Most gracious and loving Heavenly Father, we have come together in reflection and prayer as your people across the Nashville Episcopal area of the United Methodist Church during these past forty days. We worship you and praise you as we now prepare to move into our Annual Conferences. You are an awesome and mighty God, more eager to give than we are to receive, more willing to forgive than we are to repent, more eager to heal than we are willing to pray for healing. You are awesome in your holiness, you are flawless in your righteousness, and you are never exhaustive in your grace and love. You are magnificent in splendor and ever-present through our times of trial, as well as in our times of mountaintop exuberance. You are closer than the air we breathe, and you are the Faithful One who has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.
Forgive us, we pray, for the times when we have put our own agendas before your will. Forgive us for making our decisions without consulting and yielding to your direction. Forgive us failing to respect and submit to one another out of love. Forgive us for allowing the enemy to break into our camp and to cause disharmony and division. Forgive us for living and thinking at the level that “it’s all about me.” Forgive us for failing to feed you when you were hungry, for failing to give you a drink when you were thirsty. Forgive us for failing to welcome you when we you were a stranger among us. Forgive us for leaving you naked, and for ignoring you when you were sick, and for failing to visit you when you sat all alone in a prison cell. Forgive us, we pray, and restore us to that place of holy favor with you, as you move in and through us, and make yourself known to us by your Holy Presence. We thank you, Lord, that you have promised if we will confess our sins, you are faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We thank you for the simple words we hear, “You are forgiven.” We shout, “Hallelujah,” as we move forth into this new season, redeemed, forgiven and set free to be your agents of love and grace to one another and to the world around us.
We thank you for your faithfulness to meet us, as you have promised, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there with them.” We thank you for drawing our hearts together around a common purpose, as we have invited you to invade our personal and corporate space. We thank you for your promise that if even one person would pray and seek your face, you would heal our land. We thank you that your healing and restorative power has gone forth “to bring good news to the poor, to bind up our broken hearts, to proclaim release for the captives, and liberation for prisoners…to comfort all who mourn…to give us a crown of beauty in place of ashes, to soak us with the oil of joy in place of mourning, and to place upon us a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.”
We ask you now to bless our spiritual leader, Bishop McAlilly, and all of our conference leaders. Bless our pastors and their families. Bless our congregations, and bless our mission posts near and far. Bring healing, restoration, and power to your people who will be gathering together in conference, and then going forth to carry your presence and power back to the local churches. May your glory cloud fill the temple as we come to meet you in this holy time and space. Bless us with your favor, bless us with your presence, bless us with the peace that passes all understanding as we go forth now to conference together in your name. All of this we pray to you, Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in Jesus precious and holy name. AMEN!
The LORD God’s spirit is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted…to comfort all who mourn… to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement. They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, planted by the LORD to glorify himself. They will rebuild the ancient ruins; they will restore formerly deserted places; they will renew ruined cities, places deserted in generations past.
The concept of having a Spiritual Director was something new to me back in 2004, but it was very obvious that God had orchestrated and maneuvered my life to receive the healing and transforming grace of such a relationship. My life had taken some difficult dips and turns through cancer, divorce, and the devastation of church conflict. In the depth of my pain, God sent a Spiritual Director into my life who literally became “Jesus with skin on.” I am alive today because of the restorative power of God’s grace that came to me through spiritual direction.
I was at a conference during the midst of my pain in which the Bible teacher was walking us through the Song of Solomon. He was opening the scriptures that speak of God’s desire for deep intimacy with each of us within the Body of Christ. We then stood to sing, as we moved into a time of worship. During the worship, God gave me a vision, but I tried to fight it off, believing that it was, instead, a ploy of the enemy. I saw myself in a beautiful wedding chamber with dark, richly paneled walls, bold crown molding around the ceiling of the room, and wide, wooden planks on the floor. In the wedding chamber was an eloquent pillared post bed, covered with a beautiful white chenille bedspread. In my vision, I was dancing with my Spiritual Director. I immediately sat down holding my head in my hands, silently repeating scriptures over and over in rapid-fire succession in an effort to erase the thoughts, as I was claiming the authority of the Word over what I thought was an attack of the enemy.
Then, the most amazing thing happened. In the vision, Jesus entered the wedding chamber, he tapped my Spiritual Director on the shoulder, and he took the dance. I found myself in the arms of Jesus as we danced with grace around the room. What I had thought was the enemy, was actually God, wooing me into a place of deep intimacy. I have never been the same since that day when I danced with Jesus!
God loves each of us so much, and God desires for us to walk in the fullness of who we are in Christ Jesus; redeemed, restored, renewed, and made whole to be all that God has called and created us to be. I am so thankful for a Spiritual Director who ushered me into the arms of Jesus.
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”
Loving God, sweep us off our feet with your love. Hold us in your embrace as you transform and re-form our lives into the beautiful creations that we are, made in Your image to transform the world by Your love. In Jesus’ holy and precious name we pray. AMEN.
The Rev. Dr. Diana M. DeWitt
Executive Director Aspen Tree Ministries
Chairperson Spiritual Formation Team, Tennessee Conference
The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people.
When I was a teenager, I was kind of a mess. Oh, I wasn’t that different from any other fifteen or sixteen year old boy in the 70’s – in fact, I was a pretty good kid by some standards. But I was a fearful kid who had anger issues, and I tried to cover up my insecurities with a know-it-all attitude. There were real opportunities to go down difficult paths, and yet God continued to put saints in my way that saw the real me, and loved me into the Kingdom.
When I think back on those faithful influencers, what I remember the most is that they were people of peace and gratitude. They were people who knew who and whose they were, and in that knowledge they weren’t easily tossed to and fro by the winds of chaos and emotion. As important, they were always thankful for God’s gifts, however small they were, and their spirit of gratitude was contagious, always pointing to the positive instead of the negative.
These days, it seems, many of our churches are more taken with the spirit of fear and scarcity than peace and gratitude. Given the chaos of the world, it’s easy to understand why, but as Paul told the Colossian church, peace and gratitude are characteristics of what it means to be the Church together. When we live out these values, we proclaim to the world our assurance that we worship a God who transforms the turmoil of the world into serenity, and the scarcity of the world into abundance.
Does your church reflect peace and gratitude? If not, what could you do to make those values more a part of your communal life?
Lord, thank you for the influencers in our lives who point us to you, and who set for us an example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Help me to do my part, so that the world may know peace, and be transformed by your love.
In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
The Rev. Jay Voorhees
Interim Coordinator of Communications, Tennessee Conference
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.
She was one of those people that I would see “around,” but not see. She was one of the haggard-old-before-her-time-women who survived day-to-day on the street. She did not come to the Sunday community meal, but she did start showing up at the Urban Ministries office to get food and help. And then she started showing up to help. In some setting, she had discovered Jesus, and her whole life changed. The day dawned, not just another few hours to survive, but the day dawned to serve others like Jesus.
She was sent to me when she started talking about being baptized. She sat in my office, so small and hesitant at first. Then the story started pouring out, a story so filled with brokenness and pain that it was all I could do to hear it, much less imagine anyone having lived through it. But now things were different. She had found Jesus. She had found a purpose in life trying to help others on the street.
She wanted to be baptized, but wasn’t sure she was “worthy.” I talked to her about baptism being a sign of God’s grace that none of us “deserved,” but rather all of us, everyone of us, received as a gift of love poured out from the heart of God. She exclaimed, “I want that. I need that. I want to be put into the water, all the way. I want to be made clean and have all the dirt washed away. I want a new life, and I want my daughter that I haven’t seen for years to come.”
About fifteen minutes before the scheduled baptism, the pastor of the neighboring church where I had made arrangements for us to use the baptistery called with panic in his voice. When he had gone to check the water temperature in the baptistery, he found that it was empty, having sprung a major leak. There she stood, holding the hand of her daughter, so ready to be made new through the power of water and the Holy Spirit, looking at me with unbelief and disappointment.
“Come, take a walk with me,” I said. I took her out to the church prayer garden. In the middle is a beautiful fountain. I told her that the fountain had been constructed from pieces of the old church building that had survived the crushing wind of a tornado a few years before. “After the storm, all that was left were bits and pieces, but they took those broken pieces and made them into something new and beautiful. That’s what baptism is all about, I told her. Would you like to baptized there? Her eyes lit up with understanding and joy. We both climbed into that fountain, and I know that there was singing in heaven that day! Transformation took place, for both of us!
Loving and gracious God, thank you for the gift of baptism. Thank you for adopting us into your family–all of us. Thank you for making a way for us to have life and to have it in abundance. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
The Rev. LeNoir Culbertson
Murfreesboro District Superintendent, Tennessee Conference
The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning a mantle of praise in place of discouragement. They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, planted by the Lord to glorify himself.
We most often hear or read parts of this scripture from Luke 4:18-19. Jesus read these verses in the synagogue at Nazareth, his hometown, on the Sabbath. When we hear the verses from Luke we see that Jesus is describing himself. But when we read the scripture in Isaiah, we get a sense that the words are more applicable to us.
While the prophet, Isaiah, may have been talking about himself, we get a feeling that the scripture is talking to us and inviting us to let the Holy Spirit lead us to proclaim, bind up, liberate, comfort, provide, and give, to people that are hurting and in need.
In Luke, Jesus was talking about himself, but as Jesus’ disciples we are to join Jesus in these pastoral ministries to people. We live in a world in which there is pain, sorrow, fear, and imprisonment. The Holy Spirit invites us to join with Jesus and minister to the needs and concerns that people have in life.
Let us remember, Jesus is not only our Savior, but also our model for mission and ministry. After all, the highest form of flattery is imitation.
Holy Spirit, as I seek to follow Jesus, give me eyes to see and ears to hear opportunities to be like Jesus, so that I may proclaim, bind up, liberate, comfort, provide, and give to people and enable them to become “Oaks of Righteousness.” In the Holy name of Jesus. AMEN.
The Rev. Dr. Ron Brown
Spiritual Formation Team, Tennessee Conference
1 John 3:16-18
This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care—how can the love of God remain in him? Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning and I was sorting children’s clothing at the local campground where many underserved people permanently lived. Their dwellings were old broken down RVs and tents. It was part of a clothing giveaway sponsored by a corporative ministry in Wilson County called S.A.L.T., which is the acronym for Serving At the Lord’s Table.
We had gathered clothing from the six churches, sorted it, and carried it out to the campground that morning so the children could have some new clothing for school and the fall season. I had just finished laying out the children’s clothing by sizes, when a beautiful, little Hispanic girl came up to me, and translated a question from her mother concerning the clothing. With her large dark eyes, she asked,
“How much can we have?”
I look at her and said, you can have
“ALL YOU WANT.”
Isn’t that what Jesus would say? You can have “All You Want.” All you have to do is ask. Jesus calls us to serve others, not by just giving part, but by giving overly and abundantly of what we have. We found through the ministry at the campground that we were showing God’s love to the people who lived there through our actions.
Father God, would you help us search our hearts for areas where we can be “Jesus” to the lost and needy? Would you give us strength and resources to be your hands and feet. In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN.
Spiritual Formation Team, Tennessee Conference
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
This is why we don’t get discouraged, given that we received this ministry in the same way that we received God’s mercy. Instead, we reject secrecy and shameful actions. We don’t use deception, and we don’t tamper with God’s word. Instead, we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God by the public announcement of the truth. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are on the road to destruction. The god of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t have faith so they couldn’t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory. Christ is the image of God. We don’t preach about ourselves. Instead, we preach about Jesus Christ as Lord, and we describe ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. God said that light should shine out of the darkness. He is the same one who shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
When we truly consider the gospel, it is difficult for us to conceive. It is often in our minds unbelievable. It is at the very least incredible!
Think for a moment about the incredible incarnation. We marvel at the Christmas story. How important was and is mankind that God would send his only begotten Son, Jesus. It’s truly incredible. Just to recognize that today’s incarnational hope rests in each of us is incredible.
Secondly, consider the incredible Christian experience. Think about the experience of Paul on the road to Damascus. Think about the experience of Zacchaeus. Think about your own experience of Jesus. Why should we be so endowed? If God knows me so well, why would he love me? It’s an incredible experience.
Thirdly, consider the incredible Christian Witness. Paul spoke of the foolishness of preaching. The only factor that trumps that foolishness is the presence of God. When God is in our life, God changes hearts, lives and souls. That’s the knowledge that God promises us. This transformational aspect of our lives is our endowment in Christ. When a congregation fully embraces these incredible truths, then excellence describes, not the manner in which we do ministry, but excellence describes who we are in Jesus.
O God, walk with us in this incredible journey. Help us to experience the incarnational truth and share it with others.
In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
The Rev. Jim Beaty
Pulaski District Superintendent, Tennessee Conference
1 Peter 1:6-9
You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you’ve never seen him, you love him. Even though you don’t see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. You are receiving the goal of your faith: your salvation.
I was appointed to a county seat church after a very difficult five years at a suburban church. My time at the suburban church was marked with several trials: a contingency of the congregation left a few months after I had been there, a tornado devastated several homes near the church, I had a freak heart infection that nearly took my life, and my wife and I both lost parents – all with 18 months.
After that I found myself empty and lifeless, and submitted myself to spiritual direction with a spiritual director. With help, I soon realized that those trials I had endured could be transformational – if I would allow it – into tempering and refining experiences for my faith and endurance. My anger and frustration was slowly replaced with renewal and resolve. So when I arrived at the county seat church, I was a “new” man. It allowed me to help a church, as well as people in and outside of the church, see trials and struggles in a new light, and how, in order for transformation to take place and take root, we have to be willing to endure the trials.
As we are all realizing in the Nashville Area, deep change is slow and sometimes painful. In this season, however, it is what we are called to embrace, so that we can reclaim our task as United Methodists: to proclaim holiness, to make disciples, and to transform a hurting world that desperately needs to hear about and experience Jesus Christ.
Gracious God, while we don’t need to be martyrs, we do need to be willing to step out in faith, to be willing to risk deep change, and possibly endure trials and hardships, sacrifices and disappointments – and to know that you are still God, and that our efforts are not in vain, but rather blessed in the now and future Kingdom as we seek to make disciples in Jesus’ name. AMEN.
The Rev. Sky McCracken
Paducah District Superintendent, Memphis Conference
Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.
So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.
After I graduated from divinity school, I accepted an offer to serve as an associate pastor in North Carolina. In 1999, I decided to move back home to Tennessee and was appointed to Erin UMC in Erin, TN (pop. under 1,400). Although it would be hard for me to describe what a blessing this appointment was to me, it is also true that it was personally difficult initially. I was not prepared for how isolated I would feel serving in a district where I knew no one. During my first few months in Tennessee, I was often lonely. I frequently second guessed my decision to come home because I had so many deep connections in the state of North Carolina.
Fortunately, around this time pastors were encouraged to join covenant groups, and I eagerly joined, not one, but two! One began as a geographically convenient covenant group; the other began as a younger clergy covenant group. Fifteen years later I still meet with both groups. Since 1999, these sisters and brothers in Christ have carried my burdens and celebrated my successes. They have provided a safe place to voice dilemmas, fears, and questions. They have suspended judgment and allowed me to vent and to confess. They have prayed for me and with me. They have freely shared their best insights and ideas with me. They have encouraged me to pursue excellence. I am a more faithful disciple and a better pastor because their love has shaped me.
Who knows you deeply? Who supports, encourages, and challenges you? Who helps you to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus? Whose burdens do you help carry?
O God, we give you thanks for those persons who both love us and love you so much that they call us to pursue excellence for your sake. Help us lay down the baggage of distrust and self-sufficiency. Open our eyes and our hearts so that we may fulfill the law of Christ and carry one another’s burdens. Give us strength and endurance to run the race that is laid out in front of us as we offer Christ to a hurting world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Rev. Harriet Bryan
Nashville District Superintendent, Tennessee Conference
Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the Kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
As a District Superintendent, I am blessed to work with many churches that exhibit missional excellence. The Coldwater UMC is a small membership church that adopted an intentional ministry plan based on Matthew 25. After paying their apportionments in full, another step was taken to engage the mission field. They decided to give ten percent of their total offerings to fund the ministry plan! Thousands of dollars, volunteer hours and gifts in kind made the following possible:
Food boxes given to the hungry.
Dozens of chicken packs given to the food bank.
Hundreds of dollars given to UMCOR for water and sanitation.
Assisted a volunteer serving in Nicaragua.
Gave to East Congo Parsonage
Organizing a team to serve at Henderson Settlement
Opened a clothes pantry assisting hundreds of families in the community.
Gave hundreds of dollars to Angels Clinic in Murray, Ky.
Gave nearly $3000.00 for an individual medical need.
Cash donation to New Beginnings Transition Home
Coldwater UMC embraces Matthew 25 and 28; believing that missions and evangelism should be connected. They communicate the desire for God to send them people others do not want. Coldwater UMC is emblematic of those churches who offer Christ to a hurting world through missional excellence.
Lord, give us a heart for reaching others through Word and Deed. Help us to trust you as we courageously share your love and resources in mission fields near and far away. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
The Rev. Dr. Joseph A. Geary
Paris District Superintendent, Memphis Conference
Ephesians 3:19 (14-19)
I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.
So you long for your congregation to be transformed? Paul’s prayer in Ephesians gives us a clue as to how that might be done. Paul prays that Christ lives in our hearts, that we are rooted and grounded in love, and that we have the power to grasp love’s all encompassing reach. Paul even dares to pray that we “be filled entirely with the fullness of God!” This is definitely a prescription for transformation. How does this happen?
Paul is speaking in the plural “you” to the whole congregation. He sees the congregation as the primary instrument and context whereby spiritual transformation happens. Jesus defines a congregation as “where two or three of you are gathered in my name.”
Spiritual transformation builds on formation. Paul speaks of spiritual formation as, “Christ being formed in us” like the birthing process (Gal 4:19). It takes time and effort and is life-long. As Christ is formed in us we live and serve in the character of Christ. Wesley referred to this as being sanctified in perfect love.
Spiritual transformation is what God does as we are aware, available, expectant, and yielding. Life in the congregation then becomes “sacramental,” mediating God’s transforming and sanctifying work.
Our congregations are transformed as we become sacramental in the sense that what we say and do, how we live and serve, mediates the transforming grace of God for others. God then can “release the love” through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. With that, God can “do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine.” And that is congregational excellence!
O Christ, empty us of ourselves that we might be filled with the fullness of God. In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN.
The Rev. John Collett
Executive Assistant to the Bishop
Matthew 10:42 (40-42)
I assure you that everybody who gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones because they are my disciples will certainly be rewarded.
The local distillery in Cannon County hosted a music festival last summer. The New Short Mountain Church decided to claim the event as an opportunity to reach out to the local community and express God’s presence. For two days, members of the church offered free bottles of water.
Two days after the event, Rev. Mike Womack received a call from a retired minister living in St Louis. He began sharing the story of his grandson’s relationship with the church. As with many others, his grandson left because, “the church is full of fake people.” Not only did the grandson leave the church, he also left his family. Ten years had passed since this man and his grandson had seen each other.
Unexpectedly, the grandson arrived at the house of his grandfather that very morning. Pastor Womack celebrated this news with him, but wondered why a retired Pastor from St. Louis called Centertown to share this story. After all, he had no idea who this guy was. The grandfather then asked if he could share why his grandson came to see him.
It seems his grandson had attended a music festival in Cannon County where he received a free bottle of water and an expression of grace from the New Short Mountain Church.
Something in that simple exchange of water and kindness helped restore a grandson’s faith and his life. It was more than water and a smile. God was able to work within that moment to accomplish far more than anyone could possibly imagine at the time. Mike remembers how he and this stranger from St. Louis cried and celebrated together this wonderful thing God had done.
Sometimes we are privileged to hear stories of transformation. There are those other times when we simply trust God’s capacity to enter and transform a life. The outcome is not our responsibility, but the expression is. Transformation is the work of God, which often begins in very ordinary moments; like a drink of cold water on a hot summer day. You never know when a stranger might call and say, “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”
Gracious and loving Lord, use me this day to offer to another a cup of cold water, a drink of your grace, that life might be renewed and hope restored. Praying in the mighty name of Jesus, who IS the Living Water of Life. AMEN.
The Rev. Max Mayo
Cookeville District Superintendent, Tennessee Conference
I Corinthians 9:19-23
Although I’m free from all people, I make myself a slave to all people, to recruit more of them. I act like a Jew to the Jews, so I can recruit Jews. I act like I’m under the Law to those under the Law, so I can recruit those who are under the Law (though I myself am not under the Law). I act like I’m outside the Law to those who are outside the Law, so I can recruit those outside the Law (though I’m not outside the law of God but rather under the law of Christ). I act weak to the weak, so I can recruit the weak. I have become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means. All the things I do are for the sake of the gospel, so I can be a partner with it.
Pastoral excellence is something all pastors should strive for, yet never feeling like we have finally arrived. To be the best we can be for the sake of being a servant of Jesus Christ is a humbling task. We long to meet the needs of “the least of these” in our society, but many times that category of people are viewed from a physical point of view when, if viewed from a spiritual point of view, we are all representative. We are all “the least of these” without Christ.
I lived briefly among the homeless, on the streets of Clarksville, Tennessee, in my effort to offer Christ to a hurting world. What I learned was that we are all pretty much the same. We want to love, we want to be loved, and we all need Jesus.
I pray daily that the Lord would grant me wisdom, knowledge and understanding to be able to share the good news of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible. To do this I must be willing to become all things to all people in order to reach some.
A pastor who strives for excellence is a pastor who is humble enough to know that, without Christ, he or she is nothing. To be truly excellent, one must pray to be an instrument of the Lord’s, to share His peace with hurting people, to become Christ in the world. Daily, as we are willing to be used by the Lord to do His work, we may find ourselves outside of our comfort zone. It is then that we are walking in the footprints of Jesus.
Father, teach us today to look for those who are hurting and allow us to give them the hope, love and joy that comes, not from this world, but from a life of serving and following you. In Jesus’ Christ name we pray. AMEN.
The Rev. Willie Lyle Spiritual Formation Team, Tennessee Conference
1 Corinthians 12:31
Use your ambition to try to get greater gifts. And I’m going to show you an even better way.
If you were to ask Telley if she knew me, she would properly say, “No.” But that’s OK- I know her. I met her a year or so ago. She was a presenter at a workshop I attended at the 2012 School of Congregational Development in St. Louis. She told her “God Story” about how she and her church have grown. Part of the key reasoning for that was that they determined whatever they would do would be filtered through an emphasis on excellence. Church growth? Excellence? She had my eye and ear, as well as my mind and my heart, all in full attention.
For her and the congregation she serves, excellence is not just about proficiencies in programs, rewarding demographics or even leaders who never make mistakes. And that’s not to say these are not important. But more importantly, I heard her say that their definition of excellence originated in 1 Corinthians 12:31, and would be expounded by the verses that follow in 1 Corinthians 13. What I heard from her was that excellence means love…agape style…the filter through which all that her church does must flow. Love itself will be conveyed excellently.
As United Methodists, we do a lot of good mission work with well constructed frameworks, measurement tools for accountability, and well trained leaders. And yes, we can call that excellence. But sometimes doing things the “more excellent way” means that what we do is under the motivation, passion, and unction of love…agape style. If we are going to feed the hungry, it’s not just about putting food in their mouths, but doing something about why they are hungry in the first place. The same can be said for those who are cold, or naked or imprisoned as well, and how we love them as we learn their names and befriend them.
Witnesses all, as we may be, finding ourselves sent into our mission fields, whatever those may be, empowered with the Word and undergirded by unceasing prayer, how can we not do all that we have the power to do as we lift up Jesus Christ as Lord and do it with excellence and to do it excellently? When we find ourselves steeped in excellence, will it not yield fruit for the sake of the Kingdom?
Even as we find ourselves immersed in Annual Conference sessions and meetings this year, I am going to be praying that all things we do and become may be soaked with the excellence of which our sister, Telley, and our Brother Paul speak, especially noted in the verses above. We might ask ourselves, “how shall you and I, do what we do, in a more excellent way?”
Merciful Lord our God, as you came to us in Jesus, in excellence, doing all things well, may we imitate your example so that all that we think, say, and do will be done by that standard of excellence that you have shown in your life, death and resurrection. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
The Rev. J. Steven Cavitt
Dyersburg District Superintendent, Memphis Conference
I’m writing to you, confident of your obedience and knowing that you will do more than what I ask.
I don’t know about you, but I like things to have order. My sense of well-being is often derived from my understanding of order and control. I like to have specific guidelines and plans for my life, and I like people around me having specific guidelines and plans for their lives as well.
However, I am learning of the futility of trying to be in control and plan out every aspect of life, especially when you have two young children in your home. I’ve attempted on several occasions to explain the concept of order to my children, James Scott (9) and Lindsey (8), but they seem to have a slightly different interpretation of order.
What I have come to realize is that my understanding of order and control is limited. Although I might have influence, the truth is I don’t have control. I am learning that God doesn’t want me to become a person of strict control and order, rather God wants me to become a person willing to be obedient. Through obedience to God, I am better able to let go of my need for order and control by trusting that God has multiple and endless blessings just for me.
Still, it is often difficult for me to let go of my pseudo control over life. I, like many of you I am sure, struggle with the concept of obedience, especially when I’m the one called to be obedient by God. Yet, when I turn to Holy Scripture I am better able to glean a true understanding of obedience. Peter, Paul, and a host of others struggled with the concept of obedience throughout much of their lives, but through obedience they became more richly blessed.
I believe that God blesses obedience. The obedience to which I speak is not so much to one another, although I believe this is important, but obedience to God. When congregations seek to be obedient to God, laying aside personal agendas, and “the way we have always done it,” then the power of God is released to transform lives, to move congregations from maintenance to mission, and to see the Kingdom of God come to earth. How is God calling you to obedience today?
Father Almighty, teach us to surrender our agendas and control, and to allow you to truly be the Lord of our lives and of our congregations. May we be obedient to your invitation and call to be still and know that you are God. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
The Rev. Scott D. Aleridge
Pastor Columbia First UMC, Tennessee Conference