Dare to Dream: Perseverance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 34:1-12.

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the first Florida Conference Spring Confirmation Retreat with TUMC’s Confirmands. Under the wonderful leadership of Alaine Gorman and the incredible mentoring of Dan Hood, our students had a fantastic weekend of learning, fellowshipping, and maturing in their faith.

I heard the worship speaker was pretty good, too. *wink*

One of our Saturday activities was to complete elements on a low-ropes challenge course. These elements typically involve balancing in tight spaces, steadying in large spaces, and maneuvering in narrow spaces. And for fun…why not complete the element without talking…or out of a group of nine, only one person can talk…

And it is not uncommon to select the least verbose in the group for this speaking role.

Low-ropes challenge course elements encourage critical thinking, communication, and teamwork – sounds like a good recipe for mindful and engaged leadership in the local church! During their time on the course, we watched our students find their voices, take the lead, encourage another leader, and take risks.

One element was a 12×12 grid. Their task: move from one side of the grid to another, one square at a time, according to a map that only the low-ropes facilitator could see and the students had to figure out through trial and error. Some students stepped from their starting square to the next potential square with great enthusiasm while others were cautious in not wanting to fail. They did not want to let down the team. They wanted to be correct in their choices. It was clear they wanted to succeed, to win.

It is good to want to be correct and successful. But I know that I miss out on the deeper meaning of experiences when I am tunnel-visioned on correctness and success.

It bear repeating – when you have the choice between being right and kind – choose to be kind.

Together the team of nine students – TUMC’s five and four from Peace UMC in Orlando – completed the maze. That was their last element before lunch. As we walked back to the lodge I asked the students about how the felt when they chose a correct square on the grid versus an incorrect square. Some said it was exciting; they would get to immediately try for another correct square. Others mentioned how their correct guess contributed to the team’s goal of revealing the entire map.

I mentioned how I thought their incorrect guesses also contributed to the team’s goal of revealing the entire map. They sat with that one for a minute. And then one said…”Oh, I guess that is what they mean by failing forward.”

That is it exactly. We try. We fail. We keep trying. We fail some more. And as long as we rise one more time than we fall or fail, we will succeed.

The rising – that is perseverance.

I am so proud of our Confirmands – of the faithful work they started in November and will bring to conclusion in their Confirmation Service this Spring. These students are bright, creative, thoughtful, and have some sass.

I like the sass.

They give me hope for the future of the church. Together with them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may we all persevere towards God’s Kingdom. May we all rise.

Prayer: “High King of heaven, my victory won, may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my vision, O Ruler of all.”* Amen.

*“Be Thou My Vision,” The United Methodist Hymnal451.

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.

Community Leadership

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Timothy 3:1-7, 14-16

On our third full day in Israel our group was scheduled to travel north. Our guide, Mike, mentioned there was a great possibility for the presence of accumulations of frozen water where we were headed…so naturally I layered up with my clothing.

And wore sandals. You can take the girl out of Florida…

I knew as long as I started out warm that I would stay warm throughout the day; therefore, coffee was next on my list. At our particular hotel – and at most hotels throughout Israel – the coffee cups are tiny and the queue anticipating coffee deep and wide. So instead of filling one cup, I decided to fill three. Yes. Three. All for me.


Andrew and our friend, Winnie, think all my coffees very amusing. And Bishop Carter was so kind to lend a hand in lifting my third cup.

“Are all of those for you, Sarah?” “Yes….”

“Well, you will have quite the day ahead of you.”

Indeed I did…because this was the day I decided to headstand on a cliff of Mount Arbel overlooking the Sea of Galilee.


The Bishop may have been slightly more impressed by this headstand than my three cups of coffee…but only slightly.

I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to travel to Israel with Bishop Carter, Andrew, and 33 others from the Florida Conference. It was an incredible journey of study, worship, friendship and discovery in the homeland of our faith. There was much to learn about culture, faith, tradition, and hope during our trip – not only of the places we visited but also of our fellow travelers. We travelled as a group of people with very specific roles and very specific labels – pastors, pastors’ spouses, conference staff, and bishop – but at our heart, we are all people. We are all God’s children. As we continued on our trip it was not that we forgot the roles that we serve, but we remembered and brought forward our shared humanness and kinship as sisters and brothers in Christ.

I think part of our human nature is to put people up on pedestals; I know that I have done and continue to do it! We put people up on pedestals that we revere and trust, people that we aspire ourselves to be. While this is kind and has good intentions, it is not sustainable for the person on the pedestal or for the person that put the other there. We are human. We are fallible. We stumble. We fail. We let one another down. These lapses chip into the pedestal until it crumbles…and if we so attach our faith and hope to that person being on a pedestal, our faith and hope are in jeopardy of crumbling, too.

In our Scripture for this week we read about the leadership of the Early Church – leadership that was not plucked from pedestals but raised up out of the faithful. Leaders came from the people; they knew well the people’s joys and struggles because the leaders shared in those same joys and struggles. Leaders were named as such because they covenanted to be their sisters’ and brothers’ keeper. They did not want to be lord or king because their Lord and King was Jesus.

Leaders were not asked to be perfect; they were not asked to perform on pedestals. Rather, leaders were asked to model and lead in faithfulness. Leaders were asked to learn from their humanness as well as from their kin and then interpret those lessons for the health, sustainability, and growing maturity of the Body of Christ.

When I met with Bishop Carter prior to my ordination that was the lesson he shared with me, as my leader and as my brother in Christ. He encouraged me to be myself and to trust God in using my humanness, my relationship with others, my fallibility, and my faithfulness to not lead me to a life on a pedestal but to lead me in life with others, to lead me in life with Christ.

Bishop Carter picking up my third coffee cup, laughing with me, cautiously eyeing my headstand, as well as many other acts of leading and caring while in Israel and throughout my ministry remind me of this lesson. I am grateful for his leadership and friendship. I am grateful to lead and be in relationship with all those I serve in and beyond the Tuskawilla Family. Together I know that we are bringing joy to God as the God’s Kingdom strengthens in our community.

Prayer: “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord; she is his new creation by water and the Word. From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride; with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died. Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth; her charter of salvation, one Lord, one faith, one birth; one holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food, and to one hope she presses, with every grace endued.”* Amen.

*”The Church’s One Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 545.


Stewardship Is Room in the Chariot

Sunday’s Scriptures ~ Genesis 41:37-44 and I Samuel 18:1-16

Emails.  I read a lot of emails.  I send a lot of emails.  I take great joy in deleting emails once tasks are completed.

I have a friend who regularly sends me emails and while they subject current tasks they typically end with a question not about what I am doing, but how I am.

Earlier this week the question was, “You doing ok?”  And I said no.  Because I did not think I was doing ok.  It was late in my work week and I felt like little had been accomplished.  I was tired.  I was sore.  I felt like I was standing at the base of Kilimanjaro and being asked to get up to the summit barefoot, through the snow, without a guide, without any rigging, and without a nap.  Did I feel okay?  No.  I felt defeated.  There was so much to do…how on earth would it get done?

It was one of those moments where the weight of responsibility was so great that I was stunned into inactivity.  I did not know where to begin.

I sent my response to my friend and turned in for the night.

The next day I received another email from my friend.  “How are you feeling today?  Can we meet up to check in?”  And so we did.  And my dear friend helped me refocus my gaze.  Yes, there is still a lot to be done, but I am not standing at the base of Kilimanjaro.  I am somewhere up the mountain…and I am wearing the most fabulous pair of mountain hiking stilettos!  And most importantly – yes, even more important than the shoes – I am not alone for my friend is with me.

I am not alone.  Thanks be to God.

I was in need and my friend came alongside.  This friend, other friends, Andrew, my family, my colleagues, and the congregation I serve have all come alongside.  When I have felt defeated they have been my strength.  When I have been a wanderer they have led be home.  It is not always easy for me to ask for help.  I am not the quickest to admit that I need help.    It is in these moments that I am most grateful for the friends and family that become leaders and come alongside.  They become my guides.  They light my way.  They show me love.  They affirm that I am many things, but alone is not one of them.

Who has checked in with you this week?  Who has come alongside?  Who have you checked in with this week?  Who have you come alongside?  There is still time.  There is always time.  When we make time for one another, we affirm that we as God’s children may be many things, but alone is not one of them.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: “Draw us in the Spirit’s tether, for when humbly in thy name, two or three are met together, thou art in the midst of them.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Touch we now thy garment’s hem.  As disciples used to gather in the name of Christ to sup, then with thanks to God the Father break the bread and bless the cup: Alleluia!  Alleluia!  So now bind our friendship up.  All our meals and all our living make us sacraments of thee, that by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  We will serve thee faithfully.”*  Amen.

*”Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether,” The United Methodist Church, 632.