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.

God Is Wild About You!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 139

This week at Tuskawilla the children of our church and our community experienced God’s goodness and love at our Pandamania Vacation Bible School. I am immeasurably grateful for the leadership of Samantha Aupperlee, Shrell Chamberlain, Kelly Mawhinney, Vanessa Schuchart, Tim Rounsaville, and all the youth and adult volunteers that have made this week possible. Thank you for serving God’s children and sharing God’s witness this week!

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to attend a Compline Service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. Compline derives from the Latin word completorium, which refers to the completion of the working day. Compline services are entirely sung, save a few verbal instructions and the stating of the Scripture passages for the day.

At St. Mark’s the choir sang from a back corner of the cathedral rather than standing in the front of the gathered congregation. The congregation faced the altar and a brilliant rose window. Our group sat in the pews as the congregation gathered in silence, centering on God’s presence and welcome in that space.

But then a funny thing happened…

I saw a huge group of people stream into the cathedral carrying pillows and blankets. At first I thought a youth group had just returned from a trip and the Compline service was their final moment before heading home. I was wrong. In curiosity I watched as these fellow worshippers proceeded to spread out their blankets, place their pillows, and lay around the feet of the altar. They stared up at the ceiling. They peered out into the darkening sky. Some laid alone. Some laid alongside a loved one. They laid in God’s presence as God’s Scripture and prayers sang over them. They laid in comfort. They laid in peace. They laid at home.

It was beautiful.

In the gathering darkness we worshipped the Lord. In the gathering darkness we sang God’s praise. In the gathering darkness we laid ourselves on God’s altar…we became, we become, we are becoming holy and living sacrifices.

Even in the gathering darkness, as the Psalmist sings, God sees; God knows; and God comes alongside.

My heart broke once again as I learned about the terror attack in Istanbul. I added my lament with others’, “How long, O Lord, how long!?” Lord Almighty, cure our warring madness. Break the power that sin has over us. Take away our appetite for evil. Heal our brokenness. Instill within us that you desire light not darkness. Remind us that when we are in darkness – darkness that is and darkness that we create – you are with us. You see us. You redeem us. You perfect us. You make us new. You make us whole.

I take great comfort in knowing that children and youth surrounded God’s altar at Tuskawilla this week just as people surrounded the altar at St. Mark’s. Our children and youth offered their songs, laughter, curiosity, wonder, and joy to our God. I am filled with hope in knowing this is not an occasional but a regular occurrence; thanks be to God. May their gifts, may our gifts, rise up like sweet incense. May these our children know that God’s Sanctuary as their home. And may our church always understand the importance of creating a place and offering a space for all people to draw near to God as God draws near to us.

Be sure to join us in worship this Sunday for our Pandamania Worship Celebration. Our children and their leaders will guide the worship service. I cannot wait to dance and sing around God’s altar. See you there!

Prayer: “Jesus loves me—this I know for the Bible tells me so; little ones to him belong—they are weak, but he is strong.Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so!”* Amen.

*”Jesus Loves Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal 191.

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.