In every season of our lives, we will face a challenge. I remember at Tomoka Elementary School, in Ormond Beach, the dreaded fitness week was one of those challenges. While always a healthy kid, I never could do a pull up, or run the fastest mile or do very many push-ups. Whether it was intentional or not, we always ended up comparing ourselves to one another and feeling insecure. The only station I was at all good at was flexibility, because as a dancer that came naturally for me. But whenever it came around to the “opportunity” to run the mile, I broke out in a cold sweat.
As I grew older, it wasn’t Elementary School Fitness Week that scared me anymore, but the Middle School cafeteria and finding a spot at the table with my friends before they all filled up. Middle School in and of itself was a challenge and I clung to my church youth group, my few best friends and a healthy family structure to get me through. But if given a time-machine that would take me back to these three years, I think I would pass up the chance. High School was a confident time for me mostly because of my Musical Theater family and the Arts community, but I still grew fearful around audition season or when it was time to take my AP tests. While I have had a wonderful childhood and young adulthood, I know that the times I grew most were in the midst of a challenge. It is the time I can look back and remember the pruning that took place when things didn’t go my way. But that is very Biblical, is it not?
Over the last year, I have been trying to take better care of my body and treat it as the Temple of God that it is. I try to get 7 hours of sleep, I eat healthy (most of the time) and I drink a lot of water. I have an ever-changing exercise routine that spans from weight-training, to yoga; from jogging to dance. I love to move and to keep my muscles engaged. One recent workout found me nodding along to the coach’s words that advised us several times towards the end, to find the joy in the challenge and to smile through the pain. While she didn’t realize how Biblical this true reality is, it reminded me of the words of James, the brother of Jesus’.
“2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
While the vast majority of us don’t jump at the chance to go through trials and storms in our lives, we can still appreciate the growth that comes from the pain. If we work towards our own self-awareness, and as we mature, we begin to see where God was with us, growing us, shaping us and pruning us even while in the midst of what seemed like an insurmountable challenge. It doesn’t help when you see a cute little bumper sticker or read a Hallmark card that says something like, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” Yuck, yeah right! These phrases always convince me that people don’t actually read Scripture, only the parts that paint a cheerful picture. God absolutely allows us more than we can handle. Speaking only for myself here, God knows that I am person that struggles with pride and if I can’t do it on my own, or a fail miserably (and sometimes I do), I would get over myself, sooner or later, and turn to God for wisdom and help. But…somewhere along the lines of cultural Christianity, we let ourselves believe that lie that once we accepted God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, life would do a 180 degree turn around. Now while that theology helps sell the Prosperity Gospel for some well-known televangelists, it doesn’t resemble the Gospel truth in the least bit.
We will all face challenges whether we follow Jesus or not, but when we follow Jesus we can face these challenges with JOY. In my workout the other day I was told to find the joy in the challenge and to smile through the pain. What might this look like for you in this season? What challenge or sets of challenges are you facing? Is it in your career, parenting, theology, life’s calling, in your marriage, in your friendships or in your faith? Have you acknowledged them, have you thanked God for those challenges and have you sought out someone to face it with you? Joy is always easier in community because the challenge feels more surmountable when someone walking it with you. The other important part of joy is that rubs off on those we do life with. And I don’t have to tell you that the world needs much, much more of it.
I pray that you and I both can find the joy in the challenge and to smile through the pain. Not in an artificial, inauthentic kind of way, but in the confidence of knowing WHO walks with us through it and what we will learn along the way.
After 19 years of service, our Director of Music Ministries, Michael Roberts, is retiring in January 2021. We are so grateful for his many years of service and the example he has been for our church family. Watch the official announcement from Pastor David during last Sunday’s traditional service here. In the coming months we plan to celebrate him. Please be on the lookout for more information as it is available.
“Surely the Presence of the Lord is in This Place…” words to a beautiful hymn written by Lanny Wolfe.*
Have those words spoken to your heart at certain times, in particular places or situations?
They often speak to mine…
In Early Risers, a Women’s Bible study at our church, we are currently studying the book of Galatians. Clair Fournier leads us in a rich exploration and discussion of important ideas and concepts. Recent discussions have focused on “law” and “faith”. Through sharing, we are reminded of our personal difficulties in obeying God’s Laws – those outlines in the Ten Commandments as well as others – but reminded of God’s faithfulness, nonetheless, in keeping His promise of never abandoning us. We are further reminded that we are ONE family that God does not see race or color. “Surely, the Presence of the Lord is in This Place…”
A few evenings ago, I participated in a discussion, sponsored by our church, on the film, “13th” based upon the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The film deals with the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration. The discussion was led by Barbara Thompson, UCF Associate Director of Diversity & Inclusion, and Tonya Tolson, FUMCWP Diversity Chair. Attended by both members of our church and community, the evening was rich and rewarding as we shared and discussed observations and experiences related to the perpetuation of institutionalized racism within our society and how we might personally address and challenge current systems. Black and White all having an equal place at the table – listening with civil conversations – we were one in wanting to affect the systems of equality for all. “Surely, the Presence of the Lord is in This Place… I can feel His mighty Power and His Grace…” My heart was warmed and encouraged, my spirit was lifted.
The recent sermon series “Organic: Fruit of the Spirit” and the participation by member sharing personal thoughts and reflections present many challenges to walk with God by living more fully in Fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Kindness, Patience, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness & Self Control. “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in This Place…”
Would that I seek and continue to find opportunities for my heart to rejoice and sing these words and that they spur me to action to do my part to effect “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven“.
*United Methodist Hymnail, p. 328
Are you interested in becoming a member?
I was woken up this morning at 2am to the sound of tearful cries. This time it was our oldest, Emmaline who is going to be five years old in two months (not sure when that happened)! I ran in to see what was the matter and she was in pain; she was growing again and her little legs were cramping. I rubbed them, wiped her tear-stained face and gave her Tylenol and water. After a kiss and a tuck back in, she fell back asleep. Sometimes growing really does hurt us, both on the outside and on the inside. But as I carried my tired self back to bed, I was immediately reminded about how some pain isn’t as easily fixed as hers was with Tylenol. No, some of our brokenness isn’t so easily healed and some of our wounds are too deep to address right away. As a pastor, I feel the weight of our congregation and world and it feels so heavy at times. There are days I wish we had a spiritual remedy like a “Trinitarian Tylenol” or a “Godly Gripe Water” or a “Holy Hydrogen Peroxide.” (Do you see what I did there)?
There is this story where Jesus chooses to heal a disabled man on the Sabbath in the 5th chapter of the Gospel of John. The Message version tells the story this way:
5 1-6 “Soon another Feast came around and Jesus was back in Jerusalem. Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there was a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, with five alcoves. Hundreds of sick people—blind, crippled, paralyzed—were in these alcoves. One man had been an invalid there for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him stretched out by the pool and knew how long he had been there, he said, “Do you want to get well?”
7 The sick man said, “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.”
8-9 Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off.
9-10 That day happened to be the Sabbath. The Jews stopped the healed man and said, “It’s the Sabbath. You can’t carry your bedroll around. It’s against the rules.”
11 But he told them, “The man who made me well told me to. He said, ‘Take your bedroll and start walking.’”
12-13 They asked, “Who gave you the order to take it up and start walking?” But the healed man didn’t know, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd.”
Aside from the fact that Jesus, the Christ, healed on the Sabbath which was a big No-No, the question is, why him? Sure, he had his disability for 38 years, but there were hundreds of other sick people at Bethesda that day, and it was a big pool of vulnerable people. I know because I have seen it when we visited there in February on our Ordination Trip to the Holy Land. There were many places for sick people to wait for the opportune time for the water to stir up and bless them with a healing. But for some reason, for over 38 years, this man never had anyone near him to toss him into the pool. Why is this? Was he a cranky man and he had no friends? Did he have some sort of skin disease that made him untouchable according to the purity laws? Did he have poor time management and never got to the pool on time? Who knows, but Jesus decided that today was his day.
One reason why I LOVE this story is because of the seemingly obvious question Jesus asks the man. “Do you want to be made well?” I stifle a laugh when I read this, because it seems so obvious. Of course, Jesus, he wants to be made well…what kind of question is this? But when Jesus asks a question in the Gospels, there is ALWAYS something deeper at play here. To me, what is at play is the list of small excuses that we use with our Big God. When we essentially say to the Creator of the Universe that I am miserable where I am at, but I am also not willing to move towards wholeness. For whatever reason, we struggle to ask for help. Not when we are children of course; we can’t help but ask our parents for assistance every 14 minutes it seems. But when we grow up and become independent, we stop asking for help from the people that love us most. Maybe it is our pride, maybe it is our fear, maybe it is our own laziness, but whatever it is, it keeps us from really moving toward healing and wholeness.
As I begin my fifth month at First United Methodist Church of Winter Park, I want you to know what a stellar team of caring laity and staff we have here! I have been blown away by the team of 16 Care Ministers that call, pray with and support many individuals in our church on a weekly basis. Our Congregational Care Team consists of lay and staff that meet weekly to pray for our congregation and to reach out to those that have physical, spiritual and emotional needs. In addition to this incredible group, I am privileged to be a part of the new Stephen Ministry Team that hopes to relaunch a ministry that will walk with people one-on-one in a confidential way as they navigate through grieve, divorce, tragedy and many other debilitating circumstances. While the ministry is still in its infancy, I can already see God’s hand at work as we prepare, plan and pray over how Stephen Ministry will continue to build up the Kingdom of God.
I don’t know where you are today, what your needs might be and what growing pains are hurting you the most. But I do know that today is your day, and maybe you have been waiting by the pool, hoping for a miracle for far too long. Maybe you have made excuses about why you shouldn’t reach out, or ask for help, or share your burdens. I know, it is tempting to turn inward, especially when there is already so much going on around us. But Jesus is asking each of us today, “Beloved, do you want to be made well?” And if that answer is yes, I hope you will reach out and pick up the phone and call the church. Or you can go to our website: fumcwp.org/care
And submit a prayer request, request a pastoral call, ask for a Care Minister, or sign up to learn more about Stephens Ministries. Whatever you do, don’t spend 38 years or even 38 days waiting any longer. We are the church, we are a family and we love to be together through the growing pains of the faith. Let us wipe your tear-stained face, remind you that you are loved and help you move toward healing and wholeness through the power and grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Let it be so.