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The 46th annual Men’s Spiritual Retreat, sponsored by the North Georgia Conference United Methodist Men, wrapped up Sunday at the Rock Eagle center near Eatonton, Georgia.

Steve Wood

Steve Wood

Following the theme, “Living Life as a Son of God,” the retreat included workshops on such topics as:

  • A Husband’s Responsibility,
  • Personal Holiness,
  • Prayer and Fasting, and
  • How to Give Your Testimony (and Not Look Like an Idiot).

Keynote speaker Steve Wood, senior pastor of Mt. Pisgah UMC in Johns Creek, Ga., concluded the weekend with the last of several messages based on Romans 8.

Saying it was now “the moment of deployment,” he challenged men to allow God to continue to shape them into the image of Jesus Christ.

God has a call on your life and has gifted you with spiritual gifts for the purpose of bearing spiritual fruit….

Look what Paul says next [in Romans 8]: “What shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”….

A man by the name of Clarence Jordan wrote the Cotton Patch epistles, and I love the way he frames this:

If God is a rootin’ for us, then who can win over us? He’s even put his own Son in the game for us, so surely He will equip us to win the game!

God does not call you to a mission field — and your primary mission field is where? Home! — He has not called you to a mission field that He is not equipping you for, to succeed and to make disciples and [to] be “more than conquerors through Him who has loved us.”

And so we have reached the moment of deployment. This is not the end of the journey on [this] weekend. This is the launching point for God’s new season of call in your life.

You can listen to a two-minute excerpt of Steve Wood’s Sunday morning message below.

DVDs and CDs of the Rock Eagle Men’s Retreat can be purchased here.

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The UM General Board of Global Ministries and The Mission Society are jointly sponsoring (for the first time) a missions conference: “Beyond These Walls.” The conference, hosted by McEachern UMC in the Atlanta area, begins next Thurs. Oct. 2 and concludes Sat. Oct. 4.

Speakers include North Georgia Bishop Mike Watson; Eddie Fox, director of World Methodist Evangelism; Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church in Ohio; and John Ed Mathison of Frazer Memorial UMC in Alabama. The conference also will feature more than 30 workshops.

From the Beyond These Walls web site:

[We] share a vision of the connectional system being the means through which the United Methodist Church becomes once again the powerful force for the cause of Christ that it was during the time of John Wesley.

Some see a future of decline, but we see a bright future — a future where Christ’s church is refocused on its divinely appointed mission. A church that is the Lord’s holy instrument, working with His Holy Spirit in reaching out, touching, loving, teaching, redeeming, and making disciples of Christ Jesus — a Church transformed by missions and a Church transforming the world through missions.

Registration details | Directions

At the June 2008 session of the North Georgia Annual Conference, McEachern pastor Jim Higgins and member Jeff Jernigan gave additional details about the conference. Listen below (1:45).

A video promo is here (Windows Media).

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Teaching the opening session of the basic course in Lay Speaking last weekend, I led the class through the major doctrines of the Christian faith presented in the United Methodist Book of Discipline. “Can anyone explain what ‘justification’ means?” I asked. No one volunteered.

That’s OK. Sometimes people don’t like to speak up in the first class, even if they know the answer.

I took a few minutes to explain what an amazing thing justification is — when the Holy God whom we’ve offended, the One knows how thoroughly guilty we are, nonetheless chooses, because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ, to treat us just as if we had never sinned against Him at all.

Later, I remembered that Bishop Mike Watson had spoken about “justifying grace” at last year’s South Georgia Confirmation Retreat (in a prerecorded presentation). He talked about his older sister’s protective love, and about how it later helped him understand what God’s justifying grace is all about.

Bishop Watson (image from video)

Bishop Watson (image from video)

[When I was a boy,] sometimes my parents would really get upset me, because I would do things…I knew I shouldn’t do.

When I would have to pay the price for [disobeying my parents], sometimes my sister was my greatest friend…. She would plead for me, and ask that my parents not give me what I really deserved….

I later found out that’s that what Jesus [does for] us everyday before the Father. Jesus loves us, and cares for us, and pleads for us….

I remember Jesus on the cross, being crucified by a cruel and evil world. Jesus, with his arms outstretched, spoke to God the Father for you and for me. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

And with God’s “justifying grace,” we are forgiven! That’s good news to me! Isn’t it good news to you?

Listen to Bishop Watson’s presentation to the confirmands below (from the audio track of his video presentation — 1:40).

Mike Watson became the episcopal leader of the North Georgia Conference on Sept. 1, 2008.

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Phil Schroeder, associate director of Connectional Ministries for the UMC’s North Georgia Conference, has an interesting idea for helping people take steps toward becoming more generous givers.

From his column in the Sept. 19 Wesleyan Christian Advocate:

Several years ago I was working with a friend’s church that was resistant to having any kind of pledge campaign to set their budget. They finally decided to try something different in order to set a budget based on what God was calling them to give.

Phil Schroeder

Phil Schroeder

We presented a pledge card with a perforation down the middle, with the person’s name, and their commitment to pray and serve on the left side — and a place for them to make their financial commitment on the right side.

After the card was completed, people brought their cards forward and tore them in two before the altar as a sacrifice unto the Lord. One half was placed in each of the two offering plates to echo Matthew 6:3 on giving alms.

The church knew who was giving and what was going to be given, but not who was giving what.

In challenging economic times, this allows the church to set a budget based on faithful promises — while sending a quarterly statement thanking people for their giving, rather than sending a statement that reminds them of what they have failed to give.

People appreciated that we trusted them to be faithful to their pledge. In fact, over the years, the amount and the number of people willing to pledge grew as did the budget.

Here’s a sample of what a two-part pledge card might look like (click to enlarge):

Thinking more about this: The card above echoes the longstanding membership vows of the UMC, which call on members to “be loyal to The United Methodist Church” and to “faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, presence, gifts, and service.”

Effective January 1, 2009, these vows will be altered, based on action by the 2008 General Conference.

Soon, members will pledge “to be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church” and to “faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness.”

These are good changes. Challenging people to be loyal to Jesus Christ is much more apt to produce generous givers than challenging them to be loyal to a denomination.

When Jesus is first, giving becomes much more than support for an ecclesiastical institution. Giving becomes a means of witness — to us and to others. Through our giving, we declare that the One to whom we are loyal is the source of our financial resources and the Lord of all.

Praise be to you, O LORD…. [E]verything in heaven and earth is yours….
Everything comes from you, and we have given you
only what comes from your hand.
(1 Chronicles 29:10, 11, 14)

[T]hey went beyond our expectations; having given themselves
first of all to the Lord, they gave themselves by the will of God also to us.

(2 Corinthians 8:5)

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Blogger Josh Tinley reports that “United Methodist Communications (UMCom) has terminated its relationship with Buntin Group, the company responsible for the…’Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors’ campaign, because of Buntin’s work with the Tennessee Lottery.”

UMCom hired Buntin eight years ago to put together what the Nashville Post then described as a campaign that “is believed to be the most expensive ad campaign ever funded by a mainline Protestant denomination.”

Three years later, the Tennessee Lottery approached Buntin, but the agency rebuffed the entreaty because, according to president and CEO Jeffrey Buntin, the advertising company didn’t want to “jeopardize the relationship” with the United Methodist Church.

Then, a few months ago, things changed. Buntin decided to accept the Lottery’s business. Apparently, UMCom refused to be open-minded and closed the door on Buntin.

I say “Bravo” to UMCom. Methodists have historically (and with good reason – PDF) opposed state-sponsored gambling. It’s nice to see UMCom take a stand.

Thinking more about this: The Buntin/UMCom dust-up makes me wonder about all the UM-related colleges in Georgia that happily accept lottery-funded HOPE scholarship money, much of it coming from the poor (PDF).

The Associated Press reports that “the heaviest lottery players — the 20% of players who contribute 82% of lottery revenue — disproportionately are low-income, minority men who have less than a college education.”

Do any of our UM college presidents and financial-aid officers feel even a twinge of guilt over that? And what about all the UM parents who seem untroubled over sending their kids off to college at the expense of tens of thousands of lottery losers?

One parent I engaged in conversation about this told me her moral objections to the gambling-funded scholarship “went away once the college bills start coming in.”

She is not alone. The Georgia state lottery, narrowly approved in a statewide referendum in 1992, has almost no vocal opposition anymore. Our moral concerns have been overridden by free flowing money for college (and for gambling-funded pre-kindergarten).

The lottery was “sold” to the the people of Georgia on the premise that it would be a boon to education. And, no question, it has raised lots of money for students and schools. But surely the most significant way it has affected education is by teaching kids, parents, and schools (even Christian colleges) that an admirable end justifies a morally questionable means.

Yes, we have learned that lesson all too well.

Related update: The National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling is launching a new campaign next week. NCALG’s longtime field director and spokesman is UM clergyman Tom Grey.

Update 2: Should churches accept donations that come from lottery winnings? Mark Creech of the Christian Action League thinks about that here.

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Hurricane relief: How to give online

From Coast Guard video

From Coast Guard video

It’s easy to give online to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

First, enter a dollar amount, then use the drop down screen to designate “Hurricane Ike.” Next, click through to fill out a simple form and input your payment source.

If you like, you can mark your gift in memory or in honor of someone, and have it tagged with the name of your local church.

Update: The North Georgia Conference Disaster Response Ministry is coordinating the delivery of “flood buckets” to UMCOR. You can either put together a bucket yourself, or donate $45 to purchase supplies for one.

One other need: paying for gas to get flood buckets from Georgia to UMCORs distribution facility in Louisiana. Details here (scroll down to “Urgent Need for Flood Buckets and Transportation of Buckets” in the left column).

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B. Michael (Mike) Watson has been officially “installed” as the Resident Bishop of the North Georgia Conference.

At a service Sunday at Dunwoody United Methodist Church, Bishop Watson said the Installation ceremony offered both clergy and laity a “fresh opportunity to recognize our mutual calling to Christian ministry.”

Following are excerpts from his Installation sermon:

Bishop Mike Watson

Bishop Mike Watson

Dearly beloved, we are in this Christian ministry together…. We are all, each of us, minsters of the gospel of Jesus Christ….

All of us are being installed…. We all are ambassadors of Jesus Christ…. God has called us! God has set us apart! God would use us to [let every person] on this earth know how much God loves him or her….

The task that looms before us…is too large for us to assume on our own, for we are all dependent on the power of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit. I may not be up to the task on my own — but our Lord is up to the task, and it our Lord we serve!…

If we are to do all that God calls us to do, if we are to run the race, we must look to Jesus Christ, the perfecter of the faith. We must follow Christ if we are to love the world. We must follow Christ if we are to transform the world. We must follow Christ if we are to reconcile the world in love….

I pledge my sincerest effort and fidelity to the task before us. And I ask each one of you to examine your heart and to reaffirm your calling. What is God calling you to do?….

What is your ministry? I am being installed to this one. You’re being installed to one, too. Will you accept that, as I accept this?

Bishop Watson recently was assigned to the North Georgia Conference after serving eight years as the bishop of the South Georgia area. He fills the position held for 12 years by Bishop Lindsey Davis, who has now been sent to lead the Kentucky Conference and the Red Bird Missionary Conference.

Mike Waston was elected a bishop in 2000, after serving ten years as the senior pastor at Dauphin Way United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama. Prior to that, he was the founding pastor of Covenant UMC in Dothan, Alabama, where he served from 1979-1990.

In the early 1970s, he served briefly as the minister of evangelism at North Georgia’s Decatur First UMC while working on his Master of Divinity degree at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Mike Watson earned his Doctor of Ministry degree at Vanderbilt University in 1975, and later was ordained an Elder in the Alabama-West Florida Conference.

More of his biography is here.

You can use the audio player below to listen to streaming audio of Bishop Mike Watson’s Installation sermon (27 min.) — or download an mp3 (6.3MB).

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Several short video clips and still photographs are posted here.

Streaming video of the entire service is below (74 min.).

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