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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. 

Two hundred thirteen

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

Two hundred thirteen.

Two hundred thirteen mass shootings have taken place in the United States (gunviolencearchive.org) as of Wednesday, May 25, 2022. 

A mass shooting is classified as any shooting where four or more individuals are killed during one event in one or multiple locations. 

This means that as I sit at my desk on Wednesday, at least 452 individuals have lost their lives in mass shootings. 

Twenty-one of those lives were lost on Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. 

I am a father of two children. One who is 16-years old and the other is 13-years old. 

I cannot comprehend the emotional turmoil that a parent goes through if they lose their child in this manner. 

I do not dare to let my heart imagine the suffering and anguish that a parent feels when they lose their child. 

If I do, I become inconsolable. I become consumed with anger and frustration because these things are preventable. 

Did you know that according to worldpopulationreview.com, there have been 288 school shootings in the United States? 

In comparison, there have only been 44 school shootings in all other countries combined. 

How is this possible? Why is this happening? Where are we failing? 

I will not stand on a soapbox and make this political. This is not about politics.

This is about a crisis. A REAL crisis.

Our fathers and mothers, our aunts and uncles, our nieces and nephews, our brothers and sisters, our friends, our neighbors, our spouses and our children are dying … and it is preventable. 

The negative stigma surrounding mental health is still very much an issue today. 

Individuals who commit these acts are not okay. Something is going on in their lives that leads them down a road ultimately terminated in death. 

In many cases there are signs that are missed by those who are around them. 

In many cases they did not tell anyone they weren’t okay. 

We as a people have to push for awareness and make sure everyone knows it is okay to not be okay. 

See something, say something. 

If you think something is not right, it is better to ask and say something and everything actually be okay than to say nothing and something tragic happens. 

We all have a part. We all are empowered to do something

Be brave and courageous, be willing to be vulnerable. 

Ask for help. Ask if everything is okay. 

It is one of ways that change can happen. 

These things are preventable. 

During times like this, when I am filled with anger and frustration, I struggle to hear what God is calling me to do because I want justice, and I want it right now. 

I want change, and I want it right now. 

I am sad. I am angry. I am frustrated. 

I do not want to live in fear that my children may not come home. 

I weep. I mourn. I hurt. 

And God weeps with me. 

This was not the plan. This is not what God envisioned for us.

But here we are. And God is with us also.

Even if we cannot see or hear God’s voice. Even if we cannot feel God’s presence.

God is still with us, and will remain so.

We are told in scripture that God is always with us, and nothing will ever separate us from that great and abundant love.

We are also told that life will present us with toil and turmoil, despair and death.

The challenge we all face every day is leaning into the love that God has for us and patiently waiting to hear the voice and feel the presence that we long for. 

My spirit aches, and my heart is broken. 

So all I can do today is pray. 

Pray that my anger will turn to compassion. 

Pray that my frustration will turn to action. 

Pray that my sorrow will turn to hope. 

Pray that my fear will turn to courage. 

Pray that the families of these children and adults will find comfort and strength in the abundance of God’s love.

Pray that they be surrounded by those who will carry them, mourn with them.

Pray for the face of God to shine upon them. 

Two hundred thirteen.

Pray we can change this number. 

May the peace and love of God be with each of you this day. 

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! 

A prayer for the struggling soul

Each week as we begin our ministry staff meeting, Senior Pastor Valarie Englert asks us, “How’s your soul?”

I missed this week’s meeting because I was helping move my 86-year-old mother into an assisted living facility.

But if I had been there to respond, my answer would have been – and still is – that my soul is struggling.

Struggling with guilt over not being able to adequately care for my mom.

Struggling with finding any semblance of a safe, normal work and personal life in the middle of a pandemic now at 10 months and counting.

Struggling to recognize and understand a country torn asunder by continuing, systemic racial strife.

Struggling to comprehend what I’m watching as a mob carrying American and “Jesus” flags storms and vandalizes the very seat of our democracy, with several people losing their lives in the process.

Struggling with what to do, knowing full well the answer – pray.

But what should I pray?

Throughout my church and spiritual life, I’ve known some very powerful prayer warriors. Living saints who knew exactly what words to pray and when to pray them.

And even though I know God listens regardless, I’ve always been jealous of their ability to pray so eloquently.

With that in mind, I’ve been struggling to find the right words to pray.

I may have found them this morning.

In “A Prayer for the Struggling Soul,” Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer Jolene Underwood offers comforting words for seeking God’s blessings in times of struggle, and scriptures assuring us of God’s grace.

I share them here with the knowledge that I’m not the only one struggling, and with the hope that you might find them comforting as well.

God bless …

Goodbye, farewell and amen

Ring a bell?

If not, two things are certain: 

  • you’re young 
  • you need to find and watch the final episode of the TV series M*A*S*H

First aired on February 28, 1983, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” chronicles the final days of the fictitious 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital as the Korean War comes to an end.

It remains one of the most-watched series episodes in TV history. 

As my wife Marcy and I enjoyed watching it again a few nights ago on MeTV, I was struck by the significance of the title.

Not just to an all-time great TV show, but also to the troubled times in which we live. 

Goodbye, farewell and amen. 

More than eight months into a global pandemic with no end in sight, it’s time to say goodbye to our lives, indeed our world, as we know them. 

There will be a new normal. We are becoming a new church

“Behold, I am doing a new thing …” – Isaiah 43:19 (ESV) 

We will, for example, worship in our Sanctuary again. 

But we will also continue to worship and study and teach in cyberspace. 

Answering God’s call beyond our walls in a manner we never previously imagined.

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

It’s time to bid farewell to partisan politics and racial divisiveness. 

To set aside our differences and love one another as brothers and sisters. 

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.– 1 John 4:7 (NRSV) 

Republicans and Democrats.

Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians.

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists.

Doesn’t matter. We’re all human.

We’re all children of God. Loved by God.

Worthy of God’s love, are we not also worthy of love from one another?

Regardless of our differences? 

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

Last but certainly not least, it’s time to say amen.

To assert our faith. To pray. 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.– 1Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NRSV) 

 Pray for our church.

Pray for our families.

Pray for our brothers and sisters.

Pray for our world.

Pray. 

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

Mixing politics and religion

I hate politics.

OK, maybe hate is a bit strong.

Particularly in a world where there’s way too much hate right now.

Let me rephrase.

I am dismayed and disheartened by the extremely polarized state of politics in America today. 

If you’re a Republican, Democrats are wrong.

Liberal. Socialist. Unchristian.

If you’re a Democrat (full disclosure, I am), Republicans are wrong.

Capitalist. Nationalist. Racist.

Oh, and unchristian, too.

You’re red or you’re blue. White or black. Good or evil. 

There’s no middle ground. No gray area. No room for compromise.

“As a species, we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?”

– Stephen King

OK, I take it back. I do hate it. It’s just plain wrong.

Yet some would argue this is not the place to talk about it.

I am, after all, representing a church.

And there’s a widely though not universally held belief that politics and religion don’t mix.

“Mixing religion and politics is like mixing ice cream and manure. It doesn’t do much to the manure, but it sure ruins the ice cream.”

– Tony Campolo

But the Bible does have something to say about politics:* 

And nowhere can I find evidence this guidance is meant only for one political party or another.

It’s meant for all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Imperfect human beings all. Sometimes right. Sometimes wrong.

All of us – all Republicans, all Democrats – are children of God.

All worthy to be loved, just as God loves us all (John 15:12). 

I pray each of us keep our spiritual duty in mind as we exercise our civic duty to vote. 

What the Bible Really Says About Politics, Jesse Carey, RELEVANT, February 25, 2016

A prayer for those who have become hashtags

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

O God, Almighty and merciful,
Who heals the broken-hearted,
and turns the sadness of the sorrowful to joy:

Let your goodness be upon all that you have made.

Remember with compassion those who are this day
Destitute, homeless, or forgotten by humanity.

Bless the poor and down-trodden.

Uplift those who are cast down.

Mightily befriend innocent sufferers,
And lift them from their sorrows,
Sanctifying and preserving them.

Cheer with hope all discouraged people,
And by your grace renew them.

Though trouble comes from every side,
Let them not fall into distress.

Though injustice runs amok,
Let them not be dismayed.

For you are the One who lifts the poor from the dust,
And who tramples the power of the mighty.

Grant this prayer, O Lord,
Through Him who became poor and cast down,
And Who rose and calls the downtrodden to rise with him:

Our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

May Breonna Taylor’s memory be more than a hashtag,
And may we die to injustice, and rise to new life.
 
Based on a collect from the Book of Common Prayer, 1952

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

Servant leaders

With all due respect and affection for John Cravens, Randy Adair and Josh Medlock, the best youth director I’ve ever worked with was my wife Marcy Buford.

I met Marcy about 38 years ago when she was the youth director at Satellite Beach United Methodist Church in Florida.

We were married at that same church 37 years ago – on July 1, 1983.

As one of her volunteer youth counselors, I learned about something called ‘servant leadership’ – a philosophy where a leader’s goal is not to ‘lead,’ per se, but rather to serve.

She ingrained this philosophy in everything we did with the youth at Satellite Beach, and later at Custer Road and St. Andrew United Methodist in Plano, Brentwood United Methodist in Tennessee, and White’s Chapel United Methodist in Southlake.

And I’d like to think it stayed with me as I transitioned from corporate America to my own ministry career nearly 10 years ago.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of history’s most renowned servant leaders, once said:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Never has this question been more urgent than now, when so many are suffering from the physical, emotional, financial and spiritual effects of COVID-19.

Let alone problems that have gone almost forgotten in its wake – like hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, and immigrants seeking better and safer lives.

Or systemic racism, the issue against which Dr. King advocated and which ultimately claimed his life. 

Now more than ever, we need servant leaders.

People willing to put the needs of others first, and trust that someone else has their back. 

Jesus, of course, was the ultimate servant leader.

And he not only exhibited servant leadership, but commanded his disciples – and ultimately us – to do the same. 

The Bible cites numerous examples of this, including the scripture I’ll be reading as part of our Virtual Worship service this coming Sunday morning:

“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.” 

– John 13:14-15

Washing one another’s feet – doing for others – is ingrained in our church mission statement:

Cultivating Christian Community:
Loving God, Living Faith, Serving Others, Inspiring Hope


It’s why we are the church.

It’s why we continue to give and worship and serve, even as our church building remains closed.

It’s why we are called to prioritize the needs of others, even in the face of our own seemingly insurmountable challenges. 

Many of us – myself included – wonder if we’re equipped to handle our own problems, let alone someone else’s.

And though I’m not advocating for ignoring our own situations in favor of others, it’s important to remember as Christians that God ‘has our back.’

So the question I’m asking myself each morning – the one Dr. King asked – is also the one I challenge you to ask as well:

What are you doing for others?