Tuesday, June 12, 2018


"Wow" just about covers it. 

Sunday was a difficult day, but a great day. I cried as I remembered my 4 years, what I have experienced with the congregation, and remembered who I am in Christ...

Gray Memorial UMC has accepted me just as I am for 4 years. From my first day, when I knew hardly anything about what it meant to be a pastor, to today, when I am humbled and thankful to the point of tears for their welcoming and ministering with me. In this way, the congregation has shown me the grace and love of God. This congregation has helped me remember who I am--an imperfect person, called by God to offer the hand of Jesus to a world that is hungry, broken, and looking for hope.

Yesterday, I  opened all of the cards and gifts received yesterday at Gray Memorial United Methodist Church. They thanked me, encouraged me, and expressed prayers for my journey ahead. They made me laugh, cry, and remember the goodness of God. There is also a new cookbook, candy, and a Tervis cup for when I am on the go. But most of all, there is love in these expressions of gratitude and support.

Thank you, church. You have blessed me. You have shown me the grace and love of God. I will always remember you. 

On my way to Annual Conference in Lakeland this past week, a song came through my speakers that I hadn't heard in a while. Once I began to recognize it, I was thankful there was a rest area ahead. I began to remember the words and knew that I needed to pull over; it was going to be difficult to focus on the road during this song, but I did not want to skip it. So I sat in the parking lot of the rest area, close to tears, sort of lost in the song, and began to pray it. 

The song is called "You Have Called Me Higher" by All Sons and Daughters

here is a link to the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGDVlOKoOoE

And here are the lyrics:

I could just sit
I could just sit and wait for all Your goodness
Hope to feel Your presence
And I could just stay
I could just stay right where I am and hope to feel You
Hope to feel something again

And I could hold on
I could hold on to who I am and never let You
Change me from the inside
And I could be safe, oh 
I could be safe here in Your arms and never leave home
Never let these walls down

But You have called me higher
You have called me deeper
And I'll go where You will lead me Lord

And I could hold on
I could hold on to who I am and never let You
Change me from the inside
And I could be safe, oh 
I could be safe here in Your arms and never leave home
Never let these walls down


And I will be Yours, oh
I will be Yours for all my life
So let Your mercy

Oh, and I will be Yours, Lord
And I will be Yours for all my life
So let Your mercy light the path before me


This song, by chance, was also one of the worship songs played by the Eleven20 band at Annual Conference. I knew God was speaking to me. The words that stood out to me, in this season of my life, are : I will go where you lead me, Lord. This is my assurance that where I am going, the Lord is leading me, and that I will follow Jesus there. 

I covet your payers, I thank you for all that you have done with me and for me, and wish the congregation God's blessing with Myron Rhodes, and his wife Annette. I have gotten to know them, and you will be blessed by their presence and leadership here. 

Loving God, 
Creator of all things, 
Bless this congregation at Gray Memorial UMC
   and their surrounding community of Tallahassee
   that they may continue the good work of spreading your good news
I thank you for my time with them
  for their service, love, and dedication to love you and their neighbors.
During this time of change, 
  I ask that you may cover them with your hope and peace
Bless and prepare Myron and Annette
   as they anticipate coming into this community
   to continue and witness the good work that you have done.
May their ministry be fruitful.
May they bring people to know your love and grace,
   through their gifts and graces.
You have done marvelous things, O Lord.
We can't wait to see what you next.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

In Christ, 


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Just as I am

This time of year is always a bit stressful for UMC pastors. All over our country, some pastors are preparing to move to new churches, and also for Annual Conference meetings. Sunday is my last Sunday here at GMUMC in Tallahassee, and the transition has been a bit stressful. But I have also found life and hope in this season. Here are some passages, that will be read aloud as we worship Sunday, that have helped me during this time. I believe that they can help this congregation find God in the midst of all these changes and through this transition.

I invite you to read them with me now, and offer your own reflections. Perhaps you can pray through these passages and/or write down what God is doing in them, and how that impacts you.

Exodus 16: 1-12

This passage tells the story of how God provided manna in the wilderness for those Israelites travelling to a new land. They were transitioning, too, not from one pastor to the next, but to a new land. They would travel for many years from Egypt to the promised land. They sought hope and nourishment from their leader, and God provided. What stands out to me is that in their confusion and even their complaining, God gave them their daily bread. God equipped their leader, Moses, with the assurance of this provision, and guidance on what it meant for them. God not only provides "daily bread," but direction in the midst of confusion, hope in the midst of complaining, and a way to enter into a new place and situation.

Image result for psalm 100 love endures
Psalm 100

This psalm is an invitation to worship God, because God is so good. God's love endures forever! All other things are temporary, yet God's love endures forever. Of course, I can think about how my time here at this church is temporary, but not only that: my career, my relationships, my stuff, money, all of it will be gone some day. That isn't such a sad thing when I reminded that God's love endures forever. God is worthy of my praise, and worshiping God gives me the peace and the hope that God's love endures forever.

Ephesians 4: 1-16

Image result for ephesians 4 gifts
Paul writes a new community of faith in this letter to the Ephesians, encouraging them to live faithful lives and find unity in that. He does not do this by giving them rules to follow, but by inviting them to live into their unique gifts from God, writing: "The gifts he (Christ) gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ..." Paul encourages this new community to be who God created them to be; to live into the unique way God made them. In a transition, it always helps to have unity. The receiving community can be united by the way they serve and welcome all people, even their new pastor. I just love how Paul validates these gifts from God. We are invited to come to Christ, just as we are. And this unites us, even though we are all different.

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John 6: 35-51

The folks that Jesus is talking to in this passage remember what God did back in Exodus 16 with their ancestors. Jesus had just fed thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread. Jesus had just walked on water, taming the chaos and making it to the other side of the water. And now he is speaking to those questioning him: "will you give us bread to eat like God did for our ancestors?" He replies “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away."

Jesus loves you just as you are. You are gifted. You are accepted. You have a place with Jesus.


1.        Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

2.        Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

3.        Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

4.        Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

5.        Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

6.        Just as I am, thy love unknown
hath broken every barrier down;
now, to be thine, yea thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

In Christ,


Tuesday, May 29, 2018


The grade school playground was a dangerous place. Every day, I would venture into the unknown; there was no telling what kind of trouble I was going to get into or witness. The playground was  a stage where children performed their best shows of strength, popularity, and quests for acceptance. But everyday, we recited the rules. Do not hit. Do not throw anything.. Do not, do not, do not....

One day, for some reason, I became a threat to a bigger kid's popularity; I stood in his way on his quest for ultimate popularity in the class. How? I do not know, but nonetheless, here I was, swinging on a tire, as he walloped over to me. He wanted that tire swing, and nothing would stop him. But I had waited my turn, patiently, and earned my chance at this most precious tire swing. I was not going to move, either. It was a stand off. He's yelling. I'm spinning. He starts to run towards me on the tire, threatening to flip it over, so I do the only thing I could do: I spun and turned on that thing and kicked him right in the mouth. And then the megaphone sounds: "Jack, get over here!" I was in trouble, now. As I sob and embarrassingly mope over to my teacher, I began to formulate my plight. And the best thing I could come up with, was "I didn't throw anything..."

Obviously, I got the rule wrong. My teacher informed me of this, offering a new lesson to me. She knew the spirit of the rule was to not hurt anyone else.

One of the most significant aspects of Jesus' ministry was that he was not afraid to "break the rules," push the boundaries, and give things "new life."  Mark 2:23-3:6 illustrates this. In back to back episodes, Jesus reinterprets the Sabbath in front of the religious leaders, the Pharisees. He gives a counterpoint to the tradition of Sabbath keeping. This practice was a very important one; it is no shock to learn that Pharisees would make sure that Jesus kept the Sabbath holy, and conspire against him if he did not.

So, there he is, in a field with the disciples as they gather grain, on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees question him and point out how wrong he is! Jesus answers this with a counterpoint: even King David did such a thing! And again, the Pharisees find Jesus in a synagogue, healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. They question him again and point out how wrong he was.  He offers a an even stronger counterpoint: "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?"  I love the next part...but they were silent. Jesus had silenced his critics. They may have realized, then, how this new interpretation of keeping the Sabbath holy gave life and liberation from their rules and regulations. It is summed up by a phrase which Jesus uttered between these 2 counterpoint episodes "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath."

There a several great takeaways from these passages:

Jesus is not about rules, but the spirit that lies behind traditions and practices

The laws of God does not prohibit self-care or care for others

Jesus reinterprets and offer counterpoints for the sake of liberation, new life, and to usher in the Kingdom of God.

We all have traditions, rituals, habits, routines...rules, laws. What Jesus offers us here in his counterpoint to the Sabbath is an invitation to consider these things. Do they bring you life? Do they help you love God and neighbor? Jesus isn't just changing things here for the sake of it, but offering us new life, which may need to include a sort of liberation from living into the love of God (not just the "laws" and "rules")


Lord, we thank you for the rich traditions we have because of our faith,
Help us to remember the reason that we practice is because we love you,
   and seek your presence with us.
Where habits and rituals keep us from seeing your fresh presence,
   offer us new life.
Liberate us where we try and build a box around you
Offer us new signs of your love and grace,
That we may honor and glorify you.
Through Christ, our Lord, Amen.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Remodeled for Eternal Life

John 3: 1-17 shares with us a fascinating conversation between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus.

Nicodemus came to Jesus, in the dark of night, intrigued by his teachings of new life. He asks Jesus, perhaps
sarcastically, if one would have to enter back into their mother's womb! He was asking Jesus what this "new life" thing meant. How does it happen? What happens after you receive it?

Some background:

Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Pharisees came about in the 3rd century BCE as as a reaction against Hellinism, the increasing Greek influence over thought, practice, philosophy, and religion. They were a class of Jews that staunchly defended their religion's tradition and teachings. They grew to power, and even abused that power. Jesus' teachings represented a threat to their rigid interpretation of their religious tradition. They had something to lose, but they also could not resist trying to understand Jesus.

So here comes Nicodemus, late at night, trying to steal away for a private conversation with Jesus. Others gather, too; Jesus is now teaching a crowd (The Greek word for "you" becomes plural when Jesus is speaking).

Rev. Cynthia Weems puts it this way in her sermon "A Complete Makeover" on Day1.org:

"Nicodemus represented a rigid kind of thinking about laws and traditions and rituals but also about the basic work of God. Jesus wonders how Nicodemus could be such a trusted teacher and not know the inner workings of God's Spirit, not know the power of God's Spirit. Nicodemus, and the Pharisees, had such clarity about the things of God that any entry of new ideas or expressions was too much to grasp. They seemed unable to bear the weight of the perceived consequences that might come from acceptance of such thinking about the holy."

Nicodemus and the crowd learned something that I hope we can all learn: God does not want an inventory of every little thing wrong with us, but to renew us, remodel us. Yes, there is power in going back to seek forgiveness and healing from our pasts, but God is concerned also about transformation. Through this new life, your past is redeemed through the love and grace of God.

We are so benefited these days that for every break or dysfunction we face, there seems to be some sort of cure, a person that can fix it. Plumbers, mechanics, electricians, construction workers, help lines, , doctors, tailors...this world is full of fixers, and we use them all the time. Jesus offers us this same thing, but not for our appliances, electronics, or diseases...but for our very life. I wonder if we can call on this love of Jesus as fast as we call on others to help fix things. Lord knows, he will always be there.


God forgave my sin in Jesus' name;
I've been born again in Jesus' name;
And in Jesus' name I come to you
To share His love as He told me to.

*"Freely, Freely," The United Methodist Hymnal Number 389

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

When Jesus Interrupts

This is the final week of the Easter season, a season where our faith community has pondered how Jesus welcomes us to become his people. As we have observed, Jesus first invites us to belong, even before we are invited to behave and believe. That is, Jesus is with us and welcomes us before we our behaviors and beliefs change.

It happens again in the text for this week, Acts 10: 44-48. Here is Peter, one of the first followers of Jesus, and a new leader from Jerusalem, who is called by God to go into the home of a Roman centurion. Has God ever called you to go somewhere you don't want to go, or do something you don't want to do? That might have been how Peter felt. Not only was it improper for him to go into the home of a Gentile, this particular Gentile is a commander in the occupying army. Peter, most likely confused and scared, still enters Cornelius' home and begins to teach the gathered "outsiders" about Jesus. And then God does something amazing...

What is "supposed" to happen here? If this were to go according to plan, the Gentiles would first come to believe what Peter is saying; they would first come to have faith in Jesus. Then, they would learn the laws, and how to keep kosher, how to stay pure, etc. Then, they would be baptized as a sign of their faith and a seal for their new identity in Christ.

But what actually happens here? The Spirit of Christ rudely interrupts and just starts baptizing the Gentiles! What was supposed to be the last step, becomes the first step! They start confessing and showing that they are blessed by God. And Peter asks the burning question: "can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit?" I guess not!

In my commentary (A Preacher's Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series) this week, the author gives this example to try and relate this scene to us today:

"Imagine a room full of immigrants, just starting the process of gaining U.S. citizenship, suddenly being visited by the highest judge in the land who begins shaking their hands and conferring upon them all rights and privileges as U.S. nationals, before they've studied, taken their citizenship test, and said their oath while the authorities and bureaucrats try to figure out how to get these people stamped paperwork and passports. What is going on?"

Jesus, again, says that people belong, way before they behave and believe.

I belong. You belong. We belong.


In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

In Him shall true hearts everywhere
Their high communion find;
His service is the golden cord,
Close binding humankind.

Join hands, then, members of the faith,
Whatever your race may be!
Who serves my Father as His child
Is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West,
In Him meet North and South;
All Christly souls are one in Him
Throughout the whole wide earth.

*In Christ There is no East or West, United Methodist Hymnal, 548

In Christ,

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Belong, Behave, Believe: Follow the Verbs

In middle school, like many of us, I felt like an outsider. It seemed as if I had a lot of friends, but that was because I jumped around from clique to clique, trying to seem like I was popular. In actuality, I really had so sense of belonging while I was at school. During lunch, I remember sometimes sitting by myself pretending to be in lunch detention. I would rather sit alone than sit with no sense of belonging with the other kids in the cliques.

In Acts 8: 26-40, there is a fascinating encounter between Phillip and an Ethiopian eunuch. It is utterly amazing to me how these two specific people have this encounter. This is the third time that Phillip make an appearance in the book of Acts. He was one of the Greek followers of Jesus in chapter 6 who was chosen to take over the distribution of food from the Hebrew disciples as they traveled to spread the gospel. Phillip is a product of the expansion of the gospel! He was not Jewish, but Greek, but he followed Jesus (post-resurrection) and proclaimed the gospel. Just beautiful inclusivity of the gospel by the multiplication of disciples of Jesus.

So Phillip travels away from the religious hub of Jerusalem and finds himself in this interaction with the Ethiopian eunuch. By all intents and purposes, this person that Phillip finds would have been considered an outcast; he would have been extremely ineligible to worship God in Jerusalem with the Jews. This dark-skinned, non-Jew, unable to be circumcised  person would have had no place, had it been for Jesus, and Phillip carrying on his mission of proclaiming the good news.

This eunuch is reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He is seeking God! I can't help but think of all those who perceive that they would not be welcome in our churches, because the face of Christianity is not so pretty right now. In an age where Christians are perceived as 1) anti-gay 2)judgmental and 3)hypocritical , it's no wonder our local churches are dying. The church is perceived as a place that is exclusive and manipulative, not a place where you may find belonging and community.

To recover our image as a place where we welcome the stranger and offer a loving community to all seeking it, we can learn from this passage in Acts, by following the verbs:

Go- not to church, but away from church (like Phillip traveling away from Jerusalem) to share the gospel wherever we are

Join- God tells Phillip to join the eunuch at his chariot. Before we expect anyone to join us at church, God invites us to join our neighbors and experience life with them

Listen and Ask- Phillip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah, and then asked him "do you understand what you are reading?" I know I fall into the trap of thinking that I have to do "all the work" when I share my faith. That's not the case: God was already there, preparing the eunuch to engage Phillip in this conversation. God is ahead of us, working to show the good news to others, inviting us to have the courage to meet God there.

After Phillp asks this question, the eunuch starts asking his questions. They engage in a rich conversation! Phillip is willing to give this eunuch a sense of belonging by first joining and asking the question. When this happens, they explore together their beliefs, and it leads to the eunuch's baptism. Such a beautiful encounter...


We've a story to tell to the nations,
that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy,
a story of peace and light,
a story of peace and light.

For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright;
and Christ's great kingdom shall come on earth,
the kingdom of love and light.

*We've a Story to Tell to the Nations, The United Methodist Hymnal, 569

In Christ,


*My thanks to Paul Rock, who shares reflections on texts for preaching during the season of Easter in "A Preacher's Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series."

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

When You Say Nothing at All

"When You Say Nothing at All" is a country song written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz. It is among the best-known hit songs for three different performers: Keith Whitley, who took it to the top of the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart on December 24, 1988; Alison Krauss, whose version was her first solo top-10 country hit in 1995; and Irish pop singer Ronan Keating, whose version was his first solo single and a chart-topper in the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1999. (Wikipedia)

Think of a time where you knew that you were loved, that you felt cared for...Isn't it interesting that we most often have that assurance not through someone's words they tell us, but the presence they share with us? I can think of many instances where it was not what I said, but what kind of presence I shared with someone that made a difference. I often joke that half of my job as a pastor is simply to show up and know that God beat me to the spot; that God is already there. It is not very funny anymore, because it has been so true.

Psalm 23 illustrates this.

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3     he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.

4 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.

5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 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.

This says nothing about the shepherd saying anything; this psalm shares what the shepherd does to show care for the sheep.

And John 10: 11-18 tells us what a "good shepherd" is like.

Raymond Brown translates kalos, which is translated "good" in the passage, as “I am the model Shepherd.” So "good" may not mean "good" to the sheep, but "good" as in the shepherd is "good" at shepherding. This shepherd shows us how to do it, that is, by laying down our lives for the sheep. 

A good shepherd is not concerned about salary, reputation, or success of the sheep. Jean Vanier puts it this way:

“To become a good shepherd is to come out of the shell of selfishness to be attentive to those for whom we are responsible, to reveal to them their fundamental beauty and value and help them grow and become fully alive. It is not easy really to listen. It is not easy to touch our own fears. It is a challenge to help others gradually accept responsibility, to trust themselves. When people are weak or lost, they need a shepherd close to them. Little by little, however, as they discover who they are, the shepherd becomes more of a friend and companion.”

Becoming like Jesus means becoming a good shepherd: putting away our own desires, our need for success, our own reputation, and noticing the need for care around us. To follow Jesus as his disciples is to both be the sheep in need of this care, and the shepherd that, in turn, cares like the shepherd does.


O Thou, in whose presence my soul takes delight,
on whom in affliction I call,
my comfort by day and my song in the night,
my hope, my salvation, my all!

*O Thou, in Whose Presence, The United Methodist Hymnal Number 518

In Christ,


My thanks to Rev. James Howell who has much more to say about this topic, and does so highlighting the ministry of presence and care of the shepherd in his blog this week