The Blessing Of Giving

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 20:32-38.

I spent a lot of time in reflection this week. Little did I know a year ago this week would be my last week before maternity leave.

I think God was merciful; my preaching in flats for one Sunday was enough!

We thought our due date was November 5 – actually it was November 12 for reasons that still do not make sense to Andrew and me – but Joshua had other plans entirely.

I think he wanted to redeem October for me. Now I would think of this month for him first…and for LOFs…do I have to assign them a number?

This time last year we had just moved all our furniture back into the parsonage following the new flooring installation. We were still unpackaging shower presents. I had no idea where the special hospital folder with all the paperwork in it was – you know the one you have when you go to the hospital!? (Turns out you do not have to have it…)

That week I worked patch shifts. We unloaded the second truck. I spent the day in a district meeting. And then I went to a doctors appointment – and they were astonished I was walking and talking. They were also slightly terrified when I said I drove myself to the appointment; according to the blood pressure machine I should have been in the midst of a seizure or a stroke.

Andrew picked me up and we went to the hospital – without the folder. We waited and waited and waited. I did not respond to any of their medication – to reduce my blood pressure or to start labor. We waited and waited and waited. We cried. We rolled our eyes. We hoped. I wanted Joshua to be safe. Andrew wanted both of us to be safe.

And then Sunday came. And with Sunday – peace. Great friends and leaders stepped into the pulpits, and Trunk or Treat leadership, and Charge Conference participation and we stepped into the operating room. Britney Spears’ Wrecking Ball played over the speakers. “Sometimes there are weird noises in here,” the anesthesiologist said. Moments later, soft cries. Joshua was here. And his presence erased all the fear and anger and worry and mess from the preceding days. That day I received the third greatest gift in my life. The first is my relationship with God, the second is my relationship with Andrew, and the third is the relationship with our son. We delight watching him grow in knowledge and love of God and the world God made each and every day.

Andrew and I joke from time to time, “We have kept Joshua alive [this length of time].” On Monday we can say, “We have kept Joshua alive for a whole year!” But the truth is that he has given us life – he has given us life for a whole year. Joshua has given us a life we never dreamed could be until October 22, 2018.

I tear up when I think about all we have received since receiving Joshua in our arms nearly a year ago – all the encouragement and gifts, all the hugs and crazy stories, all the honesty and care.

The generosity of others in our lives – especially in Joshua’s first year of life – teaches and encourages our generosity. This is a beautiful lesson learned as a result of living faithfully in a community of believers.

Thank you, dear friends, for welcoming and loving our son so well in his first year. Because of what we have received from you, we are inspired to give, and to give more.

Prayer: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 140.

 

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The Big Ask

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Proverbs 3:1-12.

Last Sunday I was out in the patch with our Little Orange Friends when the first family of visitors arrived. They headed to the far end of the patch – the children’s eyes on a on a not so little Little Orange Friend. I grabbed the Patch Visitor Stickers and headed their way.

The first sticker I offered to a little boy; he looked to be about four. He seized that sticker and proudly donned it on his shirt. The second sticker I offered to his sister; she looked to be about two-and-a-half. “Would you like a sticker for visiting the pumpkin patch today?” Her eyes met mine…and then…she slowly…edged…behind…her father’s…leg.

Mom and Dad tried to coax her out, but I affirmed her choice. “You do not know me. I am new to you. You made a good choice in sticking close to Mom and Dad.” Mom took her daughter’s sticker from me. As they left the patch I spied the sticker on the little girl’s collar.

I was a new person to that little girl and the enormity of what I was asking her was clear on her face. I was not asking her if she wanted a sticker. I asked her if she would trust me; the sticker was simply the evidence of our trust exchange.

Trust comes with time. Trust builds through relationship. Trust is learned and strengthened through our faith.

I find that on the whole I trust people easily and quickly because I hope for the best in people. I seek the best in people. And I encourage the best in people. “God did not give [me] a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (II Tim 1:7). God’s spirit of power humbles my pride. God’s spirit of love drives out suspicion. God’s spirit of self-discipline reminds me that I was made for relationship and I was sent to make of all disciples. Together God’s spirit of power, love, and self-discipline draws me to acts and feelings of compassion towards all people. This is the work of the Kingdom – to fuel the trust that is foundational to our faith – and living out our faith! – rather than fuel anxiety and fear.

And my friends, the Kingdom has had to wait long enough.

I will be joined in worship leadership at both Morningsong and 11 o’clock Worship this week by Bob Spitzer, TUMC’s Finance Chairperson. Together we will share about the vision for Tuskawilla UMC’s stewardship in 2019. I am grateful for Bob’s leadership and for the faith-filled message he will share on Sunday.

Prayer: “Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring thy final harvest home; gather thou thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin, there, forever purified, in thy presence to abide; come, with all thine angels, come, raise the glorious harvest home.”* Amen.

*”Come, Ye Thankful People Come,” The United Methodist Hymnal 694.

Example of Greatness in God’s Kingdom

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 21:1-4.

Earlier this week I had the privilege to partake in one of my more glamorous pastoral duties – throwing away straw and rotten pumpkins in the dumpster.

*pause for dramatic effect*

I set to work quietly with a wheelbarrow and a shovel. And it was not before long that I heard another voice and then another voice. And then two hands became four hands. And four hands became six hands. And before long, all of the straw and rotten pumpkins were relocated into the dumpster.

Thank you, Jose and Lila.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude by the number of kind voices speaking and helping hands serving at the church recently. Light bulbs are changed. Closets are organized. Weeds are pulled. Special events are planned. Telephones are answered. Bulletins are folded. Copies are made. Invoices are recorded. Powerpoints are crafted. Small groups are led. Communion is served. Prayers are prayed. Shepherds are raised. Community members are welcomed. LOFs are sold!

The list could go on and on.

To some these acts may seem so small. To me, these acts are incredibly generous and incredibly important. I am so grateful to the persons that bless me and bless our church with these offerings. I am grateful that you are quick to respond and lend a helping hand…even when that helping hand might crush into pumpkin guts. Thank you for what you do. I honor your service. I honor you.

And God does too.

Join us Sunday as we learn about the widow’s offering – another small act that examples for us greatness in God’s Kingdom. We will also join with our brothers and sisters in faith around the globe as we celebrate The Lord’s Supper on World Communion Sunday.

See you in worship.

Prayer: “You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat. You give yourself to us, O Lord, then selfless let us be, to serve each other in your name in truth and charity. You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.”* Amen.

*”You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 629.

Lessons In Leadership ~ Learn or Repeat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 51:1-12.

Joshua’s new favorite pastime? Doors. He loves doors.

Closet doors. Cabinet doors. Bedroom doors. If it is on a vertical hinge, Joshua loves it.

There is a “Lazy Susan” cabinet in our kitchen that is Joshua’s utmost favorite. He will sit in his chair that is in a shape of a Ferrari (I know, right!?) and spin the Lazy Susan around and around and around – squealing with delight all the while.

Until one time he was not squealing. He was screaming.

It happened. His fingers did not move fast enough and Joshua felt the first real sting of pinching fingers in a door.

(Do you feel that sensation as you read this? I am feeling it as I type this. Ouch!)

I gathered Joshua up in my arms. Andrew came in and kissed Joshua’s little hand. And then Andrew sat on the floor with Joshua to teach him about moving his hand away. Andrew placed his fingers where Joshua’s fingers were pinched and showed him that if the door continues to rotate, then he would be hurt. Joshua sat mesmerized. And I just fell in love with Andrew all over again. Because that is what love is – taking the time to sit with someone, to teach them, to help them gather skills and knowledge so that they can live happy and whole and (hopefully) hurt-free lives.

Andrew sat with Joshua because others sat with him – teaching him, caring for him, guiding him. Andrew’s parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and mentors learned that lesson from having folks sit with, teach, care for, and guide them.

And who taught that first lesson of care and relationship? Our God in heaven.

I am sure the “pinched fingers” lesson is one of many lessons we will have to revisit with Joshua as he grows. It is great when we learn a lesson the first time. And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we usually have to learn lessons – usually the same lesson – more than once. This is part of the human condition – that we revisit lessons. This is part of learning obedience – that we will choose a different path. This is part of gaining wisdom with the hope that we will learn and then apply what we have learned in all future circumstances.

If we fail to learn in the present, then we are destined to repeat the past.

I look forward to concluding our Lessons in Leadership Sermon Series this week as we study Psalm 51, which is attributed to David after he was held accountable for his actions with Bathsheba by the Prophet Nathan. Even after such a terrible event, there is grace and there is hope. Even after the terrible events in our lives – the ones we create and the ones that impact us – there is grace and there is hope for us to learn rather than continue to repeat.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: “He took my sins and my sorrows, he made them his very own; he bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me!”* Amen.

*”I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 371.

Lessons in Leadership: You Are That Man

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Samuel 11:26-12:13a.

The story of David and Bathsheba is a story of uncontrolled lust.

Lust is not just an intense desire in the body; it is also a strong passion for something that does not belong to oneself. That which we lust after is something that must be learned, experienced, or acquired. It could be a lust for knowledge, laziness, or food. It could be a lust for power, pleasure, or possessions.

When we lust we do not think rationally. We are immune to counsel. We are driven by appetites that demand to be fulfilled – even if fulfilling them results in our own detriment or the detriment of others.

I believe we can all relate to struggles with lust; it is part of the human condition. We have experienced (or are experiencing) lust running rampant through exuberant eating or spending; through the pursuit of perfection; through judgment, promiscuity, or keeping up with the Jones. Likewise, we have been exposed (or are being exposed) to offerings of wisdom, arguments, and counsel from God, others, and our own selves in the midst of our struggles with lust.

At times, we have accepted.

At others, rejected.

That which we lust over – and may eventually achieve – does not satisfy. When our lust runs rampant, we are not the only ones that suffer. We may be oblivious to the suffering we cause because we are so consumed by our lust; even worse, we may turn a blind eye to the suffering or claim ignorance so we can persist in the enmeshment of our desire.

When lust runs rampant we harm

  • Those whom we share relationship,
  • Those who could benefit from the resources and assets (presence, time, funds, effort, and passions) we pour into our obsessions,
  • Those we use and abuse to achieve our own ends,
  • And last, but certainly not least, we harm our relationship with God as the items, persons, and/or pursuits of our lusts become idols that we seek to worship and serve.

The work of the ever-maturing child of God is to interrupt and disconnect from our lustful appetites. John Wesley, the founder of the people called Methodist, offers a method to do just that.

Wesley understands all Sin as having two components – inward and outward. Inward sin is not a loss of faith whereas Outward sin is. Lust begins as Inward sin; lust begins in thoughts alone. Wesley argues that these thoughts alone are not sinful, but actualizing them – acting them out, moving them from the abstract to the concrete, incarnating them from the ideal to the real – that is the sin. And Outward sin is a loss of faith.

We are all sinners. We have all “fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). We have all experienced losses of faith.

We are also redeemed by God’s grace. We are all “justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). By God’s grace in justification we, who are sinners, are declared righteous before God. By God’s grace the power of sin over individuals breaks, causing an inward spiritual change that interrupts and disconnects the link between inward inclinations resulting in outward sins.

Our challenge – our invitation – is to growth in God’s grace and to seek the interruptions to and disconnections from lust. This happens through prayer, through being held accountable, and through implementing boundaries in your life that guard your heart from lust(s) and keep your heart attuned to God.

This work is needful. This work is on-going. This work is essential to our development as disciples.

Prayer: “Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Just as I am, thy love unknown  hath broken every barrier down; now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”* Amen.

*”Just As I Am, Without One Plea,” The United Methodist Hymnal 357.

Lessons In Leadership: Ruler Not King

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Samuel 5:1-5 and 9-10.

A statement I hear frequently?

“You shouldn’t be doing that.”

And let’s face it…I do a lot of thats.

I was prepared for the “you shouldn’t be doing thats” as a girl and woman – I defy with great glee, bearing in mind personal safety…most of the time. I was prepared for the “you shouldn’t be doing thats” during pregnancy – again, I defied with great glee, and held always in mind the health of myself and Joshua.

I was not and am not prepared for the “you should not be doing thats” as a pastor.

When our church hosted the Friday Afternoon Food Bank I typically served in the parking lot. It was my own version of “Undercover Boss” though I really was not under cover. I was in workout clothes and a baseball cap. Many patrons to the food bank thought and/or referred to John Chambliss as the pastor of the church, which delighted me to no end. One day someone made a comment to John as such and John kindly offered this correction, “I’m not the pastor. She’s the pastor – over there” and pointed at me. “What? Really? And you have her working the parking lot shift!?” We all shared a hearty laugh.

As a pastor – really as a person – I do not fear the thats, which is why I have been known to crawl through hedges looking for trash, to dumpster dive, and to take on the grossest of jobs – yes – even more gross than disposing a liquified pumpkin.

When I start to fear the thats – or think I’m too good to do the thats – that is when I need reminding that our Jesus did not wear a towel around his neck like a cape, but around his waist, ready and willing to wash feet…perhaps even feet bathed in liquified pumpkin.

Doing the thats is what servant leadership looks like to me…doing the thats is servant leadership to me.

What thats do you do? What thats do you leave undone? And what that is God calling you to do this week?

Prayer: “Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known; join in a song with sweet accord, join in a song with sweet accord and thus surround the throne, and thus surround the throne. We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion; we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.”* Amen.

*”Marching to Zion,” The United Methodist Hymnal 733.

 

Lessons in Leadership: Felling Giants

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Samuel 17:38-50.

Is you seeing them? the BFG asked.

Sophie, squinting through the glare of the sun, saw several tremendous tall figures moving among the rocks about five hundred yards away. Three or four others were sitting quite motionless on the rocks themselves.

This is Giant Country, the BFG said. Those is all giants, every one.

It was a brain-boggling sight. The giants were all naked except for a sort of short skirt around their waists, and their skins were burnt brown by the sun. But it was the sheer size of each one of them that boggled Sophie’s brain most of all. They were simply colossal, far taller and wider than the Big Friendly Giant upon whose hand she was now sitting. And oh how ugly they were! Many of them had large bellies. All of them had long arms and big feet. They were too far away for their faces to be seen clearly, and perhaps that was a good thing.”*

Lately I have felt like a resident of Giant Country. And not only do these giants reflect Roald Dahl’s description, these giants are hangry– hungry and angry – ready to devour.

What is on the menu?

Me.

In Dahl’s tale, The BFG, little Sophie had a guide, a confidant, a protector, and a friend as she traversed Giant Country. And when I feel like the giants are looming, stomping, interrupting, or nearly triumphing, I am grateful for the guides, confidants, protectors, and friends that are with, before, and behind me.

Late last week my childhood best friend texted me to say she was headed to the hospital. “Memaw is not well,” Laura wrote. Less than thirty minutes later Laura texted again, “Memaw is gone.” Memaw – Shirley W. Warren – was an expert navigator of Giant Country. She shared her wisdom freely – wisdom that was steeped in beautiful Southern charm and North Carolina wit. She was the matriarch of her family. She loved deeply and sowed richly in the lives of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She took family under her wings that were both family by blood and family by choice. Memaw called me “Sarah Beth-Ann” whenever she saw me and considered me one of her own.

At my Friends and Family Baby Shower last September Laura presented me with a quilt that she, her mother, and Memaw made together for Joshua. I took hold of that quilt the other day. The pattern throughout the quilt reminds me of a compass rose – a navigational tool – Memaw’s living legacy that will comfort Joshua as he makes his way through Giant Country.

When you find yourself in Giant Country, who are the guides, confidants, protectors, and friends that are with, before and behind you? What legacy does their presence imprint on your heart? Offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for these persons in your life, and if you are able, express your gratitude to these persons.

Thank you, Memaw. I hope you are sitting in a recliner next to Granddaddy, holding his hand. Well done, good and faithful servant. See you again.

Prayer: “Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore; let the search for thy salvation be our glory evermore. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, serving thee whom we adore, serving thee whom we adore.”** Amen.

*The BFG, Roald Dahl 4.

**“God of Grace and God of Glory,” The United Methodist Hymnal 577.