First Impressions

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

This adage has been attributed to both Oscar Wilde and Will Rogers, but no one can cite a source.  The earliest confirmed use of the maxim occurred in a 1966 ad campaign for Botany Suits. Regardless of origin, the proverb recognizes the importance of first impressions.

According to the eccentricities of the United Methodist Church’s appointive process, I officially became the new senior pastor of Northside Church last Thursday, June 22, at 1:00 p.m. On Sunday, I preached my inaugural sermon at the two Traditional Services and the Contemporary Service.

Over the past weeks, I have fretted away many anxious hours, worrying about first chances and impressions. In such self-centered moments, I forgot that it’s not about me—it’s about faithfully serving the church of Jesus Christ in this time and place.

So I began thinking about the first impressions Northside Church has made on me.

  • A vibrant United Methodist congregation in the heart of Atlanta
  • Warm, loving people who profess and practice hospitality
  • Dedicated staff members with an amazing array of gifts and abilities
  • Entering the Sanctuary or Chapel, one steps into the very presence of God
  • Traditional Worship that exemplifies the best of mainline, Methodist worship
  • Contemporary Worship ROCKS—what an amazing worship team
  • NO debt!
  • Mission-minded Christians who know to whom much is given, much is expected
  • 15 acres in the middle of Buckhead
  • A Transition Team that has crafted a graceful process

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Based on my experience, Northside doesn’t need a second opportunity to make an eternal difference.

First Words

First words are important.

After all, well begun is half done. A carefully-crafted opening provides a proper introduction to an author’s thoughts. So I spend an inordinate amount of time on the first word, sentence, paragraph, and page.

Some days the words flow like a fast moving stream. Other days the syllables ooze like molasses in January. I find myself staring at the blinking cursor on the computer screen, wondering why the inventor didn’t call it a CURSER!

First words are difficult because an author must CHOOSE. Out of an infinite number of beginnings, there can only be ONE first word, sentence, and paragraph.

This Sunday I will preach my first sermon as the new senior pastor at Northside United Methodist Church in Atlanta. Like Jacob at the Jabbok ford, God and I have wrestled over the past weeks about what to say . . . and what not to say . . . and how to say it. After all, first words are important because they form first impressions.

Over the past weeks, those adolescent first-day-at-high-school-anxieties have welled up inside. Will they like me? Will the other children play with me? Can I get my locker open? Where’s the bathroom? What if I get lost?

Time and again the Holy Spirit whispers in my soul: Peace, be still. Then I am reminded that the Lord IS the First and Last, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. All of life occurs within the context of God’s providential grace.

God always has the first word . . . and God always has the last word. So Psalm 19:14 has become my prayer for the first word of the first sermon on a first Sunday:

  • May the words of my mouth
  • and the meditations of my heart
  • Be acceptable in thy sight,
  • O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

First words are important.

The Five Senses of Summer

SummerSummer Sights:

Children erupting from school house doors, tests and homework forgotten in the summer daze. Boats cutting crisp, curling wakes through lake water. Cloudless skies with molten gold sunbeams gilding the earth. Tanned toes curled in seaside sand with a froth of salt water whipped like meringue. High, wispy, sugar-spun, cotton candy clouds. Dawn-born day lilies brighter than Solomon’s finery but already fading by nightfall. Fireflies twinkling in the gloom while children with glass jars race across the dew-damp lawn. Sunflowers bowing in homage to their Creator as they trace the sun on its appointed track.

Summer Sounds:

  The BOING of a diving board weight driven to its limits before springing back and launching laughing youngsters into a cannonball splash. Distant thunder of sullen clouds that have absorbed the day’s heat. Sandals flip-flopping and stick-stopping on hot asphalt. A neighbor’s lawnmower jumpstarting with a roar before subsiding into background noise. Tree frogs serenading the darkness, lonely voices seeking community in chorus. The off-key jingle of a childhood song as the ice cream truck stops and starts and stops through the neighborhood. Seven year cicadas a whir with the brief joy of life. The mournful dirge of a whippoorwill bemoaning missed chances and lost dreams. Baby birds cheeping impatiently in nests, snuggled among tree branches or shrub limbs, wide-mouthed and waiting for mama’s return. A bat’s crack and the slap of leather as baseball meets glove.

Summer Smells:

 Sizzling hamburgers smoking on the grill. Bouquet breezes with an intoxicating aroma of honeysuckle, jasmine, and gardenia. The green smell of fresh mown grass that lingers in the air. Coconut oil scented lotions that evoke images of exotic locales and past vacations. Chlorine drenched children wrapped in towels beside the pool. The smell of rain still hoarded in the depths of cloud cisterns, waiting to quench a parched earth.

Summer Feelings:

  Humidity so thick that a glass of water could be wrung out of the air like a soaked bath towel. The heart-stopping chill of an early June swimming pool not yet heated by the dog days of summer. Bare feet tip-toeing through dew-soaked grass. Fan slapped air gently caressing one’s skin. Sun stung shoulders and faces, reddened and peeling from summer afternoons. Sweat soaked shirts clinging to arms and backs.

 Summer Tastes:

 The sour-sweet taste of an almost-ripe blackberry as it pops between the teeth. Dewdrops of nectar teased out of a honeysuckle bloom. Heart-red watermelon that satisfies both thirst and hunger. Homemade ice cream fresh from the churn with just a dash of rock salt from the ice. Georgia peach juice dribbling down the chin—the sweet fruit heavy on the tongue. S’more fire browned marshmallows and chocolate embraced by graham crackers. Steaming hotdogs fresh off the grill. Snow cones soaked with cherry, lime, grape, or tutti-frutti syrup. Tart lemonade in Dixie cups sold by youngsters in roadside stands.

The Five Senses of Summer:

Use your five senses this summer. See, hear, smell, feel, and taste that the Lord is good.

Last Words

Ordained elders in the United Methodist Church serve as itinerate pastors. During ordination, we promise to go where the bishop sends. It’s like signing a blank check with the currency of your life, trusting another to spend it wisely.

In April, Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson announced the pastoral appointments for the North Georgia Annual Conference. She has appointed me to serve as the new senior pastor of Northside United Methodist Church in Atlanta. This Sunday, June 11, I will preach my final sermon at First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville.

God has richly blessed  during the past four years in Gwinnett County. I often tell people that pastoral service resembles dog years—one has to multiple the number of years by 7 in order to obtain the true age of a pastor! Using this math, I have actually served First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville 28 years over the last 48 months.

The past weeks have been a roller coaster ride of emotions. This is home, and we love this congregation dearly and will miss the community greatly. However, we are also excited about the fresh opportunity to serve Northside United Methodist Church.

The bishop has assigned Dr. Royeese Stowe as the new senior pastor of FUMC of Lawrenceville, and her first Sunday will be on June 25. I have no doubt the congregation will welcome Dr. Stowe with graceful love. I solicit your prayers for the pastors and congregations involved during this time of transition.

Sometimes more than letters are lost in contractions. Consider the word “Goodbye.” The term actually shortens the phrase: “God be with you.” So today I don’t say farewell to Christ’s saints in Lawrenceville.

Instead, my prayer is that God will be with you . . . until we meet again.