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The Cup of Salvation

Daily Lenten Devotional

Reprinted with permission from The Society of St. Andrew

Lent is a season of self-examination, reflection and change!

How quickly things changed for Jesus after his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the horror of his arrest, the brutality of his crucifixion and then His resurrection Easter Day!

What a mix of emotions the followers of Jesus must have experienced. What uncertainty! 

Consider others in the midst of their season of change during these uncertain times.

Post pandemic, many lost jobs, and others lost homes.

Finances have run out – but not the hunger of their children!

What are they to do? Where are they to turn?

You, Society of St. Andrew donors and gleaners, are heroes who leapt to the rescue giving your gifts, along with your hands and feet, to help meet the physical needs of others.

The farmers who work with us have been blessed with an abundant harvest, over and above their contracted crops.

They gladly share the abundance for people in need to receive good, wholesome food.

But it takes you to keep the food moving from the farm to the plates of our hungry neighbors!

This year, 2022, is the 43rd birthday of the Society of St. Andrew’s ministry!

SoSA resurrected the biblical teaching about gleaning for the purpose of feeding the hungry, the poor, and the traveler – and brought it into the 21st century.

Now, in the 21st century, God’s plan provides countless opportunities for farmers, donors, churches, and volunteers to come together to harvest and share nourishing food with their neighbors in need.

SoSA provides these devotionals as a free resource, with the hope that you, our honored readers, will join in this quest to continue God’s gleaning plan!

It takes your efforts, and it takes your financial gifts!

Every $1 you donate provides more than 40 servings of food to those in greatest need.

Consider donating $47 for the 47 days in Lent. You can provide more than 1,880 servings!

What a way to celebrate the resurrection of hope and lift the cup of salvation for our hungry neighbors! 

Ash Wednesday, March 2

Snow Day Sacrifice

Scripture: Hebrews 13:6

It was a cold, snowy day in Traveler’s Rest several years ago when I stopped in at Pete’s to get lunch.

A homeless man walked in, asked the girl behind the counter how much a hot dog, coffee, and fries would be. She told him, and he carefully counted the coins in his hand.

He asked how much just a hot dog and coffee would be, she told him, and he ordered that.

The cook, a large burly man behind the serving counter, kept an eye on the man.

After seeing the order, the cook called the waitress. A moment later, she delivered the hot dog, coffee, some fries, an apple pie, a bag with food for later, and hot coffee to go.

When the man was leaving, I saw the cook shake the man’s hand. He passed him a few bills he had taken from his wallet.

You know, sometimes saints wear cook’s aprons and look like burly, hard-shelled men.

Since then, I look for people to bless on cold or snowy days in honor of this unnamed saint.

A cup of hot coffee may be the cup of Salvation for someone.

Prayer: Dear God, who meets us all where we are in greatest need, open my eyes to see others as you see them and to respond as you would. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Alive and well

On March 11, 2020, more than 1,000 people in 40 states had been infected with COVID-19.

At least 31 had already died.

In testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, bluntly warned:

“Bottom line, it’s going to get worse.”

The next day, March 12, Dallas County declared a health emergency. 

A few short hours before, our Pure Joy! Youth Choir returned from a Spring Break tour of St. Louis.

Garland and other area school districts declared a second week of Spring Break as they scrambled to assess the situation and figure out what to do next.

Bishop Mike McKee sent a letter instructing all United Methodist churches in the North Texas Conference to cease in-person worship, presumably for no more than a few weeks.

On March 13, the staff of First United Methodist Garland met via Zoom to brainstorm what to do and how to worship.

Just over a year later, there have been more than 30 million cases and 550,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.

Worldwide, there have been nearly 123 million cases and more than 2.7 million deaths. 

As widespread vaccination escalates, there is hope on the horizon.

But we are a long way from ‘back to normal.’

Some churches have reopened to limited in-person worship. 

For reasons of safety and based on the guidelines of Dallas County Health and Human Services, First United Methodist Garland has not.

Our building remains closed.

But God’s church is alive and well, because we are the church

And God continues to work through us in spite of the pandemic. 

God has a plan for us. 

With God’s guidance and grace, we have learned to worship online. 

This has enabled us to remain connected, albeit virtually, as a community of believers.

And it has positioned us for the future of God’s church.

Online worship won’t go away when we return to our sanctuary. 

It will continue to be offered for those who feel safer and more comfortable remaining at home.

And for those now geographically distant but still desiring a spiritual connection with their home church.

And perhaps most importantly, for that seeker who may find through us an avenue to a new or renewed relationship with God.

We’ve kept other ministries alive online as well. Sunday School. Chancel, Pure Joy! Youth and Children’s Choirs. First Youth fellowship. Even Vacation Bible School and Night in Bethlehem. 

We’ve held online Bible studies and book studies. 

Senior Pastor Rev. Valarie Englert has provided a weekly opportunity to center, meditate and Breathe

And we’ve tried to do our part in combating racism and promoting inclusion through a series of online Conversations About Race.

Our staff and laity have gone out of their way to keep in close touch with our members in spite of social distancing, providing food, pastoral care and other support as needed. 

In spite of the pandemic, God has also led us to remain in mission as well. 

We may not be hammering nails, repairing homes or installing grab bars. 

But we are collecting and contributing food to Good Samaritans of Garland, and helping the Garland Retired School Personnel do the same.

We’ve continued our quarterly commitment to providing Breakfast @ Austin Street.

We provided a socially-distanced distribution point for The Reindeer Project, continuing to help Garland area families in need with gifts and food to ensure a merry Christmas for their children. 

And when an unprecedented, freezing winter storm sent hundreds of our less fortunate neighbors scurrying for shelter, we did our part through donations of time, money and food to the Garland Overnight Warming Station (GLOWS). 

COVID-19 may have slowed us.

COVID-19 may have changed the way we do things. 

But COVID-19 has not stopped us.

It has not stopped God’s church.

It has not stopped God’s plan for us.

We are alive and well! 

Thanks and praise be to God! Amen! 

God waits with us

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

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

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

Waiting, watching and wondering what comes next.

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

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

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

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

They shut down the trains two days later. 

I remember when the decision came to close our church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We did not meet.

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

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

Waiting each day to see what would come next. 

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

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

I remember waiting. 

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

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

I felt like I was sinking. 

I found myself not waiting anymore.

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

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

So I quit waiting and started moving toward the future.

I started moving past all of this.

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

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

Then I remembered something Pastor Caroline Noll taught me.

She taught me about the “U.”

Do you remember the U?

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

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

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

But transformation happens there. God shows up. 

Sometimes I forget that God shows up.

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

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

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

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

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

Our children are able to sing together.

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

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

God shows up. God always shows up.

Advent is all about waiting.

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

Nothing was ever the same again.

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

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

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

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

The world waited and God showed up in a child.

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

Staying in love with God

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Yesterday we completed a three-part worship series on the “3 Simple Rules” of the Methodist movement with a discussion of the third rule – “Stay in Love with God.”

Here are a few ways you might consider putting that rule into practice this week:

Works of Piety
– Search the scriptures

  • ask questions of it
  • wonder about a passage that puzzles you
  • memorize a Psalm
  • read the daily lectionary

– Attend virtual worship this coming Sunday

– Share the Love Feast (since we can’t gather physically for communion)

– Spend just five minutes in silent prayer

– Fast for a day or a portion of a day, or choose something to fast from for a day, like social media, the news, screens, etc.

Works of Mercy
– Gather school supplies for donation to Freeman Elementary

– Purchase food items for donation to Austin Street Center

– Learn more about anti-racism

– Check on a neighbor

– Record yourself reading a children’s book for our Learning Academy kids

Haven’t you heard? God loves you!

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

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

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

I know it is coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But wait, we weren’t done yet!

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

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

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

My favorite part of these services though is the candlelight.

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

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

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

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

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

We are struggling to find common ground.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That WE love them.

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

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

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

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

I am uncertain about what the future holds.

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

It gives me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

It gives me joy to know that I am loved.

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

Let it be so.

From: Jesus

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Our daughter Eva was in from her home in Arkansas last week.

She volunteered for The Reindeer Project while she was here, and has been enthusing about it ever since.
 
On that night, we greeted approximately 70 Garland Independent School District (GISD) families as they came through our doors.

We served them a hot meal, helped adult family members wrap gifts for their children, and attended to children in the “Mom and Pop Shop” as they selected gifts for the important adults in their lives.

As each family left, they were given groceries for a holiday meal.
 
This year’s Reindeer Project statistics tell an amazing story.

Nine churches within the boundaries of the GISD joined together to purchase and sort gifts for 1,324 GISD children.
 
Three of those churches – First United Methodist Garland, First United Methodist Rowlett, and First Christian Rowlett – serve as distribution sites for those gifts.

All through this process, we pray for the families, meet other immediate needs when possible and, most importantly, nurture relationships and share the love of God.
 
That last bit is key: nurturing relationships and sharing the love of God.

Here’s one story. 
 
One of the last families of the evening I remembered from last year – all of the children’s names begin with the same letter.

As we joined together with the parents to wrap gifts for each child, the mom and dad oohed and aahed over each gift.

(This was their first time seeing the gifts selected for their children.)
 
As the mom was filling out tags for each child’s gifts, she said, “I think Santa gets too much credit. I’m going to put ‘Jesus’ as the giver.”
 
Wow.
 
Her simple statement sums up why we do The Reindeer Project, Night in Bethlehem, our children’s musicals, Chancel Choir cantatas, and so many other acts of loving service.

We do this out of love for the Divine Giver who loved us first. 
 
This is the Christmas message in a nutshell.

Out of love, God came in Christ to be one with us and the whole world.

That message fits on a gift tag: “From: Jesus.”
 
Rock-a-bye, my dear little boy,
wonder of wonders, my blessing and joy;
slumber as I gently hold you,
let my tender love enfold you;
gift of God to me and the world,

here in my arms lies so peacefully curled.
 
Little Jesus, Infant Divine, Infant Divine, 
one with the Father, yet born to be mine;
as I rock you calmly sleeping,
angel guards their watch are keeping;

precious child, one day we shall see
what love has destined for you and for me.

 
Rock-a-Bye, My Dear Little Boy, United Methodist Hymnal 235

A servant heart

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

This week at staff meeting, the conversation went something like this:
 
‘Did you receive my text about Aishley Cohns, the principal of Lister Elementary? She passed away unexpectedly over the weekend.’

‘Oh my. How sad.’
 
‘Do we have church members who work at Lister?’
 
‘Let me check … yes, we do.’
 
‘I wish we could send them something comforting and nourishing, like soup.’
 
‘Why don’t we send them some soup?’
 
And it built from there. Phone calls were made, texts were sent inquiring about needs and well-being, procedure and numbers, lunchtime and where to serve.
 
Yesterday, on behalf of our congregation, First United Methodist Garland staff delivered soup, salad and breadsticks from Olive Garden (which added a couple of extra dishes to the order free of charge), and pound cake, because, well, dessert is just good during a time of loss. 
 
Many of our staff meetings revolve around conversations like these. What’s going on (congregationally, locally, globally)? How can we respond with the love of Christ?
 
When the tornadoes struck on October 20, staff gathered at 8:00am the very next morning. (Those who were able; we had staff who were affected by the storms.) 
 
A few calls were made, texts were sent, and then we fanned out to touch base and assess, deliver coffee and breakfast, and help clean up debris.
 
Also that Monday morning, office volunteers took cell phones in hand (no phone service or WiFi at the church) and began making calls, checking on folks, and letting volunteers and staff in the field know of a need or of people needing a check-in visit.

It is a rich blessing to be a part of the people of First United Methodist Garland, who see the needs of others, who wonder how we might faithfully respond, and then act on those openings for service and care.

For this congregation and its huge servant heart, I am grateful.

May your Thanksgiving celebrations be blessed with love, joy and peace.

Savoring the experiences

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

The North Texas Conference exploratory contingent returned from Honduras around midnight Friday night/Saturday morning. We were travel-weary, but joyful in the events of the week.

We began processing the experiences of our visit almost as soon as we landed in Tegucigalpa on Monday: first impressions of the city, the surroundings, the people.

Our shared musings and wonderings increased as the week went on. We talked over breakfast, in the vans as we traveled from church to church, over lunch, over dinner.

We wondered about the shape our partnerships might take. We asked each other, ‘How can we be partners to Honduran Methodists without patronizing them? Without making our well-intended ‘help’ turn into hurt? What are the gifts and assets that Honduran Methodists can offer us?’

So much to ponder and discern, so much to prayerfully consider. So many takeaways.

It seems to me, however, that there is a danger in jumping to the weighing and sifting of takeaways and ‘what-ifs,’ to making plans and coming to decisions and conclusions too soon. There will be time for that in the coming weeks and months.

Today, I want to savor the experiences themselves.

In the village of Quisgualagua (‘Kees-wah-la-wah’), we visited with Pastor Jamileth, who had been a member of the Danli Central UMC.

She shared that getting to church for worship on Sundays was a challenge because of the distance between her home in Quisgualagua and the central Methodist church in Danli.

After discussions with the pastor of Danli Central, Roberto Pena (who is also the District Superintendent of the Honduran Methodist Mission), she became a church planter. Her village of around 500 now has its own Methodist congregation with her as their shepherd.

The day we visited Danli and Quisgualagua, we heard about a baked specialty called ‘rosquetes.’ When we asked what they were, Pastor Jamileth shared that two women in her congregation bake these little ‘breads’ to raise funds for the congregation, and that we would be able to taste them when we visited her church later in the afternoon.

When we arrived, there was fresh Honduran coffee, and a large basket full of rosquetes baked that morning. I purchased two packages, knowing that the proceeds would go to the ministry and well-being of this sister congregation.

The cookies made the trip back home quite well, nestled in a safe corner of my backpack.

This morning, my husband and I brewed a pot of Honduran coffee (a gift from the mission staff) and opened a package of rosquetes. More cookie-like than bread-like, the first bite was light and crisp, not too sweet, with a hint of cinnamon.

The faces of our fellow Honduran Methodists came to mind, and I offered thanks for the Spirit of God who connects us to them.

It was like having communion.


Migration

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. – Jeremiah 31.15

Migration. 

This word has been on the minds of many in our group as we’ve been doing our work in Honduras. 

Why are so many Central Americans leaving their homes – especially Hondurans – and undertaking dangerous journeys to other countries? In particular, why do so many try to make the dangerous trek to the southern border of the United States?

As Rev. Andy Lewis, Director of the Center for Missions Outreach and Assistant to the Bishop in our conference, made preparations for this exploratory trip to Honduras, he posed questions like these to the leadership of the Honduran Methodist Missional office. 

They responded by putting together a panel of knowledgeable people to share with us about their research and experiences related to the issue of Honduran migration. A Q&A followed. 

The statistics alone are staggering. Honduras has a population of approximately nine million. Of these nine million, one million live outside the country. 

Even more staggering: 85 percent of Hondurans have family members who have migrated. 

The reasons stated for this – by both the panelists and by pastors and church members with whom we spoke – are gang violence, economic stagnation and lack of employment opportunities. Government corruption adds to this crisis, as well as the effects of climate change. 

The overwhelming majority of those who decide to leave come from four departments (or provinces) who are experiencing extreme effects of climate change. Because of an extended drought, Honduras’ main crops – corn, beans and coffee – have failed in the last two growing seasons. The situation is expected to worsen. 

The demographic of those who migrate has also changed. In 2009, mostly young men migrated, in search of work and to escape gang extortion and violence. But that began to change in 2014, with young women making up 50 percent of those who left. Now the overwhelming majority of those who migrate are children and youth. These are the ones who comprise the ‘caravans.’

Over and over again, we heard stories of the disintegration of families, the rise among Hondurans of anxiety and depression, and increased incidents of suicide. 

We noticed discomfort, reticence and sadness among church members when asked if they had experienced the effects of migration. The gravity and pain of the situation was, and is, palpable. 

Some steps have been taken by our fellow Honduran Methodists to address the challenge. A Migration Task Force has been formed, and pastors seek to provide pastoral care and counsel to those who voice the possibility of migration and their families. 

Our fellow Methodists in Honduras also ask that we pray for them. We can do this. 

On our side of the border, we can explore and engage in opportunities for advocacy and witness. We can do this, too. 

We can step up, open our eyes and look around. God has work for us to do. 

Methodist women rock

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

The people called Methodist just rock. Truly.

I received further confirmation of this as a few from our group met with Honduran women Wednesday morning.

The planner of this special discussion and sharing group was Rev. Andrea Rocha Soares, a United Methodist Brazilian pastor and UMW regional missionary for Latin America.

Two of us joined Andrea as she met with women’s ministry leaders from several congregations in and near Danli, about two hours east southeast of Tegucigalpa.

We listened as these women shared:

– about what they love about being a woman, and what they love about ministry in their communities.

– about their challenges as women in ministry – both as laity and clergy. (There were two female pastors in the group.)

– heart-breaking stories of community members who have migrated away from Honduras, and about the social and economic crisis that exists in Honduras now.

 – about the hardship associated with a year and half long drought, causing food and water shortages.

As the meeting drew to a close, Pastor Andrea asked these dear women what they would like for women in the US to know. One by one, they offered these words of assurance and encouragement:

‘We are woman that are strong; entrepreneurial; who want to step up and go further.’

‘We are persistent, and we fight and serve the Lord and the people around us who are in need.’

‘We are beautiful women and hard workers.’

‘We have learned to step up and we look around to see what the needs are and that has helped us to be able to go further.’

‘Even though there are stumbling blocks and difficulties, we try.’

“And what might women in the US learn from you?” Pastor Andrea asked.

‘How to be united’ was the reply. ‘When we’re in unity, we can learn a lot together.’

Unity makes us stronger, yes. But the wisdom I received today from this fellow Honduran United Methodist is that when we are united, we can learn more together: more about Jesus Christ and how he works in and though us; more about each other; more about communities far and near, and how we can look out and around, and see where we can join with others in relationship, and thus learn more.

Jesus Christ prayed to God that his disciples ‘be one, as you and I are one.’

May it be so.