Why the Holy Spirit Power Is Needed For Church Renewal

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 3:20-21.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Community will be joined in worship by Rev. Aldo Martin. Aldo is one of the Florida Conference leaders of Methodists United In Prayer, a ministry team that serves to affirm and strengthen the relationships of care and service held between The Methodist Church in Cuba and The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Methodists United In Prayer focus their ministry efforts on the following priorities in both The Methodist Church in Cuba and The Florida Annual Conference Churches:

  • To pray for one another and develop a common study of Scriptures.
  • To engage in the interchange of peoples of Cuba and Florida Conferences work teams, preachers, laity, caravans, study teams, professors, teachers and choirs.
  • To respond to the priorities of the Methodist Church in Cuba.
  • To build relationships between the Florida Conference and the Methodist Church in Cuba for mutual support and encouragement.
  • To enable the training of pastors and lay people for the equipping of Cuban disciples.
  • To mutually share the history, current events, culture and spirituality of both Conferences.*

Bishop Ken Carter visited Cuba in 2013 to participate in the 130th Celebration of Methodism in Cuba and he was overwhelmed by what he saw. In an email he sent to Florida Conference Churches upon his arrival home he shared, ““The Cuban Methodists have discovered how to form new communities of Christian disciples…and how to call forth the gifts of a younger generation.” This evidence – this occurrence – speaks incredibly to the Holy Spirit’s power in the Cuban Methodist Church. For many decades the Cuban Methodist Church struggled under Communist regime and as a Protestant denomination in a predominantly Roman Catholic society. Methodist pastors and missionaries fled because they were threatened with physical harm or imprisonment. It seemed that hope was dwindling for the Methodist Church in Cuba. It seemed that God’s Spirit was being pushed out, when in fact, God’s Spirit was and is growing stronger day by day.

Our Scripture text this week teaches that with God’s power we are able to accomplish abundantly more than we can ask for imagine. I truly believe that what God has done and is doing in and through the Methodist Church in Cuba – in and through the Florida Conference United Methodist Churches – in and through each one of us – would not be possible apart from God. God gives what we need and gives what we do not know we need. God guides and provides. Our God is surprising. Our God works in all times and places. And our God will not be driven out of anywhere. As we are reminded in John’s Gospel, God’s light “shines in the darkness, and the darkness [does] not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).

I look forward to hearing from Rev. Martin this Sunday and then joining with him and others for conversation following the service in Room 16 to explore how Tuskawilla UMC can grow in our relationship with our sister church in Cuba – La Lima – as well as explore future service opportunities with them. I look forward to worshipping with you.

Prayer: “When the poor ones who have nothing share with strangers, when the thirsty water give unto us all, when the crippled in their weakness strengthen others, then we know that God still goes that road with us, then we know that God still goes that road with us.” Amen.**


**”When the Poor Ones,” The United Methodist Hymnal 434.



FAMILY ~ It Begins With YOU

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 2:38-47.

This week Andrew and I had the opportunity to return to some of our “old stomping grounds.” No, we were not in Polk County, but that is a great place, too! We were in the greater Atlanta area visiting dear family and friends, eating practically everything in sight, and reminiscing about our time spent here while in seminary at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

I may have also been bitten by the Doctorate of Ministry bug…but we will talk more about that later.

It is good to visit “home” or “the homes” throughout our lives because those occasions help us to reflect on how things were and how things have changed, and how we were and how we have changed. Going home is as much a physical visit as it is a spiritual and emotional visit. It draws me to a time of reflection as well as gratitude. Yes, somethings change – people who used to live or work in certain places are no longer there, buildings that were once used for one thing are now used for another purpose, praising God that one section of road construction is finally completed only to find that they have simply moved the construction two miles north.

And yes, somethings stay the same and get better with age – hospitality, kindness, generosity, curiosity, encouragement, and love.

This Sunday in the Christian Year we return home to Pentecost – the birth of the Early Church through the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit. In returning to this home we are reminded of how things were and how things have changed and how we as God’s people were and how we as God’s people have changed. I am so thankful for the legacy from our Pentecost home that remains and sustains – worship, confession, gathering around Christ’s table in fellowship, thanksgiving, acts of mercy, acts of justice, service, companionship, and transformation. I am thankful for the ways our legacy from our Pentecost home has changed, morphed, and evolved through the generations. And I am hopeful for how we will continue shaping our legacy as a family of faith through our relationship with and response to the leadings of the Holy Spirit.

I invite you to join me in prayer for the continued shaping of our legacy as a United Methodist faith family as the voting at General Conference begins on Monday, May 16. I am hopeful that decisions made by this elective body and voice of our denomination recall our home in Pentecost – the mighty presence of God and the immediate, authentic, inclusive response to God’s presence in our midst – as they add their heads, hearts, and hands to the shaping of the United Methodist witness in the world for the next four years.

Gracious Lord, may hospitality, kindness, generosity, curiosity, encouragement, and love define United Methodists and our witness. May people see your face, your light, and your welcome in us.

Prayer“Wind who makes all winds that blow, gusts that bend the sapling low, gales that heave the sea in waves, stirrings in the mind’s deep caves: aim your breath with steady power on your church, this day, this hour. Raise, renew the life we’ve lost, Spirit God of Pentecost.”* Amen.

*”Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,”The United Methodist Hymnal” 538.

Thrive: Depth

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ezekiel 47:3-5

While practicing yoga I frequently hear my teachers inviting me to deepen my practice. There are a number of ways to deepen a yoga practice:

  1. Take a more full expression of a pose. For example, if you are in a pose that calls for your legs to be in the shape of a lunge (like Crescent Pose or Warrior One), you deepen the pose by increasing the bend in your front leg towards a 90-degree angle with the goal of stacking your knee over your ankle.
  2. Move to your edge. An “edge” in yoga could be the extent of your comfort zone with a pose or the extent of your familiarity with a pose. Moving to your edge means that you try on something new in the pose by bending a little deeper, growing a little taller, or extending a little longer. The goal is to not cross your edge but to increase your edge – that is how you grow in yoga.
  3. Bring awareness to the breath. What is the quality of your breath? Is it shallow and quick? Is it deep and slow? How can you lengthen the breath? How can you bring a sense of calm to a very active practice? How can you breathe with the entirety versus a portion of your lungs?
  4. Turn inward. Yes, yoga is a physical practice, but the physical practice – known as asana – is only one portion of the practice. Yoga encompasses physical as well as mental activity. It is an outward and an inward practice. It unites movement and meditation. When a practitioner turns inward, the mind settles allowing clarity to increase while distractions decrease.

As Ezekiel follows God’s messenger out of the temple and into the rushing river’s flow, he becomes increasingly aware of the river’s deepening. His expression changes as he witnesses God’s river take on its full expression as it cascades down the mountain. He moves to his edge as he wades in the water. If I were in Ezekiel’s shoes I would want to ensure a calm and even quality to my breath as I ventured into water where neither my bare nor stiletto’d feet could touch the riverbed. And I would want to focus and settle my mind. In that state of awareness and presence I would be safe and I would see and experience all that God desires to reveal.

In order to grow in my yoga practice I am committed to deepening my practice. The same holds true for my – for our – spiritual practice. God invites each of us to deepen our spiritual practices so we can deepen our relationship with God. There are a number of ways to mature in our faith:

  1. Take a more full expression of prayer, worship, fasting, service, and stewardship.
  2. Move to the edge of our comfort zones so we increase the area of our comfort zones as it relates to sharing our faith with and witnessing to our neighbors. I desire God to transform my comfort zone so it defines all that God enables me to do and that I serve in those roles with joy rather than separating what I will do from what I will not do. Continue my transformation, Lord.
  3. Bring awareness to God’s life-giving breath – God’s Holy Spirit – that dwells within us and guides us. Centering our attention on God’s breath and following the guidance of God’s Spirit will not lead us astray; it will lead us farther into the Kingdom.
  4. Turn inward away from the distractions of the world so that we may gain clarity about God’s purposes and God’s purposes for us.

(This is by no means an exhaustive list. This is what I have experienced and I would love to hear about your experiences, about how you specifically grow in your faith!)

Consider how God may be calling you to deepen your faith during this time and season. What full expression might you try on? How might you increase your comfort zone? What is God’s Holy Spirit breathing in you? When you turn inward, what do you see and how does that compare to what you would like to see? I invite you to pray about these questions this week. Ask. Seek. And share what you discover with someone you love.

Prayer: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Allelu, Alleluia. Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you. Allelu, Alleluia.”* Amen.

*”Seek Ye First,” The United Methodist Hymnal 405.

Feeding God’s Flame

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Walt Disney World has always held a special place in mine and Andrew’s relationship. We spent many dates at Magic Kingdom and Epcot in our high school and college days. We got engaged at Epcot – outside of Japan after we finished our dinner in Italy – where else on earth could that happen without the help of the Concord?! We have been so blessed by friends over the years who work for WDW that have gifted us tickets and helped us experience the magic again. For my birthday Andrew surprised me with a season pass so we can retreat to the wonderful world of Disney whenever we like.

One of my favorite experiences at Disney is the fireworks show at Epcot. One of mine and Andrew’s first dates was watching a Fourth of July fireworks show atop Happy Top Mountain in Kentucky while serving on a mission trip together. After he proposed Andrew asked that our first activity as an engaged couple be watching the fireworks show at Epcot; I could think of nothing better.

If you are familiar with the show, you know that it is a combination of fireworks and extreme pyrotechnics – complete with a raging fire that flames from a steel globe that sails on the surface of the World Showcase Lagoon. I have viewed this show from many different places along the shores of the lagoon and no matter where I stand, I can feel the power and strength of the heat radiating from the flames sourced within the globe. Sometimes it is warm and pleasant upon my face. Other times it is so intense that I need to turn away.

The flames are bright. The flames are full of vigor. The flames inspire.

This week we celebrate Pentecost – God’s giving of the Holy Spirit to God’s people and the birth of the Church. Acts 2 tells us “When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles] were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1-4). Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them – tongues that were bright…tongues that were full of vigor…tongues that inspired.

I am sure that the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and those gathered with them created an energy that had never before been seen. Strength and power to heal and to prophesy and to dream and to make dreams reality were at the fingertips of the leaders of the Early Church and they employed this strength and power for the Kingdom’s good! For those the apostles served their presence, gifts, and ministry were welcome, warm, and pleasant happenings; their service drew people towards them like moths to a flame…or Methodists to a potluck. To others the apostles’ presence and gifts caused people to turn away.

As we prepare for the celebration of Pentecost and our active remembrance and participation in receiving the Holy Spirit, I wonder how God’s holy fire will manifest in us? Will it rage with such an intensity that we ignite new ways to engage our faith through critical thinking and companionship and compassion? Or will it be like just another day where a fire is started, but deprived of the necessary elements to help it breathe and grow, it fizzles out? I want to be like the flames emanating from the globe at the World Showcase. I want to be bright. I want to invigorate. I want to inspire. I want to do all of this for God’s glory, for the vitality of the church, and for the exponential growth of grace in the world.

God gifts the flame and we feed God’s flame by committing ourselves to the needful work of critical thinking, companionship, and compassion in conversation with and in response to our faith. May God’s Pentecost flame burn brightly within each of us; through it and because of it may we illuminate the world.

Prayer: “Fire who fuels all fires that burn, suns around which planets turn, beacons marking reefs and shoals, shining truth to guide our souls: come to us as once you came; burst in tongues of sacred flame! Light and Power, Might and Strength, fill your church, its breadth and length.”* Amen.

*”Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal 538.

The Gospel According to Showtunes: Raise You Up

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 1:1-11

The Ascension of Jesus assures that those who come from God, return to God.  Jesus – God’s only begotten Son – came from God as an infant – holy and lowly – and now as resurrected Christ ascends into heaven.  Those who believe in the resurrected and ascended Lord are also on this path.  We, who claim faith in Christ, are new creations; our birth is no longer natural or earthly but from on high with God.  Our faith in Christ has grafts us into the Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul writes, “You will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness towards you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (Romans 11:19-23).  The “broken branches” refer to the people of Israel that did not receive the good news of Jesus Christ and the “grafted branches” refer to the Gentiles that did receive the good news.  Paul guards his listeners (and readers) against pride.  It is because of Christ that we are on the path we are on; therefore, do not be boastful.  We have been set on a particular way – from God to return to God – and how we live and serve in the in-between-time becomes our focus.  We are challenged to keep God at our center so that in God we will “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Jesus sends the disciples to Jerusalem; there they are to await the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is another step in their in-between time from God to God, but the disciples get ahead of themselves.  They don’t want to take a step; they want to take a flying leap forward!  They ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6)?  I can imagine Jesus dropping his chin to his chest and chuckling after hearing this question.  Acts records Jesus response as, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).  My paraphrase of Jesus’ response would go something like this…”Oh you disciples, you still don’t get it.  You are looking for things way in the future when I have asked you to be present in this moment.  We are here for you to receive the Spirit and then you will join me in restoring the Kingdom to the ends of the earth.  Keep focused.  One step at a time.”  Before the disciples can ask any follow-up questions, Jesus ascends.  They stand in awe with their gaze toward heaven.

And eventually…their gaze shifts from the heavens back to earth, back to the mission field, back to the Kingdom that is reigning in some areas and still needing to in-break into others.  God equips the disciples with the Holy Spirit so they are prepared to attend to the work before them.  The disciples are now responsible to carry on Jesus’ revolutionary work and they will do so with the Holy Spirit as their companion.

We, as modern day disciples, also find ourselves on the path “from God to return to God.”  Sure, we can take time to marvel at the heavens and be thankful for the final destination of our path, but we have work to do in the in-between time.  We, like Jesus’ disciples, have to uncrane our necks from the heavens and get dirt back under our fingernails.  Jesus is not going to do the work for us and we cannot stand idle until he returns in glory.  There is work to be done.  We are equipped by God’s Spirit to do it.  And we will do it – one step at a time.

Prayer: “I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, ‘Take thy cross and follow, follow me.’  He will give me grace and glory, he will give me grace and glory, he will give me grace and glory, and go with me, with me, all the way.  Where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow; I’ll go with him, with him, all the way.”* Amen.

*”Where He Leads Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 338.


Heritage: Birth of the Church

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 2:1-12

This Sunday the Christian Church celebrates Pentecost!  The great fifty days of Easter are complete – meaning the Season of Easter is complete – yes, Easter is a season as well as a day!  And now we cross the threshold into the season of Pentecost…which is many many many more days than the season of Easter.  In fact, in the liturgical year, the season of Pentecost is the longest season…lasting 27 weeks this year!  Woah!  That’s 189 days of Pentecost!  Good thing I like the color green.

(Extra points to the friends that catch that reference!)

Pentecost is the birth of the church.  On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit is given to humanity, Peter preaches one intense sermon, and then Acts 2:41-42 tells us “So those who welcomed his [Peter’s] message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

They devoted themselves to what we now know as the pattern of worship in the church – teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers.

Thomas Troeger – one of my all-time favorite authors, poets, and hymnwriters – likens Pentecost to a homecoming.  Folks are gathering from the corners of the earth in one central location to remember, to celebrate, and to reconnect.

When I think about my high school homecomings…I am overwhelmed with memories of friends running around in garnet and gold war paint, waving our arms as tomahawks to the driving and deafening beats coming from our marching band, and cheering our football team to victory.  “Garnet!  Gold! We Are!  Lake Gibson!”

We had one goal – one mission – win the game!  The players, coaches, cheerleaders, dancers, color guard, band, and crowd – one goal, one mission – win the game!  In certain moments it was like we moved as one, breathed as one, tackled as one, scored as one.  And when the game was over, winners or losers, we would sing our school song and go home.

The homecoming game wasn’t the only football game we played each year; the season was 12 games in duration.  But the other games didn’t seem to have the same spirit as the homecoming game.  They just were…when the homecoming game was.

So I think about this likening to Pentecost – as a homecoming for the church.  This one day we celebrate as one, sing as one, for some churches wear red as one, and for other churches (I hope Reeves does this!) eat cake as one!

Let’s face it…we all need to walk around with red-dyed mouths.  It will be awesome!

There’s so much spirit on Pentecost.  The church is overwhelming with energy. It’s a mountain top experience…and then (as it’s been my experience) the church falls hard back into the valley.  The spirit dissipates and it’s back to church as usual.  And I don’t know about you, but I’m over church as usual.

I want that spirit and energy of Pentecost every week!  Every Sunday is a little Easter – our remembrance of the resurrection – of Jesus defeating sin and death.  Every Sunday is also a little Pentecost – an opportunity for the church to come home, to remember, to celebrate, to collaborate, and to return to service in the world.  I’m not saying every week in worship needs to be a high-energy hoopla of a service.  God’s presence can be known in the mighty earthquake and a thunderstorm as well as a still small voice.  There is presence – mighty presence – in stillness as there is in loud exaltation.  What I am saying is that every week in worship needs to be an authentic reflection and response to the moving of the Spirit in our midst.

God is faithful in giving the Spirit.  May we be faithful as we are enlivened by it.  May our worship reflect our reception of it.  May our worship be a pleasing fragrance, a holy and living sacrifice to our God.

Reflection: How will we allow the Spirit to lead us?  How will our worship reflect the in-breaking and presence of God’s Spirit?  How will we be a Pentecost people every Sunday of the year?

Prayer: “Holy Spirit, wind and flame, move within our mortal frame; make our hearts an altar pyre; kindle them with your own fire.  Breathe and blow upon that blaze till our lives, our deeds, and ways speak the tongue which every land by your grace shall understand.”* Amen.

* from “Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 538.