Celebration of Life – Carmen Degenito

Celebration of Life
Carmen Degenito

GATHERING
Prelude                                                                                                                                             Mike Jeter
Greeting 
Friends, we have gathered here to praise God
and to witness our faith as we celebrate the life of Carmen Degenito.
We come together in grief, acknowledging our human loss.
May God grant us grace, that in pain we may find comfort,
in sorrow hope, in death resurrection.

The Word of Grace
Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live,
and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
I died, and behold I am alive for evermore,
and I hold the keys of hell and death.
Because I live, you shall live also.

Opening Hymn                                                           How Great Thou Art                                        UMH 77

Prayer
Leader: The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.
Leader: Let us pray.
All: O God, who gave us birth, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray. You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Give to us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity. Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and of death. Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

PROCLAMATION AND RESPONSE
Old Testament Lesson Isaiah 40:28-31
28 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.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 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.
New Testament Lesson Romans 8:35-39
8 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Psalm 139:1-18
1O LORD, you have searched me and known me. 2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. 3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. 5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. 7Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 8If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” 12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. 17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.
Hymn of Promise                                                       Shout to the Lord
*Gospel Lesson John 14:1-4, 18-19, 25-27
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 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. 27 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.
NAMING AND WITNESS
Carmen was born in Red Bank, New Jersey on April 24, 1940. In his last weeks, Carmen shared personal stories with me, bits and pieces, that hinted to the person he was. The “black sheep” of the family, the girl from South Carolina who wrote letters to him and said she loved him, how his mom died when he was little and he had a strained relationship with his stepmother… Carmen told few details from his life prior to Gainesville. He would always start his stories with when I came to Gainesville in 1985. Ryan, Brad, Mike, Enoch and Evy gave him one last birthday party. Though he always said he didn’t like sweet things, only healthy things. He got a full piece of cake, ice cream and vanilla pudding. He said it was the only birthday party he ever had outside of childhood. We did it up! With balloons, flowers, hand-made cards from his beloved students and Enoch and Evy. He had a heart for working with students!
He worked at a sorority house. He worked at the BCM. He worked as a parking lot attendant at UUMC. Pam Petersen remembers, “When we owned the shopping center we had a life guard’s chair for the parking attendants. After we hired Carmen, he came into the office and said “Pamela (he’s one of two people outside of my family who called me that) I guess I can’t be a parking guard after all.” We let him sit in a regular seat and eventually someone stole the life guard seat anyway.”
He had definite views on things. He was grounded in his convictions. He was a card carrying member of the Republican Party and he kept the Christmas card George and Laura Bush sent him in his treasured possessions. He prided himself on being self-sufficient and independent and he always wanted to give back. He walked into my office one day with one of those internet scams printed out where you send them some money and you get millions. He had made an appointment with me the day before at church, and he sincerely wanted to give a large chunk of it, if not all, to Gator Wesley. Kelly Haskins tells this story, “One time, Carmen came into the college room pouring sweat. He was lugging two of if the reusable grocery bags full to the brim of sweet potatoes. They must’ve weighed 50 lbs! He explained that someone (I couldn’t catch who) had an overabundance, and were giving them out. He immediately thought of Wesley, and insisted that Angielina and I make them as a part of Wesley lunch. He had carried them for miles to make sure that he could donate to his church.”

He cared deeply about others. He was really passionate on behalf of the least of these. Serena Minton remembers, “I have so many endearing memories of Carmen, but one of my favorites was a time when Carmen displayed how much he cares for others. When the bishop came to Wesley for a meet and greet, during the Q&A session, Carmen stood up, and began talking about the PBS special he had seen the night before. The special was on child abuse and human trafficking, and Carmen was so concerned that he challenged the bishop on his plan to combat this tragedy. The bishop recovered well, but I’ll never forget his righteous anger at the injustices he had just become aware of. We’ll miss you, Carmen.” He loved people and cared deeply about the world!

He kept memento’s and cards that were meaningful to him and they are displayed on the altar. Carmen’s room at Haven had all the cards, verses, and sayings taped up all over from all of his friends and family – especially the Schaeffer’s and the Keith’s. Nancy Shaeffer told me just this morning that he had given her the beautiful butterfly pin she’s wearing in the last year. Carmen would not hesitate to give the shirt off his back of he could. He was such a caring and compassionate individual.

Carmen knew where the free food was. Gordon Green says he would see him on Monday night’s, “At the International Friendship dinner, Carmen would join us for our small-group Gospel study. He would open his humongous large-print Bible and follow along–sometimes with the aid of a magnifying glass. Carmen found great comfort in studying the Word with fellow believers.” He would go every Thursday to First UMC for lunch and then Zane, a student who cared very much for Carmen would take him to Publix. Sylvia Rotela says, “I remember seeing Carmen at the Jewish temple every Friday at Hillel. He would go there to listen to the Hebrew songs and go up to get blessings from the Rabbi. Afterward he would go down stairs to eat the free dinner. Shabbat shalom!”

Matt Watson shared, “My favorite memory of him was the first time I had to take him to Ward’s market. I got to have a full conversation with him, and it helped me look past his demanding side and realize he was actually an interesting and loving person.” Oh, Carmen could be demanding. Anybody that spent 5 minutes with him would know that he had to have things in a particular way and he was very opinionated. He would tell 6-7 students to turn the air up on Sunday mornings and if it was still blowing to cold, he would put the hat part of his signature hoodie and pull the strings just to show how cold it was. You always knew where you stood with Carmen and he was nothing if not authentic and transparent. Dan Wunderlich said that when he announced his engagement to Kara during worship, Carmen went up to Kara after the service, “Are you sure?” But he was also sincere and genuine. Kelly Haskins says, “In the summer after my junior year, we had a karaoke night. It was packed with students and, of course, Carmen came. I got up to sing, had fun, and sat back down. After the event, we were cleaning up and Carmen, with such earnest emotion, rushed up to me and told me that I had such a nice singing voice, how he had greatly enjoyed it, and that I should really sing more often. The punchline to this story is that at the time, I had been singing regularly in the Wesley worship band for 3 years! Lol thanks Carmen!”

He always would talk to those sitting around him at worship. Meredith used to sit beside him every Sunday that she was here. She graduated the December before he died. Ali writes, “If I’ve learned anything from working at a church, it’s that you make friends with unlikely people. One of those friends, Carmen (the older man on the left in the gray hoodie) passed away this morning. I met Carmen before anyone else at Gator Wesley. My first Sunday I sat in front of him, when he preceded to ask me about 10 minutes worth of questions about my life, my plans, and my dreams. Almost every Sunday since, he’s asked me about the stories I’ve done and the people I’ve met. Although he was confused about what I was doing (he was fairly convinced my dream was to be a TV anchor or a talk show host), he kept listening. Every week he told me how he prayed for me. His last Sunday before he entered assisted care, he told me that I was going to go out and change the world. I didn’t know that was going to be the last time I saw him not in a hospital bed. While Carmen never realized it, the love he has shown all of the students at Gator Wesley has been unending. Although he was stubborn and cantankerous, he was a good man. Gator Wesley became his family. Wesley is much larger than this photo taken on Easter, but it’s nice to see Carmen with his home. Everyone deserves a Carmen in their life. I’m glad that I met mine.”

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Carmen smiled and waved to students at the student apartment where he lived. He touched countless lives. He wanted his life to mean something. He was so concerned, that I started to tell him that the students were his legacy. The students are his legacy. He would light up when “the students” were mentioned. The hospice social worker saw it and I did too. He only wanted to see “the students” at the end. So we piled into his room on a Sunday after church two weeks ago. Four of the students went with me and Ryan to see him the Wednesday before he died. Megan Becker, a rising sophomore was there and said, “I am glad that I was able to see Carmen last Wednesday after small groups. I really enjoyed getting to know Carmen this last year, he was such a nice man and he will truly be missed.” That Wednesday night we shared the Lord’s Prayer, Carmen’s favorite prayer, and he was able to say some of it with us. That was the last smile I saw on his face, when he noticed the 4 students we brought.

The students are his legacy. I’ll never forget when this semester, I had finished my sermon and Carmen stood up quick as I’ve ever seen him and said, “Gator Wesley IS going to change the world!” I’m so glad I got to hear and see that. You see Carmen was a deeply spiritual person and a follower of Jesus Christ. He had been raised in the Catholic Church, but he didn’t like what he called the “rules” or what he thought was the earning of salvation. He struggled with the concept of grace. Don’t we all do that? He was just honest enough to say it out loud. He joined the baptism class my first year here and he would read the Bible and all of the handouts and he wanted a copy of the Baptism service in the Book of Worship and so on and so on. He wanted to be prepared and he was excited about the United Methodist Church that I haven’t seen. I would tell him over and over again and again, any time he came up to me after the service, and in his last few weeks. You’re a child of God. You were made in your mother’s womb. God’s grace was given to every one of us. You don’t have to earn it. There’s nothing you can do to earn it. It’s a gift. I would say it over and over again. Chelsea Kowal says it was meaningful to her, “To see his face light up in a group when he was told that God loves him no matter what.” “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen?
Wendy Alexander shares, “Jim and I first met Carmen at University Methodist Church over 30 years ago when we were college students. I remember leading a Bible Study as a student and his comments were profound and also very touching. He loved John Wesley and being a Methodist. He also loved college students and being a part of University UMC. He stated that he had no family alive and that UUMC was his only family. I never forgot that, so after we were married, we started inviting Carmen to our house 2-3 times a year (for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and horse races). He especially looked forward to watching the Kentucky Derby every year at our house and the homemade meal that Jim would make. He had “his spot” on the couch and enjoyed being “waited on”. As most of you know Carmen could be very particular, so we finally perfected his choice of beverage which was 1/3 warm water, 1/3 caffeine free diet coke, and 1/3 dry red wine. We were so glad that he was able to watch the Kentucky Derby one last time at our house this May. Carmen will be missed by all who knew him and will remain in our hearts. His other last request was to listen to “Dream” by Frank Sinatra. He had the biggest smile on his face while listening to the song, and requested to hear it about 5 times.”
We will listen to that song now. Thank you God for the life, legacy and faith of Carmen Degenito. Amen.

Song of Thanksgiving                                            My Hope is Built                               UMH 368

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Lord’s Prayer
God of love, we thank you
for all with which you have blessed us
even to this day:
for the gift of joy in days of health and strength
and for the gifts of your abiding presence and promise
in days of pain and grief.
We praise you for home and friends,
and for our baptism and place in your Church
with all who have faithfully lived and died.
Above all else we thank you for Jesus,
who knew our griefs,
who died our death and rose for our sake,
and who lives and prays for us.
And as he taught us, so now we pray. [LORD’S PRAYER]. Amen.

Song of Hope                                                          Joy to the World                                           UMH 246

Dismissal with Blessing 
*Hear now the Benediction
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of God’s Son Jesus Christ our Lord. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

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The First Sunday of Advent

hope

Call to Worship:

Leader: Come, Lord Jesus!

People: Today we begin the journey of Advent. Let us pray that we may be ready and able to welcome the Christ child into our lives again.

Leader: May the keeping of Advent be upon our hearts and lives.

People: Come, Lord Jesus!

Leader: May this Advent wreath constantly remind us to prepare for Christ’s coming.

People: Come, Lord Jesus!

Leader: The first candle is the candle of HOPE. It was hope that gave people the courage to go on, and it was hope that directed their prayers toward a Messiah.

People: Because of our trust in what God has already done for us, we are bold to hope for what he will yet do with us.

(Light the first Advent candle)

Leader: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

People: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” May our lights so shine before others that they will give glory to our Father in heaven! Amen.

Scripture: Mark 13:24-37

24“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Mike has never been to me parent’s house in Aiken. From Florida, Aiken is not near anything so you spend the last two hours of the trip on one back road or another. My parents prefer Highway 16 right outside of Savannah up through small towns in Georgia going around Augusta, but I prefer going through the small towns in South Carolina and thinking of what life was like pre-World War. It’s full of pot holes and towns I’ve never heard of before and at the condition of the roads and obvious distress of the towns and the closed up shops on Main Street, Mike said it was downright depressing. I on the other hand, wonder what people DO there, how to people make a living, what will happen to all of those tiny United Methodist Churches in 10-20 years? It’s like that James Taylor song on Disney’s Cars “Your Town.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGlmCShMQpI) The land that time forgot. We stopped at a gas station after a particularly long stretch and the lady behind the cash register informed me that they had no bathroom, but we could find one two gas stations ahead but going the other way there’s nothing but woods. Never have I seen more gas stations without name brands. El Cheapo, Korner Stop with a K instead of a C…. Then I start thinking of a world like Divergent or the Hunger Games or the Zombie Apocalypse, we can go to a place like this where no one will bother us, and I vow to start learning how to grow plants, or maybe I’ll just take Shannon with me. These are my musings, when I see crumbling downtown’s. As we drove to Marion, SC, where my great aunt and uncle and first cousins live, we noticed the strip bar had closed. Mike made the comment, “You know times are tough, when the strip bars close.”

Times are tough. People are hurting. Are you going to offer them lottery tickets and Black Friday deals, that won’t last? Or the wellspring of hope that never runs dry? Those towns may never be what it was back in the day, a long time ago, because the world has changed so much, but the people in the towns, our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, still have a hope, because they don’t know the hour or the day, it may come as a thief in the night, but if they put their hope and trust in Jesus, it will all eventually be alright because we’re a resurrection people.

We watched the movie, “We Bought a Zoo” with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson over the break. It’s a true story about a dad, Ben, that’s just lost his wife, who has a son in high school and a daughter in elementary school. His son gets expelled for doing disturbing drawings and basically screaming out for his father to give him attention. His daughter is making her own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, where she writes on the bag with a sharpie PBJ and the J is backwards. He asks his daughter, “Am I doing anything right?” He puts his daughter to bed and picks up his son’s drawing book because he’s fallen asleep with it, and looks through the drawings for himself. As he’s getting ready for bed, he looks at the massive amounts of pill bottles from his wife’s battles with cancer, a picture of the two of them, and her earrings and Lucy, his daughter, walks in and says the neighbors were being loud. The neighbors are throwing a party and celebrating, perhaps Thanksgiving. She says, and this is heartbreaking, “Their Happy is Too Loud.” He hugs his daughter and begins looking for a new house the next morning. He wants everything “new.” He wants to start over. So long story short, he buys a zoo. Their – the rest of the world – happy is too loud. Have you ever felt that way? When you’re grieving, when you’re struggling, when you can’t get out of the bed in the morning? Have you ever wanted to plug up your ears and crawl under the covers and block out the world? You don’t want to check facebook and twitter especially – to see the faces that your “friends” want you to see.

We need to be real with people. We need to let the world see and know that Jesus doesn’t whitewash anything. He doesn’t say it’s going to be easy. He actually says it will be hard. As Christians as we journey towards the baby in the manger, the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, we have to be HOPE sharers. Each one of us needs to be a little hope beacon.

We live in a hurting world that needs HOPE all the more. I don’t have to tell y’all this because we’re inundated with news about our world going to heck in a hand basket. Ferguson, Isis, Grace Marketplace here in Gainesville – it reminds me of a quote by Archbishop Oscar Romero, “I also try to live these four weeks of Advent, this time of preparation for the Nativity, with an attitude of joyful hope and at the same time try to clothe myself in the virtues that the Word of God highlights: first, poverty and hunger for God, second, vigilance and faith; third, Christian presence and action in the world.”

A baby will come. Don’t forget that. As we travel through Advent, know that we’re not getting a safe Jesus that Ricky Bobby prays to, but a new world order. It reminds me of the song Bill Wolf wrote, “A Baby Will Come.” The lyrics are as follows:

The kings of this world
Have torn it apart
But we can take heart
A baby will come

To the hungry and meek
To those who grieve
To the broken in need
A baby will come

We have known pain
We’ve felt death’s sting
God help us believe
This baby will come

The angel appeared
Said do not fear
For peace is here
A baby has come

The advent of life
Let hope arise
We’ve our Savior and Christ
The baby has come

We’ve waited so long
God for Your mighty arm
May our doubts ever calm
For the baby has come

The proud will be low
The humble will know
They’re valued and loved
For the baby has come

Cause the kings of this world
Won’t have the last word
That God is Yours
For the baby has come

We don’t know everyone’s stories and we can’t assume things about people because we don’t know what struggles they’re going through. We can’t judge on the outside because we may miss what God wants us to see on the inside. Injustice and brokenness is nothing new, but God will have the last word and we have hope that it will be so.

Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

We’re a people of hope. The South Carolina motto is Dum spiro spero, “While I breathe, I hope” and the people of Christ should be radiating the hope that comes from knowing that God will never leave nor forsake us. If we have hope built on nothing less than Christ’s abundant grace and salvation, it will see us through whenever Jesus returns. We do need to keep alert, living our faith out loud every day, being agents of hope as well as agents of change bringing God’s kingdom to earth. It can happen and it will happen, if we believe what we say we do.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says this, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Whether we’re Black Friday shoppers or freedom fighters, grieving and hurting people, joyous, high on the mountain top, God goes with us every step of the way, and that is the Good News. Giving us the hope we need at the time when we most need it.

So back to the movie, “We Bought a Zoo, our reluctant hero, Ben, has maxed out all of his credit cards and has spent all of his father’s inheritance and spent all of his wife’s “Circus Money.” He got naively into the zoo business true, and as he entered his darkest hour, hope came from an unlikely source, the lady at Home Depot working the cash register. She sees the name on his maxed out (Lucy, his daughter, says it won’t work) credit card Rosemoor Animal Park, and she says she’s coming to the grand opening of the zoo because she remembers spending summers there as a child and she’ll bring her whole family. Fast forward a few clips and Ben cuts the ribbon officially opening the zoo, but no people come. Dylan senses something is wrong, so he runs ahead and there’s a tree down blocking the way. On the other side of the tree, cars are lined up as far as the eye can see, and the Home Depot lady is there with her family. Just that one word of hope kept his spirit going. You never know who needs that word of hope. You never know who needs reminding of the HOPE of a Savior who comes as Emmanuel – one with us – and lived and breathed and walked among us. Zechariah prays in Luke 1:78-79, “78By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” May we continue to come toward, to draw near the hope of Jesus as we journey through this Advent season.

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Getting Back

I’ve not used this as a blog much anymore since the second surgery and I say I will start using it again, but it doesn’t ever happen. But that stops tonight. Because this is the place that I process. This is the place where I don’t read anything back over. Unedited. Semi-uncensored. Real. Raw. I started this blog before my first brain surgery. I would read back over my post, but that would break my cardinal rule! =0)

I didn’t understand at the time the ramifications “brain tumor” would have on my life. Some would say I was in denial. But I’ve processed things at my own pace, along and along. I didn’t look up what type of tumor I had until the December after I had the first surgery in June. When the tumor increased in grade, I didn’t process it (what with the radiation, chemo, speech, occupational, and physical therapy) until a transatlantic flight to the Ukraine. Still then, I didn’t share it with anyone until March. That the movie “Stuck in Love” let me know I want to see Enoch and Evy go to college. That’s the age group I spend my life working with so I will hope beyond hope that I get to see it happen.

Evy asked me on Tuesday if I would be around when she is a grown up and I said honestly, “I hope so.”

I’ve been hesitant to share openly, honestly and vulnerably on here because this is a public forum whether I post these blogs on facebook or twitter or not. I began working a new job two years ago and I didn’t want them to judge me as weak, broken, or not enough, especially after the second surgery at the end of the first year I was here. I KNOW that’s not what most people thought, but that’s how I felt. I tell my students all the time don’t wear masks, don’t hide who you are, and I feel like I’ve had a mask on here. I don’t mind posting sermons or speaking gigs, but I’m hesitant to share the day to day because it’s filled with all of the challenges and I feel like if I don’t write them down and just shake them off or zip past them than I’m not dwelling on them, but as my mom reminded me this past week, what a wonderful testimony of what God can do. I’ve received my share of challenges, but God’s grace and love and peace and strength is ever sufficient for all my needs. Mom often hears the Mother Teresa quote, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” I do not even begin to think of myself as Mother Teresa, I’m not that saintly and I like tv shows too much, but I can do the best I can to be as authentic as I can be. Sharing the good times and the bad, the mountain tops and the valleys.

PS – I did the title based off an old Silers Bald song.

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We are chosen for something.

Our first scripture is from Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Let us start with a definition of “talent.” tal•ent
1. natural aptitude or skill. “he possesses more talent than any other player”
synonyms: flair, aptitude, facility, gift, knack, technique, touch, bent, ability,expertise, capacity, faculty;
2. a former weight and unit of currency, used especially by the ancient Romans and Greeks.

A talent is a large sum of money, equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years. Precisely as a result of the wide circulation of this story, “talent” came into the English language in the Middle Ages as a term for God-given abilities, “gifts and graces.” The talents in this story refer to money; the differing abilities of the recipients are referred to in other terms. Isn’t it fascinating that just from this biblical passage that we get the first definition of talent when it means the second one. Strange.

Our second scripture is from 2 Timothy 1:6-14 (NRSV),

6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher,[a] 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

God doesn’t choose us simply for the sake of choosing; being chosen doesn’t mean that you’re better than others. When God chooses us, we’re chosen FOR something.

I posted on my facebook an article from Relevant called “So You Have No Idea What Your ‘Calling’ Is.” Here’s an excerpt from the article. “One of the biggest things was that the millennial generation, their unique challenges notwithstanding, could change the world. The first time I heard this I was inspired, but what started as inspiration began to build into anxiety. Words like “calling” and “vocation” sound great until you realize you don’t know yours. There is just no way around this. Patience and perseverance have to become defining attributes of our journey to find our calling. Sure, there are the people out there who knew they were going to be missionaries from the first time they saw a map (and even they have to wait and prepare), but for the vast majority of us, it takes more time. We have to learn new things, grow up, build community, work at Starbucks, drop out of Grad school or take our first graphic design class before we start to have an idea of what we want to do. We have to consider our talents and passions and seek out wisdom. And when we do start to figure it out, we may have to come to terms with the fact that our place in the process might look a little bit more like making someone’s day by brewing an incredible cup of coffee rather than revolutionizing the whole industry through fair-trade initiatives.”

I’m here to tell you, you CAN and WILL change the world. Don’t be paralyzed by the idea of that. Let that wash over you like a wave washing over you in the ocean. You see the God that knit you together in your mother’s womb and knows when you sit and when you rise is calling you forth to share YOUR gift to the world. Don’t start comparing yourself to others because that only sets you up for dissatisfaction, envy, failure, frustration and it’s unhealthy. We are each given a part to play.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Start at beginning – 3:22

So we’re each given skills and abilities and choices. No one is talentless. Everyone gets their own moment to shine even Neville Longbottom.

The second scripture is 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-11 (NRSV) says, 1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”

Everyone has been given gifts spiritual and otherwise. Ask God to help you see and know your specific gifts, those that you bring to a world full of darkness. Take a spiritual gift survey. Take one of the many on buzzfeed just for fun and find out what Superhero you are. Or ask someone that you trust: a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, a friend. Ask them.

This quote is from The Legend of Bagger Vance, a favorite of mine. It’s a quote that Bagger, played by Will Smith, tells Harley the young kid that is serving as the assistant caddy.

“Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing. Something that we were born with. Something that’s ours and ours alone. Something that can’t be taught to you or learned. Something that got to be remembered. Over time the world can rob us of that swing. It can be buried inside us in the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s. Some people forget what their swing was like.”

Our true authentic swing. We have to be given eyes to see and know. When those around you are telling you and God’s leading you, you CAN move mountains. God is faithful and true and the Holy Spirit can guide and lead us in our gifts and graces as the Spirit moves us to CLAIM our gifts.

1:19 – 2:14 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60PQRpo9T-Q “Legend of Bagger Vance”

This next clip admittedly is from a kid’s movie, The Rise of the Guardians. It asks the question, “What is your center?” What are the things that make you – YOU? What makes me Narcie? What makes her…? What makes him…?

Rise of the Guardians – “What is your center?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8k8s0JyzJsk

So Santa’s outside can be intimidating, but his center is full of wonder.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKroB30l7dk – Rise of the Guardians – Jack’s Center

What makes you – YOU? What is your center? Jack’s center is fun. I would say mischief making, like my 7 year old Enoch. What is your center? Why did God place you on this earth in this particular time, in this particular place? Not in a braggy, self-centered kind of way. Too much self-love is a detriment and can lead you on the path of destruction. Not to mention getting your head through the door.

If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, if it feels like you’re not worthy or good enough. If you’re feeling like the kid from Polar Express, that God forgot you when God gave out the gifts, you’re not alone. All of us struggle with doubt and fear and dark nights of the soul.

Sudha Khristmukti’s “More Than Enough” is a poem that speaks to this.

“Something is better than nothing,” I say to myself.

Still another voice persists:

“Will my gift, which appears so meager, count amidst this sea of other offerings?” I ache with doubt. And yet I saw how my leaking faucet filled a bucket last night. One drop at a time. More isn’t always the most, and less isn’t always the least. Approachability. Availability. Dependability. Listening ears, understanding heart. Words of encouragement, being present when it matters most. Selflessness and the gift of self. If the smallest act to even one life becomes significant enough, it might just make a world of difference. The endless possibilities lie with the One who can use the whole of what we think is merely a mite, a part. Here and now, if we simply present whatever we are, whatever we can, and whatever we have, somehow it would be more than enough, more than worthwhile.”

God is going to be with you every step of the way. The great God of the universe is going to be with you every step of the way. Do you realize the power in that? Or are you still in the mire and muck that holds you back? The baggage that weighs you down?

– 2:15 – to the end – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Mk2Tca88Xo “Legend of Bagger Vance”

Even when God doesn’t seem like it, even if you’re hoarse from crying out, God is there.

This expresses the dark night of the soul that Henri Nouwen often writes about. “My Garden of Gethsemane” by Naomi Faw –

“In the dark night of my soul I long for someone’s comfort and no one comes. There is no one to call. I imagine Jesus in the Garden praying until sweat became blood and even the disciples would not wake. This night is my garden. When will help come? Where is grace? Will I be able to take one more step? The dark night passes and no one came. Or, perhaps Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.”

Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.

I promise you that if you ask God, seek God with all of your heart, God will answer you. If not, come see me, and we’ll pray together and ask God to help you to see, know, and feel God’s great love for you. These are familiar words from Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” You don’t have to figure everything out now. It’s not a snap your fingers sort of thing. It’s a journey. It’s a process. There’s no pressure but as Mother Teresa says, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” We can all do small things throughout the day, throughout our lives with great love.

http://vimeo.com/46300983

You were made for a purpose. If it’s clean water. Get educated. More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. If it’s world hunger. Know your facts. Every 5 seconds a child dies from hunger. You can make a difference. You weren’t put here in this particular time, in this particular place, with your God given gifts and graces by mistake. Go, ye, therefore and change the world for Jesus.

Let your light shine. Your stars that you were given represent the gifts and graces you have been given as well as a tangible reminder of the hopes, dreams, and passions as you envision your gifts being used to bring about the kingdom of God. To help you see that you’re enough. Help you see you’re worthy to approach the throne of grace with confidence. You see these stars symbolize our lights shining collectively in the world. When you claim your gifts for God, it makes the light brighter, stronger, more full. These are not gifts to hoard; they are gifts to share with the world. Like “This Little Light of Mine” says, don’t be hiding your light under a bushel because the world wants and needs to see your light.

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Filed under Bagger Vance, calling, Chosen Series, God, Harry Potter, Rise of the Guardians, Vocation

God chooses us just as we are.

chosen1
So we’re starting this Chosen series. We’re going to delve deeper into this idea that we were Chosen for a purpose and that purpose was God’s.
July 6th – God chooses us just as we are.
July 13th – We are chosen for something.
July 20th – We choose to follow Jesus.
July 27th – We choose to step out. We are a movement not a moment.
August 3rd – We (the church) are chosen for the world to ROCK it.
August 10th – Chosen to share the Good News.
August 17th – Chosen to be restored and to have our heart’s desires.

So it’s all going to be about God’s using us. God calling each and every one of us. God’s drawing the world to God’s self through us, if we only are ready to be used by God. If we’re ready to be real. If we’re ready to show the world our frailties and our failures and the ways our Savior is making all things new through God’s mercy. It’s time to get real and authentic.

Let’s dig in.

Matthew 4:18-22
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Our second scripture this morning is

John 15:16-18
You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.”

Have you ever heard of “call stories?” Well, the first scripture is one of the most famous call stories because Jesus took regular Joe Blow fishermen and called them to fish for people.

They left everything.

My brothers and I grew up as United Methodist preacher’s kids. How many of you were born in 1992? So most of you don’t remember the Steven Curtis Chapman song “For the sake of the Call?” My mom would play it any time we were about to move so we knew anytime that song was playing, change was acoming! That and Michael W. Smith’s song, “Friends are Friends Forever.”

scc_forthesake

He’s got an excellent mullet on the CD cover. We didn’t know what a “mullet” was because many people had them.

Nobody stood and applauded them
So they knew from the start
This road would not lead to fame
All they really knew for sure
Was Jesus had called to them
He said “come follow Me” and they came
With reckless abandon, they came

Empty nets lying there at the water’s edge
Told a story that few could believe
And none could explain
How some crazy fishermen agreed to go where Jesus lead
With no thought to what they would gain
For Jesus had called them by name
And they answered…

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die for the sake of the call
The sake of the call

Drawn like the rivers are drawn to the sea
There’s no turning back, for the water cannot help but flow
Once we hear the Savior’s call, we’ll follow wherever He leads
Because of the love He has shown
And because He has called us to go
We will answer…

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die

Not for the sake of a creed or a cause
Not for a dream or a promise
Simply because it is Jesus who called
And if we believe we’ll obey

If you obey Jesus when he calls, life is going to be a great adventure. We recently had a movie marathon at Gator Wesley because it’s been super rainy in Gainesville. Not just any movie marathon, an Indiana Jones marathon. I had bought them to watch with my children Enoch who is 7 and Evy who is 5. Don’t worry I fast-forwarded the face melting scary parts. But I think of the disciples much like Indiana Jones or Bear Grylls, rugged, with an adventurous, live on the edge spirit. Discipleship is not for the faint of heart but mercies are new every morning and God remains faithful and like Indiana Jones you will finish the Quest by the skin of your teeth or the grace of God.

Did the two fishermen that Jesus called take their fishing nets with them? Nope! They didn’t know where the journey would take them. They couldn’t carry luggage loaded onto a baggage cart. They didn’t even have one of those super cool backpacks. We each have figurative baggage. Most of us carry “stuff” and sometimes it’s like a security blanket. That we hold onto. We carry it with us wherever we go and sometimes we’re afraid to lay it down because we’ve become so comfortable with our “stuff” sometimes it’s familiar and comfortable. Some of us like the prodigal have gotten so used to the pigs and the mud that we are stuck there. Jesus is asking you go on a great adventure and you have to lay down your baggage. Guilt. Shame. Pride. Doubt. Fear. Self-Loathing. Parent’s expectations. The pressure we put on ourselves. Feeling like you’ll never measure up to this person or that person. Lay it all down. Take it off your shoulders. Stop rolling that luggage around.

My son Enoch was in kindergarten last year at Littlewood Elementary and he got a color for every day for his behavior. The colors were blue for an exceptional day, green for a good day, yellow for a one warning day, orange for a two warning day, and red if he had to go to the principal’s office. He would stress out and worry over his color every day knowing that we expected mostly green days, but Enoch is a rambunctious child to say the least, so we were secretly happy with yellow days, and I explained to him, that every day, is a brandnew day with. I would often quote the line in Anne of Green Gables, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” So let it go. Let the idea of perfection go. I saw a bumper sticker a long time ago that said, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” Let all of the expectations that the world has placed on you and the outside stressors go. I’m sure half of you are singing the Frozen song inside your head now, but I’ll say it again, “Let it go” or lay it down.

Our second scripture says we did not choose God, but God chose us that we may bear fruit in the world. God says it won’t be easy, the world will hate us, just like it did him. You see the enemy that wants to only steal, kill, and destroy, doesn’t like when we hear the Shepherd’s voice, when we listen to the voice of truth, our Savior’s voice. That voice that tells us we’re somebody.

In “Manifesting the Glory of God” Marianne Williamson tells us this way, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be. You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Let your light shine that the world may see and know.

This is a famous story, some say Fred Craddock preached it, “A seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One morning they were eating breakfast in a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet, family meal. While waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.”

But sure enough, the man came over to their table. “Where are you folks from?” he asked in a friendly voice. “Oklahoma,” they answered. “Great to have you here in Tennessee,” the stranger said. “What do you do for a living?” “I teach at a seminary,” he replied. “Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I’ve got a really good story for you.” And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down. The professor groaned and thought to himself, “Great. Just what I need — another preacher story!”

The man started, “See that mountain over there?” He pointed out the restaurant window. “Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up because every place he went, he was always asked the same question: “Who’s your father?’ The whole town looked for a family resemblance, whether he was at school, in the grocery store or the drug store, people would ask the same question: “Who do you belong to?” He would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. He would avoid going into stores because that question hurt him. When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question. But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast, he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, ‘Son, who’s your dad?’ The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question of who his father was. The new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to the scared and nervous boy: ‘Wait a minute! I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.’ With that, he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance — go and claim it.’ With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him who his father was, he’d just tell them, ‘I’m a child of God.’

The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, “Isn’t that a great story?” The professor responded that it really was a great story. As the man turned to leave, he said, “You know, if that new preacher hadn’t told me that I was one of God’s children, I probably would never have amounted to anything!” And he walked away.

The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked, “Do you know that man who was just sitting at our table?” The waitress grinned and said, “Of course. Everybody here knows him. That’s Ben Hooper. He’s the former governor of Tennessee!”

It’s a true story. We actually visited the location in 2011 on our way back from a United Methodist Campus Ministry Association conference in Nashville. Lo and behold, right across from the Cracker Barrel in Tennessee was a marker to Ben Hooper.

God chooses us. God reaches for us. God actively pursues us. All we have to do is lay down our baggage and trust in God’s abundant grace.

God wants to be our lighthouse. To guide and lead us as we serve the world.

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Filed under Ben Hooper, Call Stories, Chosen Series, My Lighthouse

Psalm 30 – Paul Shultz

Preached on June 29th, 2014

Psalm 30:1-12
1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
7 By your favor, O LORD,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
8 To you, O LORD, I cried,
and to the LORD I made supplication:
9 “What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me!
O LORD, be my helper!”
11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

John 10:10
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Psalm 30 is an individual, first person singular, psalm of thanksgiving. Rabbinic sources identify Psalm 30 with the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah. I had never noticed that the title of Psalm 30 at least in my Bible was a “Thanksgiving for Recovery from Grave Illness,” but it makes sense. Hear these words again.

“1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.”

You see God wants to give us joy in the morning. Life. Not just merely a blah life, but abundant life. God will be there every step of the way when life gets blah.

I’ve just come back yesterday from two weeks away first visiting my parents in Aiken, then to celebrate and officiate Nikki and Andrew’s wedding, and I was in leadership at a campus ministry conference in Atlanta for the second week. There was a heaviness about me as I journeyed through our time in Atlanta. You see I lost my co-chair, Paul Shultz, in January to flu complications and he was instrumental in planning this conference and the direction for the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association. Paul was a prophetic voice in the wilderness of collegiate ministry and Paul left a deep void. We wrestle with students’ questions every day – with vocation and theodicy and not giving cliched answers, so I’m not giving you an explanation of how a great, healthy man that just turned 50, that was the HAPPIEST I had ever seen him would die from freaking flu complications. It’s unanswerable and we don’t have pit pat answers to explain it away, but Paul gives answers through his sermons in the funeral service his children put together. (It’s linked to the end of this blog.)

You see we campus ministers are a bunch of misfits and after serving several local churches, Paul found that his calling led him to serve the University of Iowa Wesley Foundation. Paul was a big, hulking guy that made me feel petite. We got to know each other pretty well as we rotated on UMCMA’s Coordinating Committee at the same time in 2009. Then at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, UMCMA got two houses for collegiate ministers to volunteer their time to advocate for United Methodist Collegiate Ministry in Ybor City. Paul and I sat right next to each other on the front row for the General Administration committee for the entire time the legislative committees were in session. I will never forget our excitement when critical votes happened in the committee, and West remarked later it was like a “circus with the tent on fire.”

You see Paul before he was my co-chair was the Advocacy chair for UMCMA and had been instrumental on getting legislation passed at both the 2008 and 2012 General Conference. Paul set the course, created Advocacy packets, gave us our legislative assignments, and was the bridge between the old guard and us newbies. He floated in and out of conversations with wizened lifers (people who have campus ministry in their DNA and are in it for life) and could be a mentor or a jokester or a friend. We worked hard at that General Conference and we played hard as we went back to the UMCMA houses to strategize and blow off steam and create a beautiful community.

He had a wicked, self-deprecating, sense of humor. He would often greet people with “Glad you could see me!” instead of “Glad to see you!” And that was just Paul. Without a doubt, Paul Shultz knew he who was. He was deeply rooted and he was proud to be from Iowa, even naming the famous Iowans at dinner one night. He is one of those rare people that care about their ministry setting while equally caring for the whole denomination. I didn’t realize how rare that was. He cared deeply about the whole of The United Methodist Church. Although we didn’t agree on everything, after all I’m a girl in her 30’s from South Carolina and he was a guy that had just turned 50 from Iowa, we could disagree and it was okay because we respected each other enough to show love and grace and we felt secure in our positions. He influenced me more than he knew. He was a mentor and a friend. I’ll never forget him doing the closing of our October meeting in Atlanta as we planned for this conference. He talked about serving small churches in rural Iowa and at the conclusion of his story had half of us wiping tears from our eyes.

On a more personal note, Paul was my rock during the 2013 UMCMA biennial conference in Denver and as soon as I asked him for help he picked up the mantle and ran with it. When my second brain surgery was not as easy as the first one and left me without being able to speak for three weeks and having to go through occupational, physical, and speech therapy for 7 months as I underwent 30 radiation treatments, I just had to simply ask. He didn’t make me feel broken or not enough or handicapped in any way. He just in his Paul Shultz way made it okay. Made it normative. And didn’t ask me about it again. It was such a gift and I can’t articulate to his three children or his fiancee Jana how much that meant to me. So this week was incredibly hard because I was leading the conference without my co-chair. I told a close friend that I was tired of crying throughout the conference because I felt like I did that during all the breaks. My mom said to me yesterday on the way home, “Narcie, it says how much you loved him.” Indeed. CS Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” So I claim the verse that joy comes in the morning because it’s been a rough year for so many of us. Verses 11 and 12, “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”

I remain ever confident that God is with us every step of the way. It reminds me of the quote from Mother Teresa that says, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish God didn’t trust me so much.” I couldn’t have gotten through this week without the grace, love and strength of God and the prayers and support of our collegiate ministry community. If you’re away from home for the very first time as a freshman starting in Summer B, God can help with the struggle, the loneliness, the lostness and we can help with those feelings too because the only way to live this life is in community. God loves you. God journeys with you in the good times and the bad, in the times we are grieving and in the times we are rejoicing. God is present with us.

I love the new Rend Collective CD and I’ve been listening to it since Gator Wesley’s spring tour. There’s a song called “My Lighthouse” that has these lyrics,

“My Lighthouse”

In my wrestling and in my doubts
In my failures You won’t walk out
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

In the silence, You won’t let go
In my questions, Your truth will hold
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

My Lighthouse, my lighthouse
Shining in the darkness, I will follow You
My Lighthouse, my Lighthouse
I will trust the promise,
You will carry me safe to shore

I won’t fear what tomorrow brings
With each morning I’ll rise and sing
My God’s love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

Fire before us, You’re the brightest
You will lead us through the storms

God’s our lighthouse and wants to give us abundant life. Not just surviving but thriving. I admit that I had written Casting Crowns off with being played out and old school, but I kept hearing this song on the Christian radio stations…
“Joy unspeakable! Faith unsinkable! Love Unstoppable! Anything is possible!”

It’s called “Thrive.” Too often I hear that we’ve just got to get through high school or college or grad school or we have to get our first job or get married or have children or figure out what in the heck to do with our lives, but God doesn’t want us to let life pass us by so that we’re only barely surviving. God wants us to have life. God wants us to thrive. It may take time. It may be challenging. It may not be easy. God wants us to thrive.

Paul would hesitate to sanction my use of contemporary Christian music, but he thrived. He embraced life. My friend, Rob Rynders, wrote a blog soon after Paul’s death and he got this response from a friend of Paul’s, “Perhaps you knew Paul had a bar where he met with his Seven Reverends group and where he had what he saw as a street ministry. Some nights he just hung out and drank his beer. Some nights he listened to heartache and helped people find their way. A year ago he organized a Thanksgiving dinner there for those with no family near. He was loved there and is very missed.” He not only thrived at The University of Iowa Wesley Foundation, he thrived with his children Miles, Hannah and August, he thrived with his fiancee Jana, he thrived in the broad reach and depth of grace he gave to each of us colleagues in United Methodist Collegiate Ministry, and he thrived in the world inviting everyone to know the love of God for each of them. May we all be and live like Paul.

Paul’s kids crafted the funeral with Paul’s words from his sermons and even his CPE application. He kept them all. A recording of the funeral is online here: https://soundcloud.com/paul-shultz-funeral/sets/a-tuesday-funeral You should listen to it.

Two additions since posting the blog. The first is from one of Mary Haggard’s students, Briana Batty.

“Lighthouse” by Briana Batty

The one thing I don’t have
right now
is an answer.
The one thing I want more than anything,
though,
is relief.

I have tried to stay strong, to stay bright,
but I’m the lighthouse
far out in the water,
bashed and battered
by cold storm winds,
left lonely in the waves
with no one to turn the lanterns
back on.
As my bold paint peels away
I’m nothing but a white-flecked pole
lost in a hurricane.

If you can see me flickering here,
pray.
Pray I’m brighter tomorrow,
pray my colors return,
pray I don’t fall headlong into
the stormy dark bay.
And while you pray, I’ll fight
I’ll stand,
I’ll try
because there’s this Man who walks across
the waters to me, climbs
the rickety stairs
in my heart, and promises that
He’s here to be my Light when I grow dark.
He gives me hope I don’t have,
strength I can’t find on my own.

Over the storm I see closing in around me
wings of prayer, white like seagulls, brave like eagles
diving into the wind.
I’m still surrounded by storms on my battered rocks,
oh yes,
but always encircled with arms and wings and warm embraces,
and lit from deep within with Light
brighter than mine.

See me out here?
I shine in the storm,
bright as new.

The second is from Hannah Shultz, Paul’s daughter, she said she’s been reading this poem by Maya Angelou a lot recently.

When Great Trees Fall

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

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Filed under calling, Campus Ministry, Friends, Lighthouse, Live, Maya Angelou, Paul Shultz, Psalm, Thrive

Shelter

community
Colossians 3:12-17

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Our scripture today is one that I give couples to select for a scripture reading for their wedding. It was also used as the middle scripture on Gator Wesley’s Spring Tour this week. I hoped it would resonate with the students as they dealt with one another in the love of Christ in the midst with all of the challenges of tour. One of my favorite lines of this scripture, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” We love each other like family here at Gator Wesley. We fight like brothers and sisters, but we know at the end of the day that we need to bear with one another and forgive each other just as Christ has forgiven us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer asks the questions, “Has fellowship served to make the individual free, strong, and mature, or has it made him weak and dependent? Has it taken him by the hand for a while in order that he may learn again to walk by himself, or has it made him uneasy and unsure?”

I say yes for the community at Gator Wesley. We don’t seek to wave magic wands to solve all of life’s problems, but we seek to come alongside and journey with you wherever you go with the love and grace of Christ that leads us.

I love the poems in the Alive Now devotionals by Roberta Porter. This one is called simply “Gift.”

It is no small gift to be a faith community,
to worship, to witness,
to walk the way of love
in the name and strength of Jesus.
And in community,
When brokenness and sorrow come,
those in need are surrounded
with prayer and compassion.
Our caring goes beyond ourselves,
and the stranger, in many places,
Is touched
by the healing love and grace of God.

In our failures, in our busy forgetting,
we are forgiven, renewed
to continue to be the hands and feet of Christ –
no small task,
no small gift.

I say yes for myself in the community of Gator Wesley that has lifted me up in powerful ways that has allowed me to walk this journey of recovery. That you let me be your leader in the midst was a true gift of grace. I may not have often felt adequate or enough these past few months or past year, but God’s grace has been more than sufficient. These were the verses in The Upper Room Devotional for yesterday the anniversary of my second brain surgery, but I didn’t read it until today, taking a sort of fast from social media because we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary yesterday. Lamentations 3:22-26, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” Amen and amen.

Another poem called “Beyond Ourselves” by Roberta Porter.
We are created for Christ
and for community –
to pray, to care
to show and receive compassion
to witness to all
the wonder of God’s grace.

May we faithfully act in love –
forgiving, restoring,
renewing, serving,
and living
beyond ourselves
in the power of the Sprirt
and to the glory of God.

This is the gift from me to you, to thank you for journeying with me this past year. The song “Brother” by needtobreathe really resonated with me as I traveled on tour this past week. I highly encourage you to get the entire CD because it’s awesome. Because this CD is so recent, this is the only recording of this song on youtube besides the one with just the album cover. This is obviously the acoustic version.

Brother Lyrics
Ramblers in the wilderness we can’t find what we need
Get a little restless from the searching
Get a little worn down in between
Like a bull chasing the matador is the man left to his own schemes
Everybody needs someone beside em’ shining like a lighthouse from the sea

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Face down in the desert now there’s a cage locked around my heart
I found a way to drop the keys where my failures were
Now my hands can’t reach that far
I ain’t made for a rivalry I could never take this world alone
I know that in my weakness I am stronger
It’s your love that brings me home

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Brother let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Brother let me be your shelter
Brother let me be your shelter
Brother let me be your shelter
Brother let me be your shelter

SO THANK YOU FOR ALL OF THE PRAYERS and letting me call each of you shelters.

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Filed under Bonheoffer, Colossians 3, Community, Grace, Music, Needtobreathe, Roberta Porter poems, Shelter