First United Methodist Church

Service Times

9am Contemporary | 11am Traditional

Devotion from Pastor Rachel (July 30)

I grew up in Musical Theater. I loved singing, performing, dancing, but of course, the makeup and the costumes…oh the costumes, those were my favorite. I had the chance to do professional theater, community theater, and both high school and college theater as well. I loved the stories that were told, the characters I could become, and am, still to this day a sucker for an exuberant dance number. Ryan and I have already noticed this love of performance in both of our children, but most especially our 4 ½-year-old, Emmaline.

But one thing I disliked most was between the scenes when the stage lights were down and pieces of the set had to be rolled on or carried off and then the giant heavy backdrops were moved into place. This happened all under the cover of darkness, all while the orchestra played, and all as quiet and as invisible as we could be, as we changed the set for the next scene, for the next part of the story. This is most easily accomplished with glow in the dark tape that marked the spot of each piece of the set. Sometimes we would use flashlights and more than one time there were accidents and rolled over toes, especially in High School Theater. But, as they say, the show must go on and the pieces got moved into place in the dark and then we, the performers would move back to the wings and wait for the big reveal.

As much as God is a God of the light, God is very accustomed, even comfortable I would say with working in the dark. Think about the big moments of the Biblical narrative for a moment. Jacob wrestles with the angel all night long. The Exodus narrative and the freeing of the Israelites happened at night, Baby Jesus was born and the angels lite up the night sky, and many other examples remind us how good God is working and redeeming and putting the pieces into place IN THE DARK.

I know I just got here, and I will be learning the history of this church for a while; but if it is like every other church I have served or worked out over the last 20 years, there have been and will be some dark moments at this church, especially as we transition together. Maybe caused by this pandemic, or a change in leadership and vision, a struggle of finances or the pride of a few individuals. As followers of Jesus, living out our faith journey connected to the Church, there are moments of darkness and a lack of clarity. And when we don’t always see what God is doing in the dark, we might be tempted to lose hope if we can’t see it or understand it. Maybe we even grow weary and worn out as we wait, as we fumble around in the dark of our current situation.

And so Scriptures like this one from 1 Corinthians 13 bring me hope and remind me that especially in the hard moments of life and ministry there is more going on behind the scenes. The God of light sometimes does the best work in the dark and we get to participate in the big reveal as members of the Kingdom of God.

“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. “For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 NRSV



Hope is a Song in a Weary Throat | Devotion from Dr. Jon (July 29)

Devotion from Tonya Tolson, Diversity Committee Chair (July 28)

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” 2 Corinthians, 3: 17

When I was twenty years old and a junior in college, I won a study-abroad scholarship to learn Mandarin Chinese at the Taiwan Normal University in Taipei.

It was a brave endeavor, because I knew not a stich of Mandarin.  One of the gifts of youth is one’s audacity for risk and adventures.

The journey took 27 hours, flying on a 747 jumbo-jet from Philadelphia to Chicago, Los Angeles, and stopping in Okinawa Japan for a layover, before heading south to Taiwan.

While sitting in the Okinawa airport, a tall Japanese man walked by with an elder, who I assumed was his father.  He stopped suddenly, and asked me in English, “Where are you going?”  Cautious, I said to Taipei to study Mandarin. “By yourself?!” I could see the man and now the elder were genuinely concern for my welfare.  “Ok. Please be careful,” he warned.

After these men left, I thought about their worried expressions and questions, with some dread of what I had gotten myself into to. I looked around, and realized I was sitting isolated in a dark part of the airport.  I gathered up my belongings and headed towards the light, and to my relief, discovered a full airline wing of fellow travelers.

When I arrived in Taipei airport, the panic set in.  A fellow student, who studied in Taiwan the previously year, had arranged for his male friend to pick me up at the airport.  My gut screamed and told me that I couldn’t go with him, so instead I joined a group of young white women students from Georgetown University, who invited me to bunk with them overnight at a hostel.

Miraculously, the next morning I found the university, registered for class, and connected with a Taiwanese family, who wanted to take in an exchange student.  Before I settled in, I had this deep earning to visit a religious place, so asked the family where the nearest Buddhist shrine was located.  (Bias Alert: I assumed there were no Christians churches in Taiwan.  Later, I discovered there were plenty.)

The Buddhist temple was jammed packed with pilgrims. The monks, dressed in vibrant shades of reds, prayed and conducted rituals steeped in incense.  Rather lost and confused, I followed the crowd, which led me to a trail of smaller and private shrines, where people also prayed.

I kept walking, which lead me to an empty concrete room, where people in meditation walked around in circles.  Suddenly, a young man, who was standing by the wall, came up to me and asked me in English if I wanted to meet the Dalai Lama.  Skeptical, I asked, the Dalai Lama, here? Okay, I said.  I would like to meet him.

The young man opened a door and slipped behind it.  Before I could understand what was happening, out comes an elder Chinese man, who was clearly not the Dalai Lama, but a man who looked very much like Gandhi.  Bald, very thin and brown, like the Mahatma Gandhi, this lama was wrapped loosely in a white cloth.

The energy of this man’s presence hit me like a sledgehammer.  All I could do was to back up slow as he gingerly walked to the center of the room and sat cross-legged on the floor.  He said nothing, only looked through me with love.  I fell l to my knees, curled up in his lap, and cried like a baby.

Perhaps, it was the journey, or perhaps it was all the suffering I had been carrying.  But whatever it was, that comfort from this stranger was beyond comparison.  Whoever this holy man was, he seemed to step aside to allow Christ Jesus to hold me and set my burdens free.  I was definitely not expecting that!

How long I cried I am unable to recall.  But, when I could weep no more, I stood up and bowed to the Light in him with deep gratitude for his unconditional love and acceptance.

After receiving such immense kindness and compassion from so many, the man in Okinawa, the young women from Georgetown U., and the holy man at the Buddhist temple, I could journey on, trusting that I could recognize Christ in the hearts and generosity of strangers, no matter their cultural identity.  And they, in turn, could recognize the spiritual Goodness in me.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

Tonya Tolson, Diversity Committee Chair

Family Activities – Week of July 27

Thursday, July 30

Wednesday, July 29

Tune in each Wednesday night at 6pm, as we take a trip back in time to past VBS through the years. Join us for songs, skits, experiments, and more! We will feature a new VBS theme each week.

This week we are going to set sail with, Shipwrecked VBS. “Rescued by Jesus!” Tune in tonight @ 6 for Wednesday Night Worship. Download the bible overview and Shipwrecked jello craft.

Tuesday, July 28

Monday, July 27

It’s Movie Monday! Join us on Rightnow Media to watch the following selection.

Parable Playhouse : The Prodigal Pizza Boy

This week we will learn about the Parable The Prodigal Son.  A parable is a story and prodigal means lost. Tune into these stories and see if you can answer the questions after. 

Devotion from Pastor Craig (July 27)

At the moment I am working through a book that details the allied leader’s strategy throughout WWII. Andrew Robert’s Masters and Commanders focuses on the relationship between President Roosevelt, General Marshal, Prime Minister Churchill, and General Brooke. Of course, I expected there to be natural moments of friction, stress and strong personalities tend to do that. It also helps to know how the story ends. That said, the sheer number of times that seemingly preposterously insignificant events, and bruised egos, almost caused crucial strategies to crumble and all-important trust to evaporate was staggering. The delicate balance of addressing expectations of British people with the fight on their doorstep, the occasionally fickle American electorate, the politicians brushing with their military representatives, and squabbles between different branches, even from within the same countries, made the work more like balancing a baseball bat upright on the palm of your hand than consistently ‘allied’ response. 

Whenever the times were most tense, Roberts always brings the focus back to the fact that both British and American leadership knew that defeating Hitler was impossible without working together. That was the guiding mission. The waypoint of a far off mountain. There were disagreements on the where, when, and how, but never that defeating Hitler and the rest of the Axis powers was the goal. The future of the world as it was known was at stake.

It strikes me, that as a church, as a denomination, as followers of Jesus in the United States of America that far too often we get distracted by the where, when, and how. We loose sight of the fact that God has called us as the church to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. One of the benefits of joining a particular ‘tribe’ of Jesus followers is that the unique particularity of that tribe provides a direction or structure. It offers a framework of the where, when, and how of following Jesus. As the Wesleyan/Methodist tribe we have basically forgotten why we are a unique team at all. Addressing this has been part of my goal in working through John Wesley’s standard sermons, and I hope they have been of some value to this end. 

In fact, Wesley specifically names the chief reason he believes God has raised up the people called Methodists. From one of Wesley’s letters (emphasis mine):

“I am glad brother D — has more light with regard to full sanctification. This doctrine is the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists; and for the sake of propagating this chiefly, He appeared to have raised us up.

Where Christian perfection is not strongly and explicitly preached, there is seldom any remarkable blessing from God; and, consequently, little addition to the society, and little life in the members of it. Therefore, if Jacob Rowell is grown faint, and says but little about it, do you supply his lack of service. Speak and spare not. Let not regard for any man induce you to betray the truth of God. Till you press the believers to expect full salvation now, you must not look for any revival.”

The great and unique deposit that Wesley sees God having made within the spiritual ‘bank’ of the Methodists is full sanctification or Christian perfection. This is our guiding waypoint. If sin is Hitler (and I mean…) then entire sanctification as our Operation Overlord. We will continue to unpack what, “going onto perfection,” means and how it ought to impact our faith and lives. Today, I just want to underscore the uniqueness of this call in the world of Christendom and its basic meaning. My Methodist history professor in seminary, offers what I believe to be the best distillation of the primary implication of this belief. Methodists should have the most audacious optimism of the work God can do to transform people’s lives. Wesley takes the call of Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” as seriously as it is written. If God has commanded it, then there must be a way to fulfill that command. God is calling you, is calling me, beyond what we even think possible. 

You are loved, and catch you next week. 

P.S. Here is C.S. Lewis’ contribution on Matthew 5:48 from Mere Christianity:

“The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey the command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him–for we can prevent Him, if we choose–He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.”

Church Update from Pastor David

Devotion from Pastor Rachel (July 23)

Music is a big deal in my world. I grew up in the musical theater community, I studied voice and piano as a youth, and I sang in the church Praise Band and children’s choir. I was a music education major with a vocal emphasis at Florida Southern College. And now, we have passed on the love of music to our children and so even though they are a little pitchy, they too fill my heart with joy when they sing.

But it is more than that. I feel so deeply connected to God with music. There isn’t one particular type or genre that I like or dislike, I’ve just always seen it as a love language where people of faith can communicate back to God. That is probably why there is so much about music and worship through Scripture. It isn’t just about the Book of Psalms, but throughout the story of God and God’s people singing and instruments were used to connect, communicate, and express. That is why it is a part of our Sunday morning worship too; it is our attempt through the lyrics of praise songs or hymns to come a little bit closer to the heart of God.

Now when I say that we are a musical family, I hope you don’t picture the Von Trapp Family Singers, we are far from there, but we do love to play music and sing together. We’ve even turned our office space in the new Parsonage into a bit of a music room with our grandmother’s upright piano and Ryan’s acoustic guitars. In the busyness of moving and getting used to my new role, I had forgotten how much music connects us with the Divine. Just yesterday, I had been looking for God all day long hoping to see God’s face and feel that presence but it seemed like I hadn’t quite found it and the day was almost at an end. We were home and it had been a long few days, but it was that rare hour before the rush of dinnertime, bath time, and bedtime that so many young parents, like me, know so well. I’m folding laundry and Ryan’s working in the office and out of nowhere, our kids who had just gotten home declared, “Daddy get your guitar and let’s start singing!” So picture this with me if you would. Ryan is playing his beloved Gibson J-200, Emmaline (our four-year-old) is playing “chords” on the piano and Charlie is pounding a djembe drum with all of his two-year-old might.

At first, I stayed on the couch folding laundry knowing that there was stuff still to do but then I came to my senses and realized where I really needed to be was in that space with my family making music and seeing the joy on their faces. One song that we have come to love and sing together is called “My Lighthouse.” It is by the Irish Christian Band, Rend Collective and we sang it at the Dinner Church on Sunday evenings that my family and I helped launch in South Florida. The lyrics go like this:

“In my wrestling and in my doubts,
In my failures you won’t walk out,
Your Great Love will lead me through,
You are the peace in my troubled.

My Lighthouse, my Lighthouse
Shining in the darkness, I will follow you.
My Lighthouse, my Lighthouse
I will trust the promise, you will carry me
Safe to Shore.”

My kids know that song by heart since we sang it a lot at Dinner Church and although they have never been to a lighthouse or on a stormy sea, they know what it feels to be safe and to be carried. They know what it feels like to be loved and to be afraid of the dark. I don’t know where you are today; whether you feel safe at shore or tossed about on a stormy sea. I don’t know if you are afraid of this darkness or resting contently in God’s Love, but I do know that the Light of Christ will never lead us astray. I pray that however you worship, however you experience the presence of God, however you walk in that light of Christ you won’t let the mundane tasks like laundry or the frustrating monotony of our current situation get in the way. I pray that you will embrace every single opportunity to use music and song and the voices of little ones to bring you closer to your lighthouse, to the one who will always carry us safely to shore.

Everyone Else Is Already Taken – Dr. Jon Tschanz (July 22)

Devotion from Laura Blackmore (July 21)

Devotion from Pastor Craig (July 20)

Show Notes:

  • Here is a picture of the mural of John Lewis in Atlanta, as well as the video of CT Vivian being assaulted in Selma.
  • “It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians—I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians—go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but averting their eyes and passing by on the other side… alas, they are many—whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the submiddle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.” J.I. Packer. The longer quote in context.
  • My favorite three biographies of the last couple of years:
    • Churchill: Walking with Destiny – by Andrew Roberts – WSJ and NY Times Best and Notable books of 2018 respectively. A captivating look at one of the most enigmatic figures in the 20th century.
    • Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom – by David W. Blight – Hey if you don’t take my word for it, it was on President Obama’s top books of 2019 and won a Pulitzer Prize. A great book on an all-time great American.
    • Walt Disney – by Neal Gabler: It is a long one, but should be required reading for Orlandonians(?), partiality the last third of the book which covers Disney’s captivating vision for theme parks. Great insight into how it was the Disney tapped into something so deeply resonant with so many people.