Woman in the Night: Eemas

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 1:15-22 and Luke 1:30-33, 38.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Family begins our Lenten Study entitled Woman In The Night. The series is based upon the verses of a hymn under that same name. Each verse sings of a woman in Scripture that had an encounter with Jesus – from his birth to life to his birth to new life.

Some of the women we will study in this series are named. Others are not. They are all important. Their witness is valuable. And Jesus’ ministry with them affirms Jesus’ presence, passion, and compassion is for all people.

Thanks be to God.

I hope you will join us in worship this Sunday as we begin this study. I will also provide a summary of the events of the Special General Conference Gathering this week in St. Louis.

And I hope to read some of our church’s big hairy audacious God purposes on the Family Room Wall this Sunday! Be sure to stop by the wall and share God’s purpose for your life with our church family sometime during Lent.

In prayer for both the work, growth, and discernment of our General Conference as well as our work, growth, and discernment as followers of Jesus Christ, may we unite our hearts with these words from Shirley Murray’s hymn, For Everyone Born.

Let us pray.

Prayer: “For everyone born, a place at the table, for everyone born, clean water and bread, a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing, for everyone born, a star overhead. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For woman and man, a place at the table, revising the roles, deciding the share, with wisdom and grace, dividing the power, for woman and man, a system that’s fair. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For young and for old, a place at the table, a voice to be heard, a part in the song, the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled, for young and for old, the right to belong. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For just and unjust, a place at the table, abuser, abused, with need to forgive, in anger, in hurt, a mind-set of mercy, for just and unjust, a new way to live. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For everyone born, a place at the table, to live without fear, and simply to be, to work, to speak out, to witness and worship, for everyone born, the right to be free. And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!”*

*”For Everyone Born,” Worship and Song 3149


Mountain Meditation: Kingdom Living

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 5:38-48.

This week I had the privilege to travel to Fruitland Park to spend a day in prayer for dear friends that interviewed with the Florida Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. I remember my interview day…nervous and knotted. So much led me to that interview moment: my call, my service in the local church, my education, my paper writing. And when I arrived at my interview I remember thinking “Okay, time to be perfect!”

Jesus concludes our Scripture passage for this week speaking of perfection, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). 

What is perfection? It is defined as the state of being perfect, of being free or nearly free of any flaw or defect.

Our God is indeed perfect. And I believe through our God’s grace we are going onto perfection, that we will be made perfect in this life. 

There is, however, a difference between being perfect and perfectionism. Being perfect is undertaking the heart work and hard work of facing one’s flaws – caused by sin – and being present in the process. Presence in the process looks like reflecting on what has happened, honoring the feelings in those reflective moments, and then discerning and acting upon decisions that will be life-giving rather than decisions that will further give into sin. This presence leads individuals in knowing him or herself and in knowing who God desires her or him to be. 

Perfectionism, on the other, is hard work without the heart work. It is an attitude rooted in performance and production rather than presence. People that act in and out of a spirit of perfectionism may look pristine on the outside, but the emptiness and achy-ness that results from perfectionism bores deep into one’s heart and soul.    

As I walked into my interview I heard Jesus’ words – be perfect. And in that perfection – seen in our Heavenly Father and seen in his Son – I was present. I shared my story – my struggles and my salvation. I shared of my transition from perfectionism practices to seeking perfection. I showed me and how God used and continues to use me. I testified to the truth that God has a plan and intent to include all people in God’s work.

God’s plan and intent looks different from the world’s. It is hard work to make our lives – to live our lives – in God’s plan and intent – but it is so fulfilling. 

In that spirit of fulfillment, I prayed my friends into their interviews. I prayed that they would be perfect and present, that they would show the evidence of their heart and hard work. 

And indeed, they did!

This is also my prayer for you this week. That you would take time to sit and reflect. That you would take time to be present in reflection of your struggles and your salvation. That you would take time to continue your attention to the heart and hard work before you. And in all of this, friends, we will be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

Prayer: “God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name, I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name, and in Jesus’ name I come to you, to share his love as he told me to. He said, ‘Freely, freely, you have received, freely freely give. Go in my name, and because you believe, others will know that I live.'”* Amen. 

*”Freely, Freely,” The United Methodist Hymnal 389.

Hone For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:39-45

The Nativity Story is a story of movement. In reading scenes of the story in Matthew’s gospel or Luke’s gospel, we observe that the characters are always on the go. Mary travels to visit Elizabeth, as we read in our text this week. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem for the census. The shepherds leave their fields to worship at the manger of the Christ child. The Magi from the East trek westward towards the star that hangs over where the child lays. The Holy Family seeks refuge in Egypt until the sign is given that it is safe for them to return to their homeland.

Somewhere to be. Something to do.

Sound familiar?

For many of us during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years we are on the go. We travel to eat with family, to visit friends, to shop, to attend parties, to catch concerts, to see Christmas lights. We go and we do because we do not want to miss out and we do not want to disappoint.

I shared Thanksgiving Day with almost 40 family and extended family members across two meals. It was fantastic to see them and to catch up, to break bread and to hope no one would break buttons off of their pants! My heart was full and my belly satisfied by the fellowship and food that was shared. I treasure that time with my family.

And I also treasure the time Andrew and I spent driving to these gatherings. I confess that most of our travel time was in silence; there had been plenty of sound in other moments of the day! In silence we “pondered in our hearts” all that had happened with our families and held the moments dear (Lk 2:19, 51). In silence we shared gratitude for the family that we – the two of us – are together. In the silence, though we were moving, at times, swiftly down the interstate, we were able to slow down. We were able to reflect, to be present, and to process. Intermittently we would break the silence to share a thought or crack a joke. And then we would return to the silence – to think, to be still, and to be grateful.

I encourage you in this season of Advent and activity – in this season of personal and Scriptural movement – where there does not seem to be enough time and the world will not slow down to find and/or create moments of silence. Slow down. Share gratitude and quiet prayer. Listen for expected and unexpected words from God. Ponder these moments in your heart. Share what you observe and learn with a loved one. Crack a joke with a friend. Then return to the silence once more.

I am grateful I did. I am sure you will be, too.

Prayer: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand. King of kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood, Lord or lords, in human vesture, in the body and the blood; he will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food.”* Amen.

*”Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 626.

Atonement: Perfect Sacrifice

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 9:11-14

This morning I had the privilege to accompany the first grade class that I volunteer in to Sea World.  17 first graders…5 chaperones and 1 teacher…if we had 20 chaperones, the odds may have been in our favor.

Just kidding.

It was an amazing experience.  The children that attend this school are from some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the metro-Orlando area; so, going to Sea World is big news…like bigger than french fries and chicken nuggets being served in the cafeteria on the same day.

If I had to summarize this Sea World experience for the children in one word, the word would be wonder.  Watching the children marvel at the sea creatures and squeal as the roller coasters zoomed overhead and point and smile and repeat.  They were in awe.  They were amazed.  Everything was new.  Everything was fresh.  And they were present in the moment absorbing all of it.  They were content to just be.  Excitement bubbled up from endless founts inside each of them.  Their grins were contagious.

Most of them slept on the ride back to the school…and I can only imagine the visions and dreams that were dancing in their heads.  I hope in their dreams they were sealing the memory of this day and I hope they continue to wonder in all they experienced.

I am amazed by how much these children continue to teach me each time I am with them.  Today’s lesson was that lesson of wonder – to be present, to simply be.  I (and I think many adults) are quick to observe and then we jump to analysis, inquiry, and yes, even judgment.  We are a qualitative and quantitative folk.  We are concerned about efficiency and cost-effectiveness.  We are time conscious and are quick to think about what is next rather than remain present in the moment.  We forget to wonder.  And when we do not wonder regularly, little by little, we lose that ability.

We need to slow down.  We need to see clearly.  We need to hear wholly.  We need to smell, feel, and taste.  We need to be.  And in doing so God will amaze us.

As a pastor and speaker of the Word I am always seeking an interpretation of a text that is studied in worship on Sundays.  Being a speaker of the Word is more than just saying what the story says – it is not just a paraphrase.  Being a speaker  of the Word is more than just saying what other people have said about the story – it is not just a book report.  Speakers of the Word seek – for ourselves and for the people we serve – an interpretation of the Word – otherwise known as the so what moment.  Given what the story says and what other people have said about it, so what?  What now?  Where do we go from here?  

I like to offer practical responses and practical challenges as the so what so that some sort of response is encouraged that will lead to greater spiritual formation and possibly behavior modification.  As I marinate on the text this week, I feel the response that I am led to is one of wonder.  Jesus is the high priest.  Jesus has given of himself – a perfect sacrifice – that our lives will be transformed and our dead works purified so that we will worship the living God.

What should characterize that worship?  Wonder – wonder of all our Lord has done, wonder that our God has acted on our behalf out of mercy and grace.

Yet how quick are we while in worship to skip out on presence.  We may be there in body, but are were their in mind?  And if we are there in mind, are we present in wonder or presently writing our grocery list or rolling our eyes because we are singing that hymn again instead of this hymn or thinking that our time would be better spent elsewhere?  If we do not practice wonder, then we are not practicing true presence, and we therefore limit how God desires to amaze us in those moments.

Our God is amazing and wants to amaze us.  Open yourself up to wondering.  I bet you will be wearing the great grin of a first grader at Sea World eating chicken nuggets and french fries when you do.

Prayer: “His name is wonderful, his name is wonderful, his name is wonderful, Jesus, my Lord.  He is the mighty King, Master of everything, is name is wonderful, Jesus, my Lord.  He’s the great Shepherd, the Rock of all ages, almighty God is he; bow down before him, love and adore him, his name is wonderful, Jesus, my Lord.”* Amen.

*”His Name Is Wonderful,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 174