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Thankfully, saving lives

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

Excitement – Worry – Anticipation – all these thoughts are going through the minds of those who have planned or are participating in Running 4 Clean Water tomorrow (4917 Duck Creek Drive, Garland, TX US 75043). 

This year there have been some obstacles in planning.

But the outcome for the 2022 Running 4 Clean Water 5K is already successful.

Looking back through the years, we have always had setbacks in planning and carrying out the race.

But somehow each year seems to be as successful or better than the last.

I am so thankful for those leaders who persevere through all the meetings, planning, calling and fulfilling every last detail of the race (Willie Kamara, Nancy Sherlin, James Welker, Joey and Cindy Fisher).

I’m thankful for all those generous sponsors who see the vision.

I’m thankful for the City of Garland, which helps with the course.

I’m thankful for the volunteers, runners and walkers who make the 5K happen.

I’m thankful for Seven Hills Global Outreach and Zion Ministries.

I’m thankful for those who continue to pray for the work of our church.

I love to see how the Holy Spirit works despite our humanness! 

Lives are being saved

As a musician, I have lots of projects (musicals, dessert shows, KAMP, choir tours, cantatas, choir projects during COVID) that take a lot of teamwork to fulfill.

Through each endeavor, my faith grows because I give both myself and the project over to God.

So today, here is a prayer for this project – for the Running 4 Clean Water 5K/1 Mile Fun Run. 

Loving God, thank you for the opportunity to gather as a community to participate in Running 4 Clean Water.

May our words and actions honor you.

Please give each participant, whether runner or volunteer, strength to finish the task set before them.

May we be kept safe and without injury.

Let this course be a reminder of our faith walk.

“Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

May this year’s Running 4 Clean Water bring glory to your name as we give ourselves to you.

May those in Sierra Leone be blessed to do your good work through water and the Holy Spirit.

In Jesus name, Amen.

The same big sky

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

I love taking pictures of clouds in the sky.

I don’t know when this fascination of mine started, but I really enjoy all the different ways that clouds form in the sky.

And it isn’t just the clouds.

The way the sun dances across them and reflects different colors and different times in the day can be mesmerizing.

I have taken pictures of sunsets and sunrises that have colors in the clouds and sky that seem impossible.

I have also taken pictures of storm clouds that look like they were going to flatten the entire city.

Awe inspiring. Breathtaking. Beautiful. These are the words that come to mind when I look back on the pictures.

I realize that saying something cliché right now like “we are looking at the same bright sun in the same big sky right now, even though we are 1,000 miles apart” would be just that, cliché.

I mean, come on, if we are 1,000 miles apart, we may be looking at the same sun, but we are definitely looking at a different part of the that “same big sky”.

Still, it does seem to make us feel more connected to each other to think that way.

The truth is. we are connected, and that is one reason why I love the United Methodist Church so much.

We are connected to one another because we are part of the same big tent that allows us to serve and journey together, even though we don’t agree on how to do that.

It is heartbreaking to me to know that there are those who have decided that the tent just isn’t big enough anymore, and that the connection isn’t what it is about.

Not true for me, not true.

God’s tent is always big enough for everyone. Our tent is big enough for everyone.

We just must get over ourselves and realize that it is big enough and start welcoming everyone in.

I think if everyone just stopped and admired the beauty of the clouds every once in a while and realized we are under the same big sky, things might be a little better.

It doesn’t matter how big things seem to be, be humbled by looking up and realize the beauty of what is around us and what we are a part of.

We are all truly connected in so many ways The clouds in the sky remind me of that almost every day.

My prayer is that you can find that something that reminds you as well.

Wait on the Lord

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

It is no longer a state secret that I injured both of my hands in August and early September, which forced a wave of recital and concert cancellations in September and October. 

What isn’t as well known is that this past Tuesday, I finally regained full use of my hands.

I know this because I practiced for four hours without realizing it – something I haven’t done since early August. 

Unlike past incidents like tendinitis or simple overuse, this injurious bout took forever to heal – and involved two hands instead of one.

I was beginning to wonder if I was going to follow in the path of so many forgotten pianists of years’ past, whose careers died prematurely because they got injured and never fully healed.

Thanks to your prayers, God extended grace and mercy in my case.

Amid this ordeal, I discovered that I could still manage the harpsichord.

With my quill-plucking keyboard, I kept my soul nourished with a renewed relationship to the music of J. S. Bach.

As a result, I’m sharing some of this music in my upcoming recital – paying it forward, as we could all use some soul-healing in these trying times. 

In scripture, we are exhorted to “wait on the Lord” quite often, in various contexts.

I will honestly attest that this ‘wait’ for the Great Physician was not fun, and at times I felt overlooked. 

But in this, I learned that it is OK to ask for prayers; it is OK to ask for help; it is OK for the show to wait for a performer’s healing. 

Above all, I learned that it is incredibly important to guard one’s mind and heart – critical to this is to surround oneself with a loving and supportive community. 

Right now, nothing gives me greater joy than to report back to you that all is well. And I’m good to go, once more.

Thank you for your prayers.

True north

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

The theme verse for Pure Joy! Youth Choir this year is Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit of the spirit! 

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

There is no law against such things.


This verse is part of a chapter that describes living “by the spirit.”

Those living by the spirit will reflect not only one, but all the fruit of the spirit described in this verse.

“Woah!” one may say. “That’s a lot of work.”

Our focus is not making sure we ‘do’ all the fruit. As Christians, our single focus is following the Holy Spirit.

Basically, our job is to trust in God through Christ by the Holy Spirit. God’s work handles the rest (the fruit in us.)

John 29:28-29 best describes it: 

Then they said to him (Jesus), “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 

One of the songs the youth are learning is called True North, by a worship band from Northern Ireland band called Rend Collective. 

Here are the abbreviated lyrics: 
 
Oh, You are my true north
I will follow You into the dark.
I will follow You with all my heart.

I will not let the darkness steal the joy within my soul
I will not let my circumstance become my compass, no
I will not let the fears of life and sorrows of this world
Dictate to me how I should feel
For You are my true north.

I will not let my failures turn into the curse of shame
I will not walk beneath the clouds that taunt me and condemn
For I will stand on solid ground the shadow of Your love
Forgiven, changed, a heart renamed
For You are my true north, everybody sing

Oh, You are my true north.
I will follow You into the dark.
I will follow You with all my heart.

One of the students asked, “What is ‘true north,”

I gave a brief definition. But the question caused me to look it up! (Thank you, Google.)

There is the ‘magnetic’ north and the ‘true’ north. (How scientists figure this out is another discussion.)

This is what I learned:

  1. The magnetic field of the earth changes. Therefore, if you only use a compass, you can be misled and get lost on the way to your destination. 
  2. To reach your desired destination, use the compass plus a ‘magnetic declination’ equation for the location (latitude.)

So how does this relate?

Basically, representing the ‘magnetic field’ – our emotions, world attitudes, cultural norms, religious rules and other voices can dictate our action. Following those guidelines, we miss the mark.

However, by seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit, our ‘magnetic declination,’ God’s kingdom can come on earth as it is in heaven.

The decision to follow the Holy Spirit is not a ‘one and done’ thing.

Trusting and believing is daily work, a daily decision.

“I will trust God today.”

The purpose of church community is to support each other in our daily decision of not what to do, but who to follow.

Miracles like Running 4 Clean WaterGood Samaritans of GarlandGLOWS (Garland Overnight Warming Shelter) and the support of knowing that you are loved will emerge. 

Individuals and the church will bear fruit!

What do you do?

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

ne of the top three questions I get all the time is this: 

“What do you do?” 

This question often comes up when discussing my employment and where I work. 

I used to tell people, “I work for the church.” That was it. 

I said this because, when you tell people, “I am the Director of Student Ministries at First United Methodist Church Garland,” their response is usually something like, “Oh, so you are a pastor?” 

Then I have to explain that I am not a pastor, since I am not ordained. 

Which often leads to a discussion about the difference between a pastor and a minister and why that matters. 

Much easier to say, “I work for the church.” 

Truth is, if you are reading this, you probably also work for the church.

When we join the church, we take vows that state we will support our church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. 

But I am not sure I like the phrase “working for the church.”

When I think about the way that sounds, to me, it sounds like I am working for a place.

I guess it might be better to say, “working in the church?” 

But then what does that mean? Still sounds like I am working for someone or for an entity. 

I don’t work for either. I work for God. It really is that simple.

I do not work at First United Methodist Garland because of the entity, its people, or how much I get paid. 

I work here because I work for God. I feel called to ministry in a way that allows me to serve and utilize my gifts. 

In the last year and half, I haven’t been happy about needing to use ALL of my gifts. 

I didn’t realize when I left maintenance to work in ministry that I would be working maintenance as part of the ministry.

That is a real wordy way of saying I didn’t leave maintenance to go work maintenance. Yet here I am. 

Was I bitter? Yep. Was I frustrated? You bet. 

But I realize that this is all part of the ministry I am called to do.

I vowed to serve with my gifts. That means all the gifts I possess that God can use.

I don’t get to pick and choose. Lord knows I have tried. Let me assure you, that typically does not work out well in the end. 

So why am I telling you this? And what is the point? 

We all are called to serve God with our gifts. What is your gift?

Can you sing? There is a robe and folder with your name on it waiting for you.

Are you artistic? We have plenty of ideas for newsletters, posters and media that could use a professional touch. 

Do you like to get your hands dirty?

Come help me in the elevator pit one day cleaning out debris and oil. 

Push a broom, vacuum a room or two. Work in the flower beds. Clean a few glass doors or windows. 

Maybe physical isn’t your thing. But everyone can serve God.

Your gift may be the gift of prayer.

Your gift may be, well, gifts. Perhaps you have been blessed and are in the position to bless others financially. 

We are called to serve. We vow to serve. We are built to serve. 

I need to get over myself sometimes and realize that, even though I may not like it, I am good at fixing stuff.

And if that is where God needs me, then I should probably listen and get to work.

It is all part of the ministry. 

I hope and pray that all of you continue to find ways to be part of the ministry. 

Why I’m a United Methodist

Scot Bontrager, Senior Pastor

In a few weeks we will begin a sermon series on “Why I’m a United Methodist.” where we will discuss what Methodists believe and why.

As part of this sermon series, we want to videotape people answering questions about their experience of being Methodist, and being part of our faith family here at First United Methodist Church Garland.

The questions are:
 

  • Why are you a United Methodist?
  • What sets Methodists apart?
  • Who in your church do you admire?
  • What is your favorite thing about First United Methodist Garland?


Since I believe good shepherds lead the flock from the front, I’m not going to ask anyone to do anything that I won’t do.

So, here are my answers to the questions. 
 
I am United Methodist because I grew up in the UMC. I was shaped and formed by good Methodists lay people and pastors.

The United Methodist Church was where I felt safe and included.

And over time I’ve come to see that the people called Methodist are people who go out of their way to include others.

The United Methodist Church is my home and has been for most of my life.
 
What sets Methodists apart is their willingness to disagree and still get along.

We understand that we won’t always agree, but we can sit in the same pew and praise God even if we disagree about which political candidate will do a better job, or about what a passage of scripture means. 
 
I admire Joey Fisher. He is at the church all the time, doing the grossest jobs, and always seems to smile as he’s doing them.
 
My favorite thing about First United Methodist Garland is how warm this church has been in welcoming me into the family.

I don’t think people are just making nice because the Bishop sent me. I get the feeling they really do like me as a person, even if I’m a bit silly or odd at times.

And the stained glass. I really like the stained glass. 

Positively thankful

Mark Buford, Director of Communications

I have COVID.

Or to be precise, COVID has me.

COVID has had me since I began coughing with congestion, fever, headaches, dizziness, a sore throat and utter exhaustion the weekend before last.

Nearly two weeks ago now.

It’s my first go-round with COVID. The second for my wife Marcy.

Not nearly so terrifying a prospect as two years ago, pre-vaccine and pre-medications.

But frustratingly life-interrupting nonetheless.

Can’t go to work. Can’t go to church. Can’t go to the grocery store.

Can’t visit and take care of my 88-year-old mother, whose birthday visit with me and my brothers had to be postponed.

In short, my life is at a standstill.

And yet, I’m thankful.

Thankful to be alive.

Thankful to not be in the hospital.

Thankful to the doctors and nurses and medical professionals and scientists responsible for keeping me and so many others safe in spite of COVID. 

Thankful, oddly, for the rest.

Certainly, a peculiar way to take a sabbath (I’m quite sure the Staff Parish Relations Committee would have simply granted me one if only I’d asked), but a restful, recharging one nonetheless. 

Thankful for the prayers and calls and emails and support from dear family, friends and neighbors.

Thank for church family and staff who have stepped into the breach to make sure my responsibilities have been covered during my absence. 

Thankful to my loving wife Marcy, who has found the strength to take care of me through this ordeal in spite of her own COVID debacle.

Which has unfortunately postponed the start of piano lessons from Miss Marcy Music (shameless plug) for the 2022-23 school year.

Most of all, I’m thankful for a God who loves me.

Who has counted me among the children of God since ,,, well, since forever.

Who loves me, and who tells me not to worry. 

“I’ve got this,” I can almost hear God say.

God has dusted me off, built me back up, and now prepares me to be a stronger disciple of Jesus, the Son. 

I am thankful. 

P.S. And as I finish this writing, I’ve taken another antigen self-test. It’s negative. And I am thankful. 

Sometimes you need to go around

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

You find yourself standing in front of the tallest wall you have ever seen.

You were told by everyone around you that you needed to scale this wall and perch yourself on top of the highest point so that you can see what is on the other side.

The wall has some places here and there that you could possibly fit your hands and feet into.

There also seem to be some large cracks that look like you could really get a great hold on to pull yourself up.

You take a deep breath and start to climb.

Quickly, your body reminds you that you aren’t as young as you used to be, or that you are not in the shape you thought you were.

Probably should’ve used that gym membership you’ve been paying for but never actually use.

You climb back down.

Each time you try to climb, every place you put your hands and feet, it all seems to be too much.

Each time you tire quickly and must come back down.

You almost slip and fall so many times you’ve lost count.

Struggle as you might you just can’t seem to get there.

You begin to wonder and dream about the sights on the other side of the wall.

What will the world look like?

How much beauty are you missing because you can’t see what is there?

Is there a large lake or perhaps a beautiful frozen glacier that seems frozen in time?

You try again. No luck.

You are drenched in sweat and your muscles ache.

Your body is yelling at you to stop and rest.

But everyone told you that you HAD to get to the top, that what lies beyond the wall is something that MUST be seen.

How long would you try to climb?

How long would you push yourself past the point of exhaustion?

Wait! Did you bother to look to either side?

The wall doesn’t go on forever. If you walk a ways you can simply go around.

So you walk.

The walk seems to take forever but eventually you can see the end of the wall.

Your pace quickens.

Even though your lungs start to burn from the effort and your already shaky legs are about to give out, you find yourself inspired and full of hope because there it is!

The end of the wall.

You slowly and cautiously creep around the corner to view what is beyond the wall.

I find that there are many times I feel as though I am climbing that wall.

What I have to remind myself is that there are other ways of getting where I need to go.

The walk that I am on is not one that I journey alone.

I am surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who mentor me, guide me, and encourage me.

But most importantly, I walk with Jesus. I never walk alone.

The walk may be longer than expected and it might seem like it will never end.

But it will, eventually.

We don’t always need to climb the wall. Sometimes we just need to walk around it.

My prayer for you today is that you won’t walk alone.

That you will look to either side of you and recognize the cloud of witnesses that walk with you.

If you don’t see them, don’t look up at the wall.

Instead, look deep inside and know that you don’t ever walk alone.

Blessings.

When words don’t come

Mark Buford, Director of Communications

Sometimes, the words just don’t come.

That’s a problem when it’s your turn to share a reflection.

And that’s when I’m reminded that listening is just as important as sharing.

So I listened.

Or more accurately, I read. 

Colossians 3:1-11, to be precise.

One of the scriptures for this Sunday’s worship service at First United Methodist Garland.

And it was the last few words that caught my attention … Christ is all in all

This reminds me of a song I used to sing back in my praise band days – You Are My All in All.

(Nichole Nordeman sings it far better!) 

You are my strength
when I am weak,
You are the treasure
that I seek,
You are my all in all.


In these times of inflation and poverty and hunger and racism and political bickering and COVID and monkeypox and on and on and on, I am weak. 

When I fall down
You pick me up, 
When I am dry
You fill my cup, 
You are my all in all. 


Thankfully, I have a Savior who loves and watches over me to help me cope. 

Jesus, Lamb of God, 
Worthy is your name. 
Jesus, Lamb of God, 
Worthy is your name. 


Amen. 

Is God noisy?

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

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;

and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 

– 1 Kings 19:11-12 NKJV


This past Wednesday morning began as every other since July 11: a walk along a noisy and crowded Flushing, Queens, New York sidewalk to the subway station, hoping and praying that an express train to Manhattan (Times Square/42nd Street) would be available. 

However, a question randomly popped in my head.

“If humans are made in the image and likeness of God, is God noisy?” 

I answered myself, “Well, God is hugely into music, just like us.

“He likes to hear choirs sing His praises. Even the heavenly bodies in the galaxy make sounds!

“And Jesus got killed for the noise He made while on Earth. Of course, God isn’t necessarily quiet.” 

Later that day, after rehearsal, I decided to get some dinner before going to the piano practice studios near Lincoln Center in midtown Manhattan. 

On a street corner near Penn Station (34th Street and 7th Avenue), I heard an accompaniment track playing the hymn tune HENDON, which is commonly sung to the text Take My Life and Let it Be

In the near deafening noise that is lower Manhattan, I could faintly hear the song, and I started singing it out loud as I walked to the restaurant.

After dinner, I took the train up to Lincoln Center.

Because I was uncharacteristically early to my appointment, I sat in a park near the Tony Plaza. 

A clock struck 7:00pm, and then I faintly heard synthetic church bells playing the iconic hymn Abide With Me.

As I was enjoying and soon about to sing along, a drumline marched down the street and completely drowned out this prayerful hymn. 

I had a realization I felt impressed to share:

God chooses not to compete with our noise. 

In fact, our being silent in His presence is one of the humblest acts we can perform. 

It is our way of acknowledging that God’s “noise” is more important than our own. 

Then I asked myself, “Do I keep myself too busy to allow the voice of God to be heard?

“Is my mind too polluted with the philosophies of this world to allow God to reveal to me what He wants me to see?”

I don’t know, but this past Wednesday in New York City gave me much to consider.