Avalanche Ranch!!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Joshua 1:7-9

This week over fifty children have learned how God is awesome, real, with us, strong and forever at Avalanche Ranch! With the help of many volunteers our church campus was transformed into a bible story learning, game playing, creative crafting, theatrical acting, song singing, rootin’ tootin’ ranch of celebration! The children travelled with Joshua and the Israelites as they made their way into the Promised Land. The children also learned about Nepal and collected a special offering that will be given in their name to UMCOR – the United Methodist Committee on Relief – to continue disaster relief efforts in this country.

Our theme verse for Avalanche Ranch reads, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). It has been amazing this week to watch all of these children – some that are very familiar with Tuskawilla and many that are new friends to Tuskawilla from the surrounding community – be bold, strong, and courageous as they learned together, worked together, and played together. Any hesitancy about a new experience that they felt on Monday evaporated by 9:03am on Tuesday. What’s a vision of the Kingdom and a vision for this church? That the church becomes a place where every child feels at home, feels welcomed, feels enriched, and feels loved.

In Joshua 3 and 4 we read a story of God once again parting the waters – this time the waters of the Jordan River – so that God’s people can cross safely to the other side. To remember God’s awesome deed and goodness in helping them with safe passage twelve men – one representing each tribe of Jacob – drew up a stone from the riverbed and together they built an altar. Joshua said, “When your children ask in time to come, What do those stones mean to you? then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial for ever” (Joshua 4:6-7). These stones became an Ebenezer – a visual reminder of a fresh beginning and new course for God’s people.

My hope is that the children’s experience at Avalanche Ranch this week will become an Ebenezer for them. I hope they will remember how they were welcomed here, the joy they experienced here, and how they learned (and will remember always) that God is awesome, real, with us, strong and forever.   And I hope as they want to learn more about our great God that they will remember the community they have felt this week and come back! Ya hear!?

I invite you to be present in worship this week as we celebrate Avalanche Ranch Sunday complete with a slideshow, ranch tunes, dancing, and reveal the amount of the offering the children have given for our neighbors in Nepal. I’m wearing my western finest for just this occasion. Wonder what that is? See you Sunday friends!!

Prayer: “Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power, and love. Our God is an awesome God.” Yeeeeehaw! Amen.

*”Our God Is An Awesome God,” The Faith We Sing 2040.

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House of Grace ~ Sanctifying Grace

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 3:10-14

I have served on a mission trip every summer for the past 16 years. I have had the privilege of serving in the Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain States, across Appalachia, along the Eastern Seaboard from Florida to Maine and back, in Hawaii, in Guatemala and Costa Rica, and in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I have served on construction mission trips, music mission trips, and spiritual formation mission trips. I have played four-corners, four-square and connect-four more times than I can count.

Serving on mission trips is near and dear to the hearts of the people called Methodist. In some ways our denomination was birthed from a missional movement, though John Wesley never intended the Methodists to become their own practice of faith apart from the Church of England. Methodism was a revival movement committed to taking the practice of faith out of the church building and into the world. “The world is my parish,” said Brother John and that mantra accompanied him into every slum, prison, hospital, marsh, farm, and schoolhouse where he preached the nourishing Word of God to very spiritually hungry people. Wesley also recognized by his being with the people that in order to serve their spiritual needs he first needed to meet their physical needs. The physical need could have been companionship, comfort, connection, clothing, or carbohydrates! Meeting physical needs in order to address spiritual needs is a lesson I believe Wesley took from the Apostle James who writes,

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

James 2:14-18

“I by my works will show you my faith.” I set this verse as my intention in each missional interaction – which I have learned can take place away from a local church as well as in the local church. It is my privilege this week to share in the practicing of this intention alongside the students and adult leaders in Tuskawilla’s Youth Ministry as we partner with the members, friends, and community at First UMC Pahokee in service and fellowship. We plan to complete painting projects, light construction (light as in the adjective and not the noun…but if we complete the noun version that would be awesome!), volunteer in a local neighborhood recreation program, serve in the community garden and food bank, and, most importantly, grow closer to God and to one another. Through this intentional work God shapes and refines us for greater works in the Kingdom. Through this intentional work God sanctifies us – God makes us holy – and draws us deeper into the interior space of God’s House of Grace. Through this intentional work God changes our appetites away from me and towards the we.

As this holy transformation further roots in my life, I am aware that my life is becoming more simple. I desire experiences not things. I desire connections not commodities. I find, as Paul says in our Scripture passage for this week, that “I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14). I have not done this on my own; I have done what I have done and do what I continue to do as a witness to my salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. God’s grace is the cause of all this – of what was becoming, what is now, and leading towards what I will be. God’s grace has brought healing and closure to fractured and broken moments in my past. I no longer think of those moments as part of who I am because my identity and personhood is in Christ. I am looking towards the future. God’s grace strengthens me for the service I am called to now and is preparing me for the service I will do in the future. I am pressing on.

I am thankful for the opportunity to spend this dedicated time with our church’s students and to be God’s hands and feet not only in their lives but also in the lives of the sweet folk in Pahokee this week. Mark your calendars to join us in worship on Sunday, July 12 to hear all about their mission trip and service experiences. Keep us in your prayers. You are in ours.

Prayer: “I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry. All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save. I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright. Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send? I, the Lord of snow and rain, I have borne my people’s pain. I have wept for love of them. They turn away. I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone. I will speak my word to them. Whom shall I send? I, the Lord of wind and flame, I will tend the poor and lame, I will set a feast for them. My hand will save. Finest bread I will provide till their hearts be satisfied. I will give my life to them. Whom shall I send? Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”* Amen.

*”Here I Am, Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal 593.

House of Grace ~ Justifying Grace

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 5:1-11

John Wesley employs the image of a doorway or threshold to teach about justifying grace. The movement of prevenient or preventing grace – that grace that goes before us and prevents the natural consequence of living life outside of God’s will – stirs the sleeper to that moment of awaken-ness. That awakened moment is pivitoal because the sleeper has a choice: (A) to return to the ways of the world and continue existing in life that ends in death or (B) move towards that conversion moment, that moment of repentance of sins and choosing to live a new life in Christ.

Prevenient grace moves us from God’s porch to God’s doorway of justifying grace, a place where we (1) feel God’s forgiveness, (2) claim our identity in Christ, and (3) express how we have been saved by faith in Christ. This moment is a vulnerable one. It is inwardly focused. It beckons us to go inside ourselves, to recognize God’s presence within us, to evaluate how our life choices have and have not been becoming of Christ’s gospel, and to ask for forgiveness as one of the first steps in working out our salvation. In working out our salvation, we grow in love and knowledge of God and God restores us to the image in which we were made.

You may have noticed a new addition on or next to many of the doorways at the church recently. There are framed “Top Ten List” signs on how to secure and leave each room at the church as a reminder to everyone who uses our facilities to help us in our goal of being the best stewards of our facilities. These past few days I have been reflecting on those signs, not because of their content, but because hanging the signs was one of the last gifts of service that Gil Hyde made to our church family. Many of you know that Gil and Phil – our dynamic duo of handymen – dedicated so many hours to projects around the church. They gave of their time and their talents without ever seeking praise or recognition. They served because they enjoyed one another’s company and they shared a call to steward their talents for God and you, their church family, as an expression of their faith.

Whenever Gil was working at the church he would make his way to my office to say hello. He was always so courteous and afraid he was interrupting me…I always thought he came by because he could smell the smoke pouring from my ears and wanted to make sure the curtains were not on fire! Gil would speak very softly, but he spoke with purpose. When Gil had something to say, I wanted to listen.

When I showed him the “Top Ten List” signs that I wanted hung on the doors, he took time to receive my opinion on exactly where they should go. “Eye level,” he suggested, “we want people to see them. This is an important message. It is said with care. Following it is a way for everyone who uses the church to be neighbor to the group coming behind them. And the first place our neighbors come in is through the door.”

Neighbors come in through the door. We come in through the door. We are welcomed through God’s door as the gift of God’s justifying grace.

In our Scripture lesson this week Paul affirms, “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). God’s love surrounds us and nurtures us through prevenient grace. God’s love is poured into our hearts through justifying grace. Gil’s heart was so full of God’s love – love that he shared with his beloved Lee, with their children, and with his church family. May we think of him and be encouraged to share God’s love through our service each time we walk through Tuskawilla’s doors.

Prayer: “I heard and old, old story, how a Savior came from glory, how he gave his life on Calvary to save a wretch like me; I heard about his groaning, of his precious blood’s atoning, then I repented of my sins and won the victory. I heard about his healing, of his cleansing power revealing, how he made the lame to walk again and caused the blind to see; and then I cried, “Dear Jesus, come and heal my broken spirit,” and somehow Jesus came and brought to me the victory. I heard about a mansion he has built for me in glory, and I heard about the streets of gold beyond the crystal sea; about the angels singing and the old redemption story, and some sweet day I’ll sing up there the song of victory. O victory in Jesus, my Savior forever! He sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood; he loved me ere I knew him, and all my live is due him; he plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.”* Amen.

*”Victory in Jesus,” The United Methodist Hymnal 370.

House of Grace ~ Prevenient Grace

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 5:8-14

This week the Tuskawilla Community begins a 3-week sermon series entitled House of Grace. In this sermon series we will explore our Wesleyan understanding of God’s grace. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement, described God’s grace as threefold: prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying. We will study one facet of God’s grace each week.

I understand grace as God’s love and mercy given to humanity by God not because we deserve it or because we earned it. God pours out God’s grace freely because God wants us to have it. By having God’s grace, our souls are nourished, we receive God’s care, and we are drawn into ways of responsible living – for ourselves, for our neighbors, and for our world.

When Wesley taught on God’s grace, he used the image of the house – specifically the porch, the door’s threshold, and the living quarters of the house. He linked the image of the porch with prevenient (or preventing) grace, the door’s threshold with justifying grace, and the living quarters with sanctifying grace. For more on each of these, I invite you to worship this Sunday…and the two following it! I plan to share memories from my childhood during each week of this series. Y’all should know by now that you can take the girl out of Polk County…but you cannot take the Polk County out of this girl!

As I prepare for worship this week and prepare for next week when our Annual Conference will convene in Daytona, I am aware of how in need of God’s grace we are. Many conversations will take place at Annual Conference and I hope all participants in those conversations engage with a willing posture committed to discussion rather than division. Decisions from these conversations will include the election of delegates that will represent the Florida Conference at our connectional General Conference in Portland, Oregon next April as well as the adopting or endorsement of any petitions and legislations that will be brought to the floor of General Conference by the Florida delegation.

I invite you to begin praying with me today about our Annual Conference event, that throughout this time of holy conferencing all those present will honor God and invite God’s grace to inform, shape, and lead our acts, signs, and deeds. My hope is that we will meet as a fellowship of God’s people, and with honoring God as our focus, we will meet God where God is and lead towards the vision that God reveals…and if we accomplish some conference business while we are there, that is great, too.

God, we are not perfect. Our church is not perfect. Our Annual Conference is not perfect. We are seeking after you…you who are perfect. And in the seeking, you reveal a more perfect, a more grace-filled, a more holy way. Where you lead us, we will follow. We are with you, with you, all the way.

Prayer: “Lord, you have come to the lakeshore looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones; you only asked me to follow humbly. You need my hands, full of caring through my labors to give others rest, and constant love that keeps on loving. O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me, and while smiling have spoken my name; now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me; by your side I will seek other seas.”* Amen.

*”Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore,” The United Methodist Hymnal 344.