First United Methodist Church

Service Times

9am Contemporary | 11am Traditional

Devotion: When God’s Plans Are Not My Own

What a week of worship and service it has been. My soul has been filled up by all that has transpired over the last 3 or 4 days. First, over 330 parents, grandparents and church members supported over 80 dancers who descended on our campus for the Nutcracker performance on Friday night where our Studio 150 ministry was able to share the joy of this Advent season through dance. And then on Sunday, we worshipped together as one church through a blended service led by both our contemporary band and our traditional choir, and then we went out and served together. You can say we didn’t just “go to church” this Sunday, but we “were the church” this Sunday. And last but not least, we gathered that night in the courtyard under a beautiful night sky and found hope together through the lighting of candles, worship, spoken word, and dancing.

As I processed all that I had the privilege to participate in this weekend, I thought about the plans that we make and the plans that God makes.

Our almost 7-year-old, Emmaline is very curious about families these days and what makes up a family. We have recently had conversations with her about adoption and fostering both because of my work with the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home and because we recently visited our cousins who are foster parents. When Emmaline wants to know why some little kids don’t have parents it is one of those holy and sensitive moments where you really want to say the right thing as a parent. We are always cognizant that our judgments can become our children’s judgments, so we try to answer these deep philosophical questions (that we are never trained to answer, I might add) with a lot of grace. I usually say something like this. “Most of the time, grown-ups are excited and ready to become parents, but every once in a while, people have children and they really are not ready to be parents. And so other parents have to step in until they are ready.”

In one of these recent conversations where she had just met her second cousin who is a foster child, she just could not understand where her “real” parents were. We walked through the definition again and a little light bulb went on in her eyes.

“Oh I get it,” she said. “Mary and Joseph weren’t ready to be parents either, but they decided to trust God and love Jesus anyway!”

Wow, kid! Okay, well done. Not where I was going with this conversation, but yes, you really did just nail the meaning of Christmas! I am always glad when I listen to her small, yet wise voice.

And so, I have been pondering that thought over these last few days. I have thought about how my plans aren’t always God’s plans and wondering back to how I respond when I realize that there is a difference.

In this third week of Advent, I encourage you to think about the well-laid plans of your life and how, if you are like me, the planning process brings you joy. But then, I know we can all recall a time or many times when our plans were turned upside down and when we finally glimpse God’s plans, how much more of life we still are learning to embrace.

I pray that your Advent season gives you moments not only to recognize the times when your plans were different, but also when they were aligned. You see, I didn’t always want to be a pastor, but the educational journey to get here has been a blessing. At one point in my life, Ryan and I were planning to be missionaries in someplace very different from here, but God helped me grow deep roots where I was planted and taught me about being a missionary in my own, everyday life. Maybe you can remember a time too when your plans were different from God’s plans and how you chose to trust God anyway. Maybe Emmaline is right, maybe following Jesus is really about trusting God with plans very different from our own and learning to love and be loved in the process.

Devotion: Hope is Found Together

Do you remember how on Sunday I compared the journey of Advent to a laborious hike? And how we find HOPE when we continue to climb? Because Advent, just like faith, is a journey and it is sometimes hard to remember that the view at the top is worth it because our muscles hurt or we are thirsty or sunburnt, or just worn out. Well, today was one of those days. It’s the end of another long day, but there have been wonderful holy moments hidden in the chaos. I found hope in some small ways because I was looking for it and because I was watching and waiting.

Today I had the opportunity to go with Emmaline on her first field trip of this year. We rode a school bus which my children have always been obsessed with and I now have a newfound respect for the sanity of all school bus drivers. (If you are one of them, there’s a special place in heaven for you)! Emmaline and 120 of her closest first-grade friends went to the Orlando Science Center for the day. I had some really special moments with my firstborn and times that were just ours. But part of my job as a chaperone was to watch two additional children that I did not birth, and I quickly found that to be more exhausting than watching my own three children. Shout out to all the teachers out there!

We explored the Science Center, a place that our family knows and loves well, but it had special significance and was extra fun because we were doing it with all of Emmaline‘s classmates. The bus ride back to school was equally chaotic and when the field trip was over, the rest of the day continued with meetings, school pick-ups, Nutcracker dance rehearsal, and finally a wonderful respite in the middle of a busy week. If you missed the Advent Family Experience that we had tonight at the MFLC, it really was a place to experience Hope. People from the 9 AM and 11 AM services came together for a warm meal, crafts, gingerbread-making fun, and all of the beautiful chaos that comes with young church families! Pastor Leah and Pastor Jared and their teams created a beautiful atmosphere for families of all ages to learn a little bit more about this Advent season. I couldn’t be more proud of this amazing team that God has put together at this church.

The point is not that we need more programs or activities or events to experience HOPE, the point is that hope is found when we are together. When we break bread together, and we help watch each other’s children on the playground or when we offer to rock our babies, so that hungry mamas can eat. Hope it’s found when children find another child and tell them that we’re praying for them to get better or when we take a deep breath and go for a walk outside just to experience the beauty of Creation. Hope is found in a story, a laugh or a hug, or an invitation to join in or get to know. At Christmas time we probably have more opportunities to practice that hope and to model for our loved ones. Remember, hope is found more easily when we walk this journey together because we were never meant to walk this path alone. When we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and we come together with people who do the same, our hope grows so we can keep going. And even when we’re tired and frustrated and overwhelmed, hope it’s still found.

And so my encouragement to you, to me, to us all, is to keep looking for that hope. Especially when you have days like today. Don’t neglect to be with the body or become so busy that you forget how much we need each other. And what a joy it is to be together!

Mary | Advent Devotion from Pastor Rachel