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.

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Lessons In Leadership ~ Learn or Repeat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 51:1-12.

Joshua’s new favorite pastime? Doors. He loves doors.

Closet doors. Cabinet doors. Bedroom doors. If it is on a vertical hinge, Joshua loves it.

There is a “Lazy Susan” cabinet in our kitchen that is Joshua’s utmost favorite. He will sit in his chair that is in a shape of a Ferrari (I know, right!?) and spin the Lazy Susan around and around and around – squealing with delight all the while.

Until one time he was not squealing. He was screaming.

It happened. His fingers did not move fast enough and Joshua felt the first real sting of pinching fingers in a door.

(Do you feel that sensation as you read this? I am feeling it as I type this. Ouch!)

I gathered Joshua up in my arms. Andrew came in and kissed Joshua’s little hand. And then Andrew sat on the floor with Joshua to teach him about moving his hand away. Andrew placed his fingers where Joshua’s fingers were pinched and showed him that if the door continues to rotate, then he would be hurt. Joshua sat mesmerized. And I just fell in love with Andrew all over again. Because that is what love is – taking the time to sit with someone, to teach them, to help them gather skills and knowledge so that they can live happy and whole and (hopefully) hurt-free lives.

Andrew sat with Joshua because others sat with him – teaching him, caring for him, guiding him. Andrew’s parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and mentors learned that lesson from having folks sit with, teach, care for, and guide them.

And who taught that first lesson of care and relationship? Our God in heaven.

I am sure the “pinched fingers” lesson is one of many lessons we will have to revisit with Joshua as he grows. It is great when we learn a lesson the first time. And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we usually have to learn lessons – usually the same lesson – more than once. This is part of the human condition – that we revisit lessons. This is part of learning obedience – that we will choose a different path. This is part of gaining wisdom with the hope that we will learn and then apply what we have learned in all future circumstances.

If we fail to learn in the present, then we are destined to repeat the past.

I look forward to concluding our Lessons in Leadership Sermon Series this week as we study Psalm 51, which is attributed to David after he was held accountable for his actions with Bathsheba by the Prophet Nathan. Even after such a terrible event, there is grace and there is hope. Even after the terrible events in our lives – the ones we create and the ones that impact us – there is grace and there is hope for us to learn rather than continue to repeat.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: “He took my sins and my sorrows, he made them his very own; he bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me!”* Amen.

*”I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 371.

Lessons in Leadership: You Are That Man

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Samuel 11:26-12:13a.

The story of David and Bathsheba is a story of uncontrolled lust.

Lust is not just an intense desire in the body; it is also a strong passion for something that does not belong to oneself. That which we lust after is something that must be learned, experienced, or acquired. It could be a lust for knowledge, laziness, or food. It could be a lust for power, pleasure, or possessions.

When we lust we do not think rationally. We are immune to counsel. We are driven by appetites that demand to be fulfilled – even if fulfilling them results in our own detriment or the detriment of others.

I believe we can all relate to struggles with lust; it is part of the human condition. We have experienced (or are experiencing) lust running rampant through exuberant eating or spending; through the pursuit of perfection; through judgment, promiscuity, or keeping up with the Jones. Likewise, we have been exposed (or are being exposed) to offerings of wisdom, arguments, and counsel from God, others, and our own selves in the midst of our struggles with lust.

At times, we have accepted.

At others, rejected.

That which we lust over – and may eventually achieve – does not satisfy. When our lust runs rampant, we are not the only ones that suffer. We may be oblivious to the suffering we cause because we are so consumed by our lust; even worse, we may turn a blind eye to the suffering or claim ignorance so we can persist in the enmeshment of our desire.

When lust runs rampant we harm

  • Those whom we share relationship,
  • Those who could benefit from the resources and assets (presence, time, funds, effort, and passions) we pour into our obsessions,
  • Those we use and abuse to achieve our own ends,
  • And last, but certainly not least, we harm our relationship with God as the items, persons, and/or pursuits of our lusts become idols that we seek to worship and serve.

The work of the ever-maturing child of God is to interrupt and disconnect from our lustful appetites. John Wesley, the founder of the people called Methodist, offers a method to do just that.

Wesley understands all Sin as having two components – inward and outward. Inward sin is not a loss of faith whereas Outward sin is. Lust begins as Inward sin; lust begins in thoughts alone. Wesley argues that these thoughts alone are not sinful, but actualizing them – acting them out, moving them from the abstract to the concrete, incarnating them from the ideal to the real – that is the sin. And Outward sin is a loss of faith.

We are all sinners. We have all “fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). We have all experienced losses of faith.

We are also redeemed by God’s grace. We are all “justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). By God’s grace in justification we, who are sinners, are declared righteous before God. By God’s grace the power of sin over individuals breaks, causing an inward spiritual change that interrupts and disconnects the link between inward inclinations resulting in outward sins.

Our challenge – our invitation – is to growth in God’s grace and to seek the interruptions to and disconnections from lust. This happens through prayer, through being held accountable, and through implementing boundaries in your life that guard your heart from lust(s) and keep your heart attuned to God.

This work is needful. This work is on-going. This work is essential to our development as disciples.

Prayer: “Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Just as I am, thy love unknown  hath broken every barrier down; now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”* Amen.

*”Just As I Am, Without One Plea,” The United Methodist Hymnal 357.

Lessons In Leadership: Ruler Not King

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Samuel 5:1-5 and 9-10.

A statement I hear frequently?

“You shouldn’t be doing that.”

And let’s face it…I do a lot of thats.

I was prepared for the “you shouldn’t be doing thats” as a girl and woman – I defy with great glee, bearing in mind personal safety…most of the time. I was prepared for the “you shouldn’t be doing thats” during pregnancy – again, I defied with great glee, and held always in mind the health of myself and Joshua.

I was not and am not prepared for the “you should not be doing thats” as a pastor.

When our church hosted the Friday Afternoon Food Bank I typically served in the parking lot. It was my own version of “Undercover Boss” though I really was not under cover. I was in workout clothes and a baseball cap. Many patrons to the food bank thought and/or referred to John Chambliss as the pastor of the church, which delighted me to no end. One day someone made a comment to John as such and John kindly offered this correction, “I’m not the pastor. She’s the pastor – over there” and pointed at me. “What? Really? And you have her working the parking lot shift!?” We all shared a hearty laugh.

As a pastor – really as a person – I do not fear the thats, which is why I have been known to crawl through hedges looking for trash, to dumpster dive, and to take on the grossest of jobs – yes – even more gross than disposing a liquified pumpkin.

When I start to fear the thats – or think I’m too good to do the thats – that is when I need reminding that our Jesus did not wear a towel around his neck like a cape, but around his waist, ready and willing to wash feet…perhaps even feet bathed in liquified pumpkin.

Doing the thats is what servant leadership looks like to me…doing the thats is servant leadership to me.

What thats do you do? What thats do you leave undone? And what that is God calling you to do this week?

Prayer: “Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known; join in a song with sweet accord, join in a song with sweet accord and thus surround the throne, and thus surround the throne. We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion; we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.”* Amen.

*”Marching to Zion,” The United Methodist Hymnal 733.

 

Lessons in Leadership: Felling Giants

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Samuel 17:38-50.

Is you seeing them? the BFG asked.

Sophie, squinting through the glare of the sun, saw several tremendous tall figures moving among the rocks about five hundred yards away. Three or four others were sitting quite motionless on the rocks themselves.

This is Giant Country, the BFG said. Those is all giants, every one.

It was a brain-boggling sight. The giants were all naked except for a sort of short skirt around their waists, and their skins were burnt brown by the sun. But it was the sheer size of each one of them that boggled Sophie’s brain most of all. They were simply colossal, far taller and wider than the Big Friendly Giant upon whose hand she was now sitting. And oh how ugly they were! Many of them had large bellies. All of them had long arms and big feet. They were too far away for their faces to be seen clearly, and perhaps that was a good thing.”*

Lately I have felt like a resident of Giant Country. And not only do these giants reflect Roald Dahl’s description, these giants are hangry– hungry and angry – ready to devour.

What is on the menu?

Me.

In Dahl’s tale, The BFG, little Sophie had a guide, a confidant, a protector, and a friend as she traversed Giant Country. And when I feel like the giants are looming, stomping, interrupting, or nearly triumphing, I am grateful for the guides, confidants, protectors, and friends that are with, before, and behind me.

Late last week my childhood best friend texted me to say she was headed to the hospital. “Memaw is not well,” Laura wrote. Less than thirty minutes later Laura texted again, “Memaw is gone.” Memaw – Shirley W. Warren – was an expert navigator of Giant Country. She shared her wisdom freely – wisdom that was steeped in beautiful Southern charm and North Carolina wit. She was the matriarch of her family. She loved deeply and sowed richly in the lives of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She took family under her wings that were both family by blood and family by choice. Memaw called me “Sarah Beth-Ann” whenever she saw me and considered me one of her own.

At my Friends and Family Baby Shower last September Laura presented me with a quilt that she, her mother, and Memaw made together for Joshua. I took hold of that quilt the other day. The pattern throughout the quilt reminds me of a compass rose – a navigational tool – Memaw’s living legacy that will comfort Joshua as he makes his way through Giant Country.

When you find yourself in Giant Country, who are the guides, confidants, protectors, and friends that are with, before and behind you? What legacy does their presence imprint on your heart? Offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for these persons in your life, and if you are able, express your gratitude to these persons.

Thank you, Memaw. I hope you are sitting in a recliner next to Granddaddy, holding his hand. Well done, good and faithful servant. See you again.

Prayer: “Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore; let the search for thy salvation be our glory evermore. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, serving thee whom we adore, serving thee whom we adore.”** Amen.

*The BFG, Roald Dahl 4.

**“God of Grace and God of Glory,” The United Methodist Hymnal 577.

Lessons in Leadership: The Most Important Muscle

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Samuel 16:6-13.

While on vacation I spent precious time with my two nephews, Jacob and Elijah. Jacob will be three in October and Elijah is almost four-months old. They are true delights.

One afternoon Jacob asked, “Aunt Schawah, will you playdoh with me?” And when someone asks you to playdoh, you playdoh.

Jacob has quite a collection of playdoh toys – scissors and rollers and stamps. He even has little critters that will grow playdoh hair through their heads!

I took hold of one of the critters, turned it head down, and started stamping it on one of the playdoh pancakes Jacob prepared. “Aunt Schawah, whatcha doin’?” “I”m stamping. Look, this critter stamps out a flower.” “No way!” “Yes way. Look!” With amazement Jacob watched all the blooms appear. And with excitement, Jacob took hold of that same critter and started blooming a garden of his own.

Playdoh is impressionable. It is flexible and pliable – unless it is exposed to the air too long. Playdoh takes its shape from the maker and reshapes again and again at the maker’s desire.

Writes the prophet Isaiah, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa 64:8). As God shapes us, God makes us new. As God molds us, God prefects us.

As the work of God’s hands, we bear God’s impressions in our very beings. God’s shaping of us occurs throughout our lives; it is an ongoing transformative process that begins with our most important muscle. 

It begins with our hearts.

This week the Tuskawilla UMC Family begins a five-week series entitled Lessons in Leadership. We will study texts related to David found in I and II Samuel as well as the Psalms. I hope you will join us. See you in worship.

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.