Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Parable

Merry Christmas Eve!

Years ago my father shared with me Louis Cassels' "Parable of the Birds". Since that time it has become my custom to use the parable in our Christmas Eve Services; this year will be no different.

Cassels was Senior Editor for United Press International, wrote as their Religion Correspondent, and penned this parable in 1959. It has continued to be reprinted in papers around the world for almost forty years.

The Parable of the Birds
Louis Cassels
Once upon a time, there was a man who looked upon Christmas as a lot of humbug. He wasn't a Scrooge. He was a very kind and decent person, generous to his family, upright in all his dealings with other men.

But he didn't believe all that stuff about God becoming man, which churches proclaim at Christmas. Why would God want to do anything like that?

So when his family left to attend midnight services on Christmas Eve, he stayed home.

Shortly after the family drove away snow began to fall. He went to the window and watched the flurries getting heavier and heavier. Sometime later, as he was reading his newspaper by the fire, he was startled by a thudding sound that was quickly followed by another. Then another.

When he went to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They had been caught in the storm, and in a desperate search for shelter had tried to fly through the window.

"I can't let these poor creatures lie there and freeze," he thought. "But how can I help them?"

Then he remembered the barn. It would provide a warm shelter. He quickly put on his coat and boots and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on the light.

But the birds didn't come in.

"Food will bring them in," he thought. So he hurried back to the house for bread crumbs, which he sprinkled on the snow to make a trail into the barn.

To his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around and waving his arms. They scattered in every direction -- except into the warm, lighted barn.

"They find me a strange and terrifying creature," he said to himself, "and I can't seem to think of any way to let them know they can trust me."

"If only I could be a bird myself for a few minutes, perhaps I could lead them to safety."

Just at that moment the church bells began to ring. He stood silently for awhile, listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas.

Then he sank to his knees in the snow. "Now I understand," he whispered. "Now I see why You had to do it."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Real Meaning of Christmas

I was watching the news and drinking my coffee this morning when the anchors began showing, and talking about, pictures of children sitting on Santa's lap. It was pretty funny, because they were all pictures of children crying, and the anchors were talking about children's fear of Santa. It would have been another fluff piece until one of the anchors made the offhand comment, "Well at least they're learning the true meaning of Christmas".


Now, I know I often comment about the culture's values being different from the Christian values. I talk about our need to be "subversive witnesses against the dominant culture". But even this was a shock to me! But I also think it is indicative of what our culture believes. For many, Christmas is about Santa, the temple of the mall, and the priesthood of all shoppers.

I'm not going to bash the culture, or that anchor, or people who celebrate Christmas differently that I do. I am, however, going to say that we need to be better witnesses of what Christmas is all about: the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. I hope you'll join me.

Monday, December 17, 2007

December 30th Worship Schedule

I wanted to give you all a heads up about a change in our Worship Schedule for the last Sunday of the year. We will have our 8:15 and 9:30 Traditional Worship Services as normal. Our 11:00 Transformation and Traditional Services, however, will be worshiping together in the sanctuary.

This change is due, in part, to the many requests we have had to occassionally worship together. As I discussed this with the Servant Team, the point was brought up that if we do this on "normal" Sundays we would not all fit in the sanctuary, and we don't have enough chairs to all fit in the Christian Life Center! So, we thought this year we would try to combine these services on the Sundays that are traditionally not as well attended as others. The great part about this is that it will give us powerful worship experiences on Sundays when the energy level may be a little low.

I hope you'll be supportive of this change, and enjoy worshiping together at 11:00 or at one of the services at 8:15 or 9:00

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I've Ignored You

I've started writing a blog entry several times this month, but something always happened that kept me from doing it. Here are some snippets of what I have been intending to write, remembering that my paternal grandmother's favorite phrase was, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions!"

I have been asked my opinion on the United Methodist bishops statement that all troops should begin an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. First, I want to remind you that the bishops do not speak for the Church. Only the General Conference, which meets every four years, can speak officially for The United Methodist Church; they do that through The Book of Discipline and The Book of Resolutions. Secondly, I think an immediate withdrawal would be catastrophic, plunging the entire area into conflict. I believe the statement was ill-advised and harmful. I am proud that our bishop, Lindsey Davis, did not vote for the adoption of the resolution.

On to happier matters. Last Sunday was the first Sunday in the liturgical season of advent. The word Advent comes from the Latin "adventus" meaning "coming". There is a dual purpose to this season; we remember Jesus' first Advent in Bethlehem, but we also look for his final coming in victory when the Kingdom of God will be fully realized. The color of purple is used of this season to remind us of its penitential and preparational nature. These four weeks allow us to do some spiritual housekeeping as we journey to Bethlehem. It is the gift the Church gives to us once a year in order to keep our spirits healthy.

Finally, I want to encourage you to sign up on the registration pads to have a name tag made. Then, when we distribute them in January, I want to ask you to wear them. We all like to be called by name, but there is no way we can know all our members, visitors, and constituents by name. Hopefully this will be a way of being a more hospitable congregation. It will help us all learn the names of others. I remember doing this in a congregation of 500 members (we number 3,000). I actually had two gentlemen who had each worshiped together for over 20 years, knew each other by sight, but did not know each others name! That church averaged a little under 200 in one worship service, so they had plenty of time together. They were both very active in the church. They just didn't know each other's names and were too embarrassed to ask!

I'll do my best to be more disciplined in posting to this blog. And if you have a question or a suggested topic, feel free to email me at

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veteran's Day

By a fluke of the calendar, my first Veteran's Day out of the combat zone fell on a Sunday. So, yesterday during our worship services we honored our vets by projecting the pictures from their years of service during our anthem and had them stand as their service song was sung. Many of our vets wore part or all of their uniforms, and I wore my "blues" instead of the traditional robe.
Veteran's Day this year was different for me. Maybe, for the first time, I felt like a true vet - one who had served in a combat zone. Perhaps for the first time I felt truly like a "Soldier" and not "just" a Reservist. For whatever reason, yesterday was a special day.
In the afternoon I had the opportunity to speak to a group of vets, primarily WW II vets, in Roswell. It's good to still see the inter service rivalry and esprit de corps after so many years away from the service. Our WWII vets are truly a national treasure, and the greatest generation. These are the folks who spent years away from home, had V-mail instead of email, and did not have 15 days mid-tour leave. Unfortunately, we are losing them at a rate of about 1,000 per day. I was also surprised to learn that we still have about 250 WWI vets still living.
I think that when I breathe my last and my eyes close in eternal sleep, I'll look back on my life and one of the things I will be proudest of will be my service over the past year. It was truly an honor to serve with the men and women I was with in Iraq - they are some of the finest people I have ever met.
Happy Veteran's Day.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Then and Now

This is a picture taken this past summer in Balad, Iraq at the Sherpadome, home of the C-23's we used to fly down to Tallil in when not in rotary wing aircraft. I'm on the left, with CPT Josh McConkey in the center and MAJ Joe Kelly on the right. These are two of the finest men, and greatest medical officers in the U.S. Army.

This is what we looked like this past weekend in Breckenridge, Colorado!
All Soldiers, and their spouses, are given the opportunity to attend a Reunion & Reintegration Weekend after deployment. I led 30 of these retreats in the Southeast for the 81st Regional Readiness Command before being deployed to Iraq. We learn how to better communicate, deal with conflict, and reintroduce fun, friendship, sensuality, and spirituality into our relationships. It was great to get reconnected with Joe and osh, along with so many other Soldiers that I served with in Iraq. It was great to meet the spouses of these Soldiers as well.
And 30-50 degree weather beats 110-120 degrees any day!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Parking Lot Update, Part II

The paving is complete! It has been a long journey; felling trees, moving dirt, installing underground utilities and irrigation, drainage, curbs, pouring and rolling gravel. But in one day all the asphalt was put out and rolled.

Today the irrigation system is being completed and the landscaping is being planted.

In addition to the parking lot, the retention pond has been reconfigured. The pond has been hydroseeded, and soon the new fence will be installed. By the end of the week the lot should be striped and ready to be used.

Parking is a huge issue for churches. These additional spaces will give prime parking space for an additional 200-240 participants. Thanks to all the folks who had the vision to add these prime spaces.

Speaking of prime spaces - why not save the best spaces at our church for those who need them most and our visitors? It is an act of servant leadership to park as far from the building as possible and walk to the church. Regardless of what I have planned for the day, I always walk to the church so someone else can have my space. I enjoy the weather, some time alone, and the quiet of the predawn darkness. Why not drop off your family at the door, and then park in the upper lot? Or park up there and and walk down together as a family. Also, consider how many cars you bring to the church. Driving together as a family can be an act of stewardship not only of parking spaces, but of God's resources of oil as well.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Neighborhood Meetings

Over the past two months I have attended 23 neighborhood meetings in our congregation. The experience has enabled me to have some intimate time with 450-500 members and friends of our congregation. It has also helped me learn more about our congregation's strengths, growing edges, and passions. I'll be sharing this with our leadership and using the information gained in the future as we seek to discern God's preferred future for McEachern.

I learned that you are most proud of:

  • Our Missions Ministry
  • Our Recreation Ministry
  • Our Children's Ministry

I learned we need to work on:

  • Communication
  • Youth Ministry
  • Stewardship
  • Moving from being a welcoming church to an inviting church

A special word of thanks go out to all the folks who opened their homes and prepared snacks, or even full meals, for anywhere from 10-40 people. And thanks to all those who took time from their schedules to attend one of the meetings.

I have loved almost every moment of the Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons and evenings that I have spent with you; but to be perfectly honest, I'm looking forward to having a little free time now that they're over!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Help Us Be Good Stewards

Most of you probably receive the weekly Senior Pastor letter via email, so this post is not news to you. We are seeking to be better managers of our resources here at McEachern by finding ways to save the resources God has blessed us with without cutting back on the important work we are doing in missions and ministry.

Did you know that each month we send out a 12 page newsletter to over 1,000 households? Think about that cost for a moment: paper, printing, copying, and postage, not to mention the countless volunteer hours spent preparing the newsletter for mailing. The postage alone costs nearly $1,000 per month.

Now, most of the newspapers and newsletters that I receive I get online. We want to do the same with our newsletter, The Vine. You are obviously technically savvy, otherwise you would not be checking this blog. I am asking for all our online folks to email Gwen Harper, Senior Pastor's Secretary, at and ask to be removed from The Vine mailing list. Instead, we will send you a hyperlink each month letting you know that the newsletter is available on line. You can read it online, or print it out at home or your office. You will receive it much faster than through the mail, and know that you are being a good steward as well!

Don't put this on your "to do" list. Do it now!

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Fall is without a doubt my favorite season, and always has been. There's something about the cool nights and warm days, the fallen leaves skittering across the pavement, and the smell of woodsmoke in the air that evokes memories of earlier times.

Fall is all about reminiscence to me. There is just something so evocative about the season of things past.

And of course there is nowhere better to be than in the mountains!

Today I traveled to the North Georgia mountains with our Older Adult ministry. We stopped to buy apples, eat meals, enjoy the scenery, and be with one another. It was one of the most relaxing days I have had in quite a while.

As soon as I get the group picture I will post it on the blog.

While I am at it, let me say a few words about our older members at McEachern. These are the folks on whose shoulders the current church stands. These men and women came to our congregation when it was much smaller, and were the catalyst for many of the missions and ministries we have today. They are our institutional memory and have the wisdom of folks who have "been there, done that!" I was proud to be asked to be part of their group today - it was an honor to travel, visit, and eat with them.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Random Acts of Kindness

Those of you who have heard me preach, or have heard my "stump speech", know that I often talk about being sent out into the world as disciples. I talk about how we do that in organized ways such as with mission trips, but also how we need to go out individually into our homes, communities, and workplaces as disciples. Something happened today that illustrates what I mean.

With the cooler weather I have begun running during my lunch time. I'm not doing long runs, just a few miles to clear my head, enjoy God's creation, and give myself time to think. I usually run two-thirds of the length of my planned run, turn around and run back for the last third, and then walk back to the church for a cool down.

During my cool down today a truck coming toward me stopped, the window rolled down, and a gentleman stuck his head out of the window and asked, "Are you okay? Do you need a ride?" Well, I guess I looked like I was hurting! I thanked him, told him I was fine, and was just cooling down from a run. He said goodbye and headed on his way.

As I finished my walk I thought, "What a great guy!" and I breathed a quick prayer of thanks and asked God to bless him. I don't know who he is, and I doubt he knows who I am. He just saw a possibility to be of help and acted on it. It didn't matter that he was headed in the opposite direction; he was willing to turn around, pick me up, and take me wherever I needed to go.

That's what it means to be sent out as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Friday, October 12, 2007


One of the great traditions of autumn is the church barbeque. Our United Methodist Men are out at the BBQ pit even as we speak preparing to cook pork and chicken for tomorrow's event. Saturdays are usually pretty busy times in our families - soccer, errands, fall baseball; you name it, we try to cram it all in on Saturday. Why not make things a little easier by picking up some plates for lunch, and some bulk pork or chicken for dinner? You can stop by a pick it up from 11-4.

Don't forget the Waterless Car Wash as well. Our Youth Choir will be taking donations, and then issuing vouchers for a car wash after the drought ends.

Speaking of drought; are you praying for rain?

See you tomorrow and Sunday at McEachern!

Monday, October 8, 2007

In Memoriam

Yesterday during most of our worship services we prayed for Carole Smith.

I first met Carole when I was the Youth Minister at Campground UMC in Marietta, now East Cobb UMC. Jimmy and Carole have two daughters, the youngest of whom was in my youth group. I got to know the Smith's well during that time, and later returned to perform the marriage ceremonies of both girls. I regularly saw Jimmy and Carol as we would return to Marietta to visit family during the holidays and other special events.

A few hours after we prayed for her, Carole lost her battle with cancer, but won the race and entered the presence of Christ.

There are several thoughts that I have about all this. First, how good it is to have the kind of connections with friends through the Church that last through decades. It is comforting beyond measure to have a faith that reminds us of resurrection, and the assurance that we are not separated forever by physical death.

It's also good to know that we are willing to pray for people we do not know. I am able to be with the family and let them know that they are not alone, and that there are plenty of people thinking of, and praying for, them today.

I guess what I am saying is this: it's good to be the Church. When we are at our best we are there to support and love one another in the bad times, and rejoice in the good times. And we are there in the in-between times as well.

Lift up a prayer for Carole's family today. And while you're at it, give thanks that God has given us a church family at McEachern.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Wednesday Night Suppers

Wednesday Nights have been one of my favorite nights for a number of years. Our Wednesday nights suppers are a time when we do what we do best as United Methodists: eat! But it is more than that. Wednesday nights are laid back; there is not the hurry or the formalism of Sunday with all our worship services. I have the opportunity to see folks from the 8:15, 9:s0 and both of the 11:00 services. We are truly inter-generational on Wednesday nights - often there are people from 3 or 4 generations sitting at the same table.

Allen Richburg and his folks discovered the secret: it's about having excellent food and excellent programs. Cindy Blocksidge and her folks have provided outstanding bible studies and programs. It's great to just come, eat, and sit around the tables and talk, even if we're not going on to studies or prayer meeting.

We're regularly running around 200 people on Wednesday night, but I hope we'll soon have it up to 300. Some folks have asked if we can serve until 7, so we're looking into that. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for folks to be a part of this great time. Maybe we'll be able to make reservations on line when our new website is launched at the end of this month. I'll have to talk with our techies about that.

Finally, thanks for checking out the blog. You can check out our stats on the right hand side of the page. But it looks like I need to change the time zone: it's telling me it's 12:20 tomorrow morning!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Parking Lot Update

Hopefully you have noticed the progress on our parking lot expansion behind our church buildings. The site has been graded and drainage has been installed. The curbs have been poured, as well as the islands. This week the underground work for lighting and irrigation will be done, and, Lord willing, next week we'll start paving! We hope to have the work completed by the end of the month, and have a dedication service the first Sunday in November or thereabouts. We hope to add about 130 spaces, which will accommodate an additional 225 people.

Ken Callahan, in his book Twelve Keys to an Effective Church, writes:

"Parking is a decisive factor in the life of a congregation. There is a direct
correlation between parking and participation. The more adequate the parking,
the more likely there is to be strong participation in church school and

Moreover, there is a direct correlation between participation
and giving. Indeed, there is a correlation between parking and worship
attendance and a further correlation between worship and giving. The church that
is short on parking may very well be short on worship attendance, and therefore,
on contributions. People who participate in a congregation tend to contribute to
that congregation. Parking, land, and landscaping are more important than many
pastors and leaders of congregations have thought."

Thank God we have an insightful group of leaders who have led us to add this additional parking. Space for 225 more people means we can reach more people for Christ!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Welcome to Dr. Jim's Blog

As you probably know, I have been attending neighborhood meetings for friends and members of McEachern. I am trying to meet folks, and trying to find out what we do well, and what we need to be working on. One of the constant needs of an organization our size is communication.

We have so many groups, so many ministries, and so much activity, that no one person can "know it all". We have our website, our monthly newsletter, the weekly Senior Pastor letter, and our worship bulletins; but we can do better. This blog is my way of adding (hopefully!) to the solution.

Here I will post late breaking news, great thoughts (ok, mediocre thoughts) and various ramblings. Feel free to tell me what you would like to see on this blog, or announcements or issues you would like to see addressed.

We live in exciting technological times. My prayers is that this blog will help us be more successful in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, and of making disciples.