Dare to Dream: What Is In Your Hand

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 4:1-5.

This Sunday the Reverend David Killingsworth will join the Tuskawilla Family in worship leadership while I am off with our confirmands causing mischief at the first Florida Conference Confirmation Retreat at the Warren Willis Camp in Fruitland Park.

Please be in prayer for all the Confirmation Retreat participants this weekend. May relationships with Christ deepen, may understandings of faith increase, and may the coffee be strong – oh so strong!

(Not for the students – but for the adults – especially me!)

David serves as a co-pastor in partnership with his wife, Meghan, at First United Methodist Church in Sanford. David and I met many years ago when both he and Andrew were youth directors at two of the largest United Methodist Churches in greater Orlando. David has a sweet spirit, a wonderfully quick wit, and a deep love for the God’s people. David is passionate about strengthening the bonds between the church and the community through justice work. Ask him about The Picnic Project! Introduce yourself this Sunday and thank him for sharing his gifts with us at TUMC.

As I study the Scripture text for this Sunday, I am aware that it is a passage about what God’s power can do with current resources. Moses felt so ill-equipped and yet as a mentor told me years ago, God always equips the called. Moses doubted – his leadership, his potential effectiveness, his abilities, and his resources. Where Moses saw only deficiency, God saw efficacy. God saw how Moses could be and would be successful in drawing the Hebrews out of bondage and leading them into the salvation of the Promised Land.

I often joke with staff members and ministry colleagues that the first place I start shopping for ministry events… is at the Dollar Tree.

That is right. The Dollar Tree.

It is very seldom that the Dollar Tree fails me in what I am seeking. And hey – it saves a buck because everything literally is a buck!

People past and present have scoffed at my Dollar Tree shopping, but here is the truth: 1) Dollar Tree shopping is in keeping with TUMC’s commitment to stewarding our financial resources wisely and 2) I am always amazed at what God does with Dollar Tree resources.

Once again I am preparing for our Holy Week Lenten Prayer Stations – interactive opportunities for participants to read, reflect, and respond to Jesus’ Passion Story as they continue their journey with him from Hosanna to Empty Tomb. Most of the interactive elements at these stations humbly come from the Dollar Tree. Those candles, those pieces of clay, those markers, those silk leaves – through the presence of God’s power they become holy – and I am confident that God’s presence guiding their use accomplishes more in deepening faithful ponderings and encouraging faithful growth than I will ever know.

Just because something is humble or ordinary or commonplace does not limit God’s use of that object to draw you into deeper relationship with God or to display God’s power in guiding your life purpose.

Even items at/from the Dollar Tree.

Thank you, David, for sharing your gifts at TUMC this Sunday. Love them well and challenge them, too. They (we) are up for it!

Prayer: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he; Lord Sabaoth, his name, from age to age the same, and he must win the battle.”* Amen.

*“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” The United Methodist Hymnal 110.

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Dare to Dream: Your Burning Bush

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 3:1-10.

My home church is First United Methodist Church of Lakeland – ahhh Polk County! After receiving my call to serve God by serving the church at the age of eleven I shared my call with my Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Riley Short. From that time forward Riley encouraged me to pursue present opportunities to live into and live out my call.

One of those early opportunities was to lead the Children’s Moment during worship – an offering that I continue to look forward to each and every Sunday!

One Sunday (like this coming Sunday) my children’s sermon was based upon Moses at the burning bush. The children were invited forward to sit on riser steps leading up to the chancel. One of my favorites – a boy named Larry that always styled a spiked mohawk – the tips of said mohawk were usually electric blue – perched himself on the highest step. I began to tell the story of Moses at the burning bush and afterwards I asked the group of children, “What was so amazing about the burning bush?”

Larry hollered, “The bush was on fire!”

“Yes, that is right! And what else was amazing about the bush?”

Anticipating answers like, “And the bush did not burn up!” and “God spoke from the bush!” Larry hollered again, “And it was BLUE!”

Blue – the bush was the color blue. Thank you cinematic masterpiece The Prince of Egypt.

Larry’s response was one of pure innocence. It continues to remind me – even today – that our faith germinates from a place of innocence. A product of having faith – I hope! – is developing a deeper faith. And we all start somewhere.

And that somewhere is important. And that somewhere is worthy.

And that somewhere is holy.

That children’s moment was not the place for me to teach Larry the deeper, more profound, theological impact of God’s presence in the burning bush. That children’s moment was the place that Larry taught me about pausing to embrace the wonder of God and to notice how God surprises us.

And the surprise that day – God made the bush blue.

How has God surprised you recently? How did you appreciate that moment? How will you be on the lookout for God’s surprises in the future?

Prayer: “If our love were but more simple, we should rest upon God’s word; and our lives would be illumined by the presence of our Lord.”* Amen.

*”There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” The United Methodist Hymnal 121.

Dare to Dream: Discovering Your Birthright

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 2:11-25.

The other night while Andrew, Joshua, and I dined, I looked at Andrew and said, “Tell me a story about Josh.” He looked at our son and laughed, “He has been with you all day. You tell me a story about Josh!” Then I laughed. “Not our Josh. About Josh. Tell me a story about Josh.”

Josh. Our Joshua’s namesake.

From time to time I ask Andrew to tell me Josh stories. From time to time they are hard stories for Andrew to tell. He misses his Josh so much. Andrew humors me. He tells me their stories. And even after seventeen-and-a-half years of hearing them, Andrew still has new stories to share.

That night he told me the story about he and Josh being obnoxiously loud in the South Florida Ave Wendy’s. Their intention – to be asked to leave. Amazingly, they were unsuccessful in their quest. I remarked when Andrew concluded the story, “Oh…that must be why you like to eat at Wendy’s…you feel close to Josh when you are there.” I do not think Andrew had ever made that connection. A sly smile crept across his face and he nodded in agreement.

It was late April 2017. We had come home from a prenatal appointment with the all important letter – the letter that would tell us if we were expecting a boy or girl later that same year. I sat down and Andrew opened the envelope. He scanned the document seeking that desired piece of knowledge that was buried under a heap of other test results (all of which were normal and/or negative, praise the Lord!).

His eyes met mine. “XY,” he said.

We had discussed names before for both a son and a daughter…but in that moment those previous discussions were but a memory.

“His name is Joshua,” I said. “And from the stories I have heard and that you continue to tell me, we are in for it!”

And from that day – Andrew has been all in – I never doubted that he would not be. Joshua by no means replaces his Josh. But Joshua comforts the still lingering ache in Andrew’s heart as Andrew’s heart grows exponentially alongside our blossoming son.

Mischief maker. Hell raiser. Justice seeker. Artist. Advocate. Dedication. Servant. Lover. Warrior. This is Joshua’s birthright from our brave Josh that never knew our son in this life, but I am sure admires him (and laughs at us!) daily from eternity.

Join us this Sunday as we continue our study of Rev. Mike Slaughter’s Dare to Dream as we discern how discovering our birthright informs the shaping and articulation of our big hairy audacious God-purposes! See you in worship!

Prayer: “Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome, God’s free bounty glorify; true belief and true repentance, every grace that brings you nigh. Come ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall; if you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all. I will arise and go to Jesus; he will embrace me with his arms; in the arms of my dear Savior, O there are ten thousand charms.”* Amen.

*”Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” The United Methodist Hymnal 340.

Dare to Dream: Dreaming the Dream

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 2:1-10.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Family begins a six-week sermon series that will study Moses, the leader of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt. We will use Rev. Dr. Mike Slaughter’s book Dare to Dream as a guide for this study. Each Sunday’s bulletin will include questions for your engagement and reflection as you (we) discern God’s dream – God’s purpose – for our lives as individuals and as a congregation.

When I consider the word dream my mind immediately goes to the words of a man – of a 20thCentury prophet – who spoke of his dream – a dream he hoped was and would be the dream of all people – from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

In March 1963 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his I Have A Dream Speech before 250,000 Americans – black and white; male and female; men, women, and children – during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Many consider this speech the defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement. Many continue to hold dear to the truths King spoke that day. Many hope and wait for the day that all the truths he spoke will indeed become self-evident.

I count myself among those persons.

As I reread King’s speech* this week I am struck by this brief sentence at the heart of his witness, “We cannot walk alone.” For King this meant that for Americans to truly be free – black and white; male and female; men, women, and children – Americans had to believe and confess that our futures, our identities, our hopes, our fears, our nation, our lives were and are all caught up together. We are connected. We hold in common with every person everywhere our creation in the image of God. Because of our creation we have inherent worth, inherent dignity, and inherent value that cannot be stripped away by any person or system or prejudice.

Shortly after Adam’s creation God created Eve so that Adam would not be alone. They would be helpmates for one another, modeling and teaching all generations that we were created out of relationship and created for relationship. From the beginning we were created to walk and work together. And yet history – American, World, and Biblical – tells again and again the stories of how we have made a mess of things and resisted walking and working together.

King made this confession on behalf of a nation. And then he professed these words of faith,

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

Work together. Pray together. Struggle together. Go to jail together. Stand up for freedom together. These are the makings of King’s dream so that all people would and will be free one day.

What an incredible dream. What a remarkable legacy. May these words continue to inspire us as God’s people to walk together rather than walking alone.

Prayer: “Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share, but our toil he doth richly repay; not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross, but is blest if we trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”** Amen.

*https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/i-have-dream-address-delivered-march-washington-jobs-and-freedom

**“Trust and Obey,” The United Methodist Hymnal 467.

Jesus Said What!? ~ Fear Him Who Has The Power To Cast You Into Hell

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 12:4-12.

One of the first concepts a student of Scripture interpretation learns is how the sacred texts we have came to be. The stories present in our sacred texts existed first as oral tradition – stories told around campfires, as friends worked in the fields, as mothers tucked their children into bed.

These stories were told to keep the faith alive and fresh in God’s people – so the young would learn and the old would not forget. Moses spoke specifically of the royal law – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” when the following words were shared, and I believe they are applicable to the whole of our sacred text – “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut 6:4-9).

At a later time writers inspired and guided by God’s Holy Spirit captured on paper – or scrolls – these oral traditions. The scrolls circulated through faith communities and were further committed to the heads, hearts, and hands of God’s people.

The formation of the Synoptic Gospels – synopticmeaning same or similarlike the word synonym– is of particular interest because unlike other biblical texts, we have access not only to the particular gospel text, but also to its sources. The earliest gospel we have is the Gospel of Mark; it serves as the source document for both Matthew and Luke. They share many stories in common, with Matthew and Luke often adding additional details or descriptions to concise Markan accounts. Additionally Matthew and Luke have stories they share that Mark does not have, which some scholars attribute to Q– short for Quelle, which is German for Source– and they have independent material (called Mand L) that neither of the other Synoptics share. All of these sources – Mark, Q, M and L – provide us with the gospels we cherish today.

The presence of these shared or common sources between the Gospels is why students of Scripture interpretation may experience déjà vu…didn’t I read this already? In fact, you probably did. So…is it worth reading again? In fact, yes it is – for a number of reasons. Among them are

  1. The meaning of Scripture grows in depth and meaning as our life experiences change. As we age, as we experience more, how Scripture guides and resonates with us changes to ensure our grounding and growth in the faith.
  2. Certain sayings of Jesus are not always “attached” or “linked” – if you will – with the same stories or circumstances across the gospels. Remember, the gospels are not “eyewitness accounts.” As such, it is important to read the sayings of Jesus in context with surrounding material because the surrounding material will shape and yield different and deeper learnings. Sometimes the contexts are the same, and that agreement between the gospel writers adds greater emphasis and importance to the Jesus saying. At other times the contexts are different, which reveals the individual gospel writer’s specific message to his intended audience.

So as you read and study Scripture, stay alert and resist temptations to slip into “auto pilot” or “auto reader mode” when you read a passage that sounds familiar. If you experience déjà vu while reading Scripture, then invite that feeling to guide you into a greater state of presence and awareness as you study. Scripture is a gift. That we are able to hold it in our hands is a gift. That we are able to read it in our heart language and dialogue about it freely is a gift.

Treasure Scripture. Keep these words in your heart. Share these words with your family and friends. Live in response to Scripture through the actions of your head, hearts, and hands.

Prayer: “Thy love divine hath led us in the past; in this free land with thee our lot is cast; be thou our ruler, guardian, guide, and stay, thy Word our law, thy paths our chosen way.”* Amen.

*”God of the Ages,” The United Methodist Hymnal 698.

Committed to the Journey

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Kings 2:1-12.

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday in the Church Year; it is the final Sunday of the Epiphany Season before Ash Wednesday, which begins the Season of Lent. It is fitting that Transfiguration Sunday closes the Epiphany Season, a season of ah ha’s about Jesus, our Savior. In the Season of Epiphany we learned

  • The Magi – Gentile Kings from the East – presented Jesus with gifts. They were welcomed at his nativity – a sign of the inclusive nature of the Kingdom that began with Jesus’ birth. All would be welcome to worship him – inclusive of age, nation, and race.
  • In the Jordan River, following his baptism, God declared Jesus as his Son, the Beloved. With Jesus, God is well pleased. After the example of Jesus, we, too, are to be baptized; we, too, are to become daughters and sons of God. We are beloved to God. With us God is well pleased.
  • And now on Transfiguration Sunday, we hear God’s voice again. Again, God names Jesus as God’s Son, and God gives the following instruction, “Listen to him.”

On a mountainside before Peter, James, and John, Jesus changes. His clothes become dazzling white. Glory shines upon his face. Moses and Elijah join him at his sides; Moses, representative of the Law and Elijah, representative of the prophets. And we hear God tell us to listen to Jesus – to listen to how he fulfills the Law first given by Moses and to listen how he brings a new understanding of reconciliation, a primary subject of the prophets, as our Savior prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice to secure humanity’s reconciliation to God forever. Peter – Jesus’ disciple, Jesus’ student – wants to stay on the mountainside, wants to build houses for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Peter’s offer suggests that he wants them all to stay where they are…and yet Jesus’ journey was not meant to culminate on that hillside, but on Calvary.

Jesus, with Peter, James, and John, head back down the mountain. In doing so Jesus commits to the journey ahead of him – to the teachings he will offer; to the miracles he will complete; to the betrayal, denial, desertion and death he will endure. As the disciples follow him, Jesus bids all disciples – bids us – to follow him. More ah ha’s – more epiphanies await us as we journey with Jesus from glory into glory.

Jesus is committed to us and this journey. Let us commit to Jesus and journey with him to and beyond his cross.

Prayer: “O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”*

*from the Book of Common Prayer according to the use of the Episcopal Church, 1979, page 217.

Thrive: Plenty

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ezekiel 47:6-12

When Andrew and I first started dating we did not have very much money; so, our date nights were pretty simple: dinner at home (Thanks Mom, Dad, Dale and Bill!) and a movie. Sometimes we would splurge and head to a Blockbuster (now I am really dating myself!) so we could watch something outside of our normal repertoire. What was (is) our normal movie fare? Animated Children’s Movies. The more singing the better.

At one time we practically had The Prince of Egypt memorized – every line and every chorus. One song from that film in particular resonates quite profoundly with me as I marinate on our Scripture text for this week. Feeling down on himself, his circumstance, and his life, Moses mopes. His burden and disappointment weights his brow as well as his shoulders. To encourage Moses, his father-in-law Jethro sings, “Through Heaven’s Eyes.”

As a guide and mentor Jethro challenges Moses’ assumptions about himself and about his ability to thrive in the midst of his difficult circumstances. He sings, “So how do you measure the worth of a man? In wealth or strength or size? In how much he gained or how much he gave? The answer will come, the answer will come to him who tries to look at his life through heaven’s eyes!”

In how much he gained or how much he gave…that is a beautiful description of the word plenty. Do we measure our lives in the blessings we have received and continue receiving from our God? Do we measure our lives in the blessings God has led and continues leading us to pour out on others? I do not think this is an either/or scenario. This is absolutely a both/and.

In how much he gained or how much he gave – that sounds to me like the most abundant life. And I believe that is the sort of life that God desires for us. We, like Moses, may not think that we are worthy of such a life because of present circumstances or past decisions. That sort of thinking needs to be abandoned. That sort of thinking needs to stop. That sort of thinking begs for transformation like that which flows out of God’s holy temple and down God’s holy mountain bringing life and plenty wherever it goes.

If you are struggling, hurting, scared, or lost, and seeking hope or a new direction, I encourage you to look for the plenty in your life. What have you gained? What have you given? Consider these questions and give thanks. Look at your life through heaven’s eyes and you will see where and how you thrive.

Prayer: “I exalt you, Lord, because you pulled me up; you didn’t let my enemies celebrate over me. Lord, my God, I cried out to you for help, and you healed me. Lord, you brought me up from the grave, brought me back to life from among those going down to the pit. You who are faithful to the Lord, sing praises to him; give thanks to his holy name! His anger lasts for only a second, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may stay all night, but by morning, joy!”* We wait for your joy, O Lord. We pray for the morning in our longest nights and we celebrate how you are breaking the night before our eyes. We love you, Lord. Amen. 

*Psalm 30:1-5.