Dare to Dream: Perseverance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 34:1-12.

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the first Florida Conference Spring Confirmation Retreat with TUMC’s Confirmands. Under the wonderful leadership of Alaine Gorman and the incredible mentoring of Dan Hood, our students had a fantastic weekend of learning, fellowshipping, and maturing in their faith.

I heard the worship speaker was pretty good, too. *wink*

One of our Saturday activities was to complete elements on a low-ropes challenge course. These elements typically involve balancing in tight spaces, steadying in large spaces, and maneuvering in narrow spaces. And for fun…why not complete the element without talking…or out of a group of nine, only one person can talk…

And it is not uncommon to select the least verbose in the group for this speaking role.

Low-ropes challenge course elements encourage critical thinking, communication, and teamwork – sounds like a good recipe for mindful and engaged leadership in the local church! During their time on the course, we watched our students find their voices, take the lead, encourage another leader, and take risks.

One element was a 12×12 grid. Their task: move from one side of the grid to another, one square at a time, according to a map that only the low-ropes facilitator could see and the students had to figure out through trial and error. Some students stepped from their starting square to the next potential square with great enthusiasm while others were cautious in not wanting to fail. They did not want to let down the team. They wanted to be correct in their choices. It was clear they wanted to succeed, to win.

It is good to want to be correct and successful. But I know that I miss out on the deeper meaning of experiences when I am tunnel-visioned on correctness and success.

It bear repeating – when you have the choice between being right and kind – choose to be kind.

Together the team of nine students – TUMC’s five and four from Peace UMC in Orlando – completed the maze. That was their last element before lunch. As we walked back to the lodge I asked the students about how the felt when they chose a correct square on the grid versus an incorrect square. Some said it was exciting; they would get to immediately try for another correct square. Others mentioned how their correct guess contributed to the team’s goal of revealing the entire map.

I mentioned how I thought their incorrect guesses also contributed to the team’s goal of revealing the entire map. They sat with that one for a minute. And then one said…”Oh, I guess that is what they mean by failing forward.”

That is it exactly. We try. We fail. We keep trying. We fail some more. And as long as we rise one more time than we fall or fail, we will succeed.

The rising – that is perseverance.

I am so proud of our Confirmands – of the faithful work they started in November and will bring to conclusion in their Confirmation Service this Spring. These students are bright, creative, thoughtful, and have some sass.

I like the sass.

They give me hope for the future of the church. Together with them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may we all persevere towards God’s Kingdom. May we all rise.

Prayer: “High King of heaven, my victory won, may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my vision, O Ruler of all.”* Amen.

*“Be Thou My Vision,” The United Methodist Hymnal451.

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Dare to Dream: What Is In Your Hand

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 4:1-5.

This Sunday the Reverend David Killingsworth will join the Tuskawilla Family in worship leadership while I am off with our confirmands causing mischief at the first Florida Conference Confirmation Retreat at the Warren Willis Camp in Fruitland Park.

Please be in prayer for all the Confirmation Retreat participants this weekend. May relationships with Christ deepen, may understandings of faith increase, and may the coffee be strong – oh so strong!

(Not for the students – but for the adults – especially me!)

David serves as a co-pastor in partnership with his wife, Meghan, at First United Methodist Church in Sanford. David and I met many years ago when both he and Andrew were youth directors at two of the largest United Methodist Churches in greater Orlando. David has a sweet spirit, a wonderfully quick wit, and a deep love for the God’s people. David is passionate about strengthening the bonds between the church and the community through justice work. Ask him about The Picnic Project! Introduce yourself this Sunday and thank him for sharing his gifts with us at TUMC.

As I study the Scripture text for this Sunday, I am aware that it is a passage about what God’s power can do with current resources. Moses felt so ill-equipped and yet as a mentor told me years ago, God always equips the called. Moses doubted – his leadership, his potential effectiveness, his abilities, and his resources. Where Moses saw only deficiency, God saw efficacy. God saw how Moses could be and would be successful in drawing the Hebrews out of bondage and leading them into the salvation of the Promised Land.

I often joke with staff members and ministry colleagues that the first place I start shopping for ministry events… is at the Dollar Tree.

That is right. The Dollar Tree.

It is very seldom that the Dollar Tree fails me in what I am seeking. And hey – it saves a buck because everything literally is a buck!

People past and present have scoffed at my Dollar Tree shopping, but here is the truth: 1) Dollar Tree shopping is in keeping with TUMC’s commitment to stewarding our financial resources wisely and 2) I am always amazed at what God does with Dollar Tree resources.

Once again I am preparing for our Holy Week Lenten Prayer Stations – interactive opportunities for participants to read, reflect, and respond to Jesus’ Passion Story as they continue their journey with him from Hosanna to Empty Tomb. Most of the interactive elements at these stations humbly come from the Dollar Tree. Those candles, those pieces of clay, those markers, those silk leaves – through the presence of God’s power they become holy – and I am confident that God’s presence guiding their use accomplishes more in deepening faithful ponderings and encouraging faithful growth than I will ever know.

Just because something is humble or ordinary or commonplace does not limit God’s use of that object to draw you into deeper relationship with God or to display God’s power in guiding your life purpose.

Even items at/from the Dollar Tree.

Thank you, David, for sharing your gifts at TUMC this Sunday. Love them well and challenge them, too. They (we) are up for it!

Prayer: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he; Lord Sabaoth, his name, from age to age the same, and he must win the battle.”* Amen.

*“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” The United Methodist Hymnal 110.

Dare to Dream: Lose Your Big Buts

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 3:11-15.

You know what is a really long list? All of the things I learned in seminary.

You know what is an even longer list?

All of the things I did not learn in seminary.

Let us pray.

In 1964 Simon and Garfunkel released their single “The Sound of Silence.” It begins, “Hello, darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again.”

My adaptation – “Hello, fear, my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again.”

There is a direct relationship between my fear and my lack of knowledge. And since the list of what I did not learn in seminary is longer than the list of what I learned in seminary, I am often afraid…

I immediately fear what I do not know – especially a task I do not know how to complete or a problem I do not know how to solve. At times the fear is paralyzing. I cannot move. My breathing is shallow. I feel tears welling in my eyes.

Fear stands before me. What are you going to do now? Fear taunts. The answer Fear wants? Nothing. Silence. Will Fear accept a verbalization? Sure – as long as it is an excuse which affirms that nothing will change.

My faith has taught and is teaching me a response to fear…

Fight.

(Not the word you were expecting, huh?)

I fight fear. First I admit that I am afraid. And then I get mad. And when I am mad, I am pretty unstoppable until the friend, accountability partner, or fellow servant is called; the skill is acquired; the task is completed; and the problem is solved.

I am like the T-Rex on the t-shirts with the handheld extender grabbers.

Unstoppable.

I would rather learn new skills in order to conquer challenges than make excuses. I would rather call on the community of faith that has supported and is supporting me than sit alone in my fear. Problem solving skills are vital in the church; they are vital in every day life. Fear wants to immobilize us. Faith desires to motivate us to make positive change and contribute, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to transforming our world more into God’s Kingdom.

Hello, Fear, my old friend…weren’t you just leaving?

What is your reaction to fear? How do you overcome fear? How has and does your faith form your response to fear? Share your answers with someone this week. See you Sunday!

Prayer: “When Israel was in Egypt’s land, let my people go; oppressed so hard they could not stand, let my people go. No more shall they in bondage toil, let my people go; let them come out with Egypt’s spoil, let my people go. Go down (go down) Moses (Moses) way down in Egypt’s land; tell old Pharaoh to let my people go!”* Amen.

*”Go Down, Moses,” The United Methodist Hymnal 448.

 

Dare to Dream: Your Burning Bush

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 3:1-10.

My home church is First United Methodist Church of Lakeland – ahhh Polk County! After receiving my call to serve God by serving the church at the age of eleven I shared my call with my Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Riley Short. From that time forward Riley encouraged me to pursue present opportunities to live into and live out my call.

One of those early opportunities was to lead the Children’s Moment during worship – an offering that I continue to look forward to each and every Sunday!

One Sunday (like this coming Sunday) my children’s sermon was based upon Moses at the burning bush. The children were invited forward to sit on riser steps leading up to the chancel. One of my favorites – a boy named Larry that always styled a spiked mohawk – the tips of said mohawk were usually electric blue – perched himself on the highest step. I began to tell the story of Moses at the burning bush and afterwards I asked the group of children, “What was so amazing about the burning bush?”

Larry hollered, “The bush was on fire!”

“Yes, that is right! And what else was amazing about the bush?”

Anticipating answers like, “And the bush did not burn up!” and “God spoke from the bush!” Larry hollered again, “And it was BLUE!”

Blue – the bush was the color blue. Thank you cinematic masterpiece The Prince of Egypt.

Larry’s response was one of pure innocence. It continues to remind me – even today – that our faith germinates from a place of innocence. A product of having faith – I hope! – is developing a deeper faith. And we all start somewhere.

And that somewhere is important. And that somewhere is worthy.

And that somewhere is holy.

That children’s moment was not the place for me to teach Larry the deeper, more profound, theological impact of God’s presence in the burning bush. That children’s moment was the place that Larry taught me about pausing to embrace the wonder of God and to notice how God surprises us.

And the surprise that day – God made the bush blue.

How has God surprised you recently? How did you appreciate that moment? How will you be on the lookout for God’s surprises in the future?

Prayer: “If our love were but more simple, we should rest upon God’s word; and our lives would be illumined by the presence of our Lord.”* Amen.

*”There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” The United Methodist Hymnal 121.

Dare to Dream: Discovering Your Birthright

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 2:11-25.

The other night while Andrew, Joshua, and I dined, I looked at Andrew and said, “Tell me a story about Josh.” He looked at our son and laughed, “He has been with you all day. You tell me a story about Josh!” Then I laughed. “Not our Josh. About Josh. Tell me a story about Josh.”

Josh. Our Joshua’s namesake.

From time to time I ask Andrew to tell me Josh stories. From time to time they are hard stories for Andrew to tell. He misses his Josh so much. Andrew humors me. He tells me their stories. And even after seventeen-and-a-half years of hearing them, Andrew still has new stories to share.

That night he told me the story about he and Josh being obnoxiously loud in the South Florida Ave Wendy’s. Their intention – to be asked to leave. Amazingly, they were unsuccessful in their quest. I remarked when Andrew concluded the story, “Oh…that must be why you like to eat at Wendy’s…you feel close to Josh when you are there.” I do not think Andrew had ever made that connection. A sly smile crept across his face and he nodded in agreement.

It was late April 2017. We had come home from a prenatal appointment with the all important letter – the letter that would tell us if we were expecting a boy or girl later that same year. I sat down and Andrew opened the envelope. He scanned the document seeking that desired piece of knowledge that was buried under a heap of other test results (all of which were normal and/or negative, praise the Lord!).

His eyes met mine. “XY,” he said.

We had discussed names before for both a son and a daughter…but in that moment those previous discussions were but a memory.

“His name is Joshua,” I said. “And from the stories I have heard and that you continue to tell me, we are in for it!”

And from that day – Andrew has been all in – I never doubted that he would not be. Joshua by no means replaces his Josh. But Joshua comforts the still lingering ache in Andrew’s heart as Andrew’s heart grows exponentially alongside our blossoming son.

Mischief maker. Hell raiser. Justice seeker. Artist. Advocate. Dedication. Servant. Lover. Warrior. This is Joshua’s birthright from our brave Josh that never knew our son in this life, but I am sure admires him (and laughs at us!) daily from eternity.

Join us this Sunday as we continue our study of Rev. Mike Slaughter’s Dare to Dream as we discern how discovering our birthright informs the shaping and articulation of our big hairy audacious God-purposes! See you in worship!

Prayer: “Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome, God’s free bounty glorify; true belief and true repentance, every grace that brings you nigh. Come ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall; if you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all. I will arise and go to Jesus; he will embrace me with his arms; in the arms of my dear Savior, O there are ten thousand charms.”* Amen.

*”Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” The United Methodist Hymnal 340.

Dare to Dream: Dreaming the Dream

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 2:1-10.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Family begins a six-week sermon series that will study Moses, the leader of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt. We will use Rev. Dr. Mike Slaughter’s book Dare to Dream as a guide for this study. Each Sunday’s bulletin will include questions for your engagement and reflection as you (we) discern God’s dream – God’s purpose – for our lives as individuals and as a congregation.

When I consider the word dream my mind immediately goes to the words of a man – of a 20thCentury prophet – who spoke of his dream – a dream he hoped was and would be the dream of all people – from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

In March 1963 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his I Have A Dream Speech before 250,000 Americans – black and white; male and female; men, women, and children – during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Many consider this speech the defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement. Many continue to hold dear to the truths King spoke that day. Many hope and wait for the day that all the truths he spoke will indeed become self-evident.

I count myself among those persons.

As I reread King’s speech* this week I am struck by this brief sentence at the heart of his witness, “We cannot walk alone.” For King this meant that for Americans to truly be free – black and white; male and female; men, women, and children – Americans had to believe and confess that our futures, our identities, our hopes, our fears, our nation, our lives were and are all caught up together. We are connected. We hold in common with every person everywhere our creation in the image of God. Because of our creation we have inherent worth, inherent dignity, and inherent value that cannot be stripped away by any person or system or prejudice.

Shortly after Adam’s creation God created Eve so that Adam would not be alone. They would be helpmates for one another, modeling and teaching all generations that we were created out of relationship and created for relationship. From the beginning we were created to walk and work together. And yet history – American, World, and Biblical – tells again and again the stories of how we have made a mess of things and resisted walking and working together.

King made this confession on behalf of a nation. And then he professed these words of faith,

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

Work together. Pray together. Struggle together. Go to jail together. Stand up for freedom together. These are the makings of King’s dream so that all people would and will be free one day.

What an incredible dream. What a remarkable legacy. May these words continue to inspire us as God’s people to walk together rather than walking alone.

Prayer: “Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share, but our toil he doth richly repay; not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross, but is blest if we trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”** Amen.

*https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/i-have-dream-address-delivered-march-washington-jobs-and-freedom

**“Trust and Obey,” The United Methodist Hymnal 467.

Baptism of Our Lord Sunday

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 3:15-22.

Joshua loves water.

He loves water when it splashes. He loves water in mustaches. He loves water in his sock. He loves water ‘round the clock. He loves water in his cup. He loves water with rubber ducks! He loves water through a straw. To Joshua, water has no flaw!

*pause for effect*

I often joke that Joshua is remembering his baptism whenever he interacts with water. He is so curious. He is so joyful. He is quite messy. And he is oh so proud of himself.

The more I think about – I think he is teaching me about our ongoing relationship with our baptisms through his love of interacting with water.

  • After baptism I believe God hopes we have curious spirits that will continue to seek and nurture our relationship with God.
  • After baptism I know God wants us to be joyful. Our baptism draws us into the largest family on earth as it is in heaven – a family that, yes – at times, lets us down – and a family that, yes – apologizes, encourages, and supports one another.
  • Baptisms themselves can be quite messy because the water goes where it wants – what a beautiful thought about God’s grace, which the water symbolizes in this sacrament. That the water is abundant and messy reminds us that God’s love and grace are abundant and messy – especially in the moments in our lives when we are our messiest and need help being made whole.
  • And lastly I do think we can be proud of our baptisms. Not to lord them over others but in recognition of the faith claim we make through them or that our families made on our behalves. Our baptism acknowledges that we are not God – that we are coming under Christ’s Lordship – and that we are ready – excited – to be part of something greater than ourselves.

I am proud of that. So is Joshua. We hope you are, too.

Join us in worship this week as we celebrate remembering or anticipating our baptism in our worship services. And if you are interested in being baptized or have questions about this sacrament, please connect with me for conversation!

I’ll see you Sunday; that’s a fact. I’ll see you Sunday and that is that!

Prayer: “Wash, O God, our sons and daughters, where your cleansing waters flow. Number them among your people; bless as Christ blessed long ago. Weave them garments bright and sparkling; compass them with love and light. Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit, holy dove and heart’s delight.”* Amen.

*”Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters,” The United Methodist Hymnal 605.