First United Methodist Church

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Devotion: Psalm 23

Psalm 23: So much more than something you stitch on a Pillow

Psalm 23, a passage that has deeply resonated with believers throughout history, offers comfort and assurance. For a long time, I ignored the words of this psalm as overplayed and something you would “stitch on a pillow”. However, it’s so much more than that. As we explore its profound words, we encounter a personal image of God as our Shepherd, guiding and protecting each of us individually. There are a few areas of this passage that I feel we should take a closer look at.

“ The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
      he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.”     (Psalm 23:1-3 NRSVUE).

The Hebrew word for “paths” in Psalm 23:3 is ma’aglei, The full phrase is ma’aglei tzedek, which translates to “paths of righteousness.” These paths are understood as well-worn, circular tracks, symbolizing the guidance and direction provided by God. Another English word would be a “rut” carved into roads by carts over time. These ruts were well-defined and ensured that travelers would stay on course. Similarly, our Shepherd places us in His divine ruts, guiding us along and keeping us from going to the left or the right. Just as the sheep follow the ruts laid out by the shepherd, we, too, can trust that God is leading us in the right direction. Even when we can’t see the way forward clearly, we can be confident that God’s guidance is sure and steadfast.

” Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.”   (Psalm 23:4 NRSVUE).

Life inevitably brings moments of darkness and despair, times when we feel like we are walking through the deepest valleys. The “valley of the shadow of death” symbolizes these periods of intense fear and uncertainty. Yet, the psalmist reminds us that we do not walk these paths alone. Our Shepherd is with us, God’s presence providing profound comfort and courage. God’s rod and staff are symbols of God’s unwavering protection and guidance, reassuring us that we are never abandoned, even in our darkest days.

God’s unwavering presence in our lives brings peace and security. When we face trials, we can take heart in knowing that God is with us, leading us through every challenge. God’s love and care are constant, providing us with the strength to keep moving forward.

” Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.”    (Psalm 23:6 NRSVUE).

The promise of God’s goodness and mercy following us all our days is a testament to God’s enduring faithfulness. As we navigate the journey of life, we are enveloped by God’s grace, ensuring that we are never without God’s loving and steadfast presence.

Psalm 23 powerfully reminds us of God’s commitment to us. God is our Shepherd, guiding us along the right paths and staying with us through every valley. Let us hold fast to this truth, finding comfort and encouragement in God’s unfailing love and guidance.

Devotion: Psalm 139

Like many young moms, I have been flooded this week with special experiences that fill me up and help me feel loved. My own mom and I have made plans for a Mother’s Day celebration, my kids are bringing home sweet trinkets and cards to celebrate me and I have booked myself a massage…glory, Hallelujah! This morning, I attended the Mother’s Day Tea at Trinity Christian Academy and got emotional thinking that our youngest is now old enough to “sing” on the stage. With the help of her amazing teachers, I was given a porcelain plate with her little pink handprint on it in the shape of a flower and I will treasure it always. I am so thankful for the way that our culture takes this week to elevate and honor moms as we should.  But if you are a mom, or you carry the role of a mom, you know what a mix of emotions this week can bring for us.

I am all for celebrating the work of mothers because we are often underappreciated and always underpaid, but sometimes we let it just be about the holiday and not about the holiness that is being birthed within us.

Without getting into too many details, I loved being pregnant. I loved the feeling of our babies growing steadily in my body and the power and privilege that it is to create, sustain and nourish something so precious and delicate. I love that I have had the ability to do this and never want to take that good gift for granted. I have always been drawn to creation language in the Scriptures and so it might not surprise you to hear that our devotional text is Psalm 139. I invite you to hear these words with new meaning from The Message version.

139 1-6 God, investigate my life;
get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in!

7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.

17-22 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I’ll never comprehend them!
I couldn’t even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!
And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!
And you murderers—out of here!—
all the men and women who belittle you, God,
infatuated with cheap god-imitations.
See how I hate those who hate you, God,
see how I loathe all this godless arrogance;
I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred.
Your enemies are my enemies!

23-24 Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life.

Without getting too much into “sermon” mode, I will tell you that there are two distinct parts of this Psalm. Verses 1-18 are about Praise and the second part, verses 19-24 consists of concern over the wickedness and dangers of the world. But isn’t that so much like a Mom? Full of joy and concern; always engaged in thankfulness for the life she leads but worries about those in her life that she loves most. But both parts are held together with the statement, “Lord, you have search me and known me. Search me oh God, you know my heart.”

I am convinced the only other person that knows our hearts quite like God is our mother at least, that has been the case for me. We are thankful therefore for the mothers or those that mother in our lives. And so as you mediate on this Scripture today, may you be filled with the reality of Joy and Concern. Joy over all the good that the Kingdom of God is bringing to fruition and yet the concern over the ‘not yet’ and how things are still very broken indeed. As you let the Holy Spirit sing this over you, may you hold both in tension, the worries of life and the thankfulness for it. And know that the same God that knit you together in your mother’s womb knows you deeply and loves you intimately. What a gift it is that we are an Open Book to God, but the book is still being written; our story is still being told. May we continue to pursue the God that loves us even more than we will ever know and show others to do the same.

Devotion: Psalm 121

This past weekend was one of those times when I really had to rely on God’s strength. For the first time ever, Ryan left for four days out of state and I had all three children by myself. I love my children and we have so much fun together, but because of their ages, my responsibilities over the weekend, Emmaline’s first sleepover and one of our three being sick, I had some anxiety around what those 4 days would bring. You see, my sweet husband is my Teammate and we are partners in all things so having him gone was tough. Ryan shares the load in so many ways at home with the cooking, cleaning and kids, so I was worried about being loving, patient and present without him there.

But here is where I saw God in the midst of it. When I named my fear about my doing this alone and gave myself grace, I ended up feeling loved and blessed by my kids in ways I didn’t expect. For instance, I could feel God in the hugs from my son, or in the help I observed from my oldest or in the laughter of the baby. I felt strengthened when I got a text from a friend that was checking on me or a call from my parents to see if I needed anything. It doesn’t matter how many times it happens, I still need reminding; when I am weak, God is strong. When I let go and let God, I am amazed that I am not alone. When I am honest about my shortcomings and fears, my children meet me with confidence and grace. And I don’t know why it hasn’t sunk in yet, but I keep needing a refresher course on this.

I choose this Psalm for us to pray over this week because I found agreement in these words. The Psalmist starts right off by debunking a common lie. In those days, when these words were first penned, sacrifices and priests and fertility gods happened at the tops of mountains, so a believer in these pagan practices were told just to fix their eyes to the highest place to be strengthened. And as we look at our culture today, the “pagan” practices of our day tell us the lie that we need other’s approval to be content, that we have to have our act together to be loved, that we are judged based on our appearance, wealth, education or orientation…but all of those pressures are lies and those lies run counter to the truth of the Gospel.

As you read this Psalm, my hope for each of us is that we can not only profess with our lips but know deep in our bellies that our strength comes from God. And that God won’t let us stumble. Not only that, but that nothing is too small, silly or trivial for God to pay attention to. At first I thought it was silly to be so worried about solo-parenting this weekend and how I should just stop whining and just be thankful that I have children to care for. But God cares about each of our fears, doubts and insecurities because our God never lets us walk alone. I hope this Psalm will encourage you this week and I invite you to share one place in your lives where you are afraid and where you need strength.

121 1-2 I look up to the mountains;
does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

3-4 He won’t let you stumble,
your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s
Guardian will never doze or sleep.

5-6 God’s your Guardian,
right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke,
sheltering you from moon stroke.

7-8 God guards you from every evil,
he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return,
he guards you now, he guards you always.

Psalm 121 The Message

Psalm 69 – Seeking Salvation in the Depths

In the coming weeks, Pastor Rachel and I will share some of the most helpful and inspiring Psalms in our weekly devotional. Today, I want to share one that has impacted me the most. At first glance, it may seem like an unusual choice, but its theme of chaotic waters that run throughout the entire Bible is what draws me to it. Psalm 69 is straightforward and poignant, with a message that resonates deeply with me: “Help me! I’m about to drown.” Perhaps you haven’t physically been there, but we have all experienced similar emotions and can empathize. Please take a moment to read Psalm 69 and continue reading the rest of this devotional.

Psalm 69 beautifully captures the cry of a soul that is overwhelmed by trials, sinking in deep waters without any support. This theme resonates deeply with anyone who has experienced the engulfing floods of despair or persecution.

The Psalmist starts by expressing their dire situation: waters have risen to their necks, and miry depths threaten to pull them under. They find no resting place for their feet. These waters symbolize the overwhelming difficulties and the sensation of being lost in the trials of life without relief. The floods engulfing them depict the relentless waves of hardships that sometimes seem to define our existence.

Water is used in two different ways in the Bible. When it is used as fresh water, we see that it gives life and restores life. However, the opposite is true when salt water or ocean water is used. We see the flood waters overtaking us and get lost in the waves. This concept can be traced back to creation, through the flood, past the Red Sea event, and through many of the Psalms.

In their moment of despair, the Psalmist turns to the only source of hope they know—God. They plead with urgency, “Save me, O God,” asking for divine intervention when human efforts fail. The psalmist is exhausted from calling for help, both physically and emotionally. However, their faith leads them to the throne of grace, expecting God’s love and salvation to answer, even in their weariness.

The Psalmist’s language transforms from despair to a declaration of praise and trust in God’s unfailing love. They vow to praise God’s name in song and glorify God with thanksgiving, which pleases the Lord more than any sacrifice. This shift from petition to praise is crucial—it is an act of faith, recognizing that even when the waters rise, God’s purposes for us are rooted in God’s love and justice.

The closing verses of the psalm not only assure the individual sufferer but also the community. The poor will see and be glad, Zion will be saved, and its cities rebuilt. Those who love God’s name will dwell there, a promise that extends the hope of restoration and peace to all who trust God’s salvation. This promise of restoration and peace is a beacon of hope in our darkest times, reminding us that God’s salvation is sure, and God’s love is unfailing.

As we reflect upon Psalm 69, let us remember that even in our deepest despair, we are not forsaken. God listens to the cries of the needy and does not despise those who are captive. We can trust that God’s salvation is sure and that this assurance will guide us through our darkest moments. We can cling to the hope that the same God who raised the Psalmist from the depths is the same God who offers us a saving hand today. We see this theme continue into the New Testament as well. Jesus walked on the chaotic waters and calmed the sea, and in the last pages of the Bible, the book of Revelation reveals that two things will be missing in the New Heaven and the New Earth: darkness and chaotic waters. Someday, we will no longer drown in the deep.

Devotion: Growing Trust in a Loving God

Well, it seems that we have reached our midway point during this Lenten journey together and we are halfway on our journey to the cross. I thought I would start today’s devotion by reminding you that it is not too late to engage your faith in a deeper way, even though we are halfway through these forty days. There is still time to participate in one of the Bible Studies at 10am on Sunday mornings or join me for our Thursday afternoon strolls around Blue Jacket Park from 2-3pm. We have had people join in every week and we have learned to walk with wonder and have some faithful conversations with one another.

One of the conversations we shared last week circled around trust. One of the questions we asked each other, from Jim Harnish’s devotional book, Easter Earthquake, went like this.

When have you doubted God’s promise in your life or for the world?

I openly admitted that as a Pastor, I do sometimes doubt. Not often the plans for my life, but the plans for the world because I look around and it seems like quite often, the world is a hot mess. I know I am not alone in this feeling because I think we all struggle with trust and doubt. We look at the way things are unfolding around us with hungry children, countries in armed conflict, divisive and unethical political leaders, anger and poverty and addiction and on and on it goes and we are left wondering if we can really trust whole heartedly. I will admit that I have had seasons when I have told God how I think life should be, how, if I was “running the show” I would plan to make a few improvements. But then I struggle to give my husband and three children the same level of love, attention and investment on a daily basis and quickly realize that I could never handle all that God is handling. So maybe I should be me and let God be God.

Instead, I am trying to work towards being a person that you can trust. If I represent God with my words and actions and I want others to trust God, then I must work at being a trustworthy representative.

Maybe you and I struggle to trust God because we are afraid, maybe we struggle to trust because we are relearning how to love God and be the church or maybe we are struggling to trust because ultimately, we are uncomfortable when things are out of our control. Whatever the reasons, I want you to know that in this season of Lent, I am learning to trust God in personal and communal ways too and I don’t have it all figured out. Instead, I am learning to lean on God when my to do list is long and the hours are short, learning to trust God with our family’s finances and future plans, and I am still figuring out how to fall into the arms of a good God in areas like my health and my calling. I am not completely there yet, but I am on the journey with you.

A song I have been listening to recently that reminds me of my growing trust in a loving God is called “Goodness of God” which has been sung by several Christian artists. The one below is CeCe Winans and I hope her voice and this song blesses you and the lyrics move you as you listen to it during your devotional time this week. AMEN

Devotion: Creation Heals

I’d like to introduce you to Lanecia Tinsley. This is our last devotional as part of our series featuring Black Theologians. She is a theologian but also an artist. Her story is beautiful and powerful. The video is a little longer than we usually share (14 min), but this video is worth your time. Allow it to speak to you and wash over you. 

More About Lanecia:

Lanecia Rouse Tinsley is a creative based in Houston, TX & her work includes photography, painting, mixed media, teaching, writing & speaking. Lanecia has a Bachelor of Arts, Sociology from Wofford College and a Master of Divinity from Duke University Divinity School. Studio D at Hardy & Nance Streets Studios is where her creativity often blooms. Most days you will find her there sipping on a cup of coffee with music playing as she creates work that reflects what life has revealed to her about healing, freedom, and beauty found in everyday experiences. Acrylics, pastels, charcoal, paper, and encaustic wax are my mediums of choice. Life has taught her that we all have creative potential and the need to encounter beauty. As an artist, she believes her call is to create opportunities for people to encounter beauty through the work of her hands & the spaces she cultivates for them to tap into their creativity. It is an absolute delight for her to create art that draws people into spaces of vulnerability, hope, complexity, and freedom.

Today’s Video: Creation Heals

By Lanecia Tinsley

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Digital Presence Update

Watch today’s update to learn more about our online worship and digital presence.

Security Task Force Update

Last year, our church’s Leadership Council formed a Security ­Task Force charged with assessing the safety and related security procedures of both our Winter Park Campus and the Reeves Center. After 6 months of intensive review and stakeholder engagement, this team has proposed a phased recommendation that demonstrates our commitment to creating a secure environment while preserving the welcoming spirit of our church. The Leadership Council unanimously approved this proposal and asked the team to move forward with implementation and funding. The same team will begin to outline the actions, schedule activities, and continue to communicate as we progress. Below is an outline of key recommendations with estimated costs.

Phase 1 (Immediate Action for 2024):

  • Emergency Procedures & Training: Specialized training in emergency preparedness for staff and volunteers. Developing security policies that focus on areas within our church that house vulnerable populations, such as children and members of Brain Fitness Academy. (Total Cost: $0 – covered by existing budgets)
  • Minimize Entry Points: Enhancements include access controls (badge access and keypads), gates, and fence installations on both campuses. (Total Cost: $107,100)
  • Cameras and Surveillance: Upgrades and additions to the surveillance system for improved security monitoring. (Total Cost: $35,300)
  • Lighting: Improvements to enhance safety and visibility in parking lots and courtyards. (Total Cost: $31,500)
  • Existing Safety Items: Maintenance checks to enhance the reliability of safety features. (Cost: $0 – part of regular maintenance)
  • Phase 1 Contingency Plan: Provision for unforeseen expenses. ($5,000)

Phase 2 (Planned for 2025):

  • Security Officers: Introduction of professional security personnel during critical times. ($50 an hour)
  • Sanctuary Doors: Upgrading external doors for better security. ($60,000)

The Marcy Trust has generously provided a grant of $69,000 toward our Phase One expenditures of $178,900. We are asking for financial support from our church community for the remaining $110,000. Your generous donations will directly contribute to safeguarding our congregation and ensuring a safe, welcoming space for worship and fellowship. Together, we can achieve a secure environment that reflects our shared values and commitment to the well-being of all members of our church family. We ask that you pray for the work of this team and look for more information as the implementation begins. If you have any questions, please email Pastor Philip at philipa@fumcwp.org.

Devotion: Emerging Wholeness

Before I introduce you to one of my favorite female theologians, I want to invite you to participate in one of our many opportunities to repent, remember and contemplate on Ash Wednesday, February 14.

Next Wednesday morning, the Pastors will be giving ashes to our 300 children and 71 teachers at our two preschools in the morning Chapel services, and then in the evening, you are invited to our Ash Wednesday family experience with a potluck meal, prayer stations, and a shortened worship service starting at 7pm.

If you have a free hour during lunch, or you can’t make the evening service, I invite you to come to the Chapel from 12-1pm for a time of quiet meditation and the imposition of ashes. I will be offering ashes and a quiet place to pray and I would be honored to pray with you at the altar if you would like. Ash Wednesday is a full and holy day to experience God’s love and the reality of our own mortality and so I hope you will be able to participate with us next week.

Now on to the task at hand. A female theologian whom I have read from a lot over the last two years is the Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes, who frequently writes for the Center for Action and Contemplation. I have mentioned before how life giving the devotions on CAC (Center for Action and Contemplation) have been for me ever since they were introduced to me by my Spiritual Director. Now I read the daily devotions, prayers, poems, and I am drawn deeper on the journey of Contemplation. Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes writes many of these devotions and in early January, she considered the collective resilience needed in times of crisis. She writes:

“Where is your community hurting? Where can you be of help to that community? What resources and gifts do you possess that will enhance the healing of your own body and of your community? As a village, we have a sacred duty to respond to the crises of oppression and injustice. We have a responsibility to respond to the suffering of others around us. But first, we have to figure out who we are, how we’re going to show up, and how we’re going to work with others, our neighbors, in a communal response to crisis.”

I have to admit, I was really struck with the first question. Where is your/our community hurting? That question gave me pause and I had to really think it over. To know the hurting of our community, means we know, I mean really know, our community. It means that we have relationships with those we have affinity towards as well as those that don’t look, dress, vote or live like we do. That was how the early church grew and I am convinced it is how the Church of Jesus Christ today will grow as well. By really knowing the communities we find ourselves in and then meeting the needs of those who are hurting.

Maybe this will be a challenge for you to consider this Lenten season; to really look for the hurting in the spheres of influence you find yourself in. And then ask God to reveal the gifts and resources you might already have that can bring about some healing.

If you haven’t had a chance to read or listen to the Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes, she is quite an amazing woman. She is a spiritual teacher, activist and author who has many degrees including a Divinity and Law degree as well as a PhD and she is also one who over and over again in her life chooses to see joy in the midst of suffering. She has some good words for us in this short video if you have a few extra minutes to hear what breaks her heart and how she leans on God when she sees hurt in her community. I hope it is a blessing to you.

Today’s Video: Emerging Wholeness

By Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes

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Devotion: A Glimpse at Communion

A Moment with Emmanuel Katongole: Delving Deeper into “A Glimpse at Communion”

As we continue our series on Black voices in theology, let us immerse ourselves in the teachings of Emmanuel Katongole, a beacon of theological insight and peacemaking. As an Associate Professor of Theology and Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, Katongole’s life work intricately weaves the threads of his African heritage with his profound academic pursuits.

Katongole, a Catholic priest ordained by the Archdiocese of Kampala, has served as associate professor of theology and world Christianity at Duke University, where he was the founding co-director of the Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation.

He is the author of books on the Christian social imagination, the crisis of faith following the genocide in Rwanda, and Christian approaches to justice, peace, and reconciliation. His most recent book is The Sacrifice of Africa: A Political Theology for Africa (Eerdmans, 2010).

In this video, Katongole extends an invitation to transcend the divisions that fragment our world. He challenges the notion that God’s love is confined by human constructs such as political affiliations, asserting that “God is neither Republican nor Democrat.” This profound assertion calls us to expand our vision and embrace a divine perspective transcending our earthly loyalties.

Katongole’s reflection on the fragmented nature of humanity is not one of despair but an acknowledgment of our shared condition. He sees in our brokenness an opportunity for God’s grace to weave us into a more cohesive whole. His poignant critique of our propensity to “throw rocks at one another” serves as a sobering reminder of the pettiness that often pervades human interactions.

Yet, it is in his meditation on love that Katongole’s message truly shines. “Love goes as far as God’s heart goes,” he reminds us, inviting us to partake in the boundless expanse of divine love. This vision of an all-encompassing love that makes room at the table for everyone, regardless of our differences, offers a glimpse of the kingdom of God in our midst.

As we reflect on Emmanuel Katongole’s life and teachings, let us be inspired to embody the principles of “A Glimpse at Communion” in our own lives. May his journey help us to bridge divides, heal wounds, and inspire a more inclusive and loving world.

In the spirit of Katongole’s expansive vision, may we, too, strive to create spaces in our lives where love knows no bounds, and where every soul finds a place at the table of communion.

Today’s Video: A Glimpse at Communion

By Emmanuel Katongol

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