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. 


Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

On a local newscast last night, the anchor person said:

“It’s finally here! The season of graduations!”

I thought back on my graduations, my husband’s, my children’s and my mom’s graduations.

For our family, each graduation was a celebration of accomplishments with great anticipation and hopes yet to come.

Then I thought of all the students who have come through our First United Methodist Garland children’s and youth programs.

I am thankful for the privilege to work with so many wonderful students who have gone on to become doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers, analysts, philanthropists, musicians and much more.

Each year, if seniors have been active throughout their high school years, I allow them to choose the choir tour destinations, Dessert Show themes, and most importantly, our theme verse or quote for the year.

I am so thankful for seniors who come to their year with anticipation and willingness to take leadership.

The younger youth appreciate when the older youth lovingly include them.

Together, we all grow in faith.

Madeline Watkins and Liberty Cowan are outstanding seniors. They take initiative, showing creativity and ingenuity.

Although Pure Joy! Youth Choir has been small this year, they are one of the most talented groups around!

I credit Madeline and Liberty for not only singing in tune, but also keeping our group in harmonious unity!

This year, they chose this quote as our theme:

“God can give you peace for the past, purpose for the present and hope for the future.”

There are many verses that support this quote.

Because Ascension Sunday is in one week, the passage brought to this reflection is John 14:25-27.

Before Jesus ascends, he assures his followers:

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”


Loving God, life keeps changing and sometimes that causes anxiety.

Thank you for the calm assurance that your peace can be in us.

Without fear, help us to bring peace and assurance to those around us.


Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Musician, poet, and essayist Carrie Newcomer penned a poem that has been ringing in my heart and mind these last few weeks.

It’s titled “Three Gratitudes.”

Here are a few lines:

‘Every night before I go to sleep 
I say out loud 
Three things that I am grateful for, 
All the significant, insignificant 
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life. 
It’s a small practice and humble, 
And yet, I find I sleep better 
Holding what lightens and softens my life 
Ever so briefly at the end of the day … 

… And after three things, 
More often than not, 
I get on a roll and just keep on going, 
I keep naming and listing, 

Until I lie grinning, 
Blankets pulled up to my chin, 
Awash with wonder 
At the sweetness of it all.” 

(From “A Permeable Life,” pp 9-10)

As I ponder what I am thankful for in my eight years at First United Methodist Church Garland, I find that I get on a roll like the poet describes.

My list keeps getting longer and longer, full of ordinary and extraordinary gratitudes. 

Here are just a few:

Music sung and played by kids, youth and adults that speaks to the soul and lifts the heart. 

Stained glass windows that wow the senses. 

Leadership who offered loving support during hard times. 

A wise, kind and amazing staff. 

Members who ‘show up,’ pitching in and taking care of whatever needs attention. 

Laughter in the office. 

Smiles in worship. 

And the list grows ever longer, until I am smiling with the wonder of it all. 

Thank you for being you.

It has been a blessing to be your pastor. 

It came upon a midnight clear

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

“Season of Hope!” is our advent theme this year.

The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of my favorites. It’s an old black and white movie.

At the beginning of the movie, a senior angel is talking to a junior, telling him about George Bailey.

The scene is set with a star-lit sky.

Although it’s two stars blinking at each other, it is evident that angels are talking to each other.

Clarence is the junior. Here is a bit of the conversation: 

Senior Angel: A man down on earth needs our help. 

Clarence: Splendid. Is he sick? 

Senior Angel: No, worse. He’s discouraged. 

It is easy to get discouraged and lose hope. Life happens.

For young ones, it’s falling off a bike, making a poor grade, losing a game or parents divorcing.

For young adults, it is not getting a job, house, or family that was hoped for in younger years.

For older adults, it can be that things are changing – new technologies, kids moving away or age discrimination.

For all ages, it’s broken relationships, losing loved ones and unrest in the world.

You name yours. There are numerous reasons that we get discouraged and lose hope.

There are so many wonderful Christmas carols. We have so little time to sing them all.

Often times in our haste to sing them all, we only sing one or two verses of each.

Sometimes, however, the most significant verses are in the middle.
This is true in the song, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

For background, the Greek word for “angel” means “messenger.”

This song describes angel messengers coming throughout all times, bringing us the message of peace and love.

Three of the verses speak of world conditions.

But the third verse, which is most often omitted, says this: 

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!
As many of you know, my father died the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

I grieve for myself, but mostly for my mom, who literally lost her life-long love.

I’m thankful for those of you who have modeled “good grieving.”

I recognize that you put your trust in our merciful Lord in times of both sorrow and joy.

I find it ironic that I can feel both joy/peace and sorrow/grief at the same time. 
As I “rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing,” these scriptures come to my mind:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
 the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
 his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
 and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
 and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
 they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
 they shall walk and not faint. 

– Isaiah 40:28-31

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

– Titus 3:4-5

Loving God, help me to take time to rest, to listen and to be renewed by your Holy

Help me to be the person you need me to be to bring peace on earth (or a least to those who are near me.)
May your hope be renewed this advent season.

We can be joyful

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

How do you define a Joyful Life?

I look around and it saddens me to see so many people striving towards materialistic things.

Do we think that having more things and more money will bring us more Joy?

How many times do you catch yourself daydreaming about the things you wish you had?

Do we really need more things? In most cases, probably not.

I recently read an article in one of the blogs I subscribe to that speaks to this.

It suggests that by implementing six new habits into our routines we can open ourselves up to experiencing a more Joyful life.

I am not particularly hip on lists that offer a ‘one pill for everyone’ type of solution.

I did, however, find this list to be one that speaks to where I am.

Here is what they offer:

1) Start living with no regrets

One of the biggest reasons for feeling like you are living with an empty life is your unfulfilled wishes and long-held resentments.

Oftentimes, the saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.

Start doing things that you always wanted to do, tick them off your bucket-list, and start living a life with no regrets.

If you always wanted to be a chef, enroll yourself in a culinary course.

If you want to write a book, start writing it.

If someone has done bad to you, let them know how they made you feel about it and forgive them.

Life is all about savoring every moment and making the most of it.

2) Start looking out for your passion

There is no joy like working day in and day out on something you’re really passionate about.

Knowing that you are dedicating your life to something purposeful is a hard feeling to be expressed in words.

The thing about passion is that it makes your life both beautiful and worth living.

If you haven’t found your passion yet, it’s absolutely okay. Just keep looking for it and don’t settle.

Interestingly, some people have multiple passions, and if that’s the case with you, go after them and keep doing things that make you happy and your life better.

Share your passion with others and it just might be contagious.

3) Start spending some time in nature

People who feel a connection to nature and believe that nature is important to their lives are generally happier than those who don’t.

If you find it hard to believe this, there’s a scientific explanation.

It says that when we observe the beauty of nature, our bodies produce higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines that make our mood better.

You get a sense of calmness when you spend considerable time in green settings.

The fresh oxygen, beautiful mix of colors, and serenity can change your mood in an instant and boost your happiness levels.

4) Start looking after yourself

People often tend to forget that happiness starts from within.

Nothing in this world can make you happier if you are not happier from inside.

You must learn to look after yourself if you want to live a joyful life.

The first step is to start looking after your body. 

Apart from physical fitness, if you think you need to learn a specific skill to be better at something, go for it.

But don’t forget about your spiritual well-being.

Tend to your spiritual needs with as much vigor and gusto as you do your physical needs.

5) Start giving back to society

There is no more joy than knowing you have added value in someone else’s life – however large or small that contribution may be.

Giving back to society not only helps you to be generous and benevolent, but gives you a sense of purpose as well. 

It also makes you happier knowing that once you did something for others not just for yourself.

Helping others in any capacity makes us dutiful human beings and responsible individuals.

To quote Denzel Washington: 

“At the end of the day it’s not about what you have or what you’ve accomplished … 

“It’s all about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”

6) Start investing in your growth, and the growth of those around you

The one thing that is strikingly similar among all joyful folks is that they are serious and dedicated about their growth – mental, physical, intellectual, and financial.

The very fact that you are trying to become better with every passing day helps you enjoy your life even more.

Start reading books and blogs, watch inspirational videos, read interviews, listen to podcasts.

Talk to people you admire and who inspire you about what makes them Joyful.

Even more important than your own growth is the growth of those around you.

You can be that person who inspires or motivates.

Don’t be afraid to invest time and energy into others and walk with them.

I know this is a lot of information and perhaps you are already doing some of these things.

If you are, I would encourage you to keep doing them and give it your all.

If you have read this list and are thinking, “These are things that make sense but I haven’t started them yet,” know that it is never too late.

No one can promise you that doing any of the things on this list will lead you to a more Joyful life.

I can promise you this, though. You will never know if you don’t try.

I choose to try.

I choose to try and make a difference in my life and the lives of those who surround me by striving towards Joy.

Serve, Give, Grow, Live, Lead.

Sounds like a pretty good plan to me.

Special thanks to Sandeep Kashyap for this inspirational list.

No complaints

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor

I miss Aunt Michelle. 

She was one of the wonderful women that became my family when I married.

We were together at family gatherings, shopping adventures, and she and her family were the only family near us when we lived in Houston.

They took us to eat at some of their favorite restaurants.

One of her favorite adjectives was the word ‘delicious,’ and she was hands down the smartest person in any room.

She died too young after multiple occurrences of breast cancer.

When it was time for her funeral, I stayed home with our oldest, who was still a baby at the time, and Patrick drove many hours across the state with family to attend the service.

He told me about it when he came home.

What I remember to this day was that people talked about how she never complained.

I thought, they are right! I never once heard her complain  About anything. Ever.  

I don’t think I’m called to be Aunt Michelle. We are each fearfully and wonderfully made. I am called, though, to honor her life.

I am invited to learn and grow from her. I am thankful for her witness that inspires me to do better. 

I am thankful for her life and for the nudge I feel when I start to descend the slippery slope of complaining. 

I remember her life, and in that moment I remember so much that I have to be thankful for.  

When the grocery store has stopped carrying my favorite brand, I am thankful for the abundance of food we have in our home. 

When technology won’t play my TV show, I am thankful for leisure time. 

When it rains and soaks our shoes, I am thankful for shelter. 

When the laundry piles up, I am thankful we have more than one set of clothes. 

When I am self-conscious of the medical scars on my skin, I am thankful for access to healthcare. 

When one season ends, I am thankful for the new season that begins. 

When I am uncertain about the future, I am thankful for God who is always present. 

There are times of grief, sadness, anger. We are called to speak up against evil, injustice and oppression. 

These words are also needed to move toward transformation. There is a time for these words. 

On this day, however, I remember Aunt Michelle who reminds me to look for the delicious moments of life, give thanks for them, and enjoy them. 

They are gifts from God.  

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

Slow your mind, recharge your spirit

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Why does life move by at such a quickened pace?

Is this a product of the society in which we live?

Has our dependency on technology forced us to quicken our pace just to keep up?

If you are like me, you probably don’t take enough time to simply slow down and take a breath.

I recently had a conversation about this very thing.

We both agreed that neither of us take enough time to rest or recharge effectively.

We talked about ways we could and should do these things so we can be better at our relationships, be better at our jobs and improve our health.

Shortly after our conversation, we both jumped in our cars and rushed to our next appointments.

I realized at the end of the day I still had not taken the time I said I would.

I am quite certain they did not either.

Taking time to rest and to slow down is fundamental in giving our minds an opportunity to recharge and rebuild. 

Scientific studies have shown that individuals who constantly try to keep up a breakneck speed in their daily lives suffer from memory loss, reduction in cognitive awareness, and in some cases even migraines and impaired visual perception and acuity.

We know now that a rested mind is a more powerful mind.

Taking intentional time to recharge and rest gives our brain the opportunity to rebuild brain cells lost during our hustle and bustle of living a stress-filled life.

I am reminded of when Jesus talked about the flowers of the field: 

“Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes?

“Notice how the lilies in the field grow.

“They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth.

“But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these.

“If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you?”

This passage of scripture is from Matthew, Chapter 6.

This translation is from the Common English Bible.

Think about what you just read.

Jesus is talking about flowers and how they don’t wear themselves out.

Jesus emphasizes that God has meticulously dressed these flowers in beauty and cares for them with such love that it seems almost ridiculous.

I say ridiculous because Jesus also says these flowers are gathered up and thrown into the furnace.

Then we are reminded that if God does this for flowers, what will God do for us?

I think it is crucial to our faith journey that we take time to rest and not be caught up in the fast-paced, stress-filled, breakneck-paced life that we have grown accustomed to.

The flowers do not wear themselves out. That is what Jesus said.

If we are to grow our faith and our relationship with God, we must rest and allow our mind and spirit to recharge.

A tired mind is a weak mind. A rested mind is a powerful mind.

Our spirit, our faith, our relationships will be stronger and more meaningful if we allow ourselves that time to rest and recharge.

Take a break. Look at the flowers.

Pray and listen. Let us hear what God is saying to us today.

May God continue to bless each of you.

Put a little love in your heart

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” – Psalm 122:1

It was wonderful to be back together in sanctuary at First United Methodist in Garland on Sunday.

I am so thankful for all the doctors and scientists who developed the vaccination.

Now we can be close to all the people we love.

All of my family received their COVID-19 vaccination!

And now, the visiting has begun!

I got to visit my youngest daughter and son-in-law in Washington State.

Then on the other side of United States, I visited my oldest daughter, son-in-law, my son AND my grandson in Washington DC!

The last time I saw my grandson, he was a baby. Now he is a toddler. He is such a sweetie and smart!

My nephew and his family came for a visit to Texas! He has two sweet daughters.

Now that I’m of the ‘grandmother’ age, I enjoy watching how my children, nieces and nephews work, play and lovingly discipline their children.

My three-year-old great niece is a budding graffiti artist.

Unfortunately, she colored on my mom’s kitchen floor.

I took a picture of my sweet niece kneeling beside her young daughter as her little girl cleaned the floor where she had drawn.

The mom was so patient with the child.

When I was a child, I remember being disciplined for several wrongdoings.

Once I got in trouble for singing at church. Granted it was during the sermon!

My parents sang in the choir while their three young children sat near the front row.

As a six year old, I flipped through the hymnal and just made up my own words and tunes.

My sister, who is three years older, reported the grievance!

Can’t you just hear it? 

“Mama, Kitty was singing during the sermon!”

As a parent, I know it is difficult to figure out ways to lovingly guide your children.

Last week, when my brother and his wife came for a visit, we reminisced the challenges of parenthood.

Along with the lecture/time out or whatever discipline was being administered, my brother had his boys say, “Thank you, Dad, for enforcing standards that help me become a better person.”

My sister-in-law used that in her classroom.

If you had siblings or children close in age, you know that with two or more children come the skirmishes.

Most of the time, my kids enjoyed being together.

However, there were times when they had to learn to get along.

Once my children were arguing in the car.

Some of you may remember arguing with siblings saying, “Here is the line, don’t cross the line.”

Well, my kids would not stop quarreling.

So from the front seat, I threatened, “If you don’t stop, I am going to make you walk.”

They thought I was bluffing.

Let’s just say, they got their ‘steps in’ that day.

(Luckily, we were not in a hurry to get to our destination.)

If they ever had trouble getting along in the house, I made them sit in the hall and look at each other.

This posturing would continue until they could figure out a way to get along.

Somehow, they would reconcile and all was well.

Since they are all friends today, I’m assuming it was true reconciliation.

I wonder if God would like to sit us in the hall until we reconcile our relationships.

God’s desire is for us to “love one another.”

So the question is, how can we do this?

“Are we willing to act in love and mercy regardless of the path ahead?

“Are we willing to patiently wait for another to want to speak to us?

“Are we willing to consider a conversation that we know will be painful?

“Are we willing to trust that God’s love and grace for us and everyone else involved is big enough to heal each according to his/her needs, understanding and timetable?”* 

Perhaps this little prayer of humility will begin the healing:

“Lord, I am willing to receive the grace to take the best way forward.”

God’s love is unfathomable. It can’t be forced on us. But in humility, we can accept it.

Then God’s love will radiate through us – reconciling, healing, enriching.

Let’s see what this love can do!

* Vinita Hampton Wright

Make it a good-un

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

I will occasionally search the Internet – “This day in history.”

Usually war history and celebrity birthdays are at the top of the list.

But there are also the scientists and engineers with all their inventions and discoveries.

The musicians and artists with their compositions.

And occasionally an author with a famous book.

I wonder, what is special about this day for me?

When I was the Director of Music at Wesley United Methodist Church in Greenville, Texas, instead of saying, “see you later,” one of our older gentlemen would say, “Make it a good-un!”

Meaning make this day a good one.

That actually has great wisdom and some deep theological implications!

Consider this – how do you make this day a good one?

Sometimes we go about our day, letting our day happen to us, instead of intentionally making it a good-un. 

Granted, there are days that are legitimately bad.

But sometimes, I will allow myself to complain about everyone and everything.

During this pandemic, many of us have had those griping and complaining days.

We end up saying things, writing letters and emails, or posting things that only tear down each other, the church and the Kingdom of God.

When I do this, the Holy Spirit urges me to stop and consider, “Was my action really God’s calling?” 

What is God’s calling?

That topic is another interesting Internet search – “Bible verses on God’s call.”

The top results are “to do justice,” “speak for those who can’t speak for themselves,” “love one another,” and the list goes on.

Interestingly, it doesn’t say complain or speak critically of others. 

Well – that’s it.

That’s something for us to reflect on today. 

Make it a good un!

Peace to you! 

PS – Click here to listen to Joey Fisher’s arrangement of This is the Day the Lord Has Made by Isaac Watts. (Thanks Joey!)

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.