the triumphant entry into Jerusalem to the pain and brokenness of Good Friday.
 

We know there must be a better way. The promises of scripture tell us that life overcomes death. The promises of scripture tell us that the way of compassion, peace, grace, justice and love are the way of God. We need Easter. We need Easter more than ever. Peter Gomes, a wonderful teacher and preacher who is now in the resurrection said this: "Easter is not just about the past, way back then and long ago; it is all about the future. Literally I say to you, your best days are ahead of you."  Let us gather to celebrate this good news!

 I want to highlight our Holy Week worship opportunities. The Maundy Thursday service is one of the most moving worship experiences of the year. We are beginning at 7 PM this year so that more people may take advantage of this opportunity. Childcare will be available. On Good Friday, the Sanctuary will be open from 12 until 2 PM for you to move through stations that walk us through the journey of Good Friday. On Easter Sunday, we have two worship opportunities at 9 and 11:15 with an Easter brunch at 10 AM. During the brunch there will be activities for children, including the annual egg hunt. There will be baptisms, amazing music, and all the pageantry of Easter Sunday. My Easter message at both services will be "Roll Away Your Stone." Please consider who you will invite to worship this Sunday. For every visitor who shares either an email address or home address, the church will make a $10 gift to the Community Assistance Center in their honor. Not only is an invitation a gift to them as well as you, but it benefits those in need in our community as well.

I look forward to our journey together from the table to the cross to the empty tomb.

 Peace to your path,

 

 April 10, 2014  

David Wilcox is a magnificent singer-songwriter and his song "Show the Way" lays the perfect foundation for the journey of Holy Week.

Love who makes the mortar
And it's love who stacked these stones
And it's love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we're alone
In this scene set in shadows
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote the play...
For in this darkness love can show the way

 The journey starts with a parade announcing God's kingdom has arrived, moves to a table where those who will betray and deny gather to share a sacred meal, to the darkness of death on a cross, and finally culminates in an empty tomb which announces to the world that love wins.

 This year, we gather on April 13 for Palm Sunday and to share in Mexico Celebration Sunday, which will be an all church worship at 10 AM. Our Mexico Missionaries will share stories of God's kingdom from the week they spent in Tecate, Mexico building a home for a family in need. This is such a unique opportunity to combine one of our most meaningful worship services of the year with the beginning of Holy Week. Please arrive early to get a good seat, as we will begin the Palm Processional at 10 AM. There will be an all church lunch following the service

 Our Maundy Thursday service is April 17 at 7 PM. We are beginning at 7 this year to enable families with children and those who are uncomfortable driving at night to more easily attend. This is one of the most moving services and truly will make the Easter experience even more powerful for you. Join us as darkness sets in, both literally and figuratively. The nursery will be open for this service. Once again, please arrive early  so that we can begin promptly at 7.

 On Good Friday, April 18, the Sanctuary will be open from 12 until 2 PM for prayer stations. This is a self-guided opportunity for you to reflect on Jesus' death and our own brokenness. This is a moving, intimate time that I encourage you take advantage of this year.

 April 20 is Easter Sunday which we celebrate with two glorious worship services at 9 and 11:15 AM. In between will be a brunch in Dunlap Hall and activities for children. I strongly encourage you to invite someone to worship with you on Easter. Around 80% of people visit a church for the first time because someone issued them a personal invitation. It is an incredible time for you and them when you invite someone to share in this celebration.

 I am so looking forward to this journey with you and seeing how God will move in our midst during this Holy Week.

 Grace and peace,

 

April 3, 2014  

The Bluff is one of the poorest, most blighted, dangerous neighborhoods in Atlanta. One of our young adults, Michelle Brown, teaches at the high school in the area and many of her students live in the Bluff. It is a dark place where any trace of hope would be difficult to find. Some time zones away, our Mexico Mission team is serving in a neighborhood in Tecate where most people live in need. The streets are not paved, sewage runs down the streets and most people simply hope for a rain free night so their homes will stay dry.

It's easy to understand why Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes, would find everything to be meaningless. It's easy to see why he would find God to be distant and seemingly uncaring. Even Qoheleth sees glimmers of hope. People like Michelle invest in kids lives when no one else will. Mission teams through AMOR Ministries show up week after week in border communities to build homes and lives. Our struggles, our pain, our grief are all very real, yet we know they aren't the final word. There is something more, something better, something more real than we can imagine. This Sunday, we conclude our series on Ecclesiastes by discovering that the story never ends where he believes it does.

We are fast approaching Holy Week and I want to encourage you to invite someone to Easter Worship on April 20. Around 80% of people who visit a church do so because of a personal invitation. Please consider the invitation you extend for Easter worship.

Holy Week begins on April 13 with an all church Palm Sunday service led by our Mexico Mission Team at 10 am. I can't think of a better way to remember Jesus' entry to Jerusalem to announce the coming of the realm of God than by hearing the stories of our missionaries. This is always one of our most moving and meaningful services every year.

I look forward to seeing you this Sunday. It promises to be an excellent day to invite someone to church.

Grace and peace,

  

April 1, 2014  

 I am always struck by the difference in worship attendance from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday to Good Friday to Easter Sunday. I must confess that I sometimes look around on Easter Sunday and think, "Where were all these people a few days ago?" The reality is that Easter is the glorious conclusion of a path that is difficult to travel, a path in which we are confronted with our brokenness. The path Jesus takes into Jerusalem to begin Holy Week is in many ways a boulevard of broken dreams. Try as we might, we cannot escape pain and brokenness as it is part of being human. Perhaps that is why we find it hard to gather on Good Friday, as if we needed to be reminded of our pain or the world's brokenness.

 For humanity, the story does not end there. As Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "We are strong in the broken places." Try as the world might, we are never forever broken as the good news of Easter reminds us. The trumpets of Easter announce that the world has been made whole, that redemption has drawn near. During these remaining days in Lent, do not be afraid to acknowledge your pain and confront your brokenness. In doing so, we find a new beginning, one where our brokenness is healed and the promise of an empty tomb is made real.

 Peace to your path, 


March 27, 2014 
 

Every great movement for change in human history has begun with someone taking a risk. Every great movement in the church has begun with someone taking a risk. I suspect that every movement in a person’s life for the better has begun with that person taking a risk. People throughout the ages have had to deal with fear. Many, if not most of our ills in society are driven by a spirit of fear. It seems like fear lives just beneath the surface in our lives, our government, our organizations, and even in our churches.

Have you ever stopped to think what our world would like today if people had not been willing to take a risk? For example, what would our nation look like today if Dr. King had not stepped out in faith? Qoheleth wrestled with risk taking, lamenting that most people do not step out in faith because they are attempting to control the future. People believe they have a certain amount of control and that they can make a neat and tidy plan. He even makes the point that those who claim to know the mystery of God’s plan end up looking foolish in the end. This Sunday, we will dive deeper into risk, control, fear, and what Qoheleth would say about the mystery of God and God’s plan.

 This Sunday is the YES! Fair, this will highlight opportunities for growth and service available to all at SSCC. We are hoping this will provide some sparks and ways for you engage in the YES! Challenge for 2014, 1) Worship on a regular basis; 2) Engage in a small group; 3) Commit to serve within the walls; 4) Commit to serve outside the walls; 5) give generously. Come to the YES! Fair in Dunlap Hall at 10 AM, eat pancakes, and find a way to connect, inspire, and serve at SSCC.

 We will see our Mexico Mission Team off at the Sandy Springs MARTA station at 10:30 AM on Saturday. We have prayer and send them to the airport with our best wishes as they go to change lives.

 I look forward to seeing you on Sunday. If your Spring Break travels, take you away this weekend, I wish you traveling mercies. If you are in town, I hope to see you at church!

 Grace and peace,

 

March 20, 2014  
There was a preacher who was famous for always finishing her sermons exactly at noon. Her method was that she would put a candy mint in the corner of her mouth as the service began and it was always gone at exactly noon.  One Sunday, the impossible happened. The worship service didn't conclude until 12:45. On the way out, one of the elders asked her, "What happened to you?" She told him about the candy mint and how that was how she timed the service. She told him that on this particular Sunday, the mint never went away. She then confessed to him that on the way out the door, she realized she had put a button in her mouth rather than the candy mint.

 We do our best to remain in control, especially when it comes to time. Time, not only on a daily basis, but in the grand scheme of life. We ask a lot of questions, and for good reason. Why do some live a long life while others lives are cut tragically short? Why are some periods in history so violent while other periods seem so peaceful? Qoheleth, an observer of everything that happened "under the sun," notes 28 different seasons of human life, many of which draw us deeper into the holy mystery that is God. He begins with two occasions which are true for everyone--a time to be born and a time to die. Perhaps Qoheleth is asking us the same question the poet Mary Oliver does, "What are you going to do with your one wild, precious life?" That is a decision we make on a daily basis.

 Sunday, we will bless our Mexico Mission Team, which will depart for Mexico on Saturday, March 29th.  In each service, we will bless 21 high school youth and sponsors spreading Christ's light on our behalf. This is the 19th Mexico Mission trip for SSCC and is made possible by your generous gifts to this mission.

 Below you will read about the YES! Fair on March 30 in conjunction with the Pancake Breakfast. My hope and prayer is that you will take this opportunity to find at least one way to serve or to grow. We want to give everyone an opportunity to engage in God's mission to connect, serve, and inspire at SSCC.

 This promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to SSCC as Linda continues our Lenten series on Ecclesiastes. I look forward to seeing you then!

 Peace to your path,

 

 

 March 13, 2014  

I have a book on my shelf called The All Better Book.  In this book, elementary school aged children prescribe solutions to some of the world's greatest problems.  Here is one of the trickiest problems that they tackle:  With over one billion people in the world, someone should be able to figure out a system where no one is lonely.  What do you suggest?

This is from 8 year old Kalani . . . 

"People should find lonely people and ask their name and address. Then ask people who aren't lonely their name and address. When you have an even number of each, assign lonely and not lonely people together in the newspaper."

 From 9 year old Max . . . 

"Make food that speaks to you when you eat. For instance it would say "How are you doing and what happened to you today?'"
 

 The most touching response in the book comes from 8 year old Brian . . .

 "Sing a song, stomp your feet, read a book. Sometimes I think no one loves me, so I do one of these things." 

People long for connection because connection fulfills our deepest human needs and fuels our relationship to the holy. We need something bigger than ourselves to give our lives. Over 2500 years ago, a man named Qoheleth searched for the meaning of life. He writes of acquiring everything under the sun that he could think of, yet his pursuit of meaning was fruitless. He says that he was chasing the wind. This week, as our Lenten journey continues, we will think about what it means to chase the wind. We will be challenged to think about what feeds our souls the same way that food and water feeds our bodies.

 Our new ministry structure went into place on March 1. We believe this will empower us to connect, serve, and inspire in meaningful ways for years to come while enabling people to effectively use their gifts and passions. We have three ministry forums: Discipleship, Care and Connection, and Outreach. I will serve as the primary staff resource for the Outreach forum as well as worship and Rev. Linda Whitmire will serve as the primary staff resource for Discipleship and Care and Connection. Katie and Bryant Gibson will be the staff resources for Children and Youth, which fall under Discipleship. Sharon Hanna will administratively support all of the Ministry Forums. I am looking forward to seeing the fruit this will bear as we grow and live into the future. I give thanks for all of our lay leadership who have answered God's call to serve as we live into this new way of ministry.

 Finally, I want to say thank you to all who are participating in a Lenten small group. Our group met this past Tuesday, and it was truly a meaningful and wonderful experience. I hope you find yours to be as well.

 I look forward to seeing you on Sunday. It promises to be a great Sunday to invite someone to come with you to SSCC.

 Peace to your path,

 

 

 March 6, 2014
What is the meaning of life? This may be the oldest question around. Why does my life matter, why does anyone's life matter? Around 2,500 years ago, a man named Qoheleth took on the task of answering this very question. His search became the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. As we enter the season of Lent, a time of reflection, repentance and renewal, we will use Ecclesiastes as our guide on the journey to the cross and to resurrection. This week, we will be introduced to Qoheleth, who many believe was a sage writing in Palestine in the 5th century BCE. He was writing to people going about their everyday lives based on his experiences of life and of God. This week, we will wrestle with his thesis statement in the opening chapter: "Perfectly pointless says the Teacher, perfectly pointless. Everything is pointless."  We will dive deeper into this text and the search for meaning in life. This promises to be a journey towards Easter you do not want to miss, and I look forward to sharing in it with you.

 Many have asked me what I am giving up for Lent. While there is plenty I can give up, I decided to take something on.  My Lenten practice will be to read through all four Gospels, which can be done by reading two chapters each day until Easter. I would welcome you to join with me in this practice if you are looking for something to "take up."

 I am starting a three week Beginnings class this Sunday for those who are new to SSCC and looking to learn more about the church, its mission and vision, and values. If you are interested in joining or have recently joined SSCC, gather with me in the Barbee Conference room upstairs in the Education wing at 10:10 AM this Sunday.  You can also let Sharon Hanna know that you plan to be a part of the class by emailing her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 This Sunday, the church will be participating in the Atlanta Hunger Walk as part of an interfaith team with Congregation Or Hadash and the Islamic Center of North Fulton. We will leave following the 11:15 AM service to head down to Turner Field. If you have a blue hunger walk t-shirt, wear it to church on Sunday. We have a large number of people signed up to walk and hopefully we will have a beautiful day as we raise awareness and fight hunger in our community.

 This promises to be a great day to invite someone to experience God's grace at SSCC.    I look forward to seeing you.

 Peace to your path,
 

 

March 1, 2014 Wellpring

Spring
Training has started and baseball players all over are working hard to get ready to play meaningful games. As people of faith, we are entering a time when we are getting ready- ready to turn around, to change our minds, to celebrate resurrection. The season of Lent is a time of spiritual preparation when we take stock so that we may be prepared for God to do something new with us. Lent is not only a time of preparation, but of transformation.

 We emulate the 40 days that Jesus spent wrestling in the wilderness. Fredrick Beuchner describes this period as "Jesus figuring out what it means to be Jesus." Much like Jesus, we spend time figuring out what it means to be ourselves, to be authentic to who God has made us to be. Many give up something during this season as a discipline. It's a realization that we need to give up something so that we can make room for God, make room for true life.

 I suspect that when we make room for God, we will be pleased with what we discover. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, "You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you." For Paul, God already dwelled in us, in humanity. The words of Jesus, "You are the light of the world" are true because God dwells in us. May you discover this truth during Lent. May you be reminded of who you are and whose you are. May you discover anew what it means to be yourself. 

Peace to your path,

  

 February 27, 2014 
I hope this finds everyone doing well and having a good week. I have loved the chance to watch the Winter Olympics over the last few weeks. One of the most interesting facts I learned is that Iceland has never won a medal at any Winter Olympic games. Think about that for a moment, a country named Iceland has never medaled at the Winter Olympics.

Earlier this week, I was reminded of a quote from Steven Covey:  
"Live from your imagination, not your history."  
This Sunday, we will commission our church leaders for service this year, as well as be reminded of our callings from God. We will use grace as the foundation for our callings. Grace is one of the greatest examples of the imagination of God at work. This Sunday, we will explore what it means for the church to be entrusted with the gift of grace.

 The season of Lent, the 40 days (not counting Sundays) leading to Easter, begins March 5 with Ash Wednesday. We have many great opportunities to experience the season, beginning with dinner, small group orientation, and worship on Ash Wednesday. Our Sunday morning series for Lent will focus on the book of Ecclesiastes and the search for the meaning of life.

 The Mexico Mission Company opens this Sunday and will be open for the next four Sundays. This is an opportunity for the whole church to support our high school youth and sponsors with our gifts to support their "on the ground" efforts to build a home for a family in need.

 This promises to be a great week at church. Invite someone to come with you. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

 Grace and peace,

  

February 20, 2014  

 Is anyone else ready for spring? After the snow and the ice we've had over the last few weeks, this week's temperatures have been a gift to us and creation. The HVAC system in Dunlap Hall is being replaced this week; there was a lot of fear that it would be unusable all week because of the temperature. It was a blessing to have a week in the 60s and 70s while also enabling us to envision the arrival of spring.

 This week, we will conclude our sermon series "Counter Cultural." I hope that you have been challenged by taking a look at the Sermon on the Mount. This part of Matthew's Gospel has been called "the gospel within the gospel." This week we look at the conclusion of Jesus' sermon by being challenged; which road, which path will we choose. This is a daily choice we make which determines the fruit our life will produce. Richard Rohr writes, "We all want to know that this wonderful thing called life is going somewhere and somewhere good. It is going someplace good because it came from someplace good too - a place of original blessing instead of a place of original sin." We come from a place of goodness so that we might produce goodness in this world.

 Two opportunities I want to lift up to you are the Lenten Small Groups and the Atlanta Hunger Walk. We are doing something different than we have traditionally done during the season of Lent by offering small groups that will meet five times during Lent. The topic of study in these groups will coincide with our sermon series "Life Under the Sun." This is a great chance to go deeper into the sermon topics and themes as well as getting to connect with others. Each group will have 4-6 people and will meet whenever is best for the group. The groups will organize together on Ash Wednesday, March 5th, between dinner and the worship service. Sign up this Sunday at church or online at our website. The Atlanta Hunger Walk is March 9th, and we will once again be part of an interfaith team. This is an intergenerational opportunity to raise awareness of hunger in our city and bridge the gap across lines of faith. You can also sign up this Sunday to be part of the SSCC team.

 I am pleased to welcome Hannah Gunter to our ministry team as the Children's Ministry Assistant. She will be working on Sunday mornings with Katie and Bryant to help our volunteers and to provide support, care, and teaching for our children. Hannah is a 4th grade teacher in the Barrow County school system. You will read more about her in the March Wellspring. This is a great step to fulfill our calling to have a faithful, growing ministry with children and families.

  I am looking forward to our Leadership Retreat this weekend with our Leadership Council and Elders as well as looking forward to church on Sunday. It promises to be a great day to invite someone to experience God's grace at SSCC.

 Grace and peace,

 


February 13, 2014


Turn the other cheek
Give to everyone who begs from you
Do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you
Love your enemies

 All of these commands sound like situations where one could easily take advantage of another. Jesus wants his followers to understand that when someone takes advantage of us, it is the perfect opportunity to practice the servant life. It is easy to love as God loves in situations that are advantageous to us. The true test of our willingness to live the servant life comes when it isn't safe, when we are called to turn the other cheek, called to give, and called to love those who seem so unlovable.  Life has a funny way of giving us the chance to practice these disciplines again and again. I love how Eugene Peterson in The Message puts the closing words in this part of the Sermon on the Mount:  "...grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God created identity." Every day is a new opportunity to "grow up."

 I hope you are considering a small group for the season of Lent. Ideally, the groups will meet once a week between March 10 and April 19. There will be six one-hour sessions so groups can do more than one per week if people are out of town. The groups will consist of 4-6 people and will be a great way to go deeper in both study and relationship. This is something new for the season of Lent, so I hope you will take advantage of this great opportunity. You can sign up on our website or at the Connect Credenza on Sunday.

 On Tuesday, I made it out on the last Delta flight to leave Indianapolis for Atlanta. Everything after that had already been cancelled. I hope you have been able to stay safe and warm as this round of ice and snow has descended upon the metro area. The church made preparations to act as a shelter to stranded motorists if necessary. In these times, I am grateful for those who are first responders, doctors, nurses, utility workers and others who continue to work so that others may be cared for and safe.

 I look forward to seeing you on Sunday as we continue to be challenged by Jesus' counter cultural words. It promises to be a great day to invite someone with you to church.

 Grace and peace,
 

February 1, 2014
Thanks for your interest, presence, and participation in our annual meeting of the congregation. One of the most beautiful things about our tradition is that each congregation is empowered to make its own decisions and the annual meeting of the congregation is an important part of our life together.

 I hope that you will feel called and engaged by the YES! Challenge this year. This promises to be an exciting year as we continue to grow, continue to welcome people in the body of Christ, and live into a new structure for ministry that we believe will serve us well for many years to come. Here is the YES! Challenge.

 Worship on a regular basis.
Engage in some small group or class opportunity.
Commit to serve in at least one way within the walls of SSCC.
Commit to serve in at least one way outside the walls of SSCC.
Give generously.

 I strongly believe that if you commit to do these five things during the year, you will find the transformative love of God growing deeper in your own life. Imagine the power of every member of SSCC serving in a meaningful way in our ministries outside the walls of the church.

 I'll close with this quote from Bryan Collier and his book, The Go To Church, that I shared in my state of the church message Sunday.

 "The church can no longer fling open the doors and expect the crowds to rush in. We are no longer a "come here" organization as is evidenced by the large number of people who will not or no longer "come here." But what is the alternative? The answer to fulfilling our call to reach the world is to go to the world. Jesus didn't instruct the disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the world to come to them; he instructed them to go to the world. Though our going will look different from that of those first disciples, the command still stands."

I look forward to serving with you in 2014, and I am grateful to serve such a wonderful congregation.

 Grace and peace to you,

 

 
January 30, 2014
In my sermon last Sunday, I shared the quote from Brene Brown, "Choose courage or choose comfort - you can't have both." Little did any of us know how uncomfortable the early part of this week would be. There have been many stories of people helping others, displaying enormous courage. Thanks to the hospitality of Chuck and Laura Adams, the church became a shelter to around 35 people who were stranded on Johnson Ferry Road.. Chuck even walked back to his house to get additional food for people who were stranded at the church. In the midst of such a difficult time, we heard story after story of people helping others, people reaching out to others. We witnessed the collective power of humanity working together. It is a glimpse of the power that we hold when we can work together for the common good. I am also reminded that there are many for which being in the cold or being hungry is a daily occurrence. Let us recommit ourselves to working with and advocating for those who face these challenges on a daily basis. We have the power and the call to make Jesus' words, "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me..." real.

During the month of February, our sermon series will be Counter Cultural. We will be taking a look at Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Some have suggested that if you were to only read three chapters in the Bible, then Matthew 5-7 would be the ones to read. We begin this Sunday with words known as the Beatitudes. These words call us to have unconditional love and regard for one another as well as assuring us of God's unconditional love and regard. This promises to be an excellent week to invite someone to church.

Our annual meeting of the congregation will follow the 11:15 service with lunch in Dunlap Hall. I look forward to sharing my state of the church and some of the ministries we have to be excited about in 2014. There will be JAM for children and childcare for younger children. I hope you can make it and that you will find the time energizing.

Thanks for all that you do, both within this church and outside of the church as well. I am so grateful to be a part of a community of faith that so generously shares God's grace and love.

Grace and peace,
 
January 23, 2014 

 Would the youth group be the first to change the world?

 Jesus believes they will be.

This week we conclude our sermon series Bread, Bath, and Beyond by taking a look at Beyond. Two of the sacraments we hold are an open communion table and the gift of baptism which calls us to new life. These are descriptions of who we are as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The final description we will look at is the idea of going and serving beyond. The affirmation with which we close each service states that we are to share the good news to the ends of the earth. One of Jesus' first acts in his public ministry was to call disciples. In doing so, he completely changed the meaning of what it meant to be a disciple. He calls a group of teenagers who are working, who are fishing, to be the first to follow him in changing the world. As we conclude our series this Sunday, we will examine how Jesus' call to follow, to go beyond, has always informed our movement and our life together.

 We also begin our Focus Group classes this Sunday. There are several to choose from for adults, our children's classes are expanding, and our youth classes promise to be great. If you have not made the Sunday classes a part of your day on Sunday, now is a great time to get started, either before or after you come to worship.

 Make plans to be at the annual congregational meeting and lunch in Dunlap Hall on Sunday, Feb. 2 following the 11:15 service. There will be childcare and children's activities. We will celebrate 2013, look forward to 2014, and I will share my State of the Church address. The theme for our meeting is YES!. I will share more with you about the YES! Challenge in 2014.

 I will be traveling next Tuesday through Thursday to take part in the Disciples' Senior Minister Leadership Conference. This is a time to be with other Senior Ministers in our denomination, learning and sharing ideas. Please keep this gathering in your prayers.

 Invite someone to church with you Sunday! I look forward to seeing you.

 Grace and peace,

January 16, 2014

"Come on in boys, the water is fine."

 These are words of Delmar O'Donnell, a character in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou?,as he is leaving a lake where he has just been baptized by a country preacher. This Sunday we will continue our Bread, Bath, and Beyond series as we take a look at baptism. If we think about it, it's a bit curious that we can fondly remember many of our birthday celebrations, yet most people remember very little about their baptism. Why do we baptize by immersion? What does it mean? How does baptism change us and the world around us? These are questions that we will wrestle with this Sunday. We also will celebrate a service of baptism and you will be invited to remember your own baptism. We have some great music lined up for both services and a generous welcome to God's table for all.

 I also want to invite you to consider being a part of both the Candlelight Café on January 25 and the Congregational Meeting and Lunch on February 2. The Candlelight Café is an elegant evening hosted by the youth of SSCC. All monies raised go to support the Mexico Mission trip, which leaves on March 29. This is always a great evening and I invite you to make plans for it. Childcare will be available, so it's a great night out for parents. Our annual congregational meeting and lunch is on February 2 following the 11:15 service. I know what you are thinking; "How interesting can a congregational meeting be?" Church leadership hopes to make it interesting, worth your time, and empowering for our ministry together. We will celebrate what happened in 2013 and look forward to how God will move in our midst in 2014. I will share a State of the Church message, and we will vote on our lay leaders and budget for 2014. I hope you will leave this gathering feeling great about our witness together.

 I look forward to seeing you Sunday! It promises to be an excellent day to invite someone to church.

 Grace and peace,

 

 

 January 9, 2014
It is quite a challenge to talk about a denomination in a day and age that many describe as "post-denominational." It can be confusing to talk about a particular denomination when it is estimated there are around 39,000 Christian denominations active in the world today. Who are the Disciples? You may have been one all of your life or you may be new to the wider church of which SSCC is a part. What are your practices? This may be the question everyone wants answered, but doesn't know how to ask. Our spiritual practices are those acts of faith that lead us into closer relationship with God and with one another.

 Most religious communities are a part of some larger body in this day and age, even those who don't seem to have any connections. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is the oldest protestant denomination founded on American soil, and I believe that it is a church for today. This Sunday we begin a three week sermon series, Bread, Bath & Beyond, exploring three sacred practices in our church--an open communion table, baptism by immersion, and the practice of sharing the Gospel outside of our walls. Essentially, we will take a look at why we do what we do. Hopefully, we will answer some questions, help us more deeply understand who we are, and perhaps even raise some new questions. I do want to share this link to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) identity statement and principles. It is well worth the short read, http://bit.ly/1gEoYMY. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!

 Grace and peace,

 

 

 January 2, 2014

 This week is our first opportunity to worship together in 2014 and is also the day we celebrate Epiphany. Epiphany is a Christian tradition that is marked on January 6th, twelve days after Christmas day, and celebrated in the church on the Sunday closest to the 6th.  Epiphany celebrates the revelation of God among humanity through the three magi (or kings) visiting the Christ child. It is one of the oldest Christian festivals and in many cultures is a holiday. There are many traditional celebrations around the day, one of the most interesting being what is known as "chalking the door." People write the three initials of the wise men (C, M, and B) along with the century number since Jesus' birth and the current year, with small crosses in between, over the door to their home. These symbols and letters marked above one's doorway are meant to ask for God's blessing in the coming year. We will hear the words of the prophet Isaiah in worship this week, "Arise, shine; for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you." Make plans to be at church this Sunday to be challenged by these prophetic words and to think about what these words mean for our lives in the coming year. 

 This month and year also marks the beginning of my third year serving with you as Senior Minister. The first two years have been two of the most fulfilling, life-giving years of my ministry. We have come together in serving and together have some remarkable accomplishments in the past two years of which we can be very proud. 
25% increase in worship attendance
82 people joining SSCC by baptism or transfer
Successful Grace Alive! Capital Campaign with over one million dollars in commitments
Capital improvements in progress, including a partnership with The Day School on the playground
New Bylaws and Governance structure which enable us to do ministry in today's landscape and culture
Recognized for our generosity with the James P. Johnson Stewardship award by the Christian Church Foundation 

 These are just some of the high level accomplishments. Within individual ministries there have been many wonderful achievements that are life-changing and enable us to be the church God is calling us to be. This truly is a team effort between staff, lay leadership, and congregation. As I review the past two years, there are some things I wish I had done better. There are some opportunities that perhaps we missed. Overall, it has been a life-giving first two years together, and I truly believe that our best days as a church are still in front of us. Thank you to each and every one for being a part of and making a commitment to Sandy Springs Christian Church.

 We continue to grieve with Rev. Linda Whitmire on the passing of her husband Whit. We will gather on Sunday at 3 PM to celebrate Whit's life and legacy in the Sanctuary at SSCC. I know that Linda has felt lifted up by your prayers and presence with her in this time.

 I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, the first Sunday of 2014. Worship returns to 9 AM and 11:15 AM with Sunday School for all ages at 10 AM. This promises to be an excellent week to invite someone to church with you.

 Blessings in the New Year,

 

  January 1, 2014 Wellspring
One of the most popular ways to begin a new year is to make resolutions. It seems everybody wants to lose weight, get in shape, become more organized, get on a budget, etc. More than 12 percent of gym members join in January as compared to about 8 percent in other months. Typically, most resolutions fall by the wayside before spring. If you have ever belonged to a gym, you know it's much easier to find an open treadmill in April than in January. We live in an instant society and we want instant results. We don't get what we want when we want it, so we slowly stop any pursuit of our goal.

 A colleague recently told me that I was impatient. After thinking about it, my colleague may be right. Patience is tough to have over the long haul. It's hard to see the big picture and to persevere. I suspect it's human nature to be impatient. The book of Hebrews encourages us to "run the race before us with perseverance." In short, life is not a sprint but a marathon.

 As we begin a new year and seek to live in new ways, may we have patience and perseverance. Ultimately, maybe it's better to not make resolutions, but instead list ways in which we desire transformation in our lives. Maybe it's best if we write down the places in our lives where we will intentionally seek God's leading. Imagine what would happen if we committed ourselves to being open to the ways God seeks to work in us and through us. I suspect we will be amazed at what takes place.

 Peace to your path ,

 

  December 19, 2013

 I hope and pray that Advent has been a meaningful journey for you to this point. Using Ebenezer Scrooge's journey with three different spirits has shown us that we must be prepared for everything to change. It is most humbling to realize that God has a dream for this world, and we have a role to play in that dream. We begin to realize that hope, peace, joy, love, grace, and justice are not just nice words, but represent the deepest desires of God for all people, made real in a child. As our journey moves closer to the manger, may our trust in God and God's way grow so that we may be prepared to partner with God in fulfilling His dream for our lives and the world. The day is coming that the prophet Isaiah spoke of long ago, when the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The day is coming and God's great invitation is for us to be a part of this new day.

 We mark the final Sunday in Advent with our Lessons and Carols service along with our children's play, A Sandy Springs Christmas Carol. This is one of our most favorite times of worship during the year. There will be one combined service at 10 am. Please arrive early and make room in the pews as the Sanctuary will be full. This promises to be an excellent day to invite someone to church with you.

 Following worship, we will share together in a reception to celebrate the ministry of Leslie Raymer, our Minster for Children and Families, as she concludes her ministry with us at the end of the year.

 I also want to encourage you to invite someone to share in Christmas Eve services. This year, we have two opportunities for worship, a 5 pm Family Service and the 7 pm Traditional Service. I am really excited about both services; they will be moving as we welcome the Christ child once again. Both services feature candlelight and communion for all people. In between, there will be a special visitor for children of all ages. If you are a Facebook or Twitter user, I encourage you to post this link, http://bit.ly/J7VrQt, to your timeline or feed, as a way to invite people to Christmas Eve.

 Thanks again for the privilege to serve with you in ministry. It is a true joy to serve at Sandy Springs Christian Church. See you Sunday!

 

 December 12, 2013 

 As Ebenezer Scrooge comes to the end of the visits from three spirits, he makes this proclamation, "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the past, the present, and the future. The spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach." Ebenezer Scrooge vows to become a changed person. Transformation begins when something interrupts our ordinary experience. A Christmas Carol is a story of interruptions. This Sunday, as we conclude our series we will encounter the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, along with taking a look at the life of Joseph, described in Matthew's Gospel as" the husband of Mary- of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Christ." Both Ebenezer Scrooge and Joseph are called to significant roles in God's dream for the world; both are called to put aside their own plans in exchange for a role in God's ongoing work in the world. Both are called by God to put fear aside and have courage. I love what Richard Rohr says about fear, "Some say FEAR is merely an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real." This is a powerful reminder as we draw closer to the manger and all the possibilities held by the arrival of a messiah.

 I want to encourage you to invite people with you to our Christmas Eve services. Christmas Eve is always a moving, grace-filled night at SSCC, and this year promises to be no different. At 5 PM, we will have a Family Candlelight Communion service. This service will be geared towards children along with carrying a meaningful message for people of all ages. The 7 PM service will be a festive Traditional Candlelight Communion Service for all ages. Both services will close with the welcoming of the Christ child through candlelight, the reflective words of Silent Night, and the joyous celebration of Joy to the World. We look forward to a full Sanctuary for both services. Around 6:15 Mr. and Mrs. Claus will be dropping in to share stories, cookies, and one last visit with the kids before heading out for the evening.

 Saturday is the one year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We continue to remember these families and community in our prayers while we work together to create a world in which this type of violence never occurs. Nelba Marquez Greene is a parent who lost a child in the tragedy. At the beginning of this school year, she wrote a letter to the returning teachers at the school that seems appropriate to share today.

 As another school year begins and old routines settle back into place, I wanted to share my story in honor of the teachers everywhere who care for our children .I lost my 6-year-old daughter Ana Grace on Dec. 14, 2012, in a rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School. My son, who was in the building and heard the shooting, survived. While waiting in the firehouse that day to hear the official news that our daughter was dead, my husband and I made promises to ourselves, to each other, and to our son. We promised to face the future with courage, faith, and love. As teachers and school employees begin this new year, my wish for you is that same courage, faith, and love. It takes guts to be a teacher. Six brave women gave their lives trying to protect their students at Sandy Hook. Other teachers were forced to run from the building, stepping over the bodies of their friends and colleagues, and they came right back to work. When I asked my son's teacher why she returned, she responded, "Because they are my kids. And my students need me now more than ever."

 I look forward to seeing you this Sunday for the Third Sunday in Advent.

 Peace to your path,

 

 

 December 5, 2013 

 Ebenezer Scrooge is haunted by the challenge given to him in the words of his former business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley's ghost, wearing heavy chains, laments to Scrooge how he focused too much on his own greedy gain, rather than paying attention to the needs of others. He shares his regret through these words about Christmas, "At this time of the rolling year," the spectre said, "I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?" This Sunday, we look at the Ghost of Christmas present, a strange figure who looks like a cross between Hagrid from Harry Potter and Santa Claus. We will hear words from John the Baptist, a strange biblical figure. Both John and the Ghost are prophets in their own right who call us each to examine our own existence in light of God's call upon us as people of faith.

 Sunday evening, we will gather as a church and community for the Hanging of the Green service at 5:30 pm. This is one of the church's most beloved services of the year, a festive way to celebrate the season as we deck the halls of the Sanctuary while learning the origins of some favorite traditions and sing some of our most treasured carols. It is a service in which many participate. Please join us for this service appropriate for all ages and then for a Cup O' Cheer in Dunlap Hall following. We will also take an offering for Wandering to Nourish, an organization we have partnered with who works to feed the homeless in Atlanta through the simple nourishment of a sandwich.

 It has been great to welcome Rev. Linda Whitmire back to our staff this week as she completed her leave of absence. She was missed greatly, and I am grateful her gifts have returned to our pastoral staff. Also, mark your calendars for December 22, as we will have a reception for Leslie Raymer following the 10:00 a.m. service that day. Leslie will be leaving her role as Minister for Children and Families, and we look forward to celebrating her ministry with us. Continue to keep Bryant and Katie Gibson in your prayers as they assume the role of Directors of Youth and Children's Ministries on a full time basis.

 I look forward to seeing you on Sunday. Invite someone to share in the day with you. I am grateful to serve with you in ministry.

 Peace to your path,

  

 December 1, 2013 
Are you prepared? I imagine this question strikes fear into many a heart. Prepared for what? Did I forget something? As we move into December, we seem to become busier and busier. In the joy of the season, we are pulled in many different directions. So busy, in fact, that we can easily forget what we really should be preparing for- the gift of the Christ child, born to a teenage mother in a crude manger long ago. Are we prepared for everything to change? Are we prepared to receive the gift of a new reality? In the season of Advent, as we prepare to receive this gift anew, our greatest fear--perhaps the greatest disservice that we can do for ourselves-- is not to be ready to be transformed.

 Our busyness also blinds us to what type of people we are today. Our preparation is not faithful unless we are asking, "God, what can I do now, what can I do today?" As we see injustice, as we bear witness to struggles of others, do we think, "that should get better soon" or "I hope someone will do something about that." Does our busyness blind us to the needs of others?

 Here is why being prepared is so important - Henri Nouwen calls it the VACARE DEO, room for God. While we are busy doing other things, we neglect to make room for God. If we fail to make room for God, we will fail to embrace fully the wonderful gift of Christmas.

 Enjoy the season. Take in everything it has to offer. When you are asked, "Are you prepared?" be ready to say with confidence, "I am," knowing that there is room for God.

 Blessings on your journey,

  

November 27, 2013

Ebenezer Scrooge was an unhappy, miserly old man whose reaction to Christmas was "Bah! Humbug." To him, Christmas was a scandal because it was only "a time for finding yourself a year older and not an hour richer." This Sunday we enter into the season of Advent, a time to prepare ourselves fully to receive the incredible gift of a baby born in a crude manger--the gift of the Christ child born into the world that brings a promise and a hope of peace, love, grace, restoration, joy, justice, and redemption for all of creation--the gift of God that brings the promise of the fullness of life for all people. We will use Charles Dickens' much loved tale, A Christmas Carol, paired with the biblical story, as our guide to this journey. We will explore how we as people move from "Bah Humbug" to" Hallelujah" in this season. We will prepare ourselves to receive the true gifts of Christmas and to be that light in the world.  

Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserable, greedy, stubborn man for a reason. He believes that his past defines him, that he is who he has been created to be. He believes he has no choice but to see the world as he sees it and to treat others as he does. The prophet Isaiah wrote to a community for which the desert was dry. They believed the desert would always be dry. The prophet reminds them that they can and will experience something better, that the good news is really better than they could ever imagine. Isaiah shares the good news that "the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom." Both Scrooge's experience and the prophet's words remind us that love, love of the compassionate, self-giving variety, changes hearts and changes lives. The love of God fully opens us to experience life as God intends, and cutting ourselves off to this love shutters us from experiencing life as God intends.

 In many ways, there is no more meaningful time to be in church as during the Advent season. This promises to be an excellent week to invite someone to church with you. I look forward to sharing in this most special time with you all.

 Grace and peace, 

 

 November 21, 2013

 E.L. Doctrow once said something about the art of writing that can easily be said of prayer as well: "Prayer is like driving a car at night. You can never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." It has been said that there are only two occasions to pray- when you feel like praying and when you don't feel like praying. Living into the incredible mystery that is God can be disconcerting, especially in those moments in our lives and the world in which God feels absent. Perhaps we need to trust that even though we cannot see any further than our headlights, we trust in a loving and grace-filled God that the path ahead is indeed the right path. We trust that all of humanity is indeed in the care of God.

 This Sunday, we conclude our series, Three Essential Prayers, by taking a look at the prayer, "Wow." Wow is a small word that covers a lot of ground, and a prayer that is uttered often when it seems there are no words. This promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to Sandy Springs Christian Church.

 Outrageous Generosity Update for 2014

 I am always amazed and humbled by the generosity of resources in this church. I want to share a quick word about where we are in terms of our commitments for 2014. As of this week, we are at around $335,000 in commitments for 2014, which is a great start towards fulfilling our calling and vision as a church in 2014. The Generosity Team shared a pledged goal of $435,000. We believe that we can still reach this amount. Imagine how life-giving it will be when we as a church can fully live into our ministry for next year. If you have not yet made a pledge, I ask you to prayerfully consider making one. If you have made one, and wish to prayerfully consider a slight increase, I would ask you to consider this. I will also remind you that as you plan end of the year gifts, please consider Sandy Springs Christian Church as a recipient of your generosity. Thank you for all that you give that makes this such a vibrant and alive church. It is truly a blessing to serve alongside of you in ministry.

 Grace and peace, 

   

 November 14, 2013

 Who has been alongside you on your journey through life? Who have been the people along the way that have embodied God's steadfast love in your life? Who have been the people who allowed you to be vulnerable and authentic in your most difficult moments? As we wrestle with what it means to pray "thanks," it is important to remember those in our lives for whom we need to give thanks. 

 Alex Haley, the author of "Roots," had an unusual picture hanging on his office wall. It was a picture of a turtle on top of a fence post. When asked, "Why is that there?" Alex Haley answered, "Every time I write something significant, every time I read my words and think that they are wonderful, and I begin to feel proud of myself, I look at the turtle on top of the fence post and remember that he didn't get there on his own. He had help.

 It's interesting how our prayers for help can easily flow into a prayer of thanksgiving. The Psalmist says something interesting about the nature of God: "You changed my mourning into dancing. You took off my funeral clothes and dressed me up in joy."

  Join us on Sunday as we continue our sermon series,Three Essential Prayers, by taking a look at what it means to give thanks and to see how a spirit of thanksgiving transforms our living and our world. It promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to experience God's grace at Sandy Springs Christian Church.

 Grace and peace,

 

 

 November 7, 2013

 I pray a lot. I am not talking about my personal prayer life (although I pay great attention to my personal prayer life); I am speaking of praying in public. Whether I am with friends, family, groups from the church, or strangers who barely know me, people ask me to pray because I am an ordained minister. The one exception is my covenant group, where the other ordained minister in our group, Kevin Mooney, is asked to pray. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to pray, but I realize that I am asked not for my eloquence of prayer; I am asked because people believe I am an expert or that I am more comfortable talking to God than they are. 
 

I suspect that prayer is quite intimidating for most of us. Anne Lamott describes it as "communication from the heart to that which passes understanding. It is communication from one's heart to God." As difficult as it can be to be honest with others or with ourselves, it can be even more difficult to be honest with God. There are those prayers that reside in our hearts but are simply too painful to make it to our lips to be spoken. 

 God has no need for our prayers to be polished or perfect. Our prayers, even in the most public of spaces, are not performance. Prayer is loosening our grip so that we may invite God into our lives. Prayer is admitting that we are loved and chosen by a God who cares for us and cares for all of creation. Prayer is drawing closer to the center that sustains and empowers us. 

 I am excited about our series that begins this week, The Three Essential Prayers, as we explore three of the most essential prayers that we can pray: Help, Thanks, and Wow. I also invite you to read Anne Lamott's Help, Thanks, Wow, which is the inspiration for this series. This promises to be an excellent occasion to invite someone to Sandy Springs Christian Church. 

 Grace and peace,

 

 

 October 25, 2013

 I am currently reading The Presidents Club which takes a historic look at the relationships between sitting presidents and former presidents. The book begins with the relationship between Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman and continues through President Obama and his relationships with the living former presidents. It is an interesting read about a small group of people who have had a common, shared experience.  Behind the scenes, wonderful relationships have developed; trusted bonds have been forged by people who have been forced by shared experience to lean upon one another. They have literally "walked a mile" in one another's shoes. 

 It seems that humanity has gotten way too good at tearing one another down.  It is far easier to tear down than build up, so maybe we are simply taking the easy way out. Jesus tells a parable about a person who prayed to God, "Thank you for not making me like that tax collector." Perhaps the prayer God really wants us to pray is a prayer of gratitude for all the ways in which we are made like one another.  Human beings, by God's design, have far more in common with one another that we would probably be comfortable admitting.  We each have the shared experience of being alive in this world to lean upon.  We make a choice in every relationship.  We can choose to see what unites us, or we can choose to see what divides us.  God has left the choice to us, knowing that what view we choose makes all the difference.

 Thank you to all who have your commitment to the ministries of Sandy Springs Christian Church in 2014.  We are off to a great start to hitting our pledge goal of $435,000, which will fully allow us to live our mission and vision.   If you have not yet turned in a card, you can do so this Sunday.  Perhaps you have never made a pledge to a church or have questions.  If so, please let me know; I'll be glad to talk with you.

 This promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to experience God's grace at SSCC.  I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

 Peace to your path,

 

  

 October 18, 2013

 Dear Church,

 A few years ago, I did what I was thought was the unthinkable. I asked four teenagers to wash the feet of their peers and sponsors who had not bathed for close to a week. It was the end of the week in Mexico, and we were preparing for our closing worship. I thought it would be meaningful if the seniors on the trip washed the feet of the rest of the group, as a sign of servant leadership. Keep in mind, these were feet that had been building a house, sleeping in a tent, and not really washed for five days. Frankly, I expected some pretty funny stares and glares when I asked. Instead, I received a yes all around, a yes without hesitation. Watching these high school seniors model what servant leadership looks like during the course of our worship that evening was one of the holiest moments of my ministry.

 The moment in John's Gospel when Jesus washes his disciples feet is a moment in which we can be confident in how Jesus sees himself. He can ask them to do anything; bow to him, worship him, and affirm his greatness are all possibilities. Instead, he takes a basin, fills it with water, wraps a towel around his waist, and washes their feet.

 This week, we conclude Outrageous Generosity by taking a look at a simple, yet powerfully generous act that changes everything. We also will bring forth our commitment cards for 2014 that will empower SSCC's mission and vision. Please bring your card with you to worship. We will have extras on hand for those who have already turned in a card and for those who need a card. Remember, there will be a single combined service at 10 AM followed by a celebration lunch and short congregational meeting. Childcare and children's activities will be provided throughout lunch and the meeting.

 This promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to experience SSCC.

 Grace and peace,

 

 

 October 11, 2013

 Outrageous Generosity - Serve

 Everyone matters. Time and time again, that is the message we hear in the scriptures of God's relationship with humanity. Everyone matters. This is also true when it comes to the compelling vision for Sandy Springs Christian Church and our core statement of "Grace Spoken Here." Last month, we celebrated our 53rd anniversary as a church. We stand upon a firm foundation, and today we bear the fruit of those who have come before us. Now it is our turn. As I have said in recent sermons, I believe that our best days are ahead of us. God is calling us forward in many exciting ways, ways in which will expand our own understanding of God's love and grace and what it means to love and to serve.

 This Sunday, we will take a look at what our vision for "serving as members of the one body of Christ" looks like and how our generosity empowers us to fulfill this calling. We will hear the same challenge that Paul put forth to the church at Philippi, "Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself." My hope is that you will find this an excellent week to invite someone to hear all about what SSCC is as a church.

 Oh, one more thing. People often say they want to see change. I'll make a promise. Everyone who worships this Sunday will see and receive actual change. Hope you are here Sunday to see what I mean!

 Commitment Sunday and Congregational Lunch October 20

 Make plans to be present on Sunday, October 20 as we have one combined worship service at 10 AM followed by an all church lunch prepared by the Torberts and their crew.  There will be a short congregational meeting to vote on our new ministry structure.

 This lunch is a celebration of our Outrageous Generosity stewardship emphasis, and during worship on this day, we will present our financial commitments to God for 2014. A generous spirit rooted in the love of a generous God is to be celebrated. You have hopefully seen our vision for 2014 in the Narrative Budget, and now we need everyone's gifts to make this vision a reality. We are seeking $435,000 in commitments for 2014. Please be in prayer about your commitment to our ministries in the coming year. If you would like to discuss your commitment or the vision for 2014 with me, I would love to talk with you.

 Be Inspired

 "You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you."   From the book "One Simple Act: Discovering the Power of Generosity" by Debbie Macomber

 Have a great weekend and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

 Grace and peace,

 

 

 October 4, 2013

 This Sunday @ SSCC

 Together with Christians around the world, we will celebrate World Communion Sunday this week. It reminds us of our work together as a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. Kristin Wolf will be preaching this Sunday. Kristin is a second year Master of Divinity student at Columbia Theological Seminary and is under our care for Ordination in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She served as our Pastoral Intern this summer and grew up at SSCC. Here is what Kristin has to say about her sermon this week:

 I will be preaching "When We Lose Our Voice" based on Acts 7:51-60. This text gives us testimony of Stephen and many others who lost their voice to religious persecution. As we approach World Communion Sunday, our televisions and media are being flooded with stories of hate, terror, and war. So many Christians in the world do not have the freedom to partake with the larger church in communion on October 6. So many people continue to lose their lives because they refuse to be silenced. Let us open our hearts and our minds to how our communities of faith can respond faithfully. Stephen, just before he takes his last breath, kneels down and cries out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Let his cry not be in vain as we search for justice.

 There promises to be meaningful, uplifting music at 9:00 AM from the Worship Band and at 11:15 AM from the Sanctuary Choir. Our Focus Group Sunday School classes begin again with two new, additional offerings in Theology, led by Jeff Morgan and Parenting Mindfully, led by Tanya Kuschnitzky. If you have not tried or been to a class on Sunday mornings, now is a great time to start. It promises to be a wonderful occasion to invite a friend to experience God's grace at SSCC.

 Trunk 'n Treat

 Our annual Trunk 'n Treat is coming up on October 27. We once again will have children from the Sandy Springs Mission joining us. Bring your kids, bring your neighbor's kids, bring your grandkids. It also would be great if we can have a record number of trunks decorated. A new addition this year will be a food truck for our culinary enjoyment.

 Be Inspired

 "In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices."

 Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love.

 Grace and peace,

 

 September 27, 2013

 Inspire

 I asked on Facebook this week what gave people inspiration. Here are a few of the responses:

 Unwaveringly positive people

 My friend's baby who is fighting brain cancer and her parents who remain strong

 SSCC's mission trip to Mexico

 People brave enough to say "I'm sorry"

 Music, nature, and grace

 Passion

 Helping the helpless

 My church family and long talks with close friends

 The diversity of answers speaks to the diversity of humanity in terms of how people are inspired.  We often forget or overlook traits of Jesus, one of which was his ability to inspire people to see that their own lives could be more full and meaningful and that the world could be a peaceful, just, compassionate, loving place.  He inspired people to see past what was in front of them, to see instead God's vision and what God sees in the world. One of the ways in which we use our gifts in the church is to "inspire faithfulness." This Sunday as we continue our Outrageous Generosity series, we look at a teaching from Jesus from John's Gospel as it relates to our own connection and relationship to the holy. We are made to be an inspired people, inspired by that which inspires God. It promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to church with you.

 Narrative Budget

 I hope that you have received your packet that includes a narrative budget for 2014. Also in this packet is information about our ongoing Grace Alive! campaign.  The Grace Alive! information was included for those who would like to change their three-year commitment and those who have not already made a financial commitment to Grace Alive! if they feel God leading them to do so. If you made a pledge last year and are intending to keep that pledge, you do not have to do anything.

 The narrative budget is a glimpse of what your financial gifts to SSCC have allowed us as a community to do in 2013. The goals are a glimpse of what God might do through our shared gifts and witness in 2014. When we give to anything, we want to know and experience what our gifts are doing. When we give to the church, we want assurance that we are not only giving to a church, but giving to God's mission and movement in our lives and our world. It is my hope and prayer that everyone who is a part of SSCC will prayerfully consider making a commitment to the church and it's 2014 mission on Sunday, October 20. That day promises to be a great celebration of what God is doing through us. I also cannot say thank you enough for the gifts you give on a weekly basis, the gifts that are changing lives each and every day.

 Prayers for Linda and Whit Whitmire

 By now, you have likely heard the news of Rev. Linda Whitmire's leave of absence as our Minister of Pastoral Care to tend to her husband Whit. We keep both of them in our prayers, and I am grateful that our leadership and Personnel Committee made this possible. I give thanks for Linda's ministry of care among us.

 Thank you for the privilege to serve as your pastor. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

 Grace and peace,

 

 

 September 20, 2013

 Connect

 A team of researchers at Harvard Medical School did a study regarding connection.  They found that people who were isolated were three times more likely to die young than those with strong relational connections. They took it one step further and found that on average people with terrible eating habits but strong relational connections lived longer than people with healthy eating habits and weak relational connections. In other words, it is better to eat chocolate together than to eat broccoli alone. That is some good news!

 Relationship has always been vital to Christian community. Place and space where we can be our authentic selves as well as finding a grace that meets us where we are but does not leave us there is key to healthy living. We need people in our lives who will see our mess, yet not demand an instant clean up party. This week, I want share some words from one of our members, Merilyn Dimmitt, on her experience at SSCC.

 When I arrived in Georgia, I quickly became a new bride at the SSCC.  I had just retired before from the American Cancer Society and recently moved from Ohio.  In spite of the happiness with my wonderful new husband, I was also filled with grief over the recent loss of my only grandson.  I felt homesick for my Ohio co-workers, friends, doctors, grief groups and my minister.  I was lost and so afraid I would never be found in this new church that sounded so different in many ways. What I found in this wonderful place we call SSCC was more love than I could ever imagine.  I was held in your arms as I shed tears for my grandson.  You made me feel so welcome and part of your lives. When I felt lost,you were there to pick me up. You sat with me and held my hand in the hospital and fed my husband when I was unable.  I found a place filled with Grace.

 Most importantly, you feed my spirit each week.  The church that sounded so different now feels like home. You are not my church family, you are just my family.  Thank you for your love and God's blessing to each and every one of you.

 Thank you, Merilyn, for sharing the welcome you received and the testimony of the power of connection.

 Prayer from Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins

 This week, the nation bore witness to the tragic shooting at the Navy Yard in our nation's capital. I share these words of prayer from my colleague and our General Minister and President, Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins.

 God, we yearn for wholeness in your creation. We crave peace of mind and heart. And yet our vision of peace has been shattered once again by a troubled man with an automatic weapon. Rain down your love and comfort , we pray, on those families and friends left behind by the Navy Yard shootings. Bring calm into the spirits of those who are too uncomfortably reminded of previous experiences of personal trauma, violence and loss. Guide us toward decisions and policies as church, communities and nation that will allow us to say, "Never again," and it be so. O dear God, we hunger for your reign of wholeness and peace. Lead us, we pray in Jesus' will and way. AMEN

 Audio/Visual

 The Gospel is a message that is both seen and heard. One of the fruits of our Grace Alive! renovations has been our new and upgraded audio/visual systems in the Sanctuary. We are in need of volunteers who are willing to be in ministry on Sunday mornings operating the visual or the audio. A big thank you to Chuck Adams, Allen McCahren, and Vincine Brown who are currently serving in this capacity. If you would like to volunteer to be trained or serve, let me or Vincine Brown know of your interest.

 This promises to be an excellent week to invite someone to Sandy Springs Christian Church. I look forward to seeing you Sunday!
 Grace and peace,

 

    

September 13, 2013

 Grace Spoken Here
 
It promises be a busy, life-giving weekend at Sandy Springs Christian Church. On Friday and Saturday, we are hosting our annual Real People, Real Faith with Nadia Bolz-Weber. Nadia was featured in a long form interview with Krista Tippett this past weekend which was also available as a podcast. On Monday, a man was driving up Johnson Ferry listening to the podcast when he saw our banner advertising Nadia here this weekend. He made a left into the church, came in, and bought tickets for himself and his wife. I am looking forward to sharing in this annual weekend and to hearing Nadia's unique journey and perspective on faith. Her perspective and words have been life-giving to so many people, and I am excited for her to share them with us this weekend.

 On Sunday we will celebrate our 53rd Anniversary and kick off a new sermon series, "Outrageous Generosity."  As we begin to pray about our financial commitment to God for 2014, I am excited to begin this time of celebrating what God has done through us and visioning about what God may do through us in the next year. Everyone present will receive a copy of a narrative budget that illustrates our celebrations and shares our goals for the next year. When you give to God through the church, you are giving to something. My hope and prayer is that you will be excited by what your gifts are doing and what they will do.

 You will be hearing stories over the next few weeks of how God's grace and God's grace spoken through SSCC have been life-changing for others. Today, I want to share the following written this week by Mary Michael Gulden (I am quite fond of her).

 I worked from home on Monday. I sequestered myself back in our bedroom with the door locked. I planned on keeping my head down with no distractions. Except, when Bella got home from school Courtney Strickland, our babysitter, played hide and go seek with the girls. This is a favorite pastime of our two daughters, but usually I'm the one chasing and looking all over the house. This time I got to hear all three of them play. Each girl squealing as they ran down the hall, calling out to each other while they were hiding. Giving themselves away with a laugh or giggle, and then when each one  was found going with the seeker to find the third person who was still hiding.

 After Danny's sermon last Sunday, "Lost ... and Found," I couldn't help but think back to some of the ideas he shared with everyone. How being found is what we really desire. We just need to give ourselves away.  In listening to the girls play, I also came to the realization that it is great to seek together. As Bella and Ava searched for Courtney together, they found confidence and power in seeking with someone else.  After all, isn't that the point of church? We are supposed to build community AND open our arms to those who are still in hiding. I realize that Sandy Spring Christian Church has done that for me so many times. You have always found me when I was lost. After my father and brother died, when I couldn't find a way to make things right, when I needed a friend, when one of our daughters started a new stage of life,someone was always there to find me. Many times I was found not just by one person, but by several together seeking me out.

 What a gift that is. I hope we continue to seek those still hiding ... and make it more fun by doing it together.

 I look forward to celebrating and seeking with you this Sunday.

 Grace and peace,

 

 

 September 6, 2013

 Lost...and Found

 Fred Craddock tells a story of playing hide-and-seek with his sister, who used to cheat when she was “it.” “But I had a place under the porch,” explains Craddock, “and I knew she would never find me.” Ready or not, here I come! “Here she came, in the house, out of the house, in the weeds, in the tress, down to the corncrib, in the barn. She couldn’t find me. I almost gave myself away,” he continues, “down under there just snickering to myself, She’ll never find me here, she’ll never find me here. Then it occurred to me . . . she’ll never find me here. So after awhile I would stick out a toe. When she came by and saw my toe, she said, “Uh oh, I see you,” and she would run back and touch the base . . . and say, “Ha ha, you’re it, you’re it.’ I would come out brushing myself off saying, ‘Oh shoot, you found me.’ What did I want? What did I really want? The very same thing as you.” Our deepest desire is to be found.

 At some point in our life, we have done our best to try and remain hidden. There are also too many who seem invisible or have been marginalized because of culture, policies, the church, or the actions of others. This is not a new issue; in fact it was the source of many of Jesus’ confrontations with religious authorities in his day. Jesus shares a series of parables, some of which we will hear Sunday, about the eternal truth that God seeks, finds, and knows each and every one of us. We are created by a loving God that loves in a way that creates value in all people. These parables have had such a powerful effect throughout history that they have become known as the ‘Gospel within the Gospel.” The good news is that even if you don’t want to be found, you are a child of the God who still seeks, and whose love creates value in all of humanity.

 This promises to be an excellent Sunday to be found! A promising week to introduce someone to the grace of God as experienced through Sandy Springs Christian Church. I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

  Peace to your path,

 Danny

 August  23, 2013

 Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin

 The story is told of the sculptor Michelangelo. One day, a neighbor observed Michelangelo pushing a boulder up the hill to his front porch. The neighbor was overcome with curiosity when the sculptor pulled out his hammer and chisel and then began pounding on the rock. “What are you doing?” he asked. To which Michelangelo replied, “There’s an angel inside and I’m trying to set it free.”

 God is a God of liberation and of freedom. The response to our “That’s Not in the Bible” sermon series has been fantastic and this week we close with a statement that may seem harmless on the surface, “Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin.”

 Peace to your Path,

 

August  9, 2013

 Everything Happens for a Reason

The calendar tells us that summer ends towards the end of September; however routine tells us something different. This week and next week, most students, teachers, and school employees begin another year of school. It is a fresh beginning, a clean canvas upon which a new story will be written. The possibilities that lie ahead are both endless and unknown. There are hopes, dreams, and even fears, yet no one knows exactly what will unfold. Any new beginning is taken in faith, a journey without a map, but with a guide in the loving God. 

 Human beings are not given to enjoy mystery in life, much less holy mystery. We need to know, we need to be certain in advance of why something happens or how it will happen. When life throws us a curve, we leave God on the hook for that curve. Join us Sunday as we take a look at a well-used phrase that is not from the Bible, "Everything happens for a reason." Why might this not be true, and if not, what is true about the nature of God and God's interaction in our lives and the world? This promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to church.

 Grace and peace,

 

 

 August  2, 2013

 That's Not in the Bible: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

 A group of people living in a cul-de-sac recently undertook an experiment which was so successful they decided to make it permanent in the way they lived. They were wrestling with suburban sprawl and their hectic lifestyles. They decided that each house in the cul-de-sac didn't need a lawn mower. Each house didn't need a washer and a dryer and so on. Each house would keep one item that each neighbor would use. They found they began to know one another in a more real way. In the midst of their busyness, their energy and resources were freed, so much so that they began a feeding ministry for those in the area who did not have enough to eat. They were reminded of the value in basics like family and community.

 It's not an accident that we come into this world totally dependent upon others. A newborn baby relies on others for everything, and parents rely on others to help them provide for the care and nurture of that precious child. One of the most powerful witnesses a church can have is in helping parents nurture, rear, and care for their children.

 This way of living begins by leaving fear behind, by trusting in God and God's design -- leaving fear behind and recognizing the power of the "village" that is present and at work in our lives. By entrusting our lives to God, we are also entrusting our lives to one another.

 This promises to be a wonderful week to invite someone to SSCC. The Worship Band returns at 9:00 AM,  and the Sanctuary Choir returns at 11:15 AM. We also have some great Sunday School opportunities for all ages at 10:00 AM. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

 Grace and peace,

 

July 26, 2013

 Brave: Discovering the Real Prize

 At the recent General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orlando, the Assembly passed resolution 1327, which states that " the General Assembly calls upon the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to affirm the faith, baptism and spiritual gifts of all Christians regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that neither is grounds for exclusion from fellowship or service within the church, but we celebrate that all are part of God's good creation; and that the General Assembly calls upon all expressions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as a people of grace and welcome, to acknowledge their support for the welcome of and hospitality to all."

 I supported the resolution and while the Assembly motions are non-binding on the local congregation, I am glad to see the wider church take this stance. I am also proud and grateful that we have always strived to practice an open table in our church, realizing that it is God's welcome that guides us and calls us to share.  The Assembly gathered for worship that evening, and I was aware that not all who were gathered supported the resolution, including people I love and respect. I also was reminded that when we say we welcome all that includes those who disagree with our politics, theology, choices, etc. All means all. That night in the convention hall, I witnessed several conversations between people of great passion for the resolution, but who I knew voted differently. Later, I witnessed people who I knew felt differently gathering at the table together.

 We live in a world that too often seeks to divide, rather than unite. We experience this brokenness on a seemingly daily basis -- in a relationship, friendship, co-workers, family, or the stranger who cut us off in traffic. It's a misnomer to say that nations go to war, because the reality is that relationships between people break down. People declare war upon one another. Healing in our lives and the world are difficult because forgiveness takes one, but reconciliation takes two. As difficult as it is to forgive, reconciliation sometimes seems impossible.

 This week, we will conclude The Gospel According to Pixar by taking a look at Apostle Paul's call to reconciliation through the lens of the film Brave. This is a film set in the Scottish Highlands that uses a mother-daughter relationship as the canvas for the work of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Perhaps it will cause you to take another look at a relationship in your life that has become estranged. You can view the clip we will view together in worship here, http://bit.ly/18BqLyy, and you can join us in Dunlap Hall tonight (Friday, July26)  at 6:30 PM to watch the film together.

 This promises to be an excellent Sunday to invite someone to experience God's love and grace at SSCC. 

 Peace to your path,

 

 

 July 12, 2013

General Assembly

General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will gather July 13-17 for it's biennial gathering. This is a time for clergy and lay leaders to come together to worship, fellowship, learn, and be  part of determining the general church's witness and mission through Sense of the Assembly resolutions. Our church will be receiving the James P. Johnson Stewardship Award at the Christian Church Foundation dinner on Tuesday night. Both Linda and I will lead workshops. One of our former Senior Ministers, the Rev. Dr. Glen Miles, is preaching at the Saturday night worship service. If you wish to experience worship, all services are streamed live.The services can be viewed here:  Go to General Assembly 

 

Services typically begin around 7:30 each evening. I am honored to represent us at this important gathering. It reminds me just how diverse, open, and welcoming we are as a denomination and how powerful our participation is in the wider work of God that is happening in the world. The Assembly will discuss important theological and social issues of our day. Most importantly, we will be reminded of our shared unity through the table of Christ.  Please be in prayer for this body to have open minds and spirits as we seek to live out the unconditional love and grace of God as a larger body.  

While Linda and I are both away this Sunday, we take a break from The Gospel According to Pixar series to welcome Rev. Kevin Mooney to our pulpit. Kevin is a member of our congregation and serves as the Spiritual Care Coordinator with Hospice Advantage. Kevin has his Master of Divinity from the Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, TN. He teaches the Theology Sunday School class here at SSCC. Please join me in welcoming Kevin to our pulpit this Sunday. There also will be wonderful music from our own musicians and guests at both services. 

It was so inspiring to see so many enjoy the first week of our Mid-Summer Celebration. Wonderful conversation and community building, along with some great food and drink, marked our time last Sunday. Be sure to be present again this Sunday as we share in our second of four Mid-Summer Celebration times during this month of July. 

Peace to your path,

July 5, 2013

The Incredibles: The Problem of Being a 'Super'

Can you even imagine what it would be like to be denied the opportunity to use your gifts, to be the person that God created you to be? I often wonder how many people find themselves in this place in life, through their own doing or because of the actions of another. This is where Bob Parr and his family find themselves as the The Incredibles opens. Formerly superheroes, they are trying to be settled and blend into a normal suburban existence at the request of the government. This stage of life is eating Bob Parr alive. He is stuck in a tiny cubicle pushing pencils for a boss he cannot stand. The Incredibles strikes a nerve with us because it is the story of people denied the opportunity to serve others using their gifts. It speaks to us who feel as though everything in this world, including God, needs to fit into a tiny box, designed by someone else. It challenges a narrow view of what it means to be human as well as gifted by God. Parker Palmer gives us this reminder,"Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks--we will also find our path of authentic service in the world."  As we begin our July sermon series, The Gospel According to Pixar, we will seek to discover the importance of using our gifts and being authentic to who God has made us to be. The challenge is also there not to deny anyone else their freedom to be who God created them to be. The words of the Psalmist, "We are fearfully and wonderfully made," have deep implications for our lives.

We begin our Mid-Summer Celebration this Sunday. Worship at 9:00 and 10:45 AM with our grand opening of the upstairs gathering areas in between from about 10:00 until 10:40 AM or so. This promises to be a deep and enriching time of fellowship. Come early or stay late to connect, while making a point to get to know some new people. There will be some small breakfast items, coffee, tea, and other snacks. There will be organized activities for children. I look forward to seeing you this Sunday and celebrating this phase of our Grace Alive! renovations.

The weather has been pretty extreme in many parts of the country, including an abnormal amount of rain in our area. The western part of the United States has been experiencing extreme heat, leading to wildfires. Let us remember in our thoughts and prayers all first responders, most especially the families of the 19 firefighters who lost their lives this past week battling these fires. Let us also resolve, once again, to look at our behaviors and consumption and their impact on climate and the environment.

I look forward to seeing you this Sunday! 
 

Grace and peace,

June 28, 2013

 

This Thursday marks Independence Day, better known as the Fourth of July. I will be running the Peachtree Road Race (as will many others in our congregation) to "celebrate." No matter what you are doing, please know that you are in my prayers for a fun, restful, and safe time. As we celebrate our nation's independence, may we recommit ourselves to working together to make a nation where all of God's people may find the wholeness that God intends for us all.

 

Grace and peace,

  

June 14, 2013

 

Abraham: Called  

 

People tend to be creatures of habit, gravitating towards that which is familiar. We are often willing to remain in a familiar place in life, even if that place is not life giving. This what makes lives like that of Will Campbell, who passed away just last week,so amazing. Campbell, born in rural Mississippi, grew to become perhaps the most influential white man in the civil rights movement. Then there are the institutional decisions, such as the one made by the Boy Scouts in recent weeks, that challenge us to move past our own prejudices and to widen our welcome, loving as God loves. Anais Nin writes, "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." Sunday we will engage in the story of Abraham or Abram as he is known for much of his life.

 

The story of his call and his family's call is a story of moving from the familiar into something that is new. It is the story of new life and expanded opportunity for all of humanity through the courageous act of saying yes to God.


Thanks again for your generous support financially and in the spirit of Grace Alive! Work is nearing completion on the Centrum, Narthex, Common Grounds and the Education Wing. Many people enjoyed the new Common Grounds area last week. Covenant Groups and others have been scheduled for this new room (the former Parlor) . We dreamed of having a "third space" in the church where people could meet, study, relax and use for other purposes where they would otherwise have to meet in a coffeehouse or restaurant. On Sunday mornings it will be open for coffee and conversation for all people, fueling both body and spirit.
 

Many have asked about reaching out to Boy Scout troops who have been displaced by the decision a few churches have made to not allow troops to meet in their facilities. I reached out this week to a couple of troop leaders to offer welcome and space if needed. Those conversations are continuing and all have appreciated our welcome and offer of hospitality.

This promises to be an excellent summer Sunday to invite a friend to SSCC. I can't wait to see you at church on Sunday.

Grace and peace,