You Might Be A Christian If…You Are Kind of Weird At Math

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 1:1-5, 10-18 and 16:4b-15.

To quote the redoubtable Samantha Aupperlee, “Math is hard.”

True words, dear Samantha. True words.

I have had the privilege of knowing Samantha for six years. We met one another through the Young Adult Missional Movement, a ministry of the Florida Annual Conference. She was appointed to Tuskawilla UMC to serve as the church’s intern. And saying she (we) faced some hard circumstances in that first year together is an understatement.

What we really faced? Shenanigans.

Samantha never shied away from a difficult circumstance – from math or any other ‘opportunity’ where we did not see an obvious solution. Where others (where I!) saw broken bridges, Samantha always saw a chance to rebuild or to forage a new way. Samantha is calm and confident. Though she was not always eager to go along with my crazy schemes – like the day I seatbelted her into the front seat of my car with Easter Lilies when she can.not.stand. the smell of said Easter Lilies – she was and remains a faithful partner in ministry.

Recently I attended a leadership conference and one of the speakers – a former FBI hostage negotiator – who said church leadership conferences were not interesting!? –  said that humans are disposed to one of three responses when we encounter conflict: fight, flight, or make friends. I am quite familiar with the first two: Fight – take on the conflict with the hope of being victorious. Sometimes the victory is winning; other times the victory is achieving a mutual resolution. Flight – avoiding the conflict all together, a “do not pass go, do not collect $200” scenario. But the third was new to me. Make friends – curious. Very curious indeed.

Curiosity about a conflict is the first step in making friends with it. Investigate it. Get to know it. Ask questions of it. Seek to understand it. And then seek to understand yourself in association or relationship with it. Making friends with a conflict or hardship resonates on a different level with me than fighting a conflict because making friends necessarily begins from a place of peace – of hoping for the best in a person/situation, for a person/situation, for the duration of our cooperation together.

When I think back on Samantha, making friends is truly at her heart. Even when something is hard, Samantha, you seek to make friends.

You are brilliant, you know that?

When you encounter hardship or conflict or even a shenanigan – what is your response? Do you fight, flight, or make friends? How can curiosity become a tool for you to alter how you respond to future hardships, conflicts, and shenanigans? Share your answers with a friend this week. I look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday!

Prayer: “Crown him the Lord of love; behold his hands and side, those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified. All hail, Redeemer, hail! For thou hast died for me; thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.”* Amen.

*“Crown Him With Many Crowns,” The United Methodist Hymnal 327.

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You Might Be A Christian If…Your Theological Vocabulary Includes Whoopsie

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 15:11-23.

I recently finished reading Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan. In this book she explores twelve words and phrases she believes 1) are the hardest and most potent words to say and 2) every adult needs – and therefore, should learn – to incorporate into their/our vocabulary.

It is one of the more brutally real and honest books I have read in quite sometime. Some moments I literally laughed.out.loud. Other moments I quietly welcomed tears as they streamed down my face.

Thank you, Kelly, for your gift of words about these twelve words and phrases.

Her last chapter is a beautifully written letter to her friend, Liz, sometime after Liz’s death. Kelly assures Liz that her family is not forgotten. Kelly reports that she, her husband, and their girls make regular contact with Liz’s Andy and their three children, Gwen, Margo, and Dru. Kelly recalls a recent ski trip. After a morning on the slopes she is laying on the couch in her thermals by the fire trying to get warm. Music is playing in the background. Seeing Margo, Kelly extends her arm towards her best friend’s daughter. Time seems to still as Margo and Kelly’s heartbeats sync to the music. “I held her for you,” Kelly wrote to Liz, “for as long as she would let me. Two songs at least. Then Margo announced it was time to make brownies and she was gone. It was sublime” (Tell Me More 200-202).

The phrase I held her for you lingers with me. In it there is aching and longing both for everything more and everything lost. That statement is so bitterly sweet – bitter because Kelly held her friend’s daughter because cancer prematurely moved Liz from this side of eternity to the next – sweet because even in the messiness that is grief and death and unanswered whys Kelly was not shy. She faced the loss, heartbreak, anger, and grief head on. And Kelly held on…she held on to such a degree that she and Margo’s hearts beat as one.

Recall a time that someone held you. Then recall a time you held someone. What were the circumstances? What aching or longing did that holding help relieve and (hopefully) heal? What did you have to face – what did you have to overcome – to hold or be held in that moment? Find time this week to share your answers with someone you trust. Find time this week to be trusted with someone’s answers.

Hold someone. Be held by someone. Fearlessly enter the troubled messy waters of this life. Get so near to someone that your heartbeats sync. Behold the image of Christ in them. And may that experience linger with you – with us! – that we may be more compassionate, more vulnerable, and more generous in both our listening with and responding in grace.

Prayer: “Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast! Let us all in thee inherit; let us find that second rest. Take away our bent to sinning; Alpha and Omega be; end of faith, as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty.”* Amen.

*”Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” The United Methodist Hymnal 384.

 

You Might Be A Christian If…You Are Related To More People Than Kevin Bacon

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 12:1-2.

Jean Arthur is a hero of the faith to me. She entered into glory on July 25, 2019. Her family lovingly walked with her to the threshold on this side of eternity and – I am certain – her beloved Corky met her – arms open wide – to guide her across to the other.

I can only imagine that sweet reunion. That sort of reunion awaits us all because of Christ’s gift in resurrection.

Jean – I called her Miss Jean – was the matriarch of a five-generation family at Tuskawilla UMC, where I served before coming to South Shore. Jean and many of her family – children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren! – would join her on the second row of the left center section near the main aisle of the Sanctuary each week for worship. Jean always sat nearest the aisle. It may have been for ease of access to her walker on Communion Sundays. It may have been because she wanted an unobstructed path to excuse herself during the service.

Sometimes she whispered her excuses…other times she thought she whispered her excuses…

I think Miss Jean sat on the aisle so she would have a front row seat to the Children’s Moment. The children of the church sat with me on the steps of the chancel as we shared a moment together each Sunday. In time, Joshua joined us. He is known as Hue to Miss Jean’s family. And Hue would usually be snug in Ashley’s arms – one of Miss Jean’s great granddaughters.

One of her babies was the earliest caregiver for my baby…that is a bond our families will always share.

Miss Jean often told tell me stories about growing up. I am known for some pretty outlandish footwear and Miss Jean’s father owned a department store with quite a shoe selection in the Midwest. She often told me about her husband, Corky, coming to Florida ahead of the rest of the family. She warned him and their daughter, Louise, about finding a church without her… “And you know what!? They did! I got here and they had made the decision…good thing I liked this place…” talking about Tuskawilla UMC. Miss Jean often told me stories about how Corky followed his heart, and how following his heart always affirmed his faith in God and answered a need in the community. Miss Jean’s family is committed to ending childhood hunger through partnering with local schools to send weekend food bags home throughout the school year. A vision that was first seen by Corky and Jean is now a reality for students at nine elementary and high schools across Seminole County.

Miss Jean was humble and astute. You never had to guess her opinion. She loved fiercely and was a model encourager. She trusted God.

She exampled for me what it means to live the assurance “it is well with my soul.”

Miss Jean, I am grateful you liked the place known as Tuskawilla UMC. I am grateful to have been appointed there and to have had the privilege of serving as your pastor for five years. I am grateful that my family is considered part of your family, even when Harry calls me Molly, and especially when I have the privilege to mentor your sweet Ashley.

I feel like an honorary lucky ducker.

I miss you. I celebrate that you are no longer in pain and that you are once again holding hands with Corky. I trust God will continue to put your faithful hands to work as you serve alongside the great cloud of witnesses.

Well done, good and faithful servant. I love you, Miss Jean. Always.

Prayer: “The Lord has promised good to me, his word my hope secures; he will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures.”* Amen.

*”Amazing Grace,” The United Methodist Hymnal 378.

You Might Be A Christian If…You Have A Weird Thing For Tables

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 5:27-32.

This week the South Shore UMC Family begins an eight-week sermon series entitled You Might Be A Christian If… I am grateful to the Rev. Magrey deVega, serving Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, for helping capture the themes for this series in a Jeff Foxworthy style and for Dr. Kelsey Evans-Amalu for inviting me to test-drive these themes in a lecture on Christianity in her Human Geography course a few years ago.

Also a shout-out to the first Spring Confirmation Retreat 2019 that heard these in each of our times of worship together…I’m still working on determining this generation’s Kevin Bacon…

As Hagrid would say, “more on that later…”

One of the things my Nonnie was known for was elaborate tablescapes. For the grown-up table – Lenox and Waterford Crystal as far as the eye could see. Napkin rings snuggled fine cloth napkins. The chandelier just bright enough to enhance conversation, but not blinding in reflections off the glassware. The kids’ table had its own flare – plastic ev.ery.thing. – but fun plastic! Usually flamingoes. Or pineapples. Or flamingoes enjoying pineapples (thanks, Burdines!). The kids would sit on the porch or in the breakfast nook while the adults escaped to the dining room.

Or so they thought…

Being hangry is a real thing – being angry because you are hungry – and knowing that, even before the word was a thing – meant the adults always let the kids fix their plates first so they – the adults – could eat in peace.

Or so they thought…

Kids eat fast. And we sure did. So when the grandchildren were done we would one-by-one find a way into the dining room. “Mom, I need help with this…” “Gramps, take a look at what I just did…” “Nonnie, may I have…” And a dining room table that comfortably had eight adults around it swelled to fifteen.

And there was always room. Always.

I used to think Nonnie’s dining room table was magic in the way there was always room. But it was not magic. It was magnanimity – learned from her love of God, which taught her great love for her family.

I desire that same spirit of magnanimity when I think of preparing the tables in my life for all God’s people to come. That there will always be room. That there will always be enough and more beside. That at the table we will be and find generous friends.

It’s true. I have a weird thing for tables…because of my faith…my faith that leads my family and leads me in welcoming every single person as a member of Christ’s family.

Prayer: “Sent forth by God’s blessing, our true faith confessing, the people of God from this dwelling take leave. The service is ended, O now be extended the fruits of our worship in all who believe. The seed of the teaching, receptive souls reaching, shall blossom in action for God and for all. God’s grace did invite us, and love shall unite us to work for God’s kingdom and answer the call.”* Amen.

*“Sent Forth by God’s Blessing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 664.

ROARing Great Time

Sunday’s Scripture ~ “Do not be afraid…Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome” (Nehemiah 4:14bc).

At Vacation Bible School this week the children learned about God’s people crossing the Jordan. Men – one from each of the twelve tribes – led them across the river waters into the Promised Land each selecting a stone as they walked. Once safely to the other side – the ark of the Covenant before them and God’s people all around them, they helped Joshua build an altar. Then Joshua said to the people,

When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God forever (Joshua 4:21-24).

That altar of stones could also be called an Ebenezer, meaning stone of help.

We receive our understanding of Ebenezer from I Samuel 7:

Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Astartes from among you. Direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So Israel put away the Baals and the Astartes, and they served the Lord only.

Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted that day, and said, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.

When the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it they were afraid of the Philistines. The people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, and pray that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” So Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord; Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel; but the Lord thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as beyond Beth-car.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel (vv. 3-13)

Throughout Vacation Bible School – because of the incredible service of South Shore’s staff and volunteers – our children witnessed Ebenezers – though I think they call them God-sightings. They saw and celebrated moments of the Lord’s goodness, experiences of the Lord’s kindness, and displays of the Lord’s faithfulness. Each Ebenezer – each God-sighting – was an opportunity to remember thus far the Lord has helped us – to remember the Lord is great and awesome. Whom shall we fear?

No one. Thus far the Lord has helped us. The Lord is great and awesome.

And friends, I’ll raise an Ebenezer to that!

Join us as we celebrate VBS Sunday at both South Shore Services this weekend. It is sure to be a roar-ing great time!

Prayer: “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.” Amen.

*”Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 400.

Commitment and Conviction: Instructing Children

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 6:1-9.

In 2009 I nearly walked away from the ministry.

(I know…it is hard to say! It is still hard for me to believe, even to this day!)

I was serving as a children’s ministry staff member at a large United Methodist Church in Atlanta. The church recently hired a new director of the ministry and our relationship was not going well. We bumped heads (locked horns) frequently. One day while expressing concern that the children – and their families – were not being as supported in their faith development at home as what I thought possible for the children’s ministry staff to provide I was told these words by the director,

“You are not here to worry about the spiritual health and development of the children and families in this program. You are here to sort curriculum, cut shapes out of construction paper, and sharpen pencils.”

I did not agree. And my resignation was on her desk two days later.

I cannot not be who I am – and I am a disciple of Jesus deeply committed to supporting, nurturing, and equipping families – especially children – in their faith development. I am certain that if there ever comes a day where this commitment wanes, then the time has come for me to retire.

I want faith to be accessible. I want to make faith accessible. I want to ask questions, listen to questions, and join people of every age in seeking answers to those questions. I want to stand on chairs alongside others a la Dead Poets Society and holler “I don’t know!” when it comes to a question of faith…and then climb off the chairs and pull them up to a table with others as the first steps in the adventure of finding the answer(s). This is one of my greatest passions…and to live into this passion with others is without age restriction or requirement.

Children are capable of incredibly faithful and faith-filled conversations. Their innocence and wonder makes them so wise. Their ability to imagine reintroduces adults to a world that they (we) see all the time but rarely notice.

I am grateful for South Shore’s welcome and addition of the Children’s Moment in our Sunday services. I boldly confess…it is my favorite time of the whole service! I look forward to supporting, nurturing, and equipping the faiths of these young ones. I am also looking forward to ROAR-ing with them at Vacation Bible School next week!

I am eager to see and celebrate how God will lead me in supporting, nurturing, and equipping the faith of the children at South Shore. And, I am equallyeager to see and celebrate how God will lead our children in supporting, nurturing, and equipping the faith of the adults – including me! – at our church.

Prayer: “Once earthly joy I craved, sought peace and rest; now thee alone I seek, give what is best. This all my prayer shall be: More love, O Christ, to thee; more love to thee, more love to thee!”* Amen.

*”More Love to Thee, O Christ,” The United Methodist Hymnal 453.

Commitment and Conviction: Sanctification

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Thessalonians 2:13-15.

This past week I had the opportunity to gather for prayer with a group of the South Shore youth before they left for their summer camp experience. They were fully equipped for camp – pillows, donuts, energy drinks, and portable chargers for all.the.devices.

(Let us pray…for their leaders!)

Before leaving the youth leader, Toni, invited the students to sit to review their covenant for their trip together one final time so that everyone was on the same page as far as behavior expectations and accountability.

I submit to you – some of the language and expectations in that document strengthened – a.lot. – from previous iterations.

Why? Because of me.

I could tell some of the students had their feathers ruffled…and so I quickly identified myself as the source of the updated behavior expectations and accountability. In fact, I congratulated the students on being the first group at South Shore to live into new behavior expectations and accountability in our shared ministry together!

They thanked me…? Kinda?

At the end of my conversation with the students I referenced a grout line on the floor of the hospitality area, saying that once they crossed that threshold they would be “going onto perfection” within the boundaries of their new behavior expectations and accountability. One of the adult leaders was already on the other side of that grout line – I affirmed that Jeremy was already before them a shining example of going onto perfection!

They laughed. Heartily!

(I feel like they know something I don’t…!?)

“Going onto perfection” is the work of Sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we are made holy. We are made holy through our relationship with and experiences of God.

John Wesley uses beautiful imagery of the breath in describing how our souls act and react with God as we are made holy. He writes, “God’s breathing into the soul, and the soul’s breathing back what it first receives from God; a continual action of God upon the soul, and re-action of the soul upon God; an unceasing presence of God, the loving, pardoning God, manifested in the heart, and perceived by faith; and an unceasing return of love, praise, and prayer, offering up all the thoughts of our hearts, all the words of our tongues, all the works of our hands, all our body, soul, and spirit, to be [a] holy sacrifice, acceptable to God in Christ Jesus. And hence we [may infer] the absolute necessity of this re-action of the soul (whatsoever it be called) in order to the continuance of the divine life therein. For it plainly appears God does not continue to act upon the soul unless the soul re-acts upon God” (The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God III. 2 and 3).

As we grow in our relationships with God and experience God we are continually introduced to greater depths of our covenant with God. This necessarily means that we are also held to higher behavioral expectations and accountabilities as God’s Spirit wholy and holy transforms us into the people that God desires us to be. As I mentioned last Sunday, sometimes this gets under my skin…ruffles my feathers. It is in those moments I am called to meet God in the quiet to share my heart…and ultimately receive God’s heart for that moment and season in my life.

Wesley believed that when we achieved perfection – achieved entire Sanctification – that we would inhale God’s love and exhale God’s praise – in all times in all places with all peoples. That is a goal of mine. Sanctification has the trajectory of my life and my life of faith coursed in that direction.

I am so grateful. I am going onto perfection.

Prayer: “Take my will, and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine. Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne. Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure-store. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.”* Amen.

*”Take My Life, And Let It Be,” The United Methodist Hymnal 399.