Heroes and Villains: Delilah

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Judges 16:4-22.

Four-legged children have been members of our family since the very beginning. Andrew moved to Atlanta ahead of me in 2007 because his job was set to start before mine…and I am pretty sure that it was only after 96 hours in the city that he sent me a picture of a little Schnauzer face that was now ours.

Normally I would not recommend surprising a family member with a four-legged child, but when that four-legged child is as wonderful as our Samson, I would recommend it every time!

A year and a half later our sweet Delilah joined our family. Samson picked her out from a rescue in Middleton, Georgia. Samson and Delilah were not from the same litter, but that did not stop them from acting like brother and sister – two pups that had been together all their lives.

Now something about Schnauzers…they are pups…they are also silent ninjas. We have a rule in our house called The Little Mermaid Rule when it comes to the puppadoos. Ariel wanted to be “where the people are” – and our pups need to be where the people are…because if they are not…who knows what will ensue!

Consider one Thanksgiving Dinner at my parents’ house. The family was busily eating in the dining room and we all figured that our four-legged children were under the table hoping someone might share some holiday cheer with them. How quiet and patient they were being! As the meal concluded I rose to take my plate into the kitchen to start the clean up process and saw a mess of turkey juice all on the floor! What in the world!? As I rounded the corner of the countertop, there knelt Samson and Delilah, astride the trashcan, chowing down on the remainders of the turkey carcass my mother had already put in the trashcan!

Samson was the r-u-n-t of his litter; no way he was reaching into a 13-gallon trashcan to fish out a turkey carcass…but Delilah…if the carcass was near the top, could definitely reach it.

Little furry co-conspirators! It is a good thing they are cute…otherwise my mother would have had an outright fit!

Just like our four-legged children, the stars of our Scripture passage this week find themselves in a mess of their own creation – a mess fed and intensified by temptation for more. Temptation is a slippery slope. It causes us to lose our center, to lose sight of what anchors us, to forget or skew the core principles – the covenant – that we share with God that guides the actions of our hearts, heads, and hands. Temptation causes us to lose sight of humanity – our own humanity and the humanity of others. People become objects, the means to ends, useful only in the ways that they accomplish what we want or fulfill our needs. And that is not how our God created us to be.

A inescapable litany throughout the book of Judges is “the people did what was right in their own eyes.” This is the cause of temptation. The effect of temptation is separation – estrangement – from God and others. Resisting temptation – repenting from temptation – brings our lives back into focus by doing what is right in God’s eyes. Doing what is right in God’s eyes is an invitation to sacrifice, to put others before ourselves, to follow the ways of the Spirit rather than pursuing the ways of the flesh.

Our God is good and our God provides. When we fall to temptation we challenge the belief that our God will provide. Waiting for God’s provision is, at times, a struggle. But I believe God purposefully uses those times of waiting to teach us if what we desire is truly important and if what we desire is appropriate for that time in our lives.

Personally, I would rather wait to eat turkey that is nicely sliced on a plate than fish bones out of a trash can and gnaw on a carcass. What about you?

Prayer: “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”* Amen.

*“How Firm A Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 529.

Be Unmistakable – Gravity Youth 2017 Mission Trip Sunday

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 12:9-21.

When I think of our Gravity Youth Students and all they accomplished on their Summer Mission Trip – the word that comes to my mind is courageous. Our students are incredibly courageous.

They trusted their parents and church leadership in selecting where they would serve this summer. They trusted us with their time – not only on the mission trip, but also in preparation for the mission trip on four training Saturdays and a slue of meetings. They trusted our driving through the greater Atlanta area!

Most importantly, they trusted God to be with them as they served in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. They served graciously and intentionally. They served without complaint or competition. They served with their whole hearts, minds, souls, and strengths. They served after the example of Christ. And their service represented our church family with excellence.

During the week our worship speaker challenged us each night to Be Unmistakable. We become unmistakable by

  1. Being Set A Part
  2. Being A Servant
  3. Being Brave
  4. Being Humble, and
  5. Being A Disciple

On the evening we learned about Being Brave the Rev. Carolyn Poling reminded us of Peter walking on the water to meet Jesus. What bravery – what courage! – it took him to get out of the boat to walk towards Jesus! And what greater bravery – what greater courage! – it took for him to call on Jesus’ name, to reach for Jesus’ hand as the person to rescue him when the waters rose.

Many look at this story of Peter as a loss of faith, but I believe it is a story of living real faith. We do not practice the life of faith in a bubble. We are not in a laboratory that is secure from outside influences. We live our faith in the real world that is full of situations and circumstances that are beyond our control yet impact us greatly. And when we begin to sink, we lit.er.a.ly. have a whole host of folks and deities we could call on for help. Whose name would be or is on the tip of your tongue? For whose hand would you reach for or are you reaching? What will you do when faced with moments that call for – that demand – courage?

Our students faced challenges and frustrations as they worked. They left creature comforts of home – beds, favorite foods, consistent air conditioning, and wifi – to step into the lives of homeowners that do not have much by society’s standards, but what they have is their world. They ached over the destituteness they witnesses, which fueled their desire to work all the more, to connect at deeper and deeper levels, and to complete the work placed before them so they would know upon returning to Casselberry, Winter Springs, Longwood, Fern Park, and Winter Park that the lives of their homeowners would be improved because of all the ways God worked through them that week.

My dear students, you completed your work – all of it. You accomplished your goals. You are so courageous; thank you for your trust and for being an example of courage to me and our church family.

I look forward to worshipping with our church family this weekend as we celebrate Youth Mission Trip Sunday. Our Gravity Youth will serve during the 11am Service and then share about their experiences at Dalton Area Project that evening at our Stockholders’ Dinner and Presentation. If you purchased stock in the mission trip this summer, please RSVP your attendance to the Stockholders’ Dinner by this Wednesday, August 9.

Prayer: “Let the King of my heart be the wind inside my sails, the anchor in my waves, oh he is my song. You are good, good. Oh. You are good, good. Oh. When the night is holding onto me, God is holding on. When the night is holding onto me, God is holding on.”* Amen.

*“King Of My Heart” by John Mark McMillan and Sarah McMillan. To listen to the full song, follow this link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpqSbKYxd9Y

Heroes and Villains: Rahab

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Joshua 2:1-14

During my trip to Israel we spent one afternoon in the City of Jericho. We ate lunch in a restaurant attached to a shop called The Temptation Center. Alarming title…so much beautiful pottery! Outside The Temptation Center was a small staircase that pilgrims could climb to see a surviving portion of the Wall of Jericho. I remember climbing the staircase and hearing the Bible stories my mother told me as a child – of the people of Israel marching around the wall, of loud trumpet blasts and shouting, and of Rahab welcoming the spies into the safety of her home.

Some might consider the relationship between Rahab and the Israelite spies purely transactional. “I protected you; you protect me” akin to “I will scratch your back; you will scratch mine.” But I believe the relationship was deeper than that. Rahab knew the stories of the Israelite God. She feared God in awe and wonder not worry and dismay. She feared and revered God; she revered and believed. Welcoming the spies into her home was a sign of not only Rahab’s belief in the stories of the Israelite people and their God, but also of her personal acceptance of those stories and the person (deity) that sent the spies.

Recently a dear friend welcomed me into her home for dinner and fellowship. I knocked and the door was immediately opened. As always, I took off my shoes and walked around her house like I lived there. “Help yourself to whatever you need in the kitchen; open cabinets or drawers till you find it!” (whatever it may be). My friend made sure I was comfortable before she made herself comfortable. I did not have the feeling I had as a child sitting in my grandmother’s formal living room where I am convinced everyone hovered over the couches rather than sitting on them for fear of harming them. My friend heartily and joyously welcomed me. I was at peace. I was safe. I was at home.

Hospitality is a truly beautiful gift.

I learned the manner of hospitality that I practice – in the place I live, in the relationships I share, in the churches I serve – from my study of Scripture. Luke 6:38 reads “give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” I hope that my expressions of hospitality tell the story of the one who sent and sends me – that our God is a welcoming God that provides, nurtures, loves, and forgives. Sometimes my hospitality takes a visible form – I am able to provide a service or fulfill a need. At other times my hospitality takes an invisible form – I listen, I hold space while someone weeps, I pray, I hope.

Of most importance is our understanding that God calls us to practice hospitality – not just for the people we like or the people like us – but for all people. From a 30,000ft view Rahab have nothing in common with the Israelite spies that entered the land of Canaan, but from a heart-view, Rahab and the spies share the common heritage of being created in the image of God. I believe from that common heritage she welcomed the spies and provided them sanctuary, and in turn, the Israelites remembered she and her family when they came into possession of the land.

…The measure you give will be the measure you get back…

Take some time this week to consider the hospitality you offer. Where did you learn your hospitality practices? What guides your practice of hospitality? What message or whose message do you send through your practice of hospitality?

Prayer: “As Christ breaks bread, and bids us share, each proud division ends. The love that made us, makes us one, and strangers now are friends, and strangers now are friends. And thus with joy we meet our Lord. His presence, always near, is in such friendship better known; we see and praise him here, we see and praise him here.”* Amen.

*“I Come With Joy,” The United Methodist Hymnal 617.

Heroes and Villains: Nebuchadnezzar

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Daniel 4:13-17, 23-33.

Have you ever been told “You are getting too big for your britches?” Ahhh britches – one of those great Southern words, most likely appropriated from the English word breeches meaning trousers or – another personal favorite – pantaloons!

This might be hard for some of you to conceive (okay, maybe not), but it is very uncommon that I do not have a comment or opinion about the goings-on around me. I have had this quality from a very young age. My mother was raised in a house where children were seen and not heard and children did not speak until spoken to…that trait definitely skipped over me!

Due to my propensity to talk – and yes, even talk back – I heard “you are getting too big for your britches” as a chorus throughout my formative years. Perhaps the intent of hearing that phrase was to get me to be quiet…but that was not the effect it had on me. Rather, I heard that phrase…and after being a little irritated…would check in with my behavior. Was the concern with what I was saying or how I was saying it? Was I speaking from facts or from half-truths and hippopotamus-sized opinions? Was I engaged in an argument – a form of intelligent discourse that includes disagreement – or was I being argumentative?

Growing into our britches, if you will, is a vital part of the maturation process physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is a process by which we become authorities, just not the authority. I believe this was Nebuchadnezzar’s folly.

The Book of Daniel details several accounts of Nebuchadnezzar getting too big for his britches. He is the Babylonian King and while the empire is his world, the world is not his empire. He abuses his power, he overreaches his authority, and in response, God intervenes and holds the monarch accountable. Nebuchadnezzar has dreams that precede or intercede his “too big” behaviors that Daniel interprets for him but to no avail. Like the Israelites that Nebuchadnezzar now calls “subjects,” he does what is right in his own eyes; he is too big for his own britches to his detriment…or should I say detrimoo-nt?

Although Nebuchadnezzar displays some behaviors that we do not want to emulate, he displays others that are quite useful to us. He asks questions, he seeks counsel…problems arose when he did not follow through on the answers given and counsel received.

Asking questions and seeking counsel are incredible assets to me as an individual and a leader. I ask answers so I do not assume. I seek counsel to invite a wider community into the decision-making process. Both of these behaviors are important practices in the act of discernment. Discernment encourages maturation without getting too big for our britches.

Consider in your daily interactions with family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors – how could you ask more questions or seek counsel? Identify the places where you may too easily become too big for your britches. Where are you an authority and need to remember you are not the authority? How can you engage in arguments without being argumentative?

Discern and then apply, and together we will mature with God.

Join us this Sunday in worship as we celebrate Samantha Aupperlee’s three years of ministry with us at Tuskawilla! She will preach both services as part of her farewell to the TUMC Family before beginning her seminary studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in August. Thank you, Samantha, for your preparation and leadership in worship this week. We adore you and look forward to celebrating you on Sunday!

Prayer: “For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth over and around us lies. For thyself, best Gift Divine, to the world so freely given, for that great, great love of thine, peace on earth, and joy in heaven: Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”* Amen.

*“For the Beauty of the Earth,” The United Methodist Hymnal 92.

Heroes and Villains: Thomas

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 20:24-29.

There is a powerful scene towards the end of Disney’s The Lion King where Simba, the reluctant and somewhat recalcitrant prince of the Savannah, is alone at night until he sees an effigy of his father in the clouds. Instead of coming towards him, Simba’s father seems to dissipate on the winds. Simba chases the cloud with all his might. He attempts to catch up with the wind and when he realizes he cannot, he hurls at the wind – at his father – “You said you’d always be there for me! But you’re not…And it’s my fault. It’s all my fault.”

I imagine the disciples felt the same way after Jesus’ crucifixion. Even though the disciples betrayed, denied, and deserted Jesus, I believe they continued to hope that all he had said would be true – that he would be with them, that he would die and rise again, and after ascending, that he would send his Holy Spirit to be with them always.

Ten of the eleven disciples have seen Jesus, but Thomas was absent. Thomas hears their testimony about Jesus, but he wants to see for himself. He wants – he asks – to see and touch.

Thomas wants to explore the realness of the resurrection. He wants personal confirmation that the resurrection was not an illusion or a trick or a figment of the disciples’ collective imagination. If the resurrection had been an illusion, trick, or figment of the imagination, the resurrection would not have the same efficacy, the same saving power.

“You said you’d always be there for me!” And Jesus was. Jesus is.

Jesus showed up. Jesus revealed himself to Thomas and the disciples again. Thomas asks and Jesus responds; Jesus provides and Thomas receives.

The story of The Lion King is a story of identity – of Simba discovering or returning to who he is, which ultimately guides him home. The death of Jesus caused an identity crisis for the disciples and followers of Jesus, too. Although Jesus foretold his death and resurrection numerous times, the weight of its reality finally set with the sun that Good Friday. Seeing the resurrected Jesus reminded the disciples of who they are and whose they are. Touching Jesus – physically interacting with his living truth – restored and reconnected the disciples to the living truth of Jesus’ miracles, healings, and teachings.

Wanting that confidence of who we are and whose we are, wanting to see and touch the living truth of our Jesus does not make us bad people. That desire locates us as individuals that trust our “asking, seeking, and knocking” will be answered by our Jesus that has already shown his desire that we would all believe. So if you have the desire to ask, seek, or knock – proceed! Jesus’ timeline in answering may be at odds with your timeframe of receiving an answer, but do not let that sway you from asking. Remember, Jesus is faithful and is making all things known. Jesus is here for us and answers us when we call.

Prayer: “When our confidence is shaken in beliefs we thought secure, when the spirit in its sickness seeks but cannot find a cure, God is active in the tensions of a faith not yet mature. God is love, and thus redeems us in the Christ we crucify; this is God’s eternal answer to the world’s eternal why. May we in this faith maturing be content to live and die!”* Amen.

*“When Our Confidence Is Shaken,” The United Methodist Hymnal 505.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 8:27-30.

In Mark 8 we see Jesus fulfill a number of roles:

  1. He is a provider as he feeds a multitude of more than 4000.
  2. He is a rebuker as he holds the Pharisees accountable for their criticism and unbelief.
  3. He is a healer as he guides a blind man back to sight.
  4. He is an inquirer as he asks those closest to him who he is.

I do not believe Jesus asks the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” because he (Jesus) is unsure. He asks to check in on the courage of conviction of those in his inner most circle. They are witnesses to his miracles, healings, and teachings. They are also witnesses to seeds of doubt sown by those that oppose Jesus. And so Jesus checks in – not to persuade or convince the disciples to change or crescendo their tune – but to hear the truth of their hearts.

Who do you say that Jesus is? What truth does your heart share when you consider this question?

When I consider this question presently – who do I say Jesus is – the first word of truth that comes from my heart is Encourager. There is no path I have walked or will walk that Jesus has not already walked. So on the days that my head hangs low and my shoulders hunch over, I think of my Jesus and the weight is immediately lifted off my back and his love once again radiates from my heart.

The second word of truth is Faithful. Our Jesus was denied, betrayed, and deserted – and not just by disciples of old but also by present day followers of Christ. Though I succumb to temptation and become derelict to my discipleship duties, Jesus is faithful. Steadfast. The ultimate example of devotion and commitment.

The third word of truth is Patient. Like us, Jesus did not have the whole horizon in his view. He waited on God. He asked God questions and requested guidance. He acknowledged his discomfort with the world of unknowing, with the lack of control, with the fear of “what would be” not already being “what is.” And our Jesus released himself from the grip of fear and appetite for personal control – “not my will, but yours be done.”

Encourager. Faithful. Patient. That is who I say Jesus is. Who do you say that Jesus is? I invite you to find time this week to say – to name – to answer this question and share your answer with your Savior.

Join Pastor Kate and members of the Quest Sunday School Class as they offer their gifts and service in worship leadership this week as I serve with our Gravity Youth at Dalton Area Project. Thank you, Pastor Kate and Quest Class, for your offerings at Morningsong and 11:00 Worship. I deeply appreciate your time in preparing for and presence in leading worship this Sunday.

Prayer: “‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, and to take him at his word; just to rest upon his promise, and to know, “Thus saith the Lord.” Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him! How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er! Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust him more!”* Amen.

*”‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 462

Rise Up!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 7:11-17.

It is a struggle for me to watch the news somedays – all the contentious and gut-wrenching reports weigh heavily on my heart. That is why I am thankful when time is allotted in national broadcasts for stories that remind me – remind us – of God’s goodness in humanity.

Recently I saw a story of a young man from Texas named Justin. Daily he walks three miles in the stifling heat to work at a local taco restaurant. One day a fellow commuter, named Andy, pulled over and offered Justin a ride to work, and after their short time together, Andy was determined to make a difference in Justin’s life. Justin shared that he worked hard every day and saved all he could in the hopes of one day having a car of his very own. Inspired by Justin’s perseverance and dedication, Andy reached out to his friends and members of the community to see what could be done.

The owner of a local pizza shop placed a donation box for Justin near his cash register; within a week almost $5,500 had been given from the community towards a vehicle for Justin. Andy approached a local car dealership and they were able to work out an agreeable purchase price on a 2004 Camry along with free oil changes for two years and pre-paying Justin’s car insurance for one year.

Andy and others from the community met Justin at work one day during his lunch break and asked him to come outside, tacos in his hand. Andy shared with Justin the impression he (Justin) had left with him and to honor his hard work and dedication, presented Justin with his own car! Justin turned to see the Camry, and then handed off his tacos so he could sit in the driver’s seat! Justin then exited the car so that he could hug everyone present – twice. He was so overwhelmed by the community’s compassion for a young man that had a dream of driving to and from work rather than walking to work in the heat of the day and walking home in the shadows of night.

God desires this sort of compassion to rise up out of each of us for neighbors known and not yet fully known. With God all things are possible! Funds can be raised. Relationships can be healed. Visions can become realities. And the Kingdom can be built by hands led by Almighty God.

Join us this week in worship as we commission our Youth Mission Team for their week of service with Dalton Area Project in Dalton, Georgia. These youth, and their adult leaders, go to serve in compassion and carry the compassion of this congregation with them. I am grateful for the service and leadership they will offer in the coming week; may it serve as an example and inspiration for all of us to raise up our compassion for use in the further building of God’s Kingdom.

Prayer: “Lord, whose love through humble service bore the weight of human need, who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed: we, your servants, bring the worship, not of voice alone, but heart, consecrating to your purpose every gift that you impart. Still your children wander homeless; still the hungry cry for bread; still the captives long for freedom; still in grief we mourn our dead. As, O Lord, your deep compassion healed the sick and freed the soul, use the love your Spirit kindles still to save and make us whole.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal 581.