Holy moments

Rev. Caroline Noll, Associate Pastor

It takes a lot of focus and self-control for me to live in the present moment.

This is not new for me.

As a kid I wondered what I would be when I grew up.

In college I dreamed of the life I would have once I graduated.

When we lived in the Houston area I longed for the day when we would move back here, closer to family.

Now I’m wondering what my life will be like when I retire one day.

I’m nowhere near that, but it’s nice to imagine traveling to far off places at a leisurely pace.


I could argue that I’m a planner.

The other side of that coin could be a mental break from current stresses.

But holy and sacred moments are never future events.

They are always now.

Right here. In this moment.

God comes so close to us. And we come so close to God.

And in that moment, even if only for a moment, there is light and love and peace and hope.

Sometimes holy and sacred moments happen observing my kids.

Putting down all my distractions and important grown-up work and entering the world as they see it to experience it with them.

To take joy in their joy.

To see their excitement and their wonder.

Sometimes holy and sacred moments happen in reading and stillness and reflection that would never happen if I sat down just to check my messages and start planning first.

Sometimes holy moments happen outdoors when the leaves or the sky or the air fill me with awe.

Sometimes holy moments happen in conversation with one another, when I stop talking and really listen to another.

Or when someone does that for me.

I have loved Luke 12:22-34 for a long time.

“… do not worry …”

And the disciples are doing just that, worrying about the future.

Do you notice the examples Jesus sites to bring them back from that edge?

Birds. Flowers. Small things. Common things.

Things we might not notice.

Right here in the present moment under our nose.

And Jesus names them holy, sacred, of beauty and worth.

The list of stresses in this present day may be long.

We might be ready for another day.

But God is here in this day, waiting to meet us.

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

Learning to love yourself

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

My position here at First United Methodist Garland puts me in direct contact with teenagers and young adults.

This has afforded me the opportunity to hear firsthand what it is like growing up in the world we live in now.

Teenagers and young adults are trying to figure out a lot of things in their lives. Things like who am I, what will I do for a career, what are my passions, what is my political affiliation, do I believe in God?

These are just a few of the numerous questions these young people are struggling to answer.

In the midst of this struggle, our high school age young people are struggling with preparing for college and graduation, getting good grades, getting scholarships to be able to go to college in the first place, and extra-curricular activities while juggling family and friends.

Our college age young people are struggling with preparing to go out into the work force, finding employment, finding suitable living arrangements, maybe a first apartment or first house, relationships, church and family.

Many of them are so overwhelmed by all the pressures and challenges they face that some become depressed and withdrawn because they feel they simply cannot accomplish all of it and that makes them worthless.

Social media does not help.

All of your accomplishments, and sadly, all of your failures are broadcast for the world to see, instantly.

You cannot hide and often times you cannot even control what is being put out there for the world to see.

People hide behind a computer and lash out and hurl insults and say things they would never say to your face, because there are often no consequences to them.

There are consequences to those whom it is about.

These actions can lead to a feeling of worthlessness and self-loathing.

Ultimately this can lead our young people to a dark place where they find it difficult, if not impossible to love themselves for who they are because they don’t feel they are worthy of love.

I want to be clear here by acknowledging that this is not a problem specific to just young people. All of these things can happen to people of all ages.

If a person is being torn down on social media, told they aren’t OK by mainstream media and the people they know, and they cannot be accepted for who they are by their church, their families and their community, then they are at risk for becoming depressed and full of self-hate.

Most of us may not even realize that we may know someone who is suffering like this.

Sometimes people who are suffering like this often find ways to love other people, find ways to put on a happy face, but struggle with loving themselves.

This has to change.

Every person is worthy of love. Every person is made to love and be loved.

We have been talking about “Love Stories” in our current worship series. There have been strong and convicting messages given by staff and laity alike in different ways throughout this series.

However, I would like to offer a few things to consider that were offered to me by someone struggling with depression, self-hate and addiction.

Here is what they had to share:

“‘Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye,’ a quote by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

To me this means that we aren’t always able to see what our heart sees.

We who suffer are so blinded by chaos and pain that our heart can’t seem to love.

It’s not that we can’t love you, it’s that we can’t love ourselves.

People tell us we are worthless, we are ugly, we are this or that … we are shamed for being who we are.

You hear it enough, you see it enough and you believe it. It becomes your truth, your reality. And it sucks.

You don’t understand why you are crying, or why you want to cut yourself, or why you want to get high.

You just do it. It is the only thing you control so you do it. You learn to hate yourself.

That is how I lived my life for 13 years.

I attempted suicide twice. The scars are evident and painful to see, especially when I see other people staring at them.

I think, “Are they judging me right now?” And I start to feel the old feelings creep up.

While I was in rehab five years ago I met someone who shared her stepladder with me.

It went like this: 

Step 1 – Know and accept who you are right now – the good, the bad and the ugly.

This step is about revisiting who we are and seeking what is true, even when it is challenging.

Step 2 – Have something worth striving for.

I moved beyond striving for just a better relationship with someone in my family and really thought about something I needed to have.

I landed on God oddly enough. Didn’t really expect that.

I just knew that in order for me to move to a place of self-love I had to realize that I was worthy of love, and who loves me no matter what … God does.

Step 3 – Take action toward you.

Be intentional every day to silence the voices that drag you down and listen to the voice inside.

You are worthy, you are beautiful, you are loved.

Just like the negative stuff, you hear it enough you begin to believe it. Only this time it is truth.

Step 4 –Let go of the outcome.

Learning to realize that you don’t get to control the outcome of everything in your life can be very freeing.

You can’t control what someone else says, but you can control whether you listen to it and believe it.

You can’t control what someone else thinks of you, but you can control how you present yourself to them.

Might sound silly and simple but you have to let go of everything and trust that God walks with you all the time.

You are going to stumble; you are going to fall. But you will also have someone there to pick you up.

I am worthy, I am beautiful and I am loved. Always.”

In a world where we struggle with so much, it is not too difficult to see why our young people are so much at risk.

I am sharing this story with you today in hopes that each of you will take some time in the very near future to be intentional with your relationships, especially with those who live with you and those you dearly love.

The mask of happiness is often just that, a mask.

Dare to ask the tough questions.

Be bold enough to show someone you love them, no matter what.

You might just be the link in the chain that they have been waiting for.

God shows us unconditional love each and every day. And that my friends is a blessing worth sharing.

You are worthy, you are beautiful and yes, you are loved.

Tell someone else the same.

Honoring my mother

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

– Exodus 20:12

Indulge me, if you will, in a bit of selfish and personal reflection.

God has given me much for which to be thankful in my nearly 66 years on this earth. Nothing more so than my beautiful mother.

Mary Eudella Remscheid. She goes by Eudella, or Grandma Della to the grandkids.

A mere 20-years old when I was born, she was the oldest of three sisters. So my grandfather threatened to throw me out the window if I was a girl. Mom responded by having three boys!

Not quite 11 years after I was born, my dad was killed in an auto accident on an icy road one winter morning on the way to work, leaving my brave mother to raise three boys on her own.

And she did so fearlessly.

After Dad died, we moved from Haysville (a Wichita, Kansas suburb) to Pittsburg, Kansas to be near our grandparents and several aunts, uncles and cousins.

It wasn’t long after that when Mom, not wanting us to miss out on anything for lack of a father, did what most of our relatives told her was unthinkable. She embarked with her three boys on a road trip vacation to California and Disneyland.

We didn’t miss out. Then or any other time as we were growing up, thanks largely to the love and unselfishness of my mom. 

Now 85, Mom is preparing for another long road trip with me. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be flying to Florida and driving back with her as she comes to live with my wife Marcy and me.

Mom’s not quite as fearless or independent as she used to be. And she needs more help these days than she would ever care to admit.

As many who have been through the experience of caring for an older relative can no doubt attest, it will not be easy introducing another person – even a loved one – into our daily lives.

And she has a dog!

Tiger will be joining the Buford menagerie, which already features a dog and a cat. (I fear Murphy and Sophie will not be pleased.)

But Mom set a wonderful example of love and courage in addressing head on the challenge of raising three boys on her own. Can I do less in return in her time of need? 

Can I love and honor my mother as she loved and honored me? 

Marcy has certainly stepped up to the plate and accepted the challenge, which is significant since she’ll be the one spending the most time with Mom while I’m at work during the week. Her example of courage and love is no less great than Mom’s in raising my brothers and me.

I pray that I’m up to the task. That I can live up to their example.

And that God will bestow upon me courage and strength. The same courage and the strength he gave Mom 56 years ago. 

Haven’t you heard? God loves you!

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Now that Christmas Day has come and gone, I am taking time to reflect.

It seems like every year the anticipation and rush of Christmas comes and goes much more quickly that I expect.

I know it is coming.

Advent heralds the season, and we on staff at First United Methodist Garland go into lightning mode to prepare for all that we will do.

Even though I know it is coming, it still surprises me how much we do.

This season we prepared and transformed our church for an entire week to bring the Night in Bethlehem experience to our congregation and community.

This year we welcomed over 300 people to Bethlehem and told them that God loves them.

I saw so many new faces this year as well as lots of familiar ones.

I even saw some who came home to fellowship and experience with us.

Then we worked into the late hours of the night (and the morning) to tear it all down and put it away so that we could set up for our regular church activities.

Next we began the set up for Distribution Night for The Reindeer Project, where we served and ministered to hundreds of Garland Independent School District (GISD) students and their families by providing presents and food for Christmas Day.

This work took several weeks to plan and prepare. Then we had just one night to make it all happen. And boy did it happen!

We worked again into the late hours of the night and into the next day to put it all away and set up for church.

But wait, we weren’t done yet!

We still had three Christmas Eve services to plan and celebrate.

Our Christmas Eve candlelight services were, once again, awe inspiring and joyful to be a part of and witness.

I always look forward to the music and children at the five o’clock service and communion at our seven o’clock service.

My favorite part of these services though is the candlelight.

I love being able to look around the sanctuary and see the light of God being shared among so many at one time and in one place. One body. One purpose.

I reflect on these times during Advent and it brings me joy, happiness and hope.

When I reflect on the year in the life of our church, however, I have to be honest and say it isn’t always filled with joy, happiness and hope.

Our church is struggling with some issues that are deep and can be very difficult for some and very hurtful for others.

This isn’t affecting just our church. Our entire denomination is struggling right now.

We are struggling to find common ground.

We are struggling to find hope in a time that that finds us divided.

These difficulties are affecting everyone, regardless of where we are in our walk of faith.

However, it is this time that has just passed – this time of Advent – that gives me hope.

You see, during this time we are able to move past our differences and judgments, and work together to provide love and hope for our local community.

We are able to look people in the eye and tell them that God loves them, and believe it is true.

We are able to sit with families who are in a different place than we are – economically, socially, and in some cases physically – and tell them God loves them.

That WE love them.

We are able to provide joy, happiness and hope to people who otherwise might not hear God loves them.

When I look to this coming year I have mixed feelings.

On one hand I have fear and doubt about whether the people called Methodist will remain united as our name suggests.

I am sad that some will not be able to reconcile our differences and will choose to leave this church and perhaps our denomination.

I am uncertain about what the future holds.

On the other hand, I remember the light of God being passed from one person to another in a place where we celebrate the fulfilled promise of God for a new world, a new way, a new life found in the love of a baby given to us in love.

It gives me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

It gives me joy to know that I am loved.

It brings me happiness because, “Haven’t you heard? God loves you!”

Let it be so.

Of memories and psalteries

I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee. Psalm 144:9 (KJV) 

It’s been old home week for me of late. Old home weeks, actually.

It began on a somber note. A bittersweet weekend with aunts, cousins and old friends at my dear Aunt Gerry’s funeral July 27 in Pittsburg, Kansas.

A much happier occasion followed. Off I flew to Chiefland, Florida for a few day’s vacation and my mother’s 85th birthday celebration on August 21. 

Last weekend, it was a much shorter trip. An hour’s drive north to Denison to see my brother Chris, his wife Linda and their new home.

Yesterday I had lunch with a few old friends I haven’t seen in years – co-workers from my 22 years with Nortel Networks.

On Wednesday, my cousin Steve and I met for lunch. And for the hand-off of a gift for my wife Marcy – a psaltery. 

At various times Marcy has played the guitar, the dulcimer, the French horn and the recorder. She even jumped in on a washtub bass one Christmas Eve at First United Methodist Garland. Her real gift is playing and teaching the piano.

And now the psaltery – or psaltry (also a correct spelling) – has been added. 

A psaltery is “an ancient and medieval musical instrument like a dulcimer but played by plucking the strings with the fingers or a plectrum (pick).” (lexico.com/en/definition/psaltery

The psaltery is mentioned 17 times in various translations of the Bible, understandably in reference to playing and singing praises to God. (By the way, our pew Bibles – the New Revised Standard Version or NRSV – do not reference the psaltery, but rather the lyre.) 

The psaltery is, of course, related to the word “psalter,” which refers to the Book of Psalms, or “a copy of the Psalms, especially for liturgical use.” (lexico.com/en/definition/psalter)

Those of you who attend our 8:30 Service of Morning Prayer and Communion on Sunday mornings are familiar with the psalters we sing and recite each week from The United Methodist Hymnal

Tomorrow morning’s service is particularly Psalm-heavy (Psalter 756, Psalm 25:1-10; Psalm 121 and Psalm 139:1-18) as Senior Pastor Valarie Englert closes our “Holy Rhythms” worship series with “Night.”

I find this particularly comforting.

In times of sadness as well as times of joy and fond memories, I often turn to music to lift or capture my spirits. What better way to do so than praising our Lord and Savior with the psalters and the psalms.

I don’t yet know what Marcy will choose to play on her psaltery. But whether it be psalters, classical music or classical rock, I’ll enjoy it. They’ll all be reminders of God’s blessings and God’s grace. 

Time and our bubble

Josh Medlock, Director of Missions and Student Ministries

As we take time this season to explore the concept of “Holy Rhythms” during worship, my mind is drawn to how our days are divided up.

We typically think of our days as being divided up into parts. Every person views these parts a little differently.

I have heard them divided up like this: morning, noon, evening, night. I have also heard them divided like this: day and night, light and dark. Waking hours, sleeping hours.

I am sure right now you are probably thinking of how you would divide the times of your day and what you would call them.

We all have the ability to look at any given day and break it up into clear and defined parts. We all do this. And by doing this we are convinced we can tackle any one part more efficiently.

When we break something down into smaller parts, it becomes less overwhelming, less exhausting and easier to plan around.

Admittedly I do the same thing. I try to break down tasks and compartmentalize them into morning, afternoon or evening.

I try daily to commit two of these three parts to my ministry at First United Methodist Church Garland. The other part I reserve for myself and my family.

This usually works. I say usually because as most of you know, you can plan all you want but life happens, and we are constantly having to change things around to accommodate for this. 

I started thinking recently about how our days are broken down and how that affects our relationship with God and with each other.

If we are really good at breaking down our days and the tasks we have to accomplish into smaller parts, are we making time for relationships?

Think about it this way: Are we trying to break down tasks so much that God becomes just another part? Are the parts so small that we don’t pay attention to them like we should?

We allow ourselves to become so consumed with the day, the tasks and how much time we have or don’t have that we can simply forget to make time for relationships.

Ask yourself this: When was the last time you made time to sit for more than five minutes to visit with someone you care about who doesn’t live in your house?

When was the last time you intentionally made time to reach out to someone to invite them over for a “hen party” or to “just catch up on things”?

We become so enslaved to the everyday grind that often we find ourselves living in a bubble. We only see and pay attention to the things in this bubble with us. 

I recently had a friend send me an email that caught me off guard.

The title of the email said, “Why I am cutting you out?” It went on to talk about how they felt they were the only ones reaching out to me and that I do not ever reciprocate.

They invested time and effort into the relationship but felt like I wasn’t doing the same. They even used the phrase “living in your own little bubble.”

Although this email was hurtful at the time, it made me analyze my part in all of this. Am I living in a bubble? Have I become that person I have so often cautioned others not to become?

The truth is I have been living in a bubble. If you don’t live in my house or attend my church, I haven’t been making time for you. That was a hard pill to swallow. I was ashamed and unsure how to address this.

But it wasn’t just people I had grown apart from for whom I wasn’t making time. I realized I also wasn’t making time to work on my relationship with God. And I certainly haven’t been praying about my relationship with anyone outside my bubble.

The fix is easy, but so hard to do. The fix: I need to intentionally make time during my day to be in relationship with God and others.

That means giving up on breaking down my day into such compartmentalized details and time slots, and opening myself up to allowing relational work to take place.

This is not easy for me. Those who know me realize I so desperately want everything done in advance and finalized … right now. So this is obviously a work in progress.

As I grow older I learn that time is fleeting and I can’t control it. I am starting to learn how to let go, and to allow relational work to happen by being intentional and not staying in my bubble.

God years for a relationship with us. If we live in a bubble, allow ourselves to be consumed with breaking down our time into small pieces, and do not allow room for relational work to happen, then our relationships suffer.

God’s love is given freely. God’s grace is abundant and available for all. But we do have a part to play in this.

Our art is to seek God, and to be intentional in our relationship with God. “Love your neighbors” means we have to be in relationship with all those in our lives as well. Especially those who are not in our bubble.

This is a challenge. If you are anything like me, it will most likely continue to be a work in progress.

I challenge you this week to take time and be intentional with your relationships. Set aside time for your relationship with God. Call a friend and invite them over. Call your brother and sister and ask them how things are in their spiritual lives. Don’t wait.

I know this much to be true: God loves us. God is always with us. And God meets us where we are. Even when we are living in our bubble.

The better part

I don’t read as much as I should.

Not sure why that is. I read a lot as a kid. Won a prize in second grade for reading 100 books.

I used to inhale science fiction voraciously. Robert Heinlein. Isaac Asimov. Arthur C. Clarke.

Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451. The Illustrated Man.

But I no longer read as much as I should.

Not sure why that is, but I have a few theories.

For one, I grew up in an age where color TV was just past the novelty stage. I loved it! And I spent much of my discretionary time in front of the TV rather than reading.

Which leads to another theory.

I’m something of an impatient person. (Cue the eye roll!) Hence I often prefer a two-hour movie to reading the book.

I’ve also come to realize as I get older that sitting or laying still and reading a book often puts me to sleep. Probably some sort of disorder I should get checked out.

Of course, I read the sports page.

And I have a stack of books at home purchased with every intention of reading them. It just seems I never get around to it. For whatever reason, I just don’t make time.

I did listen to an audio book once on a long car trip. Tom Clancy’s Red Rabbit. (I’m a big Clancy fan, too, by the way. The Hunt for Red October is one of my all-time favorite books. And movies.)

I may pick an audio book this morning as I head out on the road to Pittsburg, Kansas for my aunt’s funeral.

Which leads to another admission. I don’t read the Bible as much as I should.

One good thing about being the Director of Communications at First United Methodist Church Garland is that I’m more or less ‘forced’ to read at least two Bible passages each week – the scripture lesson and the message text for Sunday’s worship service.

I’m reminded of my aunt – Geraldine Buford – as I read Luke 10:38-42, the lesson preceding Senior Pastor Valarie Englert‘s message “Little Icons” this coming Sunday:

Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.

But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

In many ways the Martha in this story is me. Absorbed and engrossed in, preoccupied and distracted by the many things I have to do.

On the other hand my Aunt Gerry was the epitome of Mary.

She was not worried about or distracted by the things of this life. Her “one thing,” her focus on “the better part” – a deep, abiding love for Christ.

Like my Uncle Charles, who passed in 2013, Aunt Gerry was unequivocal, unwavering in her faith and her love for the Lord.

She never missed an opportunity to share the story of God’s grace with anyone who would listen, nor did she ever tire of sharing it.

Aunt Gerry and Uncle Charles loved to sing. They would strike up an old, traditional hymn at a moment’s notice.

And as my cousins, myself and many more family and friends whose lives she touched gather to celebrate her homegoing, we are secure in the knowledge that she and Uncle Charles are leading the heavenly choir.