First United Methodist Church

Pentecost Devotion: Birthday Party People

In the family I grew up in, we went all out for our loved one’s birthdays. In my childhood home, birthdays were a big deal. We would hang up streamers in the living room, blow up balloons, hang up a Happy Birthday banner, wrap presents and have “breakfast in bed.” One of our favorite parts of the birthday day is eating our meals on the red “You are Special Today” plate. I have carried all of these things into my adult home and my children have readily embraced these traditions. They LOVE birthdays. Even their favorite stuffed animals have birthday celebrations several times a year.

I share this because I am writing this devotion on Tuesday, May 23rd which happens to be my sweet husband’s 38th birthday and it got me thinking about what a birthday is really celebrating. It comes around every year, but I believe there is deep meaning behind this celebration. One of my favorite spiritual leaders Henri Nouwen, writes this:

“Birthdays need to be celebrated. I think it is more important to celebrate a birthday than a successful exam, a promotion, or a victory. Because to celebrate a birthday means to say to someone: “Thank you for being you.” Celebrating a birthday is exalting life and being glad for it. On a birthday we do not say: “Thanks for what you did, or said, or accomplished.” No, we say: “Thank you for being born and being among us.”

What a helpful reminder to celebrate being known and being amongst us in a world that has its own measurements for success. Frequently our worth is measured by something else. Maybe our worth in this world is measured by the framed degrees on our walls, the money in our bank accounts, the clothes we wear, the car we drive, the people we are social with, the schools or teams are children are a part of, and the list goes on and on. But when I think about how much God loved the world, Jesus’ incarnation showed us that the Father measures the things of the heart and the worth of the soul.

When we celebrate the life of a loved one, we are remembering that we are a better person, more loving, gentle, and giving because that loved one influenced us. Or to quote the prayer prayed at a Celebration of Life Service:

“Eternal God, you have shared with us the life of Robert.
Before he was ours, he is yours.
For all that Robert has given us to make us what we are,
for that of him which lives and grows in each of us,
and for his life that in your love will never end,
we give you thanks.”

Did you notice that? For that of him which lives and grows in each of us…what a beautiful way to say that our lives matter. And so if birthdays are really truly about exalting life and gratitude for those that live life amongst us, then how can we begin to celebrate the birthday of the body of Christ?

This Sunday is Pentecost, and along with the gift of the Holy Spirit and how God’s spirit brought order to chaos, we are celebrating the birthday of the Church. We are remembering the ways in which the Church of Jesus Christ exalts life and lives amongst us. Not as a building, or style of music or order of service or charisma of a preacher, but the Church, the body of Christ exalts life and lives amongst us.

And so the question I leave with you this week for you to chew on and talk to others about it this. How are you apart of the body that is living amongst the world, making it more vibrant, telling others that they matter? How are you making people feel special and loved and treating them like they matter to the Creator of the Universe? How are you acting like Birthday Party people in a world that really needs more balloons, more red “You are Special Today” plates and definitely more cake?

There is a party coming and we are all invited. Will you join in on the celebration? Happy Birthday to you!

We encourage you to wear RED this Sunday in celebration of Pentecost! Learn more about this special day at the link below.

Health Insurance Overview

Watch today’s update to hear from Pastor David, Pat Albert, & Bob Constant about our current health coverage and the role of our Staff Parish Relations Committee.

Devotion: Humbly Following Jesus

Devotion: Salt, Light and Tartar Sauce?

Earlier today, I ran to Publix to buy the final parts of our Christ-like Servants Pillar Meal. We gather every second Tuesday with the ministries of that Pillar to encourage one another, learn, pray and fellowship. I ran in quickly before heading into the office, with the purpose of being in and out but the Holy Spirit had other plans. I quickly noticed a homeless woman walking through the bakery section admiring all of the fresh food and talking to herself about how delicious the items looked. She and I started talking near the Publix soups and when she said, she loves soup, but can’t afford any today, I heard the Holy Spirit say, “You feed her.”

I asked her if I could buy her a cup of soup and at first, she said yes, but then she thought about how she didn’t really have a microwave to warm it up in so what she really wanted was a sub. And so I walked with her over the sub-station and she ordered a turkey sub with two kinds of cheese and all the fixings. But she didn’t want any sauce, she said, because as she held up five packets of tartar sauce, she was going to use tartar sauce instead.

Now, I am not a food snob and I am really no expert on sauce combos, but I can’t say I have ever used tartar sauce on something not fish. Maybe I have a lot to learn and maybe I have been living under a rock, but my new friend says it is all the rage.

And it got me thinking about being the church. As we heard on Sunday, the Way of Jesus is to be vitality in a world that is losing its liveliness and strength. When we, as a group, are called to be light and salt, it connects us back to our calling to represent God on earth and to be the representatives of another world, another kingdom where Christ is seated upon the throne. Jesus is very clear in Matthew 5 that we are salt and we are light, but if Jesus was there in the Publix sub line with me this morning, I believe Jesus would also agree with my new friend that we are tartar sauce too.

Maybe the church has always been in the “fish”ing business, but now we are called outward and beyond into the sub-business. Maybe being salt and light looks different today in this post-pandemic world and the church is called to be tartar sauce as well. Maybe we need to try things we have never tried before for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

Now, I’m not planning on having a turkey sub with tartar sauce anytime soon, but I will look at my approaches differently. I will think with more caution about doing the same things I have always done while expecting different results. I will try new things in how I talk to the people I interact with, in how I shine light in broken circumstances and in how I attempt to bring salt into bland and flavorless situations. But I won’t close my eyes to new ways of being the church either. Quite frankly it is time to diversify our “sauce collection” to reach more people, in more places, in different spaces than we have been used to in the past. And it means we will be uncomfortable. It means that we might have to try tartar sauce on our turkey sub once in a while because that is what incarnational ministry is all about. And we may love it, and we may say, “No, thank you,” but are you willing to give it a try? Imagine what God’s Kingdom will look like in five years, ten years, or the next generation because we tried something new!

Financial Update from Pastor David!

Devotion: Holiness in the Ordinary

The Holy Spirit is doing a new work; a unifying, transforming, and healing work.

It has been quite a week and I admit, there were moments when I really had to strain to see where God was at work in my life. But alas, I saw it, several times actually, the holy work of God and it is worth sharing.

In chronological order, Saturday was a hard day. All of your Florida United Methodist Pastors and lay leaders gathered over Zoom for a special called Annual Conference specifically to do the work of voting to allow for the disaffiliation of 55 United Methodist churches who had worked, voted, and prepared to leave the connection. There will be more, I know, but for now, 93% of the 1,100 voters on Saturday morning voted to bless the ministries of 55 churches and let them go. Some will go independent; some will go to the Global Methodist Church and others are still deciding what is next. The hardest part of that time was hearing the name of one of the churches that Ryan and I served together read aloud as a church poised and prepared to disaffiliate. I have known for a while and have prayed for those leading that church that we served together for four years, and I knew it was coming, but it was still hard to process. When I let my ego take the wheel, I started to feel like I had failed them somehow. But then I remember that the Holy Spirit did tremendous work on me in the four years I served there. It formed me as a pastor, it shaped my marriage, my first year of becoming a mom, my heart for missions and my courage in sharing my faith. And if the Holy Spirit did a new work in me, then it most certainly can do a new work in whatever new direction that church finds itself. We worship a Big God, whose arms are open wide and whose table has plenty of seats left unoccupied and so while I mourn the loss of this church to our connection, I trust that God will continue to be faithful to them.

And then I get to this morning and I see the Holy Spirit working once again in the faces of those 50  three, four and five-year-olds in Chapel and I smile once again. Today I got to teach these young ones about the story of Pentecost and the birth of the church. I told them about the tongues of fire and how God’s love is wide and high and deep. I asked them who in their lives spoke a language other than English and some mentioned Spanish, Arabic, Creole and Hindi, but then others made up names of a language that they thought they spoke and some even demonstrated for all to hear! Nevertheless, I got to tell them about a God who sent God’s Spirit to unify and strengthen. A God who loves the diversity of color, nationalities and languages, a God who can take the chaos of many faithful witnesses from different people groups and make them one through the common language of Spirit. I told them about the day of Pentecost and how 3,000 people came to faith in Jesus Christ because the Holy Spirit was doing new work.

And then, exhausted from the day, I held our baby in my arms as she slept. I prayed over her that her cough would cease and her congestion lessen and then I tried, to the best of my ability, to hold the mask of a nebulizer over her sleeping face so the steam could begin to heal her. (Have you ever tried this with an 8-month-old?)  And it hit me. The Holy Spirit is doing something new as well and it might just heal us if we are paying attention. You know, I can’t really see the vapor, from her medicine, but I know it is working. I don’t see the steam well in the dim light of the living room, but I see my daughter’s chest going up and down. And tonight I breathe a little better knowing that the Holy Spirit can heal me too. Sure, God’s Holy Spirit is way better than any nebulizer, but to me, an anxious and tired mom, I can definitely see the connection.

And so I invite you to look for the Holy Spirit this week, for you will find her. In moments of disappointment or feeling like you failed, don’t lose hope. In the moments of joy and silliness, savor it and those you share it with. And in the moments of sickness or prolonged illness, look for healing and the opportunity to be made new. Because, I promise you, the Holy Spirit is doing new work, even if you have to strain to see it. The story of the Resurrection is that things are not as they seem and that God is always in the business of making things new.

4 Invitations to Serve & Connect!

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Devotion: Where do you need liberation?

Lately, Charlie has been really interested in police officers. In their cars, their sirens, and even the star on their badge. Last week we saw someone getting pulled over and Charlie says loudly to the rest of us in the car, “Ohhhh, someone’s been naughty!”

That led to another discussion about what police do when they catch a “naughty” person. Someone at school had told Charlie about jail and how the police send people there. We spent time correcting that line of thinking and helping Charlie know enough about it so that he understands the concept of jail, but not enough that he becomes fearful (it is always a delicate balance). On our travels, I visited a few historic jails and while I myself have never been behind bars, I do know what it is like to be bound by something. I know what it feels like to have chains that constrict and weigh me down. And so I found it particularly meaningful to be asked this question on Sunday.

“Where in your life do you need liberation? Where do you need freedom? What is it you are bound by? Illness. Grief. Doubt. Fear. Addiction. Injustice. Discrimination. Hate. Jealousy.”

And then next question was, “What binds us as a people? What do we as a people need to be liberated from? Where do we need the freeing blood of the lamb?”

With the conversation swimming in my head with Charlie and the questions from the sermon on Sunday, I pondered true Liberation and in doing so, sought the wisdom of others. If you have heard me preach or read my devotions long enough, you know that I glean wisdom from Father Richard Rohr. He is a spiritual mentor of mine, and I read his devotionals daily. In his book, The Art of Letting Go, Rohr writes about the six forms of liberation.

  1. Inner liberation from ourselves (letting go of the centrality of the small self)
  2. Cultural liberation from our biases (which involves letting go of the “commodity” culture and moving into the “personal” culture)
  3. Dogmatic liberation from our certitudes (letting go of the false self and discovering the True Self)
  4. Personal liberation from the “system” (letting go of dualistic judging and opening to nondual thinking)
  5. Spiritual liberation for the Divine (some form of letting go happens between each stage of spiritual growth)
  6. Liberation for infinite mystery (the mystery that what looks like falling is in fact rising), which is really liberation for love.

This list helped me really start to think about parts of my own life that need liberation and so I invite you to think through this list and see which one rings most true for you. Ultimately Jesus came to free us from every chain, every bondage. And in every area, we are liberated most thoroughly through love.  Because Jesus is love and all of Scripture is really a long and beautiful story about God’s love, we have that opportunity to be freed by love through worship, service, deeper discipleship and being together as a community of faith. Our job is to love others the way God has loved us. And the truth is the generous nature of divine love keeps liberating you and me at deeper levels, but it keeps going deeper with each chain we take off; each restraint we remove. And this journey we are on never stops giving. Why wouldn’t everybody want that?

Maybe because we don’t yet know what we are bound by. And so I invite you to look at this list this week and pray through it. As we prepare for Holy Week and the coming of the Prince of Peace into the crowded Jerusalem streets, where do you need liberation most and what needs freeing in your own life?

Financial Update from Pastor David

A Shared Experience with God

Our church recently participated in a pilgrimage to Naivasha, Kenya to see our students from Inua Partners In Hope. Below is a testimonial by Camila Barahona, a young adult from Cornerstone UMC in Naples, FL. Cornerstone is a partner church that we brought into Inua to expand this transformative program. Please spend time in prayer for this ministry and our church community both near & far!

“I went on this pilgrimage with no expectations of the people and students but only doubts in myself because I had no idea what I would be able to offer. I’m not rich, I’m not the most knowledgeable about scripture, and I don’t attend church every Sunday. I instantly made this trip about myself and my fears without realizing it.

I got the breath knocked out of me when I realized how wrong I was in that mentality because the students only cared that their brothers and sisters in Christ were there to show them love and support. That’s when I felt God working through all of us – tearing down our walls and lighting my spark of faith back into a roaring fire that not even my doubts could put out. I must admit I knew I wouldn’t be very shocked going to a country like Kenya (because she has traveled extensively). However, I didn’t know I would experience the most beautiful, kind-hearted, faith-driven people I have ever met. I didn’t know I would be reminded how lost our country is in faith and humanity.

The students showed me that we had lost our community, we are so self-absorbed in materials and wanting to be the most popular or rich. They showed me the true importance of building a real community with God in the center.

My experience with the students opened my eyes to realizing that being present, and showing your love and compassion is sometimes all we need to stay motivated. It gave the students hope that what they were doing was worthwhile. It reminded me that having a community, building relationships, and connecting is more valuable than worrying about when my next raise is or if my iPhone is up to date.

I hope I encouraged them and showed them that we do care, and we don’t see them as a project to fix because they don’t need to be fixed. They just need this opportunity to show their potential. These kids gave me so much in return. They wiped away my little seed of doubt in God when the first thing they did was celebrate him in every step of every day. They humbled me when they told their stories of tragedy that ended in hope, love, and community. They taught me that fear of embarrassment is only in my head because I allow it, and that letting it go and not being scared to praise God and spread his love and word is what I need.”


I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6

Closing Prayer:

Heavenly Father, we ask for your presence in our family. We pray for strength and understanding between our brothers and sisters. We ask for loving, strong bonds between the children, teenagers, adults, and seniors of our community. We pray that each branch of the family would demonstrate love for one another.

We ask for healthy, thriving relationships between neighbors. We pray different cultures will be able to understand and care for one another. We pray that the diversity of your people will be celebrated by all neighbors – just as you affirm and love each of us. Let us hear from you. Let us learn from you. Higher higher higher. Higher Jesus higher! Amen.