Giving as a spiritual discipline

Rev. Dr. Scot Bontrager, Senior Pastor

Last Sunday in worship, Mark Buford, our Director of Communications, shared during the Call for the Offering that, “God loves a cheerful giver.” 

I wish I were always a cheerful giver.

I’m not (yet).

But I do give – sometimes with grumbles – because I value the mission and ministry of our congregation.

In the past several months, we have been publishing our financial status every week in the bulletin.

It is no secret that we are operating on a shoestring budget, and our staff works very hard to keep our costs low.

Like most households, one emergency or unexpected expense can cause chaos.

In my short time here we’ve had several emergencies: water leaking into the walls, flooded basements, broken elevator, failed fire inspections, and probably many things I’ve repressed.

This is the reality of having an aging building.

We have managed to meet our expenses each month, sometimes, without anything to spare.

If you are not currently contributing to the operating expenses of the church, I encourage you to make a pledge.

Every bit helps.

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

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

I have set it up so that my gift is automatically charged to my credit card twice a month. This is what 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 giving to special designated funds, such as the Music Ministry or the Student Ministry.

In normal times this is wonderful, but designating your gifts to specific ministries 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.

My encouragement is that any designated gifts to special funds are made after you’ve given to the general operating budget. 

I appreciate any gift, no matter how small.

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

Thank you for your gifts and tithes! 


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.

God waits with us

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

This has been a year like no other. Not only for me, not only for you, but for the entire world.

We have all been in a state of suspension since early this year.

Waiting, watching and wondering what comes next.

I look back to March and here is what I remember.

I remember waiting for Bee, my oldest child, to return from choir tour.

The Pure Joy! Youth Choir went to St. Louis this year and they were returning by train.

I waited and wondered if any of our youth would catch the new coronavirus on this trip.

They shut down the trains two days later. 

I remember when the decision came to close our church.

I waited and wondered how long this would last and what it would mean for our congregation.

We planned and prepared, but none of us imagined it would be December and we would still be waiting.

I look back to this summer and here is what I remember.

I remember waiting and wondering if our Bridgeport Junior and Senior High trips would be postponed, reduced in size or canceled altogether.

Would our mission trip to the UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Louisiana be canceled?

All three were canceled, with Bridgeport offering only virtual curriculum. 

I remember waiting each week to see if our First Youth summer activities would go on or be canceled.

We did not meet.

I look back to this Fall and Winter and here is what I remember.

I remember waiting each month for word from Dallas County and our bishop on when we could gather again for in-person worship.

Waiting each day to see what would come next. 

I remember waiting and wondering who would be elected president of the United States.

I remember waiting to see what a virtual Night in Bethlehem would look like. 

I remember waiting. 

I felt like all this waiting was causing me to stay in one place too long.

It was almost as though I was standing in quicksand or a bog that had reached up a twisted root of some unseen tree and snared my ankles.

I felt like I was sinking. 

I found myself not waiting anymore.

It wasn’t necessarily that I had given up. It was just that I didn’t really see the point of waiting anymore.

I accepted where we are in the world and resigned myself to the knowledge that whatever was going on was bigger than me, and that all of this waiting was just causing me anxiety and stress.

So I quit waiting and started moving toward the future.

I started moving past all of this.

I started wondering what things will be like when the pandemic, the election, the struggles and the civil unrest settle.

I wanted to just get moving again. To leave all this behind and quit waiting.

Then I remembered something Pastor Caroline Noll taught me.

She taught me about the “U.”

Do you remember the U?

It is the journey we take in life and our faith that leads to transformation through our experiences by embracing that part that is difficult and hard.

It is the realization that God is with us at the bottom of the U.

The bottom of the U is an uncomfortable place to be and can be extremely difficult for some.

But transformation happens there. God shows up. 

Sometimes I forget that God shows up.

Just like in Bethlehem, God shows up in unexpected ways.

I was so focused on things that didn’t happen that I stopped focusing on things that were happening.

Our online worship is reaching people we have never met that have been waiting to find a church home.

Our online Sunday School gatherings are giving our congregation the opportunity to see each other every week regardless of where they are in the world.

Some of these members have been waiting for months to see each other because of medical conditions or living circumstances.

Our children are able to sing together.

Our youth are able to journey together in fellowship and discussion.

Our ministries of outreach are still reaching people who have been waiting for help.

God shows up. God always shows up.

Advent is all about waiting.

The world was waiting for God and God showed up in the form of a child.

Nothing was ever the same again.

When we follow the ministry of Jesus we see things play out in ways the world did not expect.

The world had become so bogged down and stuck in the waiting that it wasn’t prepared when God showed up.

If you are like me and find yourself uncomfortable with the waiting, remember those in the world around you who are also waiting.

How can we reach them? How is God calling us to show up?

The world waited and God showed up in a child.

We wait now, together, and my friends, God is here waiting with us.

So we wait

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Were you one of the millions of people watching the election results this past Tuesday night?

Were you surprised that we didn’t have a clear winner that evening?

Are you surprised that as of this morning, we still haven’t had an official winner declared for the office of President of the United States?

My friends, the statement “It’s 2020” applies here.

We say that now whenever something happens that is unusual, unplanned, or seems to affect everyone all at once.

This year has been one of firsts for all of humanity in many regards.

It has been a year filled with uncertainty and the inability to plan ahead. At least it has for me.

Many of you know that I am indeed a planner. All of the events for First Youth this year were planned in 2019.

Of course with the pandemic almost all of those plans fell through or had to be radically changed.

So here we are in November.

Halloween has passed. Thanksgiving is coming.

I waited patiently for Halloween to see how many kids would actually knock on my door this year.

The bell rang seven times. Then it was over.

I have to be honest and tell you that I really didn’t feel anything once it was gone and over with.

Nor was I upset that the bell only rang seven times.

I felt a slight twinge of sadness for the little ones who were denied the opportunity to go out and celebrate the holiday with friends and family.

But at the end of the day I was actually glad more people weren’t out. It meant many chose to stay home and stay safe.

It’s 2020. 

Thanksgiving is right around the corner.

Usually by now we have had conversations about whose house we celebrate at this year, the menu, what time we are eating, who is bringing what … you know, all the normal stuff that families do to get ready to gather for a holiday.

This year is different. We are just now talking about it at my house.

Determining whether we will gather with a lot of family is difficult this year. Do we risk it? Who is going to wear a mask and who isn’t? Will anyone be sick?

I am not really worried about the menu or whose house we will be at.

I am now wondering if we will know who the President will be by then. Surely we will … right?

It’s 2020. 

Christmas is coming!!! Christmas is coming!!!

I am one of those dads who waits until AFTER Thanksgiving to put up any Christmas decorations.

This year, I found myself hunting for the Christmas boxes yesterday in the garage.

I am thinking we will have ours up by the end of next week. That will be a first for me.

I am feeling uncertain and would like to surround myself with a little joy and happiness.

Hard not to be joyful during Christmas.

The music, the trees, the lights, the nativity set.

We get to celebrate the biggest thing to happen to humanity…the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

So move over Thanksgiving, Christmas is coming early at my house this year.

It’s 2020. 

Right now I find it difficult to navigate social media without getting angry or frustrated.

I find it increasingly difficult to watch the news and try to wade through what is accurate and what is not.

I am realizing that not everyone is seeing what I am seeing or hearing what I am hearing, and that makes it difficult to have meaningful and transformative conversations.

I am not sure if any of you are having the same problems or feelings right now.

If you are, then like me, you find yourself once again waiting.

Waiting for the chaos to settle.

Waiting for love to replace the hate filled speech and actions of those around us.

Waiting for discernment and wisdom to replace ignorance and selfish ambition.

We wait.

The whole world waited over 2000 years ago, when God chose to be among us in human form through Jesus the Christ.

A new way, a new beginning, a new wisdom was shared with us and transformation began.

Through his suffering and death, that transformation is still happening.

We struggle to see transformation right now because our eyes are focused on worldly things.

These things have distracted us and distanced us from being in relationship with one another and with God.

We recently discussed the word HOPE in First Youth during one of our virtual lessons.

I reminded them that we can have hope because we have made it through dark times before.

Every one of us, at some point in our lives, has been through a trauma or situation that we could refer to as “dark times.”

Some of us have been through these times more often than others.

But one thing remains true for all of us … we are still here.

If you are reading this, then you made it through.

It may not have turned out the way you hoped. You may not have gotten the results you wanted.

Things are most certainly different because of it. But you made it through.

And we will make it through 2020. Things may not turn out the way you hoped. You may not get what you wanted. Things will definitely be different.

God is transforming the world. We are being transformed.

God is with us, always. Now and forever. So have hope.

The light is going to turn green and we are all going to go through the intersection.

We have no idea what that road looks like right now, but we will navigate it together and God will be with us.

We just have to wait.

I think I am going to dig out the Christmas boxes today.

Maybe the neighbors won’t be too upset if I hang the outside lights up next week.

Guess I will have to wait and see.

Blessings and the Peace of Christ be with each of you.

Why pray?

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Working in Youth Ministry I often get asked this question:

“Why do I need to pray?”

Have you ever asked this question? I don’t believe there’s a perfect answer for everyone, but I do believe there are some universal truths about prayer. 

I pray because it makes me feel closer to God…

When we are intentional about our time in prayer, we begin to open a line of communication between ourselves and God.

Prayer is a perfect opportunity to explore our hearts, share everything with God, and begin relieving ourselves of things that may be weighing us down.

When we allow ourselves time to reflect and to deal with those things causing us stress, anxiety and emotional distress, we allow God to work from the inside out.

Leaving things unresolved can make it difficult for us to be honest, let down and vulnerable, sometimes causing our prayers to be distracted.

Come and hear, all you who fear God,
   and I will tell what he has done for me.
I cried aloud to him,
   and he was extolled with my tongue.
If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
   the Lord would not have listened.
But truly God has listened;
   he has given heed to the words of my prayer.
Blessed be God,
   because he has not rejected my prayer
   or removed his steadfast love from me.

– Psalm 66:16-20

“Prayer lets me focus on someone other than me,
but I feel like I am being blessed too…”

Do we focus on God every day? I know this is a struggle for me.

In times like now, I struggle to focus on just about everything. This includes focusing on God.

I realize our routines are no longer … well, routine.

We can find ourselves filling our days with worry and anxiety about things yet to come, whose results are unknown.

When we allow ourselves to be weighed down and burdened with the unknown, we can find ourselves forgetting to set aside time to focus on God.

When we pray, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to center our soul and find that small still voice that says, “You are mine, and I am here with you.”

Prayer can unlock us. Prayer refocuses us on God and not on ourselves.

When we pray, we stop believing we’re the only ones capable of solving our problems. We can be honest with the one who loves us regardless of what we have done.

“I believe in the power of prayer and that it can transform…”

Have you ever had someone tell you they are praying for you?

Have you ever told someone else you are praying for them?

When I was a child, I remember my grandmother telling me every time she saw me, “I am praying for you every day that God will hold you.”

It gave me a sense of peace, even though I really didn’t understand why at the time.

In the darkest of times we, as the body of Christ, gather together to pray. Each of us praying in our own words and in our own way.

Praying that God will change the situation, or praying that those affected will know peace and love.

We pray for transformation. But we ourselves are transformed by prayer.

When we are praying for peace or strength for those we love, we often feel strengthened or at peace ourselves.

This is truly part of the magnificence of prayer.

Prayer is personal. Prayer is powerful.

I pray that each of you are blessed in some way today because each of you are a blessing.

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.

Something’s missing

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Twenty two days ago, Judge Clay Jenkins issued the shelter in place order for Dallas County.

Since then Governor Greg Abbott has also asked all Texas residents to stay at home except for essential business.

Twenty two days may seem like a long time to stay at home, but think about places in the world that have been in lockdown.

Wuhan China, the starting place of all of this, went into lockdown on January 23 and remained so for 76 days.

During this time they weren’t allowed to leave their homes at all. No walks, no bicycle rides, no direct contact with anything outside their homes.

When I think about all that we are going through here in North Texas, I try to keep things in perspective and remember that I can take a walk in my neighborhood if I would like to.

I can go to the grocery store if I need to. I can drive my car to a relative’s house and have a driveway talk if I want to. I am so incredibly thankful for that.

Two days ago we celebrated Easter. We celebrated our risen Lord.

For those of you who were able to watch our 7:00am and 11:00am worship services, I hope you were as blessed as I was.

Listening and watching Eldred play the organ again as I turned up the bass on my sub-woofer gave me chills.

What a wonderful arrangement.

Of course nothing beats the Toccata that was played as our postlude.

The Cowan family blessed us with their gift of music.

I love listening to families that sing together. There is something about the way their voices blend together that you simply don’t get in any other setting.

Dana Willis proclaimed our scriptures in a way that only she can.

We are so blessed to have people like her that are willing to bring their dramatic interpretations to us through voice and movement.

I loved seeing Chancel Choir proclaim “He is risen. He is risen indeed!”

Kitty Williams is working so hard to keep our choir connected and bring their ministry to the congregation.

Speaking of Kitty, what a blessing to hear her sing. We should get to hear more of that, yes?

Caroline Noll always seems to find a way to bring joy into Children’s Time each Sunday when we gather in our sanctuary.

And to watch her do it in a virtual space and still bring joy to children … 

My son Cooper immediately got on the floor to move closer to the screen, as if he were coming to the chancel rail in our sanctuary to listen to Pastor Caroline bring the message to all the children.

I was truly amazed at the power of her message.

Valarie Englert brought our Easter message. A message of hope and love.

Her passion is so evident in the messages she brings each week.

In a virtual space, it is difficult to know how your message is being received, but I know for me it was a powerful and uplifting message of hope and love.

He is risen indeed!

Still, there was something missing.

I had my wife and children (and recently acquired beast of a puppy) with me, but I didn’t have my friends and family there.

You, my church family, weren’t sitting in the same room as I was. We were watching together, but I didn’t see you.

The youth didn’t come up to the 3rd floor dressed in their Easter finest to fellowship together.

I didn’t get to see all the wonderful, colorful outfits on our children as they came from the 2nd floor to worship.

I didn’t get to see the stained glass windows as the sunlight burst through and dazzling colors danced across the room.

I didn’t get to see any of these things.

And there were no hugs or handshakes in the hallways or sanctuary, no warm greetings with smiles as we shared the peace of Christ with one another.

Yes, something was certainly missing.
Even though there were things missing, I can assure you God was not missing.

God was with us as we watched the morning services together, even though we were not physically next to one another.

God was with us as we ate our Easter meals at home, remembering each other in our prayers as we broke bread.

God was with us as children played in the yard and hunted for Easter eggs.

God was with us as we fellowshipped through virtual spaces.

God was with us this Easter Sunday, just as God is with us every day.

God’s love, God’s grace and God’s peace is always with us.

Even when we struggle and suffer, God is still with us.

The promise and proclamation that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God is one that will stand the test of time.

Yes, even times like these.

Death was not victorious. Darkness did not win.

Even now, as the world struggles and suffers, the darkness will not win.

God is still with us.
Twenty two days. It seems like a long time, doesn’t it?

I have had many conversations with our youth and parents in the last 22 days.

Here is the question I ask often:

“What is your greatest hope when this is all over?”

Some of my favorite responses have been: 

  • “I hope that we are humbled. That we remember our time apart so that, when we gather together again, we are humble enough to know that we need to be intentional about loving one another.” 
  • “I hope that when this is all over we will come out on the other side with a renewed passion for relationship. Not only with one another, but most importantly our relationship with God. I hope we can still make time for that.”
  • “I just hope that all the people who lost their jobs and had to close their business will get the help they need. I know that I am going to do what I can by encouraging others to stop thinking about themselves and help their neighbors. If we can all do that then maybe there really is hope.”

These statements came from teenagers and adults.

There were so many more, and most followed this same line of thinking.
Being loving, thinking of others instead of ourselves, building our relationships, and making time.
In difficult times we often struggle to see God working amidst the chaos and suffering.

I want to share with you where I see God working.

I see God working on the hearts of our young people right now.

I see people realizing what is truly important in life.

I see people drawing closer to a God who loves them unconditionally.

I see neighbors being friendly to one another and learning each other’s names and things about their families.

I see churches reaching a larger community through virtual spaces and watching God work in the lives of those who don’t have church homes.
Easter is a time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is a time of renewal and rebirth.

It is a time when we are given the opportunity to offer praise and thanksgiving for a sacrifice so great that it could never be repaid.

God is with us, always and forever.

So let us continue to celebrate Easter and the promise of new life.

Things will continue to be difficult and the struggle will continue to be real.

But we are headed for a new life, my friends.

We are going to see the other side of this, and we will gather together again.

It will be different for most. It won’t look the same.

God will be with us then, just as God is with us now.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

Spirit and truth

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

As many of you know, Pure Joy! Youth Choir was on the 2020 Choir Tour to St. Louis during Spring Break.

We had a wonderful time sharing our music, fellowshipping and enjoying all the many amazing places in St. Louis.

Thank you SO much for your support to the youth through Stock Sales, Rummage Sale and Dessert Show.

They are so thankful to this loving congregation of First United Methodist Church Garland!

We couldn’t do it without you! We love you! THANK YOU!

Upon returning on AMTRAK the Thursday morning before Friday the 13th, Clay Jenkins ordered that there be no large group gatherings. That meant no church activities. 

Little did we know when we exited that train and traveled to our homes, life would no longer be as we knew it.

The Sunday we were in St. Louis (March 8) was a special Sunday here in Garland.

I was disappointed to miss Kimberly Ingram preaching, and Caroline Noll reading as Yolanda Pendleton and Patrick LaBruyere enacted “The Woman at the Well.”

I was finally able to watch the service on YouTube a day ago.

This was the last service before the Clay Jenkins announcement and sheltering in place.

As the scripture was read and the word proclaimed, I thought, “How appropriate!”

Little did we know the scripture would yet again be enlightened by our current situation.

Read these words from John 4:19-24 … 

The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

When I heard this read, my mind immediately rephrased it to say … 

The hour is coming when you will neither worship in your sanctuary, nor any other sanctuary.”

I don’t know about you, but I miss singing together and hearing the hymns and anthems; uniting our voices to declare, “We are not alone!”

I miss all of it – you beautiful people, the beautiful windows and banners!

Yet the rephrased words speak in my heart … 

“You will neither worship in your sanctuary, nor any other sanctuary …”

Am I to truly worship just in my house?

Then I read Jesus’ continued words … 

“…the Father seeks … those who worship in spirit and truth.”

The thought of Sunday worship in my house reminded me of a little book I received when I was young called My Heart, Christ Home. It is based on Ephesians 3:16-19.

It’s a little book that encourages you to invite Christ fully into every room of your heart because Christ cares about every aspect of your life.

Christ gave himself fully and wholly for us.

Giving yourself fully and wholly to Christ will allow you to know the breadth, length, height and depth of his love.

This will give you the peace that passes all understanding.

You don’t have to be in a big worship service to give yourself to God.

You can humbly give yourself to Christ right there in your own space.

You will receive the living water that Jesus describes to the woman at the well.

 So my prayer is the prayer that Paul prayed for the church people of Ephesus … 

“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, Christ may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Peace to you,


The sound of silence

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

In 2006, Argentine-Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim delivered a series of Reith Lectures for the BBC in London (a British answer to the famous Norton Lectures at Harvard.) One of his lectures was on the topic, “In the beginning was Sound.” 

At first, I thought, “How dare he be sacrilegious!” In the beginning, GOD created the heavens and the earth! Point blank; full stop. Yet as I studied the lecture, I came to realize that in the beginning, there was a sound: total silence. 

In terms of Christian religion, I never understood the powerful role of silence until I started working in Catholic churches. In the beginning of mass, there is silence. At the most reverential moments, there is silence. 

Growing up in a Black Baptist gospel tradition, where “background music” was a constant muzak that only stopped for the sermon (and resumed at the end of the sermon to tell the preacher to “wrap it up” or give him music to whoop and holler his conclusions), silence meant something was “wrong” in the production on stage.

I came to see that too much music, too much talking from both the congregation and the pulpit, left me feeling spiritually empty at the end of church. 

When I visit religious sanctuaries in my tours abroad, regardless of faith, I notice everyone is expected to enter in silence and remain in silence. This is powerful. It’s an acknowledgement that God needs us to be silent so we can focus on Him, and it realizes that God used silence as his canvas for Creation. 

How would our individual and corporate worship at First United Methodist Garland be transformed if we routinely entered our beautiful Sanctuary in silence? 

Our First Youth recognized the significance of this simple act when they invited us to stand in silence during the Bringing of the Light at the beginning of both worship services on Youth Sunday this past week. 

I challenge us to try this for a month. As part of our holy rhythm, let’s embrace Holy Sanctuary silence to recreate the Creation Backdrop God used so masterfully to make everything – and requires for His Spirit to speak inside of us. 

The neighborhood of Bridgeport

Josh Medlock, Director of Missions and Student Ministries

Growing up I remember sitting in the morning with my bowl of cereal watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

I vividly remember episodes where I would walk away feeling like things were better somehow. Things young as I was, I couldn’t put into words or understand.

Now that I’m an adult and can reflect back, I realize that’s what Mister Rogers was doing – reaching out to children in a way they could understand and that would help transform their lives. 

This week I’ve had the pleasure of attending Senior High Summer Camp at Bridgeport. And once again I am reminded of a neighborhood that encourages transformation.

The work done here is work I have not witnessed anywhere else.

Perhaps it’s the environment or maybe the adults and teenagers that are here seeking the face of God, but I do see God at work here.

Very much like Mister Rogers’ neighborhood, this is a place where people are welcoming and want to be on this journey with you. 

For me, Bridgeport is a neighborhood that welcomes all regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation or faith.

All are welcome here. And those who are here want you to know that nothing will separate you from the love of God.

Mister Rogers expertly crafted a neighborhood where every child in the world was welcome.

It was a safe neighborhood. A neighborhood where understanding and transformation happened. 

I thank God every day for visionaries like Mister Rogers, and for those who reach out in ways that are unexpected and truly magnificent for the glory of God’s kingdom here on Earth.

Our children truly are the future and are constantly seeking that relationship with God.

We must continue to be the face of God for them and for all those we meet. 

I hope and pray we never lose sight of our incredibly important ministry to children and teenagers. 

May God bless each and every one of you on your journey, today and always.