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.

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FAMILY ~ First Things First

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Joshua 24:14-28

On December 23, 2006 Rev. Dr. Robert Gibbs said these words to Andrew and me, “The marriage of Andrew and Sarah unites their families and creates a new one. They ask for your blessing.”* Surrounded by our families of origin, our church family, and our family of peers, we received their blessing.

It was and remains an incredible way that we started our marriage and family together. That day we made a covenant with God and with one another through the reading of Scripture, the joining of hands, the exchanging of vows, and the giving and receiving of rings. There were over 400 witnesses to our union…over 400 family and friends that covenanted to support us, nurture us, and hold us accountable as we continued our lives together.

Andrew and I have known since the moment we started dating that our individual faiths and our faith as a couple would be primary in our relationship. We met at church. We started dating after a mission trip. And I confess that I snuck in my first kiss with him at the corner of the chancel in our home church.

Our individual faiths and faith as a couple were essential in discerning our calls to full-time Christian service. Our families raised us in the church and as young adults we spent as much time as we could at church. We majored in religion as undergraduates. We completed our Master of Divinity degrees. We launched our vocations as United Methodist Clergy. We have planned Bible studies, prepared sermons, written devotions, prayed prayers, and done all the forms…we think…and because I said that I am sure someone is now scheming up a new one!

Since I spend most of my days completing tasks that contribute to my life of professional faith I sometimes neglect the development of my own relationship with God. While I am called to prepare and study and write as that is my job and charge from the Florida United Methodist Bishop, the time allotted towards professional faith development does not always doubly count towards my personal faith development. Then add to this equation that all this preparing and planning and praying is being done by two pastors in the same house every single week!

We do professional faith development quite well…but sometimes professional faith development keeps the first thing from being first.

What is the first thing? Our growth in faith with God as individuals and as a family.

Joshua charges the Israelites with this question, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” To whom will you be devoted? With whom will you grow in relationship? Whom will you seek? As individuals Andrew and I answered, “God, the Holy One of Israel.” As a couple we answer, “God, the Holy One of Israel.” And when we are not doing that, when we are not making the investment in our personal faith development, oh it is so evident. And it is not pretty.

Our faith feeds and informs who we are; when we cut ourselves off from that source, we are not who God created us to be, alone or together.

Joshua confronts the people about worshipping idols and instructs them that in choosing to serve and seek the Lord they must bury those idols. I would not call myself an idolator or idol worshipper, but when I allow something else to take the place of my growth and faith in relationship with God, I stand guilty of my sin. I stand in need of repentance. I stand as someone looking for a hand to hold as I move forward and return to the way of keeping the first thing first, for myself and for my marriage.

I am so thankful for the many hands Andrew and I have to hold – from our families, our church families then and now, and from our family of peers that continues to grow. All of these witnesses encourage and hold us accountable in keeping the first thing first. All of these witnesses are blessings on our journey. We are thankful to serve our God alongside you.

Prayer: “I know not how this saving faith to me he did impart, nor how believing in his word wrought peace within my heart. I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing us of sin, revealing Jesus through the word, creating faith in him. But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”** Amen.

*”A Service of Christian Marriage,” The United Methodist Hymnal 865.

**”I Know Whom I have Believed,” The United Methodist Hymnal 714.

 

Avalanche Ranch!!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Joshua 1:7-9

This week over fifty children have learned how God is awesome, real, with us, strong and forever at Avalanche Ranch! With the help of many volunteers our church campus was transformed into a bible story learning, game playing, creative crafting, theatrical acting, song singing, rootin’ tootin’ ranch of celebration! The children travelled with Joshua and the Israelites as they made their way into the Promised Land. The children also learned about Nepal and collected a special offering that will be given in their name to UMCOR – the United Methodist Committee on Relief – to continue disaster relief efforts in this country.

Our theme verse for Avalanche Ranch reads, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). It has been amazing this week to watch all of these children – some that are very familiar with Tuskawilla and many that are new friends to Tuskawilla from the surrounding community – be bold, strong, and courageous as they learned together, worked together, and played together. Any hesitancy about a new experience that they felt on Monday evaporated by 9:03am on Tuesday. What’s a vision of the Kingdom and a vision for this church? That the church becomes a place where every child feels at home, feels welcomed, feels enriched, and feels loved.

In Joshua 3 and 4 we read a story of God once again parting the waters – this time the waters of the Jordan River – so that God’s people can cross safely to the other side. To remember God’s awesome deed and goodness in helping them with safe passage twelve men – one representing each tribe of Jacob – drew up a stone from the riverbed and together they built an altar. Joshua said, “When your children ask in time to come, What do those stones mean to you? then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial for ever” (Joshua 4:6-7). These stones became an Ebenezer – a visual reminder of a fresh beginning and new course for God’s people.

My hope is that the children’s experience at Avalanche Ranch this week will become an Ebenezer for them. I hope they will remember how they were welcomed here, the joy they experienced here, and how they learned (and will remember always) that God is awesome, real, with us, strong and forever.   And I hope as they want to learn more about our great God that they will remember the community they have felt this week and come back! Ya hear!?

I invite you to be present in worship this week as we celebrate Avalanche Ranch Sunday complete with a slideshow, ranch tunes, dancing, and reveal the amount of the offering the children have given for our neighbors in Nepal. I’m wearing my western finest for just this occasion. Wonder what that is? See you Sunday friends!!

Prayer: “Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power, and love. Our God is an awesome God.” Yeeeeehaw! Amen.

*”Our God Is An Awesome God,” The Faith We Sing 2040.

Strong and Courageous: With Boldness

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Joshua 1:1-9

This Sunday at Reeves we begin our Stewardship Series – the theme is “The Year of the Joshua Prayer.” Each Sunday throughout this series we will focus on a different aspect of the United Methodist membership vow:

As members of this congregation will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?

We begin this week with prayer and center on our theme of “The Year of the Joshua Prayer” by studying the opening passage of Joshua. I imagine (thanks to Cecil B. DeMille) Joshua standing on a hillside and gazing into a valley – the threshold of the Promised Land. But he doesn’t have to wait any longer – no more wandering, no more hoping, no more delay. He and the people of Israel have arrived. God’s words are true. They are delivered. Now “be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

//

I think throughout our lives we have “progressive promised lands” – as in we hope for one and then when we achieve it we hope for the next. I think my first progressive promised land was the transition from a bike with training wheels to a good ole two-wheeler – nothing holding me back. Other PPLs along my way:

  • from reading chapter-less books to chapter books (and now sometimes I wish this trend would reverse!?!)
  • from elementary school to middle school
  • from middle school to high school
  • to turning 16!!!
  • to turning 18!!!
  • from high school to college
  • to turning 21!!! (wait…there’s stuff after you turn 21??? I learned that too)
  • to marrying my best friend and true love Andrew
  • from college to graduate school
  • from graduate school to commissioning as a provisional elder in The UMC
  • from commissioning to my first appointment
  • to ordination as a full connection elder in The UMC…

That last one – ordination as an elder in full connection has been my promised land since really my commissioning in 2010. I worked toward it. I served toward it. I prayed toward it. And this time last year I submitted my application…and November of last year I was told that my journey would continue, but not yet as a full connection elder.

I felt like my promised land had been snatched away. I felt like I had been told to go wander in the wilderness for another year. I was on the mountain. I could see into the Promised Land, if only I could walk down the valley…

Instead I had other places to walk. I walked steep hills of self-reflection. I wandered towards glassy seas of mirrors and took very long and very hard looks. First I saw only what I didn’t want to see, what I didn’t want to acknowledge. And after a while God helped me see beyond – to the beauty, to the transformation, to the benefit of the additional time in the wilderness.

//

The longer I serve in full-time ministry the more I am convinced of the movements and stirrings of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit led me in discerning this passage for selection for week one of Reeves’ Stewardship Series. The Spirit led me in setting Reeves’ Stewardship month as September. And as it happens, this Sunday we will begin the stewardship series studying this passage from Joshua, and I will submit my application a second time for consideration as an elder in full connection.

I am headed back up the mountain. I am gazing down the valley towards the promised land. I am hopeful, but hope is not my only strategy. I have served, prayed, wept, worked, and celebrated along the way. I have shared this year with family, friends, and colleagues that have supported me, screamed with me, dried my tears, and cheered me onward. I am so thankful for you.

I believe I am ready. I believe I am prepared. And I believe that if I have to walk in the wilderness another year, then God will lead me back to this valley in promised time.

Prayer: “On Jordan’s stormy bands I stand and cast a wishful eye to Canaan’s fair and happy land, where my possessions lie. When I shall reach that happy place, I’ll be forever blest, for I shall see my Father’s face, and in his bosom rest. I am bound for the promised land, I am bound for the promised land; oh, who will come and go with me? I am bound for the promised land.”* Amen.

*”On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 724.