ROARing Great Time

Sunday’s Scripture ~ “Do not be afraid…Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome” (Nehemiah 4:14bc).

At Vacation Bible School this week the children learned about God’s people crossing the Jordan. Men – one from each of the twelve tribes – led them across the river waters into the Promised Land each selecting a stone as they walked. Once safely to the other side – the ark of the Covenant before them and God’s people all around them, they helped Joshua build an altar. Then Joshua said to the people,

When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God forever (Joshua 4:21-24).

That altar of stones could also be called an Ebenezer, meaning stone of help.

We receive our understanding of Ebenezer from I Samuel 7:

Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Astartes from among you. Direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So Israel put away the Baals and the Astartes, and they served the Lord only.

Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted that day, and said, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.

When the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it they were afraid of the Philistines. The people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, and pray that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” So Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord; Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel; but the Lord thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as beyond Beth-car.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel (vv. 3-13)

Throughout Vacation Bible School – because of the incredible service of South Shore’s staff and volunteers – our children witnessed Ebenezers – though I think they call them God-sightings. They saw and celebrated moments of the Lord’s goodness, experiences of the Lord’s kindness, and displays of the Lord’s faithfulness. Each Ebenezer – each God-sighting – was an opportunity to remember thus far the Lord has helped us – to remember the Lord is great and awesome. Whom shall we fear?

No one. Thus far the Lord has helped us. The Lord is great and awesome.

And friends, I’ll raise an Ebenezer to that!

Join us as we celebrate VBS Sunday at both South Shore Services this weekend. It is sure to be a roar-ing great time!

Prayer: “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.” Amen.

*”Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 400.

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.

 

Take Courage

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Haggai 2:1-9.

“Take courage,” says the prophet. But what does that mean?

For me to “take courage” means to show up, to take responsibility, to persevere, to speak truth in love, to work, and to repeat.

There are many days where I hear Prissy’s famous line in the back (or front) of my head, “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies!” except I replace “birthin’ babies!” with some other obstacle I am facing that day.

(Though truly, I also do not know anything about birthing babies!)

What I do know is this – that when I am afraid, when I feel low, when I face adversity, when I am met with the unknown I have two choices – take courage or take a hike. “Take courage,” says the Lord, “for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4).

Our God calls us to a full an abundant life and it is a life for which we must work. Early in the garden after The Fall, God said to Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:17-19). Some may read this and think that God is telling Adam – telling humanity – to take a hike, but I hear these words in a different light. Yes, after The Fall our relationship with God and God’s plan for humanity was dramatically transformed, but that does not mean that our God does not want and does not intend good things for us.

Yes, we will toil – and we will eat. Yes, in the fields we will endure thorns and thistles and the fields will also produce our food. Yes, we will sweat and we will have bread. And yes, we will return to the ground from whence we were taken – we are from God, we return to God, and in the in-between time God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

So in the hard days – and it seems like there are many especially in this season – take courage, my friends. Show up, take responsibility, persevere, speak truth in love, work, and then repeat all of that again and again and again.

Our God is with us – ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Prayer: “You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shadow for life. Say to the Lord, “My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!” … The snare of the fowler will never capture you and famine will bring you no fear. Under his wings your refuge, his faithfulness your shield … You need not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day. Though thousands fall about you, near you it shall not come … For to his angels he’s given a command to guard you in all of your ways. Upon their hands they will bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone … And God will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His hand.”* Amen.

*”On Eagle’s Wings,” The United Methodist Hymnal 143.

Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Micah 6:1-9

This past Saturday I attended a district committee meeting and our group began with a devotion and time of thought centering by meditating on The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. It was particularly timely and particularly powerful for this to be our centering image given the terror that waged in Paris and across our world in Lebanon, Syria, Japan, and Mexico last week.

If you are familiar with the piece, then you will recall the swirling formations in the sky that represent chaos, the eerily lit sun-moon off in the corner, and the darkened landscape of community tucked in a valley between mountains.

(They might be hills to other folks, but to this Florida girl, they are mountains!)

The leader of our meeting asked our group to consider the painting in silence and then to share what we saw. After a few moments I shared that at the center of the painting is a church, complete with stained glass windows and steeple, but it is completely dark. No light is emanating from it. The surrounding homes are all aglow, but the church is asleep.

For van Gogh this painting was his interpretation of what had happened (perhaps has happened) to the church – the light, the Spirit has gone out – and not in the way to flourish in the world – but as a commentary on how the Spirit of God has been extinguished. Therefore people did not (perhaps do not) turn to the church as an institution, as a faith community, as a people in times of sorrow or joy. The church had (has) lost its relevancy; so, while other structures and the people within them are alive and well, the church functions much like a tomb, a memorial of days long past.

What will return the church to relevancy? What will resurrect its hope? Our God and only our God.

And what will return the light and recall the Spirit to the church? The faithfulness of God’s people in doing what the prophet Micah challenges and charges t0 “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

There is a powerful scene at the end of The Half Blood Prince in the Harry Potter film series. Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School had died and the pupils and faculty stand around his body in mourning. The Dark Mark floats in the sky, a symbol that the battle between good and evil continues and that evil has taken this round. Those who loved and are faithful to Dumbledore weep at his side and then one by one they spark a light at the end of their wands and lift them skyward. Each individual light  pales in comparison to the Dark Mark coursing through the sky, but together, their collective light obscures and then erases the Dark Mark.

Hope. The church has hope. We have hope. God is our hope. And we are invited to live that hope by accepting the invitation to be God’s vessel of hope to others in our very shadowy world.

A quote that I continue to see and hear following the continuing terror attacks that plague our world bears repeating here. It is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Together, may we be God’s light, may we be God’s love.

Together.

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This week the Tuskawilla Community will be led in worship by our very own Rev. Kate Ling – and y’all – she has amazing worship planned! Thank you, Pastor Kate, for your partnership and mentorship in ministry. And I will see the Tuskawilla Community for the First Sunday of Advent.

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Prayer: “Lord, we pray not for tranquility, nor that our tribulations may cease; we pray for thy spirit and thy love, that thou grant us strength and grace to overcome adversity; through Jesus Christ. Amen.”*

*”For Overcoming Adversity,” The United Methodist Hymnal 531.