Investing in our church

Scot Bontrager, Senior Pastor

I have a mantra I shared with the staff when I came to First United Methodist Church Garland:

Not all my ideas are good ideas.

Not all good ideas come from me. 

Honestly, I don’t remember if I made this up or borrowed it from someone. Regardless, it still applies. 

A few weeks ago, Joey Fisher mentioned that the Finance Committee wanted to do a stewardship campaign to help fund repairs to our building and other facility costs. 

The language he wanted to use was investing in our church.

Frankly, I didn’t like it. It felt too … corporate … for my taste.

But I didn’t have another suggestion, so I suggested we think on it and try to come up with a better idea. 

In the meantime, I’ve come to be rather fond of the language of investing as relates to our church.

When I think investing, I normally think about my retirement savings.

But investing is so much more than money.

We invest our time in things that are important to us.

We invest ‘sweat equity’ in projects that matter.

Investing in our church is so much more than simply giving cash. 

We invest in our church by coming to worship and sharing together in song and word. 

We invest in our church by volunteering to cook, or clean, or set the table, for Wednesday WINDOWS. 

We invest in our church by helping to clean. 

We invest in our church by telling stories in Godly Play with the children. 

We invest in our church by just spending time with our sisters and brothers in the faith over a cup of coffee or tea. 

And yes, we invest in our church by giving money to support our shared mission together. 

Our Finance Committee and Board of Trustees have a heavy responsibility.

Our building is in need of maintenance and repair.

Our insurance bill is much lower than it has been in years past, but is still significant.

Facilities exist to facilitate our mission, and are not inexpensive.

So our Finance Committee is asking for a commitment of $100,000 this summer.

I am personally increasing my weekly giving by $50.00 through the end of the year, designating it to our facilities via the Building Fund.

I pray that everyone will consider what they can do to invest in our facilities as well.

For some of you, this will be an investment of time and elbow grease pushing the carpet cleaner. 

For others, this will be a financial contribution. 

For everyone, this will be a commitment to pray for the facilities and those who maintain them.

I trust the dividends from these investments will be counted for generations to come.

If you are not currently contributing to the operating expenses of our church, I encourage you to do so. 

Every little bit helps. 

I know it seems trite to say, “the price of a cup of coffee each day …,” but it is true.

Every little bit helps. 

Beyond one-time gifts, what helps most are recurring gifts. 

I have my gift set up to automatically charge my credit card twice a month. That works best for me.

For others, weekly, monthly or quarterly gifts are better. 

Having pre-configured, automatic giving through direct draft or on a credit card helps us plan better. 

Recurring giving levels out the seasonal ups-and-downs that stress our Finance Committee. 

Our congregation has a tradition of designating giving to Music Ministries, Student Ministries and other special funds. 

In normal times this is wonderful. But designating your gifts restricts what the Finance Committee is able to do when things are exceptionally tight. 

As important as youth and music are, we can’t have people in the building to sing and play without first paying our insurance and utilities. 

I encourage you to consider making designated gifts only after you’ve given to the general operating budget. 

Your gifts, any gifts, are sincerely appreciated, no matter how great or small. 

Our ministry in Garland is important. Your contribution to our shared ministry is important. 

Thank you for your gifts and tithes! 

Looking up

Mark Buford, Director of Communications

Sorry I’m late. 

This past Friday was my turn to provide First Reflections, but I didn’t feel like writing.

I was angry with God.

On Wednesday, my wife Marcy and I found out that Murphy, our mixed-breed rescue dog and loving companion of 12 years, had a rare and aggressive form of cancer.

Short of chemotherapy or other ridiculously expensive forms of therapy, none of which guaranteed an extension of life or freedom from pain, there was nothing we could do for her.

And I was angry with God.

We made an appointment to have her euthanized this morning, but she took a turn for the worse on Friday.

So we had her put down that evening to make sure she didn’t suffer.

And I was angry with God.

For the past couple of days, I fought back tears as we put away her toys, her leash, her sweater and her raincoat.

I fought back tears as fur she shed around the house and other little things reminded me of her.

And I was angry with God.

Only today did it dawn on me that my anger was unjustified. 

For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 

– Ecclesiastes 3:19-20

Humans and animals. We all live. We all die. And we are all gifts to one another from God.

Murphy loved Marcy and I unconditionally, just as God loves us unconditionally.

Murphy was a gift of love to us from God, and I will be eternally grateful for the time we had together.

In Wendy Francisco’s beautiful GoD and DoG, she says: 

I look up and I see God. I look down and see my dog.

Today, I’m looking up and seeing them both. 

Through faith

… for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 

– Galatians 3:26 NRSV

I am a child of God through faith. So says the scripture.

Not sure I always believed that, but I do now.

Throughout my 67-plus years on this earth, I have had good times and bad. Blessings and challenges.

The good times, the blessings, I’m convinced are not of my own doing, but of God’s mercy and grace.

The bad times, the challenges, God has been right there with me, seeing me through.

I know this through faith.

Faith sustains me in good times and bad … because I am a child of God. 

None of this can be considered earth-shattering revelation.

Believers have known for years. Faithful readers of the Bible have known for years.

I was reminded of this as I read Galatians 3:25-28, the text of this coming Sunday morning’s message, “Children of God,” from Rev. Caroline Noll, our Associate Pastor and Pastor for Children and Families.

And as I pondered this simple yet profound idea, a song came to mind. A favorite, but one I hadn’t heard or thought about for years.

The song – I Am a Friend of God by Israel Houghton – reminds me that I am not only a child of God, but a friend as well.

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 

– John 15:15 NRSV

I am a child of God. I am a friend of God. He calls me friend.

And I know this, through faith. 

Simply because God loves us

My wife Marcy and I are blessed.

Our home came through last week’s historic winter storm with relatively minor damage from a water leak.

We have electricity. We have heat.

And our insurance company found us a hotel for a few days while we were without water.

We and our immediate family members are, thus far at least, COVID-free.

We’ve had our first vaccinations and expect to get our second in the next week or so.

My mother has had both, and she seems happy, healthy and safe since she moved into a senior living facility in January. 

I’m still employed. Marcy is still providing piano lessons, some in person, some online.

We’ve had unexpected expenses, but we’re managing without going too much further into debt.

Yes, we are blessed. But not for these reasons.

To say we are blessed because of our good fortune implies that those less fortunate are not.

And I don’t believe that’s the case.

No, we’re blessed – all of us are blessed – because God loves us.

That was true before the pandemic. That was true before the storm. And it continues to be true. 

Because God gave his only Son for us.

Because God’s grace is available and free, regardless of our faults. Regardless of our iniquities.

Simply because God loves us.

In all of our trials and tribulations, in all of our fortune and misfortune, may God continue to bless us all.

Thanks be to God!


A prayer for the struggling soul

Each week as we begin our ministry staff meeting, Senior Pastor Valarie Englert asks us, “How’s your soul?”

I missed this week’s meeting because I was helping move my 86-year-old mother into an assisted living facility.

But if I had been there to respond, my answer would have been – and still is – that my soul is struggling.

Struggling with guilt over not being able to adequately care for my mom.

Struggling with finding any semblance of a safe, normal work and personal life in the middle of a pandemic now at 10 months and counting.

Struggling to recognize and understand a country torn asunder by continuing, systemic racial strife.

Struggling to comprehend what I’m watching as a mob carrying American and “Jesus” flags storms and vandalizes the very seat of our democracy, with several people losing their lives in the process.

Struggling with what to do, knowing full well the answer – pray.

But what should I pray?

Throughout my church and spiritual life, I’ve known some very powerful prayer warriors. Living saints who knew exactly what words to pray and when to pray them.

And even though I know God listens regardless, I’ve always been jealous of their ability to pray so eloquently.

With that in mind, I’ve been struggling to find the right words to pray.

I may have found them this morning.

In “A Prayer for the Struggling Soul,” Contributing Writer Jolene Underwood offers comforting words for seeking God’s blessings in times of struggle, and scriptures assuring us of God’s grace.

I share them here with the knowledge that I’m not the only one struggling, and with the hope that you might find them comforting as well.

God bless …

Goodbye, farewell and amen

Ring a bell?

If not, two things are certain: 

  • you’re young 
  • you need to find and watch the final episode of the TV series M*A*S*H

First aired on February 28, 1983, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” chronicles the final days of the fictitious 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital as the Korean War comes to an end.

It remains one of the most-watched series episodes in TV history. 

As my wife Marcy and I enjoyed watching it again a few nights ago on MeTV, I was struck by the significance of the title.

Not just to an all-time great TV show, but also to the troubled times in which we live. 

Goodbye, farewell and amen. 

More than eight months into a global pandemic with no end in sight, it’s time to say goodbye to our lives, indeed our world, as we know them. 

There will be a new normal. We are becoming a new church

“Behold, I am doing a new thing …” – Isaiah 43:19 (ESV) 

We will, for example, worship in our Sanctuary again. 

But we will also continue to worship and study and teach in cyberspace. 

Answering God’s call beyond our walls in a manner we never previously imagined.

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

It’s time to bid farewell to partisan politics and racial divisiveness. 

To set aside our differences and love one another as brothers and sisters. 

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.– 1 John 4:7 (NRSV) 

Republicans and Democrats.

Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians.

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists.

Doesn’t matter. We’re all human.

We’re all children of God. Loved by God.

Worthy of God’s love, are we not also worthy of love from one another?

Regardless of our differences? 

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

Last but certainly not least, it’s time to say amen.

To assert our faith. To pray. 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.– 1Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NRSV) 

 Pray for our church.

Pray for our families.

Pray for our brothers and sisters.

Pray for our world.


Goodbye, farewell and amen.

Mixing politics and religion

I hate politics.

OK, maybe hate is a bit strong.

Particularly in a world where there’s way too much hate right now.

Let me rephrase.

I am dismayed and disheartened by the extremely polarized state of politics in America today. 

If you’re a Republican, Democrats are wrong.

Liberal. Socialist. Unchristian.

If you’re a Democrat (full disclosure, I am), Republicans are wrong.

Capitalist. Nationalist. Racist.

Oh, and unchristian, too.

You’re red or you’re blue. White or black. Good or evil. 

There’s no middle ground. No gray area. No room for compromise.

“As a species, we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?”

– Stephen King

OK, I take it back. I do hate it. It’s just plain wrong.

Yet some would argue this is not the place to talk about it.

I am, after all, representing a church.

And there’s a widely though not universally held belief that politics and religion don’t mix.

“Mixing religion and politics is like mixing ice cream and manure. It doesn’t do much to the manure, but it sure ruins the ice cream.”

– Tony Campolo

But the Bible does have something to say about politics:* 

And nowhere can I find evidence this guidance is meant only for one political party or another.

It’s meant for all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Imperfect human beings all. Sometimes right. Sometimes wrong.

All of us – all Republicans, all Democrats – are children of God.

All worthy to be loved, just as God loves us all (John 15:12). 

I pray each of us keep our spiritual duty in mind as we exercise our civic duty to vote. 

What the Bible Really Says About Politics, Jesse Carey, RELEVANT, February 25, 2016

Hope for the future

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. 

– Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV) 

My life is not my own.

I was reminded of this on Friday as another hectic week came to a close, this one with a surprise, socially-distanced 86th birthday lunch for my mother.

Between care giving for her, a wife recovering from rotator cuff surgery, a pinched nerve in my back, two dogs, a cat and a job, that realization once again became top-of-mind for me.

So much so that I was tempted to feel sorry for myself.

When did I lose control?

It was then that I remembered two very important things …

  • I am extremely fortunate and extremely blessed. Not rich, but certainly not poor. A roof over my head. Food on the table. A fulfilling job. A family I love and that loves me. And no COVID-19. 
  • I serve a loving God, who has plans for me. My life is not my own. Never was. It belongs to the one who created me. Who put me on this earth to serve others, after the example of Jesus’ service to others.

God is in control, not me.

And in these trying times, that gives me hope for the future.

Servant leaders

With all due respect and affection for John Cravens, Randy Adair and Josh Medlock, the best youth director I’ve ever worked with was my wife Marcy Buford.

I met Marcy about 38 years ago when she was the youth director at Satellite Beach United Methodist Church in Florida.

We were married at that same church 37 years ago – on July 1, 1983.

As one of her volunteer youth counselors, I learned about something called ‘servant leadership’ – a philosophy where a leader’s goal is not to ‘lead,’ per se, but rather to serve.

She ingrained this philosophy in everything we did with the youth at Satellite Beach, and later at Custer Road and St. Andrew United Methodist in Plano, Brentwood United Methodist in Tennessee, and White’s Chapel United Methodist in Southlake.

And I’d like to think it stayed with me as I transitioned from corporate America to my own ministry career nearly 10 years ago.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of history’s most renowned servant leaders, once said:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Never has this question been more urgent than now, when so many are suffering from the physical, emotional, financial and spiritual effects of COVID-19.

Let alone problems that have gone almost forgotten in its wake – like hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, and immigrants seeking better and safer lives.

Or systemic racism, the issue against which Dr. King advocated and which ultimately claimed his life. 

Now more than ever, we need servant leaders.

People willing to put the needs of others first, and trust that someone else has their back. 

Jesus, of course, was the ultimate servant leader.

And he not only exhibited servant leadership, but commanded his disciples – and ultimately us – to do the same. 

The Bible cites numerous examples of this, including the scripture I’ll be reading as part of our Virtual Worship service this coming Sunday morning:

“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.” 

– John 13:14-15

Washing one another’s feet – doing for others – is ingrained in our church mission statement:

Cultivating Christian Community:
Loving God, Living Faith, Serving Others, Inspiring Hope

It’s why we are the church.

It’s why we continue to give and worship and serve, even as our church building remains closed.

It’s why we are called to prioritize the needs of others, even in the face of our own seemingly insurmountable challenges. 

Many of us – myself included – wonder if we’re equipped to handle our own problems, let alone someone else’s.

And though I’m not advocating for ignoring our own situations in favor of others, it’s important to remember as Christians that God ‘has our back.’

So the question I’m asking myself each morning – the one Dr. King asked – is also the one I challenge you to ask as well:

What are you doing for others?

No longer good enough

The way it always was
is no longer good enough

Funny how inspiration strikes when you least expect it. 

How when you’re not looking for it, or don’t know exactly where to look, ‘BOOM,’ it’s there. 

I’ve often heard our Senior Pastor Valarie Englert and others speak of flipping the Bible open to a random page and finding just the right word or phrase in scripture to illustrate a point or a message or a devotional.

Well, that’s sorta what happened to me.

Except it wasn’t the Bible. It was a song.

Brave by Nicole Nordeman.

(I once sang harmony on the chorus of this song with a young lady who was a far more gifted vocalist than I.) 

An accomplished contemporary Christian music artist, Nordeman was inspired to write Brave as she was overcoming doubts about being a good parent to her first child.

The title comes from the bravery God gave her to stand up and assert herself.

Amazingly, the chorus could have been written for the challenge we now face, best summed up I think by author and poet Sonya Renee Taylor: 

Normal no longer exists.

But we are being given a new opportunity.

One that takes courage.

One that takes bravery, backed by the knowledge that God is in our corner.

Or as Nordeman sings:

So long, status quo,
I think I just let go
You make me wanna be brave
The way it always was
is no longer good enough
You make we wanna be brave