Thanks to our Blog Writers!

As we come to the end of our 2017 40-day Summer Stretch Blog, let us say, “Thank You!” to all of our blog contributors…

Rita Bewry

Peter Borsella

Hazel Campbell

Patrick Chin

Lisa Gonzales

Monica Hidalgo

Annje Hutchinson

Chris Linderman

Michelle Morse

Michelle Musselman

Monique Myers

Will Newton

Bernie Peterman

Lisa Primavera

Vance Rains

Olivia Reynolds

Steve Rivera

Rhonda Said

If you missed reading any of the blogs, or would like to reread or share one with someone, they will continue to be available for the next several months.

Each of these writers have shared their stories, their spiritual insights, their spiritual journeys and their hearts with us.  Some have made us laugh.  Some have made us think.  Some have made us cry. All, in their way, have helped us to get to know the writers better – and perhaps, ourselves.   All, in their way, have revealed insights in Scripture.  All, in their way, have pointed to Jesus, and who Jesus wants to be for each of us.

In the comment section below, please express your thanks!

The End, or…

 

A final blog post by Pastor Vance Rains…

Congratulations!

You’ve made it to the end – DAY 40 – of the 40-day Summer Stretch!

No more daily devotions to do.  No more journaling.  You don’t have to keep reading Romans 12.  No more daily blogs to read.  No more challenges to try.  No more Facebook posts to read and comment on.  No more books to read.  No more challenging sermons.

It’s over.  You can now return to your normal, same-old, non-stretching, every-day life.

Or… instead of this being the end, could it be the beginning?  

Now that you are loose and limber, from all of this stretching, maybe you’re prepared for something new.  Now that you’re in the habit of doing daily devotions, there’s no reason to stop.  Now that it’s become normal to challenge yourself spiritually, maybe you’re ready to challenge yourself even more (maybe there are some challenges on the list you never got around to – do it now!)  Now that you’ve made some new spiritual friendships, maybe you could keep those relationships going and growing.  Now that your mind has been expanded with new spiritual thoughts and ideas, find some new ones to explore!

And, I promise, there are some more challenging sermons on the way!

What if day-40 isn’t the finish line?  What if day-40 is the starting line?  What if all of this stretching has been preparation for the race that is still in front of us?

On this 40th-day, allow me to offer some questions to reflect on…

  • What have you learned about God during these 40 days?
  • What have you learned about yourself during these 40 days?
  • How has your faith deepened and grown during these 40 days?
  • What, during these 40 days, has challenged or stimulated the most growth in you?
  • If you continued one practice from these 40 days, that would help you to continue to grow, what would it be?

I’m reminded of Philippians 3:13-15,

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Press on, my friends!  Don’t quit now!  This isn’t a spiritual finish line.  This is just the beginning of an amazing adventure of faith, that will continue for eternity.  If you can grow and learn this much in 40 days, just imagine what God can do in you in a year, in a decade, in a life-time!

In the words of the great Bob Marley…

I’m a rebel, soul rebel
I’m a capturer, soul adventurer…

These past 40 days are only the beginning a great, eternal soul adventure!

So, press on, my fellow soul rebels and adventurers!  Press on!  Let’s live by faith!  Let’s go capture it, together!

 

Not Ashamed…

Today’s blog post is by Chris Linderman, Director of Youth Ministry, 

One game that our high school students love playing is Ultimate Frisbee.  The game is a mix between soccer and football, but with a Frisbee. You have students that are fully in the game. They are jumping for passes. They are attempting to throw and catch even when they don’t feel confident in their abilities. Then you have others that just stand in the end zone and not really do anything.

In Student Ministry, I typically see two types of students—a participant & an observant. The participant student is engaged in what the student ministry is doing, even if it’s not something they feel comfortable with or enjoy. The participant is typically the student that understands that they have a role in the ministry and takes the initiative in fulfilling that role.

The observant student is the one that enjoys being on the team, but sits on the sidelines and never really wants to play. They just want to watch. The observant either doesn’t really want to fully invest in to it or they don’t think they fit in or have anything to offer to the rest of the team.

I believe that we have all played the observant role at some point in our faith journey, where we would rather watch what is happening in the church, rather than being a participant in what is happening in the church. It’s easy to sit and watch. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. We can’t fail if we don’t try. We don’t feel “spiritual” enough or knowledgeable enough to speak to someone about the love of Christ, so we stay silent.

Paul, in Romans 1:16-17, is making this statement “I am not ashamed of the Gospel,” because he knows the importance of this message—Salvation is here for EVERYONE for the Jews and the Gentiles. Everyone that he encounters needs to hear it, see it, and experience it. The Gospel is GOOD NEWS and we can’t be ashamed of it. We have to be bold in our faith. We can’t just observe. We MUST be participants in this Gospel mission!

Our mission as a student ministry at First Church is to “Be the Gospel to Those That Need the Gospel.” We have a mission as followers! It’s time to play in the game and not just be on the team.

A few questions to reflect on…

  • Where is God calling me to step out in faith and participate?
  • Who around me, whether at work or home, needs to hear the Good News of Christ?
  • How can you serve in your church?

 

In Limbo and Exile

Today’s Scripture is from Jeremiah 29:11-13,

“For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart . . .”

Today’s blog post is by Will Newton, Director of Contemporary Worship…

In campus ministry, I had plenty of students who realized they had made a mistake.  Maybe they chose the wrong major, or they wound up at the wrong school (though FSU is never the WRONG school), or maybe they didn’t want a college education at all. Driven by a quick shove, and a society swarming around them to be “productive” and “make a career”, they found themselves paying tens of thousands of dollars for something they realized they didn’t want.

And the fall out was catastrophic – at least in their minds.  They wound up in my office, teary-eyed and worried. Had they just chained their life to this future? To this career?

Now, to us on the other side of college (or technical school), this reaction seems over-the top. Of course you can change your path after school. But what gripped these students wasn’t the need for change; rather it was the mounting insecurity and vagueness as to what that change was. They were in limbo, in a competitive professional setting that demanded them to be ever growing, training, and producing. There was no space, or time, for vagueness and doubt. Professional limbo was as good as dead, or at least frozen, in their minds.

When we read Jeremiah, we have to realize that Israel was in a twisted space of limbo.  Jeremiah is speaking to an Israeli community that was displaced in Babylon. A community whose faith was centralized to Jerusalem –  which had been sacked – leaving their Temple (the sole place to commune with God) in ruins. They had lost their home, their bridge to God, and their security – their future was vague (if not dour.) And so you can imagine the fear of this limbo came crashing upon this community.

I am going to be bold and say that we too often take these verses out of context and make this section of Jeremiah to mean one thing, when it can mean another. We want this to be deliverance, and assurance. We want escapism with God. I would encourage you to read the whole chapter, instead of settling for this cliche reassurance. Because what is truly happening, in my belief, is more powerful and difficult, than a simple escape or vacation from trouble.

Don’t get me wrong. Clearly God’s proclamation in this section is one of hope. Later in  Jeremiah, he will discuss Israel’s return from Babylon. When we read this chapter though, God begins his work of deliverance in Babylon, not in Jerusalem. His hope springs forth in the midst of the trouble, not after Israel has escaped it.

This promise of a future is stated after an important commandment for the Israeli’s  continue to build homes, raise families, and to “seek the welfare of the city” (verses 5-7.)  In fact, God says that the welfare of Babylon will be the welfare of Israel. God desires for his people to seek growth in the very nation that was their destruction. Even in the country of their exile, banished from their home and Temple, there is a purpose, there is growth, and God is present.

So back to college students. Caught half way through a degree, smack dab in the middle of a semester they can’t escape – the answer I gave was often not to drop out and escape their fear. Rather, I would encourage my students to seek God, to seek growth, in this new limbo they’ve found themselves in. Maybe the answer to their limbo wasn’t to run away, but to seek the welfare of the place they were in.

I believe there is always hope, I believe there is always deliverance. But maybe
deliverance to God is not escape, but rather a divine purpose within our places of limbo and exile.

Straight Roads Ahead

Today’s Scripture is Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV),

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Today’s blog post is by Lisa Gonzales, Director of Children’s Ministry…

From as far back as I can remember, I went to church.  I was born and raised in a Methodist home and, not only did we go to church on Sundays, but we often went on Wednesday nights and Saturday nights too.  All my best friends went to church.  Youth Group was my social life.  I was a part of the Wesley foundation at UCF.  I attended and worked at the Warren Willis United Methodist Church Camp for many, many years.  I got married in the Methodist Church I grew up in (by a Catholic priest, but that’s for a whole other blog.)  Plus, all 3 of my kids were baptized in a Methodist Church (here!), by the time they were all 6 months old. Not to mention –  the cherry on the top – I now WORK at a Methodist Church.

Now, you would think I could quote more than one Bible verse (John 3:16). You would think I get up promptly at 5:30am every morning to do my daily devotion, journaling, and prayer time.  You would think I say nothing but kind and loving words to my children.  You would think I would be searching for ways to help others, serve others, share God’s love with others on a daily basis.  You’d think a person like me must have it all together because for years and years and years she has heard about this wonderful person named Jesus and has surrounded herself with the church.

But I don’t.

I have a long way to go.  My road is a bumpy one. I still have a lot to learn about trusting the Lord and submitting my whole self to Him.  It’s hard.  I imagine it might be even harder for someone who, maybe, has not been wrapped in the comfort of church and a loving family.  But we all try.  We all commit ourselves to coming back to church every Sunday.  We buy new devotional books and pretty journals in the hopes of starting fresh.  We try new Bible studies and take notes during Pastor Vance’s sermons.  We listen to Way FM in our cars and pray for our friends and family who are struggling.

All I can say, is keep doing all those things, friends.  I’m proud of you.   You made a decision today to read this blog.  You opened the link in hopes of once again hearing how wonderful our God is and how He can help us. By doing these things, you are trusting in the Lord – He is making your path straight – even if you think you’re just plugging along a very bumpy road.  So, blow the dust off your Bible (again), pick up that pretty journal, open one of your many daily devotionals to today’s date and read it, and keep trying.

Straight roads ahead!

 

Give It Up

Today’s Scripture reading is 1 Chronicles 29:10-20,

“David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,

‘Praise be to you, Lord,

    the God of our father Israel,

    from everlasting to everlasting.

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power

    and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,

    for everything in heaven and earth is yours.

Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;

    you are exalted as head over all.

Wealth and honor come from you;

    you are the ruler of all things.

In your hands are strength and power

    to exalt and give strength to all.

Now, our God, we give you thanks,

    and praise your glorious name.

‘But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?

Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.’

Then David said to the whole assembly, ‘Praise the Lord your God.’ So they all praised the Lord, the God of their fathers; they bowed down, prostrating themselves before the Lord and the king.”

Today’s blog post is by Olivia Reynolds, Summer Ministry Intern…

Today’s passage is a bit of a long read, but a good one. It comes from the end of King David’s reign, as he prepares Jerusalem for the construction of a magnificent temple. But this isn’t quite like a typical ground-breaking ceremony or launch party—it has a much deeper spiritual significance.

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?” asks King David, and I’m struck by the humility he shows. King David had an excellent track record of military success, all the wealth and stuff he’d ever need, and a royal legacy to pass on to his son. But anyone who’s read up on David’s life knows that he wasn’t always an ideal king, soldier, husband, or dad. David’s private regrets and disappointments were a reminder that even a ruler like him needed forgiveness and guidance from God. His words of praise are useful those of us who like to feel in control, whose self-worth is usually tied in with what we have and what we do.

It doesn’t have to be that way—in fact, putting our trust in God can release us from worry, frustration, and the desperate need to perform.

The other thing I noticed in this passage is David’s joy in generosity. He’s rejoicing not in what the Israelites have, but what they are able to give. I don’t often have that grateful, giving attitude! I know that my blessings and gifts were given to me through God’s grace, but sometimes I don’t act like I believe that. Often, I worry about looking good, impressing others, and achieving success by the world’s standards.

So, when I think about King David’s praise, I’ll ask God to remind me that His purposes are greater and more glorious than my own, and that the best thing I can do is offer my gifts, with love and willingness, for Him.

Act Like It!

Today’s Scripture is Ephesians 4:25-26 New International Version (NIV),

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.  “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,

Today’s Blog Post is by Annje Hutchinson, Administrative Assistant…

We have an array of human emotions:

Sadness

Fear

Joy

Embarrassment

Anger

Disgust

Surprise

Courage

Shame

Envy

Love

Boredom

The movie Inside Out is about a young girl (Riley) who is uprooted from the life she knows in the Midwest and moved half way across the country to San Francisco. The movie stars the young girl’s emotions as if they were each a separate person with a unique personality in her mind. Anger, who is voiced by the “angry” comedian Lewis Black, decides that Riley should just take the bus back to her home in the Midwest where she was happy. In his anger, Anger gets a little violent with the controls of Riley’s “emotions board” and it breaks, leaving poor Riley emotionless and not able to reverse her decision without the help of all the emotions together.

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians is not saying that anger is innately bad or that we should suppress our anger. He’s saying be careful how we act when we are angry because we represent something bigger than ourselves. We represent the ENTIRE body of Christ. Riley, when faced with her anger over having to make new friends, fit into a new school and try new things, acts hastily and irrationally. She does not think about how her parents would miss her terribly. She does not think about what could happen to her on a trip by herself as a young girl. She does not think that, maybe, there was a healthier way to deal with her anger.

Anger can call us to action, move us to make changes in our lives or to make better choices for ourselves. However, when anger controls our lives, it can make us act irrationally, feel depressed and bitter, and cause physical ailments like high blood pressure and headaches. Paul, in today’s scripture, is telling us righteous anger is fine, but talk with the person we are angry with, face the situation we are angry about. Make things right and do it quickly… before the “sun goes down.” Also, he is saying don’t sin in our anger. Don’t spread rumors about the person we are angry with. Don’t have an affair on our spouse because we are angry with him or her. Don’t lie to get out of trouble when we are angry. Don’t drive erratically when we are angry with another driver. Never sin in our anger.

Remember who we are and who we belong to when we are angry. We are Christians and belong to God! We are the body of Christ… Act like it!