March 27, 2017
As I write this letter to you today I have so many things on my mind. I am mindful that churches are gearing up for the coming Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter services. Even though we have experienced some warm weather we do not experience the same “burst of Spring” as our neighbors to the north. I think it is only natural to notice an increase in our stress level as the Easter season draws closer.
So if you’re getting feelings of being overwhelmed in spite of the weather, sunshine and flowers . . . then please join me for a moment as we consider Jesus and his disciples at the garden of Gethsemane. There, in that garden, Jesus expressed the need for his trusted friends to: "Sit down, keep watch, and pray." I can’t think of any better advice for people who are feeling stressed or insufficient in the face of life’s demands and requirements that may be rolling out toward you with alarming speed and frightening power.
These words of Jesus come to us from the 26th chapter of Matthew, Jesus’ exact words are: "Sit here while I go over there and pray." In this pre-Easter story it is Jesus who is overwhelmed with "the hour" that has come. It is the time for his arrest, trial, suffering and death. When we take a few quiet moments to consider this time in Jesus’ life – it kind of helps us to get our seasonal life struggles in perspective -- doesn’t it? Even if we fall asleep in our waiting, watching and praying or if we flee in fear and abandon him as the disciples did . . . when we come back to our senses he appears to us and offers forgiveness.
What is even more incredible is that he then empowers us with the Holy Spirit so that we may become strong in faith and go out to serve others who are fearful or weak in faith. This is the hope of our Christian faith: That Christ has risen from the tomb and appeared to those same sleepy and anxious disciples -- and so, he also appears to us as we faithfully gather in his name. So let us all keep the faith as we wait, watch and pray together, for as we do, we will also experience the risen Lord saying, "Peace be with you, my peace I give to you."
May you experience all of God’s goodness and love as you walk in faithfulness with our resurrected Lord and may the blessing of God be yours in this Easter Season.
In assurance of the Easter story,
March 20, 2017
Today, when I awoke, I suddenly realized that this is the best day of my life, ever! There were times when I wondered if I would make it to today; but I did! And because I did I'm going to celebrate!
Today, I'm going to celebrate what an unbelievable life I have had so far: the accomplishments, the many blessings, and, yes, even the hardships because they have served to make me stronger. I will go through this day with my head held high, and a happy heart. I will marvel at God's seemingly simple gifts: the morning dew, the sun, the clouds, the trees, the flowers, the birds. Today, none of these miraculous creations will escape my notice.
Today, I will share my excitement for life with other people. I'll make someone smile. I'll go out of my way to perform an unexpected act of kindness for someone I don't even know. Today, I'll give a sincere compliment to someone who seems down. I'll tell a child how special he or she is, and I'll tell someone I love just how deeply I care for her and how much she means to me.
Today is the day I quit worrying about what I don't have and start being grateful for all the wonderful things God has already given me. I'll remember that to worry is just a waste of time because my faith in God and God’s Divine Plan ensures that God is with me in ALL moments of life.
And tonight, before I go to bed, I'll go outside and raise my eyes to the heavens. I will stand in awe at the beauty of the stars and the moon, and I will praise God for these magnificent treasures. As the day ends and I lay my head down on my pillow, I will thank God for the best day of my life. And I will sleep the sleep of a contented child, excited with expectation because I know tomorrow is going to be the best day of my life, ever!
What a life we would live if day by day we lived that day. This simple story I read a while ago reminds us to live today for God! We are prone to want to see around the bend, peek around the corner and plan, plan and plan for what is next. We forget, from time to time, to simply live TODAY empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to live this moment!
Continue to walk in the light of Christ!
I love serving as your superintendent,
March 13, 2017
I passed a church with Three crosses on the lawn the other day. Framed in front of a sanctuary they projected a powerful message to those who travel by them each day. It made me wonder— Do they take notice? Do they marvel at the meaning? Do they even recognize the message the crosses project? For that matter, do WE?
So much is taken for granted in our world and in our lives but those crosses stand in direct contradiction to all that the world standards of meaning project. Culture tells us to get ahead, to be first, to get all we can while we can and that the end justifies the means. The cross says, give your life for others, offer your service to one another and do all you can to share the love that put the man on the cross for the world!!
Mother Teresa of Calcutta summed up the meaning of the cross with these words.
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Be good anyway.
Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People need help, but may attack you if you try to help them.
Help them anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway
I love serving as your superintendent,
March 6, 2017
Several years ago I had shoulder surgery that required many weeks of physical therapy. A few times a week I showed up at an office and worked on my shoulder with two wonderful physical therapists, Melissa and Kayla. It was always a pretty painful experience going through the various exercises. One of the therapists would invariably ask me if it hurt. I would always say yes! She would nod and directs me to the next exercise--the pendulum! Oh my. After making my way around the machines and the stretching I would be attached to a stimulator machine for a little relief. It always felt so good – so refreshing – so soothing!!!
Has me thinking about the journey we are all on in this life. There are bumps in the road, injuries from time to time, and moments when we wonder what can possibly happen next. What spiritual exercises do we have in place to endure the tough moments, or even the peaceful ones? What “stimulates” our pursuit of growing closer to Christ? Finding our rest and Hope in Christ’s love?
The journey of Lent invites us to exercise the things God has given for us to use to overcome injury, pursue wholeness and find peace in life. Holy Scripture, prayer, communion and worship are among those most ready to aid us. Conversations with others on the journey offer us glimpses of hope in our hurting moments. All to point us toward the eternal Hope that is ours in Christ.
So, how are the exercises going for you today? Do you feel the pull of a muscle, the twinge of new healing, and the sharp pain of realizing the hurt? Do as Kayla and Melissa commanded—next exercise!
Stay on the journey!
I love serving as your superintendent,
Ash Wednesday Prayer
March 1, 2017
I came across this prayer a few years back and it has helped to guide me in my Lenten journey. It is my prayer that as you journey the wisdom of Christ will guide your steps.
“Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (Treasury of Daily Prayer)
It is commonly believed by those who do not celebrate Lent that the season is somewhat (or perhaps very) negative, with all the focus on sin and repentance. But I have always found Lent to be more focused on the forgiveness of God. Yes, there is an emphasis on the suffering of Jesus, on His temptation in the wilderness, on denial of pleasure. But these all have a positive goal: emptying ourselves of the things that separate us from God. The prayer I quoted above asks that we receive new hearts. Notice the emphasis on renewal, and how the prayer begins with the words “You despise nothing You have made…”
The thing is, throughout the rest of the year, we can begin to feel that we are really pretty great, that we don’t really need God’s help. We are so lovable, why would God (or anyone else) have a problem with us? But sometimes, when we are forced to look inside, at our fears, our greed, and the thousand petty grudges and resentments we may be holding onto, we have to admit that we can always improve. I say “we” to be more inclusive, but perhaps I should say “I,” to take my share of the blame. If I am honest with myself, as I always try to be during Lent, if not always the rest of the year, I can admit that I am not always perfect, or even always completely lovable.
Ash Wednesday reminds us of many things. It reminds us of where we came from, and where we shall return (“from dust you came, and from dust you shall return”). It reminds us that repentance is a necessary discipline. But it also reminds us of the forgiveness that is always there for us. It reminds us of the hand that is outstretched to help us. It reminds us of the sacrifices we may need to make, but it also reminds us of a sacrifice that has already been made for us, on our behalf. May we not lose sight of that throughout these forty days.
I love serving as your superintendent,
December 19, 2016
Well the time is here! Later this week communities will gather for the glorious celebration of the birth of the Christ child into our world. The very personal nature of our God shines as bright as that first guiding star the shepherds followed to the birthplace of the Prince of Peace. The shepherds came to the stable in awe and wonder, both for the words the angel spoke and for the beautiful scene they gazed upon in the manger. Later, that same star guided the Magi to the home of the young child. They came bearing gifts. What gift will you bring to the celebration of his birth?
Will your gift be AWE for all that God has done in your life? AWE for the many ways God has shown you love and grace? AWE for the blessings that have been yours in this life from a God who never turns His back on us?
Will your gift be WONDER? WONDER at the incredible gift of unconditional love that very first Christmas morning ushered into our world? WONDER at the many ways God continues to show that love to a world in turmoil and despair? WONDER THAT, IN SPITE OF EVERYTHING, God continues to come to our world again and again through individuals transformed by the life Jesus lived and the salvation Jesus offered?
Will your GIFT be the very best that you have to give. Will you give Him your time, your talent, your prayers, your gifts, and your life?
I pray that the celebration of His birth will transform and strengthen you for the journey ahead. Don’t forget, this is a great time to invite your friends and family to join you in worship. What a wonderful gift your invitation to others will be for Jesus.
I love serving as your superintendent,
December 13, 2016
For many, this time of year brings challenges. Those challenges are lived out in the unsettling reality of rushing from here to there, rushing from commitment to commitment, rushing from place to place, rushing from party to party, and rushing from store to store. We find ourselves scouring the shelves, the relationships, and the travel, all the while looking for something - anything to fill the voids in our lives. That search often leads us to the belief that some material item, some moment, or some thing will refill us.
This season is also filled with Have To moments....
I have to go there!
I have to get that!
I have to get this!
I have to rush through the days without considering the real reason we have these days of the year.
Imagine our lives with different Have To moments....
I have to take a moment and in my heart rekindle the love the first Christmas morning delivered.
I have to pray, read scripture, meditate, give thanks, serve somebody else, and give something away.
I have to return to the source where the gifts never break, where the heart is repaired, where broken lives are restored, and where HOPE, LOVE, JOY, AND PEACE are given away freely.
To your world and mine, God's gift in Jesus Christ has come. Through Emmanuel we are offered gifts that will NEVER break. His presence brings us to this moment of standing on top of the mountain, peering down into the valley of our world and our lives with the challenge of living in that PEACE that gives us strength to hold on in the midst of all life's turmoil, disappointment, brokenness, and challenge.
Imagine if you and I lived our lives as the stagehands of Jesus, each and every day, going about preparing others to receive the overwhelming, unconditional love of God in Jesus. If we lived preparing the stage, preparing the road ahead, preparing others to hear about Jesus and experience his hope, love, joy and peace, then I am convinced we would begin living the Christmas Story, rather than simply watching it from afar.
During this week of Advent, let me challenge you to: seek PEACE in your life as we come again near the stable in Bethlehem, to practice LOVE in your daily wanderings and relationships, to offer HOPE to a bitter and broken world, and to live with the JOY of Jesus Christ in all your life. That, my dear friends, is a Christmas filled with Gifts that Don't Break.
I love being your superintendent,
Dear North Best Friends,
Thanksgiving fills my heart with gratitude for all that God continues to do through each of our lives and in each of our lives. Our God is a giving God! During this season of Thanksgiving I pray that our hearts will be full of the joy and wonder of God’s love in our lives.
I read a collection of quotations on the subject of gratitude. I include them for your enjoyment and benefit. Were you to express your gratitude in a form that would be read or heard by millions, what would you say?
George Washington in his first Presidential Proclamation: "It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor."—October 3, 1789
Abraham Lincoln , during the Civil War: "We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown."—1863
Sir John Templeton: "How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors. It changes a child's personality. A child is resentful, negative—or thankful. Thankful children want to give, they radiate happiness, they draw people."
Albert Schweitzer: "To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude."
William Faulkner: "Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.”
Anne Frank: "I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains. Go outside into the fields, nature and the sun, go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God. Think of the beauty that again and again discharges itself within and without you and be happy."
Theodore Roosevelt: "Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds."—1901
John Fitzgerald Kennedy: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
As we move through this time of Thanks how will you express gratitude towards the one who give ALL for us?
I love serving as your superintendent,
Thoughts from Dur - October 21, 2016
For many years I sat next to my granddad every Sunday morning in Worship. We held hands and kind of snuggled together. I remember staring at the back of his hand and thinking of all the years those hands had seen. They were worn from years on the farm, in the mill, and at work in construction. They were worn by the sands of time and by the searing sun to which they had been too long exposed. The hands were tough and yet as he held my hand they were also gentle.
Today I look at the back of my hand and you know what I see. It looks a lot like my granddads. Not worn by the same things as his, but worn just the same. I even believe my hands have similar markings as his.
My granddad is long gone, but the memory of those times on Sunday morning in worship together, my hand in his, are like yesterday.
As we make our way through the fall months together may we walk hand in hand together as we seek to become the people God desires us to be and may we find our common bond in the love that God poured into the world in God’s Son. May the Holy Spirit empower us to be the Church we are called to be in our life together.
I’ll be praying for you and your faith communities as you gather for worship this weekend.
Here is a story I found some time ago. It’s what started me thinking about my granddad’s hands today.
I love being your superintendent,
Granddad, some ninety plus years, sat feebly on the patio bench. He didn't move, just sat with his head down staring at his hands. When I sat down beside him he didn't acknowledge my presence and the longer I sat I wondered if he was OK. Finally, not really wanting to disturb him but wanting to check on him at the same time, I asked him if he was OK.
He raised his head and looked at me and smiled. "Yes, I'm fine, thank you for asking," he said in a clear strong voice. "I didn't mean to disturb you, Grandpa, but you were just sitting here staring at your hands and I wanted to make sure you were OK," I explained to him.
"Have you ever looked at your hands?" he asked. "I mean really looked at your hands?"
I slowly opened my hands and stared down at them. I turned them over, palms up and then palms down. No, I guess I had never really looked at my hands as I tried to figure out the point he was making. Grandpa smiled and related this story:
"Stop and think for a moment about the hands you have, how they have served you well throughout your years. These hands, though wrinkled, shriveled and weak have been the tools I have used all my life to reach out and grab and embrace life.
They braced and caught my fall when as a toddler I crashed upon the floor.
They put food in my mouth and clothes on my back.
As a child my Mother taught me to fold them in prayer.
They tied my shoes and pulled on my boots.
They held my rifle and wiped my tears when I went off to war.
They have been dirty, scraped and raw, swollen and bent.
They were uneasy and clumsy when I tried to hold my newborn son.
Decorated with my wedding band they showed the world that I was married and loved someone special.
They wrote the letters home and trembled and shook when I buried my parents and spouse and walked my daughter down the aisle.
Yet, they were strong and sure when I dug my buddy out of a foxhole and lifted a plow off of my best friend's foot.
They have held children, consoled neighbors, and shook in fists of anger when I didn't understand.
They have covered my face, combed my hair, and washed and cleansed the rest of my body.
They have been sticky and wet, bent and broken, dried and raw.
And to this day when not much of anything else of me works real well these hands hold me up, lay me down, and again continue to fold in prayer.
These hands are the mark of where I've been and the ruggedness of my life.
But more importantly it will be these hands that God will reach out and take when he leads me home.
And with my hands He will lift me to His side and there I will use these hands to touch the face of Christ.”
I will never look at my hands the same again. But I remember God reached out and took my Grandpa's hands and led him home.
When my hands are hurt or sore or when I stroke the face of my children and wife I think of Granddad. I know he has been stroked and caressed and held by the hands of God. I, too, want to touch the face of God and feel His hands upon my face.
Thoughts from Dur - September 19, 2016
Have you ever caught something contagious? I don’t mean strep throat or the flu! Rather, have you ever encountered a moment that made a positive life change in YOUR life?
It happened in the first century as Jesus went from town to town sharing a message of hope, peace and joy that the people had never before experienced. It also happened when Jesus walked the shore and found a few men tending nets. He simply said, “FOLLOW ME.” Shockingly they did and the rest is history. It happened when Jesus came to the tax collector Matthew and asked him along for the journey. The “bug” caught, first a few and then the multitudes, and the name of Jesus became a household word in that region.
The contagious nature of God’s love in Jesus has been passed from generation to generation. What began with 12 disciples and a few friends has exploded into the Christian Church today! What a contagious nature God’s love exhibits. I can almost imagine what it must have been like to have Jesus come close as he did to the women at the well. Jesus knew her. He knew her sin and reputation and yet he calls her to sin no more. While others treated her like dirt, Jesus wrapped the love of God around her and she was transformed! She is so overwhelmed by Jesus’ love that she immediately shares it with her town. That’s contagious love. That is love worth spreading!
I don’t know about you but that’s how God’s love found me. Just a kid, couldn’t do much right, could find trouble no matter where it was hiding. Yet one day I heard about Jesus’ love and knew that was the kind of life I wanted to live. That contagious “bug” had me. Not perfect mind you, just forgiven.
I wonder, have you caught it? Do you know the awesome love of God that is yours in Jesus Christ? It’s contagious! It’s spreading! One by one people are coming to know Jesus as their Savior. If you’ve caught it, have you shared it? It’s not a bug to own, rather it is something wonderful, powerful and transforming that is meant to share. Catch it today, then pass it around to your family and friends. You’ll be glad you did!
Today (Saturday) I had the privilege to celebrated Day on Campus at the Madison Youth Camp. The extravagant generosity of so many made the day possible. I met a woman whose grandfather hued the logs used to build the home that is now used as and administrative office. She seemed with joy when she shared how her parents were smiling down from heaven witnessing the tremendous life giving work going on on a piece of property they raised their own kids on over the years. Hearing her joy filled story was awe inspiring. The infectious love of the day filled many others with that same joy!
Beginning my first season of Charge Conferences I am so looking forward to hearing the stories of each faith community in the North Best District. Though we do things “a little different” I do trust you will experience the opportunity to connect and hear from one another inspiring and motivating as we each return home t our places of worship and service.
I love serving as the superintendent of the North Best District.
Thoughts From Dur - September 11, 2016
The pain and horror of September 11, 2001 are never very far from my thoughts and the days leading up to remembrance of that tragic day fill me with, as I am certain you, great emotion.
I am mindful of sitting with a retired New York City Fire Battalion Chief and his spouse. He had recruited an entire fire house that was killed after they rushed to the scene to save lives. I remember sitting with the cousin of , Vernon Cherry , a firefighter who died that day. It was his cousin, Faye, who had started him on that venture. Faye’s son, off duty that morning, tried his best to join his brothers in response but could not get to the buildings before they collapsed. I know that the hearts of Bob, Jean, and Fred, as well as thousands who are strangers to me will be overwhelmed with their remembrances on September 11. Let us all take a moment to pray for those whose lives were forever changed in an instant on that day many ago.
I am mindful of the death of many who were running to the towers, into the pentagon and towards the cabin of an airliner as they each sacrificed their own lives in an attempt to save others.
I am mindful of the families from many nations and many religions who on that day lost mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, grandparents, family and friends.
I am mindful that we have really never been the same since that tragic day of horror, suffering and grief.
I am mindful that our hearts and souls continue to experience pain, grief and fear over this senseless act of hate and violence.
I am mindful that we shall never forget the horror of September 11, 2001, as we shall never forget the painful memory of Oklahoma City on April 16, 1995 or that day of infamy, December 7, 1941. My personal visit to each of these sacred sites was filled with awe and I continue to feel those emotions today.
I am mindful that the Gospel we proclaim and live is filled with the words of joy, love, hope, peace and redemption in the face of adversity, hate, violence, and even death.
I am mindful of the challenging words of Jesus. Jesus challenges us with words like “Love those who hate you,” “Turn the other check,” “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God,” and "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." These words helped calm a rage that that September 11 morning stirred inside of so many.
Let us not rest in the words of Jesus but live them loudly in our lives and in our world that would so quickly invite us to live otherwise. On this September 11, let us remember the lives of those thousands who were killed that day and their loves ones whose lives have never been the same. Let us live for the love, peace, joy, hope and redemption that are the Incarnation.
I love serving as superintendent of the North Best district.
The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church
450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
Lakeland, FL 33815
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