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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Seven Questions of Faith: Who Is Jesus?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 16:13-16

Over the past several years I have had the privilege to serve as a curriculum writer for our Annual Conference’s Camp and Retreats Ministries. It is a very humbling experience to be a member of these writing teams. I am always in awe of what the Holy Spirit brings about through opportunities for learning, fun, and fellowship for the campers as a result of these teams working together. And I am always in awe of the impact our God makes through the contributions of these writing teams.

Sometimes I can feel so small. Usually in those moments I dash to find a stellar pair of stilettos, but when that does not help, I think back on the experiences in my life when I have opened myself up to be used by God. I am one person, but where two or more are gathered, our God is present and our God is able to do infinitely more than we can ever imagine. Opening ourselves up to be part of our God’s imagining, that is the true stuff of miracles.

Last year one of the curriculum writer’s ideas was to open up space for campers to write down questions of faith that would be answered by their age-level worship leader before the end of the week. I had the sweet opportunity to be both a curriculum writer and a worship leader last summer so I knew what I was in for…but I was in no way prepared for the depth of the faith questions asked by my Week 8 rising 6th-8th graders.

Some of their questions were…

  • Where are the dinosaurs!? (One of my personal favorites.)
  • Do I have to believe everything in the Bible?
  • Do I have to read and understand the Bible the same way as my parents, youth leader, or pastor?
  • I’m not sure if I’m saved. I accepted Jesus, but then I sinned. Am I still saved? Does God still love me?
  • I’m not sure about God; I’m not sure I believe. Does that make me a bad person?
  • When Jesus says “Love your neighbor” does he really mean every neighbor?

These are only a few of their questions…and I had around 20 minutes to answer as many as I could, not to mention the follow-up questions that came up during our short time together!

These campers asked deep questions of faith that revealed deep longing for greater understanding of God and, I believe, greater belonging with God.

During the Season of Lent, which begins with our Service of Ashes on Wednesday evening at 7pm, we will ponder Seven Questions of Faith. I am hopeful that through this season we will grow in greater understanding of who our Lord is, who we are, and who and how we are in relationship together.

We begin this week with the question, “Who is Jesus?” This was a popular question in the First Century after Jesus started his public ministry. People could not believe that the miracles and ministry coming from Jesus could be the same person born of Mary in humble Bethlehem and run out of Nazareth by his neighbors. Others did not want to give Jesus credit for how he was declaring the glory of the Lord through his ministry; surely he had to be Moses, or Elijah, or another of the prophets. For so long God’s people waited and hoped for their Messiah, their anointed one, their Savior…and yet here (there) he was…and they could not believe.

Rather than defending himself or offering an apologetic for who he is, Jesus turns to his disciples to answer “Who am I?” Peter answers this deep question of faith boldly and, in so doing, reveals his greater understanding about who Jesus is and his greater belonging in relationship with Jesus.

I encourage you to take time this week to answer for yourself, “Who Is Jesus?” Write down your answer in a journal. Talk about your answer around the dinner table with your family or when you are out enjoying time with friends. Consider how your understanding of who Jesus is has changed over time and perhaps is still changing. What have you learned about who Jesus is? What have you learned about yourself in learning about who Jesus is?

Prayer: “His name is wonderful, his name is wonderful, his name is wonderful, Jesus, my Lord. He is the mighty King, Master of everything; his 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.

Plot From The Plain: Firm Foundation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:46-49

This Sunday Reeves’ concludes our sermon series Plot From The Plain that subjected the texts of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain from the latter part of Luke 6.  Our passage for this week focuses on Jesus’ prescription for sturdy foundation formation…and I can’t help but be propelled back to my Vacation Bible School days and sing…

The wise man built his house upon the rock.  The wise man built his house upon the rock.  The wise man built his house upon the rock and the rain came a tumblin’ down.  The rains came down and the floods came up.  The rains came down and the floods came up.  The rains came down and the floods came up and the house on the rock stood firm. 

The foolish man built his house upon the sand.  The foolish man built his house upon the sand.  The foolish man built his house upon the sand and the rain came a tumblin’ down.  The rains came down and the floods came up.  The rains came down and the floods came up.  The rains came down and the floods came up and the house on the sand went SMASH!

That song – though somewhat juvenile and not as inclusive as I would like it to be at this point in my life – is very true to the teaching of Jesus.  For our foundations to withstand the trials of life they must be built on firm support…and if not…SMASH.

As I reflect on this Scripture – and the upcoming celebration of Thanksgiving – I am reminded of those persons that have helped create a firm foundation on Christ in my life and I would like to share a bit about them with you.

(Note: names have not been changed so I can properly celebrate these people!)

One – my sweet mama who read me Bible stories every night as a child, who continues to pray for me and my ministry every single day, and who has an infectious desire to keep exploring, deepening, questioning, and expanding her relationship with the God she loves – the God she taught me to love.

Two – my beloved Andrew who is my constant support, strength, and security.  His belief in me is unfailing.  He truly is my hero.

Three – my Becky, Melissa, and Melanie – these incredibly strong women speak truth into my life, they call me on my stuff in good times and in times when I need an adjustment, and constantly peel back the veil from my eyes so I truly embrace and celebrate my own gifts and accomplishments.

Four – my Sara(h)s and Dan – amazing friends from my Candler days.  Though we live and serve in different parts of the country, they are my covenant family and we share the timeless gift of picking up right where we left off.

Five – my clergy mentors Tim, Jenn, Lisa, and Riley – your wisdom is pure gift.  You allow me to ask questions, you give me the space to try on something new and then to digest the process.  You have dried my tears and made me laugh till my ribs ache.  Your presence has and continues to shape me so much.

Six – my dear friend Lisa who has opened my eyes and deepened the love in my heart for the development, resourcing, and true connection within and beyond the beloved inclusive community.  Thank you for being my guide and including me.

Seven – the United Methodist congregations that have had hands in my formation ~ First UMC Lakeland, FL; Northside UMC Atlanta, GA; Inman UMC Fayetteville, GA; New Horizon Church Haines City, FL; Reeves UMC Orlando FL; St. Luke’s UMC Orlando, FL.

Eight – the incredible camping and retreat ministries of the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp and Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park, FL – both as a participant and a leader

Nine – a shout out to John Wesley.  Yes.

Ten – a place to honor those that will help firm and form my foundation in Christ in the days, weeks, and years ahead.

Relfection: Who are those persons in your life that have helped strengthen your foundation?  Who are those persons you could seek out to either firm up your foundation or aid them in firming theirs?  This is our work in the Kingdom – so it is also our joy.

Prayer: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly trust in Jesus’ name.  On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”*

*”My Hope Is Built,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 368.

 

 

Faith and Works: No More Favorites

Sunday’s Scripture ~ James 2:1-9, 14-18

For the last ten years – in volunteer and employed opportunities – Andrew and I have had the privilege of weekly serving alongside incredible middle and high school students.  Together we laugh, sometimes cry, goof off, study Scripture, leave it all on the 9-square court, worship, and serve.

(And this week I have an even greater privilege and opportunity to do all these things and more as I and 500 of my closest friends spend a week on the holy grounds of the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp!  Week 5!  Woot woot!)

You may be surprised – or may be not – to know that the most fulfilling part of serving alongside these students is not what I teach them.  It’s what they teach me.  And I am thankful for each and every lesson.

It is incredible to watch these students blossom into young adults and mature in their faith as they engage in ministry.  Usually when students enter this ministry we can visibly split them into two groups:

1 – those that seek friends by way of pleasing others

2 – those that seek friends by walking the (sometimes difficult) path of being him or herself

//

Those that seek friends by way of pleasing others show favoritism or partiality, I believe, as a way to cover or shield their own insecurities.  If this behavior is not addressed as teenagers, it continues – and I believe festers – in adulthood.  What may begin as innocently going out of your way to be noticed by someone in the popular crowd could become what James describes in our Scripture text this week:

If a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?  …  You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors (James 2:2-4,8-9).

//

Those that seek friends by walking the (sometimes difficult) path of being him or herself I believe draw closer to the heart of pure Christianity, which James defines:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).

These students strive to remain unstained by the world.  They don’t play games.  They don’t show off to get the attention of the popular crowd.  They don’t show partiality.

What they do show is genuine care and concern for their neighbor – all their neighbors.  It doesn’t matter their family history, age, grade level, what sort of student they are, what kinds of extra-curriculars they engage, their economic status, or any other factor that might divide rather than unite.  They show their genuine care and concern through their speech, actions, service, and commitment – to God and to others.

//

I didn’t always find myself among this second group of students when I was in middle and high school.  I struggled with insecurity.  I struggled with learning the difference between friends in quantity and friends in quality.  I did eventually learn it – and frequently revisit the lesson – through the study of Scripture and walking alongside true friends and mentors that pointed me towards keeping myself unstained by the world.

I am truly blessed to now find myself as a mentor to amazing students that teach me the value of service, authenticity, and personal integrity.  Our world is in desperate need of more adults like these students.  Don’t worry; they are coming!

Prayer: “Still your children wander homeless; still the hungry cry for bread; still the captives long for freedom; still in grief we mourn our dead.  As, O Lord, your deep compassion healed the sick and freed the soul, use the love your Spirit kindles still to save and make us whole.”*  Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 581.

Heritage: The Work of Living Stones

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Peter 2:1-10

This week Reeves’ concludes our Heritage series somewhat at the beginning.  In previous weeks we have been looking back to the foremothers and forefathers of our faith in Scripture, in both Old and New Testament times, to get our spiritual footing.  This week we turn to take the first spiritual steps as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.

In order to go out as a person called by God I think it is first important to consider how you have experienced your call by God.  All people are called not just those persons who are set apart to be the clergy leadership in congregations.  I love the language contained in this Scripture passage because it supports that all people have been given access to God – to know, to seek, to understand, to question, to confirm.  Before the Protestant Reformation it was thought that only the priests had this kind of access to God when in fact we are a priesthood of all believers – meaning anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord has this access and is welcomed to engage.

I believe that people who call upon the name of the Lord have experienced God’s call on their life – whether or not they can easily articulate it.  It does not have to be some intense, dramatic scene.  Scripture attests that God can show up in a myriad of ways – full of pomp and circumstance or in a quiet voice.  But this call – this exchange with God – is the pivotal point that prompts a person to take that spiritual step.

In Methodist history, some scholars suggest that John Wesley’s on Aldersgate Day, the 24th of May 1738, while hearing someone reading from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, that he felt that his heart was “strangely warmed” and said, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”*  Some scholars have understood this to be the pivotal moment of Wesley’s call.  Aldersgate led Wesley in his next years to begin an movement in the Church of England that led him out of the church to preach where anyone would listen – to preach in the world his parish.  His movement continues as The United Methodist Church.

I experienced my call at United Methodist summer camp the summer before 6th grade.  The last night in chapel I was up at the altar praying and I heard God calling me into a life of ministry in The United Methodist Church.  I had no idea at age 11 how that would look, but with trembling confidence I responded, “whatever your will Lord, send me.”  I continue to realize and live into that calling each day as I serve in the local church and grow in my relationship with God.

Maybe you are in a vocation outside the ecclesial or church circle?  What then?  How do you live into your call?  Well, don’t fear that you had the wrong call or no call because you aren’t living into your call in the church.  As I said before, God calls all people and God is calling you right where you are right now.  So what do you do about it?  Explore it.  See what it means.  Ask yourself questions.  Ask God questions.  Dialogue with someone you trust.  Do you know your call in and out, up and down, backwards and forwards?  Are you living into everything that God wants you to do?  Is there more God desires?  How can you start addressing that?  This self-reflection and call-exploration is crucial work needed to take further spiritual steps.

I resonate so much with a story Barbara Brown Taylor tells from her own experience about exploring and living into her call.  During her final semester of seminary she recalls praying fervently to God that God would answer her most dreaded question, “What do I do after graduation?!”  One late evening atop her favorite prayer space, an abandoned fire escape, God’s answer came to her, “Do anything that pleases you and belong to me.”**

Maybe your question is “what do I do with my call?!”  I think the same answer applies.  Do anything that pleases you and belong to God.  Doing so will help all of us take steps in knowing ourselves more as God desires us to be and positions us to take spiritual steps as God’s chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, God’s own people.

Prayer: “I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.  All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save.  I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright.  Who will bear my light to them?  Whom shall I send?  Here I am, Lord.  Is it I, Lord?  I have heard you calling in the night.  I will go, Lord, if you lead me.  I will hold your people in my heart.”***

http://gbgm-umc.org/global_news/full_article.cfm?articleid=2465

** Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 110.

*** “Here I Am, Lord” from The United Methodist Hmynal, 593. 

Status Report: Mission Trip Summer 2012

Read Ephesians 5:8-14.

This Sunday the mission team from Reeves will share their experiences with the congregation during worship.  I am so pleased these individuals offered a week in service to the community near the Hinton Rural Life Center – a United Methodist related agency – in Hinton, North Carolina.  I was unable to join the mission team on their endeavors in North Carolina as I was on my own mission trip that week.

I served as the worship leader for the Elementary Campers at the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Youth Camp in Leesburg, FL!

(Well…it’s really in Fruitland Park…but are we going to split hairs over that?  Nah!)

I spent the week with an incredible group of rising 4th and 5th graders and the adult volunteers and camp counselors that were with them.  They were so full of life and energy and eagerness and energy and spirit and energy…

Did I mention they had energy?  Oh yes!

Our theme for the week was AWAKENING and each night in worship we learned what it means for us to be AWAKE: for God, for God’s purpose for our lives, for God’s purpose for creation.

To be AWAKE we have to (be):

A – Aware / W – Wonder / A – Act / K – Know / E – Engage

We have to be aware of who we are and whose we are.  In that awareness, God gives us space to wonder about things we do not have answers for or understand…like why there is evil and why bad things happen.  Once we are aware and have had the opportunity to wonder with God, we arrive at the critical point to act – that point of making a move towards God and saying “Yes! I want to be part of what you are doing!!”  As we act we continue to learn and we come to know that following God isn’t always easy, but it is so worth it.  This knowing leads us to engage – engage our journeys with God, engage with our churches at home, engage with our friends at camp outside of camp, engage what we have experienced so we won’t forget it.

Aware – Wonder – Act – Know – Engage

When these combine, we are AWAKE!

I learned so much from the campers during my time at camp.  They reminded me of what it means to have faith like a child – to have a simple faith.  That doesn’t mean it is an ignorant or uninformed faith.  It is just simple, uncomplicated, beautiful relationship.  Yes, I can ask questions.  Yes, I can doubt.  Yes, I can yell and scream if needed.  God has created space for all of that.  God creates space for me to be me in my faith.

That’s what I learned on my mission week in Summer 2012.  God’s message prepared especially for me in those 63 rising 4th and 5th graders was a much needed awakening.

Reflection: Did you have an opportunity to serve God’s people in some way this summer?  How did that time of service make you feel?  How were you changed? How did you grow?  How did God use you?  Share your story with someone this week.

And if you’re struggling to come up with an answer because you didn’t have the opportunity to “go” on a mission trip, I encourage you to spend some time in quiet reflection asking God to reveal to you how in fact God did use you to serve this summer.  You might be surprised by what God lifts up.