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.

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Dawn

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:26-38.

I am not really an early bird and I am definitely not a night owl. In fact, I recently learned that I wear a certain facial expression in the mornings when I am ready to interact with people! Before then, I am told my gaze is rather intense…

So not an early bird…and not a night owl…I am solidly a “progressively tired pigeon.” Yes. That is me to a T.

That being said, Joshua has encouraged my being a morning person. In our early months together he considered “sleeping in” to be 4:27am. Thankfully he is a much better sleeper these days; now I get up early in order to get work done when it is quiet and to organize myself for the day ahead.

Whether I am sitting on the couch or at our breakfast table I have the opportunity to watch light flood the landscape as dawn breaks.

I have watched dawn break in some remarkable places:

  • across the waters of Lake Griffin at the Warren Willis Camp
  • across the Atlantic at Cape Canavral Shores
  • across the Pacific in Wahiawa, Hawaii
  • across the Galilee in Tiberius, Israel
  • across the Himalayas in Pokhara, Nepal

In each context the pattern holds:

  • there is darkness
  • the color begins to shift and shadows begin to recede
  • rays reaching out from the sun extend to embrace me where I stand
  • the light makes visible what was once obscured or hidden
  • the light brings hope, reveals potential, and welcomes the promise of the new day

A couple years ago Bob and Debbie Spitzer gifted Andrew and me a beautiful Thomas Kinkade painting that captures dawn breaking in the mountains. They hoped it would remind us of our adventures in Nepal. It does. It also remind us of God’s promise found in Lamentations 3, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 22-23).

Christ’s Dawn awaits us as we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve in the coming week. The gift of the incarnation is the greatest expression of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness we will ever know. May the light of Christ’s Dawn shine in your life, affirming God’s love for you and your place in God’s Kingdom.

I look forward to worshipping with you

Sunday, December 23 at 8:30am Morningsong or 11am Traditional Worship with Christmas Brass.

Christmas Eve Monday, December 24 at 6:30pm – Carols, Candlelight, and Communion

Prayer: “Send, O God, into the darkness of this troubled world, the light of your Son. Let the star of your hope touch the minds of all people with the bright beams of mercy and truth; and so direct our steps that we may ever walk in the way revealed to us, as the shepherds of Bethlehem walked with joy to the manger where he dwelled, who now and ever reigns in our hearts, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”*

*The United Methodist Book of Worship 278.

Direct

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:76-80.

“The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter.”

The same can be said of conducting batons.

As a sacred music major Andrew took Conducting as a graduation requirement. He and his classmates received their batons and – ahhhhh – it was time to make music. Or at least direct it.

Conducting students rotated through the concert chorale, orchestra, and wind ensemble to practice their skills. Some displayed great confidence. Others were like musical deer under stage headlights. I do not blame them – some of those wind ensemble scores have upwards of twenty notated instrument parts to read and lead at once!

It is the conductor’s responsibility to direct every part. But the full weight of responsibility is not on the conductor. It is the musician’s responsibility to pay attention.

There were many a rehearsal that conductors throughout my life – orchestra, choir, handbells – asked, reminded, sometimes pleaded that the musicians would look up! “I will help you, I will bring you in, I will give you each note, each moment of movement. Just look up!”

How true that is for the life of faith as well. If we look up – or more specifically if we look to the people and teachings God places in our lives for help and guidance – we will find God ready and eager to help us. God will bring us in, alongside, and through; God will give us each moment of movement.

We do not have to go it alone. That is the gift of Emmanuel. God is with us – always.

I trust God in each entrance. I trust God in each exit. And I trust God in strengthening my commitment to pay attention.

Join us in worship on Sunday for the First Sunday of Advent. We will light the Advent Candle Wreath and begin singing carols of the season as we prepare our hearts for our Savior’s birth. See you Sunday!

Prayer: “O come, thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh; to us the path of knowledge show and cause us in her ways to go. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”* Amen.

*”O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal 211.

 

 

We Honor Forever

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ecclesiasticus 45:1-15

Y’all know how I feel about Little Orange Friends. Someone said to me in small group this week, “We haven’t been [together in class] in two weeks; you look a whole lot better!”

I look a whole lot less orange!

We have three pumpkins still in our house – a faithful(?) remnant, if you will. One is for Andrew and Joshua to carve…eventually. The other two are small pumpkins sitting on the table in our kitchen nook. One is for Josh. The other is for Joshua.

Each year we purchase a pumpkin for Andrew’s dear brother Josh that died of complications related to congestive heart failure several years ago. For a couple years we took Josh’s pumpkin to his interment site at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. We have not been in two years…but that does not deter us from buying Josh a pumpkin and holding his memory close.

Each night I look on that pumpkin and then see its neighbor for our Joshua. Andrew continues to tell stories about Josh – some I have heard before and others that are brand new. These stories will continue. We want Joshua to know his namesake…and I am sure as Joshua creates his own mischief, stories yet to be told will emerge.

And I will cherish every story just as I cherish our sweet son.

Ecclesiasticus – also known as Sirach or Ben Sira – meaning son of Sira – is an Apocryphal Wisdom text. And Ecclesiasticus contains the gem of a scripture passage that we will share this week in worship as we honor – forever – the Veterans in our lives and church family. Our ‘sermon’ this week will be a media presentation from Veterans in our congregation sharing (1) their name and rank in their branch of service (2) how their faith shaped their military service and (3) how their military service shaped their faith.

I am grateful for the kind and generous sharing of our Veterans’ stories; your words are truly a gift to our congregation. Your sharing with us welcomes us into your legacy of service. And the contributions of your service shape our lives – because your service gave and gives us the life we have today.

Thank you, Veterans.

I hope you will join us in worship this week. And I invite you to thank and encourage all the Veterans in your life.

Prayer: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be. With God our Creator, children all are we. Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony. Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now. With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow: to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally! Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”* Amen.

*“Let There Be Peace On Earth,” The United Methodist Hymnal 431

 

All Saints Celebration and Remembrance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 9:11-14.

On Saturday Andrew will preside at the celebration of life for two saints of Azalea Park UMC – Beverly and Harvey House. They went onto glory within days of one another. They both lived into their mid-eighties. They both finished well their courses in faith. They both loved one another and their families beyond description.

They both will be missed.

The first time I really sat down to speak with Harvey was at a UMW Picnic of all places. The Sunshine Circle has an annual picnic lunch at a local park; they invited Andrew to come and welcomed me as an extra guest.

(I cannot resist United Methodists and deviled eggs in a park pavilion!)

Harvey sat towards the back of the pavilion while Beverly joyfully served as a hostess, ensuring everyone had every possible choice and need fulfilled. Harvey had a quiet smile on his face as he watched Beverly serve. I asked him why he was smiling. He pointed to Beverly – her joy, her friendliness, her compassion, and her servant’s heart – and simply responded, “How could I not?”

“How could I not?”

When I think of the saints we will celebrate a Tuskawilla UMC in both our worship services this week, I join Harvey in smiling. These women and men – their service on both sides of eternity – are witnesses to our faith.

We miss the loved ones that are no longer physically near us. Somedays their place in our hearts is so empty and hollow…it is like the wound of grief will not ever heal. It is in these moments especially that we call to mind God’s faithfulness and the truth of God’s word:

Therefore, my friendslet us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching...Recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet “in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.” But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved (Heb 10:19a, 22-25, 32-39). 

Do not abandon your confidence. Claim the Lord’s endurance – especially in the valley of the shadow of death. God will guide us through – God and the servant saints that smile on us as we continue our courses in faith.

We will honor the saints of the Tuskawilla UMC Family at both our worship services on Sunday. See you then.

Prayer: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia, Alleluia!”* Amen.

*”For All The Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal 711.

 

Defying Gravity and Loving Your Enemies

Sunday’s Scriptures ~ II Chronicles 15:1-12 and Jonah 4:1-11.

This week Andrew and I will ‘swap pulpits’ for our 11 o’clock worship services. Andrew will preach at Tuskawilla UMC and I will preach at Azalea Park following TUMC’s 8:30am Morningsong Service.

It has always been important to Andrew and me for our congregations to know both of us. Our congregations do not see both of us together regularly and we want you to know that both of us care for you, pray for you, and are grateful that you smile at our shenanigans…

Well, that you smile at our shenanigans…most of the time…

This week I am in awe of watching God’s people at work. Both of our churches hosted Trunk or Treats last week. It is an incredible sight to watch the church rally together around an event to serve our community. Smiles donned faces. Laughter filled the air. New connections were made. A broad sense of welcome was shared. Thank you, Church, for all your incredible service and hospitality.

This past Wednesday a college student made his way to the church, seeking counsel and direction. I was engaged in Bible Study when he arrived – and you know what – all was well. Again, the church – the Body of Christ present – rallied around this young man. Prayers were offered. Hands were held. Contact information was exchanged. And I imagine a young man who walked in the Sanctuary with his face downcast left with his head a little higher, his back a little straighter. This folks! This is what it means to be the Body of Christ. This is what it means to take on the posture of the Good Samaritan – to stop and serve a neighbor in need along any and every road in life.

And! even more telling – I was not the one to initiate or facilitate either of these encounters – neither Trunk or Treat or holding the space of grace for this college student. The Body of Christ – you – the church – stepped up and stepped into these valuable leadership roles.

I am so so proud of you. I am so so grateful for you. Well done, good and faithful servants.

I look forward to worship on Sunday – to serve with the TUMC Family at Morningsong, to join the Azalea Park Family at 11am, and to hear about the fun you will have with Andrew at 11 o’clock at TUMC. Thank you for welcoming him in worship leadership on Sunday. See you soon, church family!

Prayer: “God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name. I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name. And in Jesus’ name I come to you to share his love as he told me to. He said, ‘Freely, freely, you have received. Freely, freely give. Go in my name and because you believe, others will know that I live.'”* Amen.

*”Freely, Freely,” The United Methodist Hymnal 389.

 

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, 2017.

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.