Why I’m a United Methodist

Scot Bontrager, Senior Pastor

In a few weeks we will begin a sermon series on “Why I’m a United Methodist.” where we will discuss what Methodists believe and why.

As part of this sermon series, we want to videotape people answering questions about their experience of being Methodist, and being part of our faith family here at First United Methodist Church Garland.

The questions are:

  • Why are you a United Methodist?
  • What sets Methodists apart?
  • Who in your church do you admire?
  • What is your favorite thing about First United Methodist Garland?

Since I believe good shepherds lead the flock from the front, I’m not going to ask anyone to do anything that I won’t do.

So, here are my answers to the questions. 
I am United Methodist because I grew up in the UMC. I was shaped and formed by good Methodists lay people and pastors.

The United Methodist Church was where I felt safe and included.

And over time I’ve come to see that the people called Methodist are people who go out of their way to include others.

The United Methodist Church is my home and has been for most of my life.
What sets Methodists apart is their willingness to disagree and still get along.

We understand that we won’t always agree, but we can sit in the same pew and praise God even if we disagree about which political candidate will do a better job, or about what a passage of scripture means. 
I admire Joey Fisher. He is at the church all the time, doing the grossest jobs, and always seems to smile as he’s doing them.
My favorite thing about First United Methodist Garland is how warm this church has been in welcoming me into the family.

I don’t think people are just making nice because the Bishop sent me. I get the feeling they really do like me as a person, even if I’m a bit silly or odd at times.

And the stained glass. I really like the stained glass. 

Positively thankful

Mark Buford, Director of Communications

I have COVID.

Or to be precise, COVID has me.

COVID has had me since I began coughing with congestion, fever, headaches, dizziness, a sore throat and utter exhaustion the weekend before last.

Nearly two weeks ago now.

It’s my first go-round with COVID. The second for my wife Marcy.

Not nearly so terrifying a prospect as two years ago, pre-vaccine and pre-medications.

But frustratingly life-interrupting nonetheless.

Can’t go to work. Can’t go to church. Can’t go to the grocery store.

Can’t visit and take care of my 88-year-old mother, whose birthday visit with me and my brothers had to be postponed.

In short, my life is at a standstill.

And yet, I’m thankful.

Thankful to be alive.

Thankful to not be in the hospital.

Thankful to the doctors and nurses and medical professionals and scientists responsible for keeping me and so many others safe in spite of COVID. 

Thankful, oddly, for the rest.

Certainly, a peculiar way to take a sabbath (I’m quite sure the Staff Parish Relations Committee would have simply granted me one if only I’d asked), but a restful, recharging one nonetheless. 

Thankful for the prayers and calls and emails and support from dear family, friends and neighbors.

Thank for church family and staff who have stepped into the breach to make sure my responsibilities have been covered during my absence. 

Thankful to my loving wife Marcy, who has found the strength to take care of me through this ordeal in spite of her own COVID debacle.

Which has unfortunately postponed the start of piano lessons from Miss Marcy Music (shameless plug) for the 2022-23 school year.

Most of all, I’m thankful for a God who loves me.

Who has counted me among the children of God since ,,, well, since forever.

Who loves me, and who tells me not to worry. 

“I’ve got this,” I can almost hear God say.

God has dusted me off, built me back up, and now prepares me to be a stronger disciple of Jesus, the Son. 

I am thankful. 

P.S. And as I finish this writing, I’ve taken another antigen self-test. It’s negative. And I am thankful. 

Sometimes you need to go around

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

You find yourself standing in front of the tallest wall you have ever seen.

You were told by everyone around you that you needed to scale this wall and perch yourself on top of the highest point so that you can see what is on the other side.

The wall has some places here and there that you could possibly fit your hands and feet into.

There also seem to be some large cracks that look like you could really get a great hold on to pull yourself up.

You take a deep breath and start to climb.

Quickly, your body reminds you that you aren’t as young as you used to be, or that you are not in the shape you thought you were.

Probably should’ve used that gym membership you’ve been paying for but never actually use.

You climb back down.

Each time you try to climb, every place you put your hands and feet, it all seems to be too much.

Each time you tire quickly and must come back down.

You almost slip and fall so many times you’ve lost count.

Struggle as you might you just can’t seem to get there.

You begin to wonder and dream about the sights on the other side of the wall.

What will the world look like?

How much beauty are you missing because you can’t see what is there?

Is there a large lake or perhaps a beautiful frozen glacier that seems frozen in time?

You try again. No luck.

You are drenched in sweat and your muscles ache.

Your body is yelling at you to stop and rest.

But everyone told you that you HAD to get to the top, that what lies beyond the wall is something that MUST be seen.

How long would you try to climb?

How long would you push yourself past the point of exhaustion?

Wait! Did you bother to look to either side?

The wall doesn’t go on forever. If you walk a ways you can simply go around.

So you walk.

The walk seems to take forever but eventually you can see the end of the wall.

Your pace quickens.

Even though your lungs start to burn from the effort and your already shaky legs are about to give out, you find yourself inspired and full of hope because there it is!

The end of the wall.

You slowly and cautiously creep around the corner to view what is beyond the wall.

I find that there are many times I feel as though I am climbing that wall.

What I have to remind myself is that there are other ways of getting where I need to go.

The walk that I am on is not one that I journey alone.

I am surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who mentor me, guide me, and encourage me.

But most importantly, I walk with Jesus. I never walk alone.

The walk may be longer than expected and it might seem like it will never end.

But it will, eventually.

We don’t always need to climb the wall. Sometimes we just need to walk around it.

My prayer for you today is that you won’t walk alone.

That you will look to either side of you and recognize the cloud of witnesses that walk with you.

If you don’t see them, don’t look up at the wall.

Instead, look deep inside and know that you don’t ever walk alone.


When words don’t come

Mark Buford, Director of Communications

Sometimes, the words just don’t come.

That’s a problem when it’s your turn to share a reflection.

And that’s when I’m reminded that listening is just as important as sharing.

So I listened.

Or more accurately, I read. 

Colossians 3:1-11, to be precise.

One of the scriptures for this Sunday’s worship service at First United Methodist Garland.

And it was the last few words that caught my attention … Christ is all in all

This reminds me of a song I used to sing back in my praise band days – You Are My All in All.

(Nichole Nordeman sings it far better!) 

You are my strength
when I am weak,
You are the treasure
that I seek,
You are my all in all.

In these times of inflation and poverty and hunger and racism and political bickering and COVID and monkeypox and on and on and on, I am weak. 

When I fall down
You pick me up, 
When I am dry
You fill my cup, 
You are my all in all. 

Thankfully, I have a Savior who loves and watches over me to help me cope. 

Jesus, Lamb of God, 
Worthy is your name. 
Jesus, Lamb of God, 
Worthy is your name. 


Is God noisy?

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;

and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 

– 1 Kings 19:11-12 NKJV

This past Wednesday morning began as every other since July 11: a walk along a noisy and crowded Flushing, Queens, New York sidewalk to the subway station, hoping and praying that an express train to Manhattan (Times Square/42nd Street) would be available. 

However, a question randomly popped in my head.

“If humans are made in the image and likeness of God, is God noisy?” 

I answered myself, “Well, God is hugely into music, just like us.

“He likes to hear choirs sing His praises. Even the heavenly bodies in the galaxy make sounds!

“And Jesus got killed for the noise He made while on Earth. Of course, God isn’t necessarily quiet.” 

Later that day, after rehearsal, I decided to get some dinner before going to the piano practice studios near Lincoln Center in midtown Manhattan. 

On a street corner near Penn Station (34th Street and 7th Avenue), I heard an accompaniment track playing the hymn tune HENDON, which is commonly sung to the text Take My Life and Let it Be

In the near deafening noise that is lower Manhattan, I could faintly hear the song, and I started singing it out loud as I walked to the restaurant.

After dinner, I took the train up to Lincoln Center.

Because I was uncharacteristically early to my appointment, I sat in a park near the Tony Plaza. 

A clock struck 7:00pm, and then I faintly heard synthetic church bells playing the iconic hymn Abide With Me.

As I was enjoying and soon about to sing along, a drumline marched down the street and completely drowned out this prayerful hymn. 

I had a realization I felt impressed to share:

God chooses not to compete with our noise. 

In fact, our being silent in His presence is one of the humblest acts we can perform. 

It is our way of acknowledging that God’s “noise” is more important than our own. 

Then I asked myself, “Do I keep myself too busy to allow the voice of God to be heard?

“Is my mind too polluted with the philosophies of this world to allow God to reveal to me what He wants me to see?”

I don’t know, but this past Wednesday in New York City gave me much to consider. 

A morning prayer

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

New every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world.

Stir up in us desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors and all your creation, and to devote each day to your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

– An Order for Morning Praise and Prayer, United Methodist Hymnal, 876

I love this prayer because it reminds me that every day God is working out God’s purpose.

It also reminds me that we all need to be a part of God’s work every day. 

Sometimes when praying, my prayers sound like a task list for what I want God to do.

It’s almost as if I’m saying “my will be done,” instead of “thy will be done.” 

A few weeks ago, we sang the hymn Open My Eyes that I May See. 

This is a wonderful morning prayer! I hope you will pray it with me this morning. 

Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; 

place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free. 

Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. 

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine! 

Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear;  

and while the wavenotes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear. 

Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. 

Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine! 

Open my mouth, and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere; 

open my heart and let me prepare love with they children thus to share. 

Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. 

Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine! 


What you think will happen

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Have you ever played golf? See if this sounds familiar:

The pin is only 94 yards away.

You grab your pitching wedge.

Looking at the green, you line up your shot and step up to the ball.

As you settle in for the shot, you take a deep breath.

You transfer your weight slightly to your front foot as you begin your swing.


You hit the ball and it flies in an almost prefect arc.

As it approaches the green you hold your breath.

The ball hits the green, takes two bounces and drops right into the cup for that elusive eagle! 

That’s what the mind creates as the perfect shot.

That’s what we convince ourselves will happen. We really do think it will happen that way.

What really happens is more like this. 

You are 94 yards away from the pin.

You grab your 9 iron because you know you probably aren’t going to make it there today with your pitching wedge. 

You line up the shot and swing.

Maybe you hit the ball. If you do, you probably hit it wrong.

it sails way left or way right and bounces off three or four trees before landing somewhere you’ll never find it. 
What we think will happen versus what actually happens. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this.

It’s interesting though that when it comes to other people or other things I can usually predict what will happen.

It usually turns out not too far off what actually happens.

But when it comes to me and things I do, it often turns out differently that what I expected. 
I started thinking about the ministry of Jesus, and how people who witnessed the miracles or heard him explain things most likely had no idea what was happening.

Whatever they thought was going to happen, Jesus usually did it differently.

Whatever the expectation, it usually happened in a very unexpected way.

I love that about Jesus. I love that his ministry was never what was expected.

For me, that’s one of the reasons why his ministry was so powerful, and continues to amaze me today.
Perhaps one of the reasons people aren’t hearing our message of love and grace as well as they should is because we aren’t allowing ourselves to be surprised.

Maybe we should indulge a little in what we think CAN happen and get excited again.

I love talking to people who are excited about things.

Even if I don’t understand or don’t agree with whatever they are excited about, I still love the fact that they are excited.
Jesus crafted his responses to those who doubted in a way that was unexpected, and performed miracles that often turned out completely different than the way people thought they would.
I hope and pray that you are surprised this week, and that your relationship with Jesus gives you a sense of excitement.

Maybe this week things can turn out the way we think they will.

But won’t it be incredible if they don’t? 

Playing in the sanctuary

Scot Bontrager, Senior Pastor

When I was a kid I loved to make and fly paper airplanes. 

After church my brothers and I would collect used worship bulletins, take them home, and recycle them into our various flying creations. 

Sometimes I’d go back to church (First United Methodist, Garden City, Kansas) and sneak into the sanctuary, go up to the balcony, and see how many airplanes I could land on the chancel. 

Or better yet, all the way to the high altar at the far back of the chancel. 

I knew I had to do it at times when no one else was around, lest I get scolded for playing in the sanctuary. 

Imagine my delight when, during Vacation Bible School here at First United Methodist Garland last week, we made paper airplanes in the science room.

My muscle memory took over as I folded a couple of my favorite designs, something I’d not done in over 30 years.

The youth helpers kept saying, “No way!”

My two creations didn’t fly particularly well – certainly not as well as I remembered – but well enough to inspire others to try my designs for themselves. 

I didn’t encourage anyone to try letting one sail from the sanctuary balcony, but I wonder if next year we might need to give that a try. 

So often when people have an experience of being “born again,” they lose their childlike sense of playfulness. 

I think somehow “holy” got confused with “dour.” 

The sanctuary is holy space, space set apart for the worship of God.

But it isn’t, and ought not be, dour space.

If setting a paper airplane free awakens us to the presence of the Holy Spirit and gives us joy, then we should take time to refold our bulletins and find a nice place to see how far they will sail.

Worship should frequently fill us with joy, and should always remind us that we are children; we are children who are loved by God. 

A prayer for fathers and equality

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

Dear Heavenly Father,

We thank you for the fathers in our lives: biological and otherwise. 

We thank you for the wisdom they taught us, the protection they provided us. 

We thank you for the leadership they provided when we needed it. 

Please continue to bless the father figures who surround us with love, encouragement, and support. 

We pray that more men seek to follow you and obey your will, for in doing so it will strengthen our society. 

Further, Father God, we pray for our nation on this Juneteenth holiday, as it has yet to overcome the legacy of slavery and segregation. 

We implore your Spirit to move the hearts of men towards reparations. 

We remind you of the words you gave to Amos: let your righteous justice flow like a mighty stream. 

Please move this nation to rectify inequality in all forms.

In Jesus’ name, 


God is in it all

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor, Director of Children’s and Family Ministries

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every
matter under heaven:

a time to be born,
and a time to die; 

a time to plant, and a time
to pluck up what is planted; 

a time to kill,
and a time to heal; 

a time to break down,
and a time to build up; 

a time to weep,
and a time to laugh; 

a time to mourn,
and a time to dance; 

a time to throw away stones,
and a time to gather
stones together; 

a time to embrace, and a time
to refrain from embracing; 

a time to seek,
and a time to lose; 

a time to keep,
and a time to throw away; 

a time to tear,
and a time to sew; 

a time to keep silence,
and a time to speak; 

a time to love,
and a time to hate; 

a time for war,
and a time for peace.

– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I have turned to this scripture again and again over the past few years.

It speaks to me in so many seasons, perhaps because it names so many seasons.

I love the breadth and depth of human experience and emotions named.

God is in it all.

Even though I have correctly quoted and cited these verses, I have mistakenly misinterpreted them in my mind and heart.

The conjunction used is “AND.”

In my mind and practice, I have, unawares, substituted the conjunction “OR.”

One joins together.

The other separates.

These scriptures, with their repeated “and,” link them all together. 

Birth AND death.

Breaking down AND building up.

Weeping AND laughing.

They are all happening together.

One does not cease to let the other have space.

One does not stand still while the other stands front and center.

Life is messy, complicated, and layered.

Some days the movements are small and holding them together feels normal, the everyday challenges and gratitudes.

Other days the mountains are high, the valleys are low, and my mind and heart are stretched and ache to contain it all. 

Today, then, I give thanks that I do not have to contain it all.

God is in these seasons, too, and I can offer those highs and lows to God.

All the joy, all the celebrations, the proud moments, the full hearts, the soaring spirits, and the contented breaths.

All the headaches, heartaches, tears, heaviness, tired weariness.

I do not have to carry it all.

We do not have to carry it all. 

We offer these to God.

In prayer, in song, in journaling, conversations with those who love and care for us, reading the scriptures, gathering at the Lord’s table, sharing a restoring meal with those who love us.

God works in us and through us, the Holy Spirit moves and breathes in us, AND Jesus shows us the way.

Thanks be to God.