Fiddler (on the floor) with the team.

This past weekend I had an opportunity, along with a few of my church members, to attend a Spirit and Truth training event at Metter United Methodist Church (Metter, GA).

Spirit and Truth is “a movement of Wesleyan-minded Christians seeking to awaken and equip the 21st century church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to share the Gospel and make disciples of Jesus Christ.”

We attended one of a several day renewal conference they were leading. The teaching that day was focused on evangelism and prayer. We had great leading and instruction from their team. We heard from Matt Reyonolds, president, Maggie Ulmer, director of education, and Tony Miltenberger, director of leadership and discipleship. There was great worship led by United Theological Seminary Chapel Dean, Tesia Mallory. It was a delight to meet Emma Winchester, the administrative coordinator who helped the day run smoothly.

After one of our exercises we had time to debrief. Metter United Methodist Pastor, Allen Cason, said something profound. He talked about what we, the church, need to do is “simple and beautiful.” 

So often we try to come up with the perfect scheme on a white board or power point presentation (and I do love those). However, this weekend was a reminder how our means of God’s grace such as scripture, prayer, worship, and evangelism are sufficient enough for effective and fruitful ministry.

I can not recommend Spirit and Truth highly enough to come to your church or retreat. I only have one request: Let me know about it so I can come.

Screen Shot 2022-02-28 at 10.35.40 AMI love the start of lent. “Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection…Christians focus on relationship with God, growing as disciples and extending ourselves, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of ourselves for others.”

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday emphasizes two themes: our sinfulness before God and our human mortality.

Now my go to story of lent is a personal tale of humor but also trauma that happened where my family, some cousins, and I nearly died… yet the past few years we do not need to hear stories to be reminded of our own mortality. We have seen this played out with the covid 19 virus.

This past week brought war to Europe in a way we have not seen since World War II. The U.S. Secretary of Defense has ordered the deployment of 3,800 Fort Stewart soldiers to Europe. This is in response to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Phylis Smith, a teacher on the base, was talking about listening to kindergarteners processing how their fathers got on a plane but they were not allowed to go with their dads.

Once again we are reminded of our mortality and how fragile the world can be.

So what do we do with an awareness of our mortality? In Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World the author examines how fitness culture is becoming a new religion. They use a company called Soul Cycle as an example. They say: 

“It’s selling a double ideal of purification: one simultaneously characterized by material improvement … and by spiritual transcendence. You’re not just peddling on a bike to lose weight. You’re peddling to become a better person”

Yet as Jesus followers, we do cheer on being good stewards of our bodies… we also acknowledge how real purification, salvation, is not found in what we can achieve.

In Jesus prayer book, Psalm 51 says

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,  and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,  and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,  and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

5 Indeed, I was born guilty,  a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6 You desire truth in the inward being;  therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;  wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

10  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Tonight, as we prepare for the season of Lent, I am inviting you to remember your own mortality. Remember that from dust we came and to dust we will return. 

But we do not just reflect on our brokenness to think of ourselves as bad… we do so to better understand and receive the joy that is offered in Christ.

In the same way that the psalmist confesses their sin they also ask God to change them. To create a clean heart. That’s what God does. That’s what God wants to do over lent and for the rest of your life… and that is what God is doing in your life right now.

Over the next 40 days I have a challenge for you. I am going to give you a pocket cross as you leave tonight. I invite you to put this in your pocket until Easter. And I want this to serve as a reminder of God being with you each and every moment (If you are reading this and would like a pocket cross please let me know).

And then I also invite you to a moment of having ashes imposed on your forehead and then for a moment of prayer and reflection. 

Ashes are a biblical sign of repentance and can be traced all the way back to Genesis. Using ashes for lent can be traced back to the 10th century.

You will hear me say either “repent and believe the gospel” or “from dust you came and to dust you will return”. Regardless of what phrase you hear, I invite you to pray at the altar or return to your seat for prayer. I encourage you to pray for global peace, examine your life and where God may want to change your heart, or pray however the Lord leads you.

This fall Statesboro First United Methodist Youth will be going to Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters for our high school fall retreat. It’s going to be amazing! We will be going during fall break on October 15th-17th. The cost is $150 and the due date to sign up is Sunday September 18th. Here are 5 reasons I am fired up about going back to the place we took our winter retreat last year.

#1 – The on-campus recreation activities. They have a 3 man swing, zip line, goliath swing, rock wall, foam pit, paint ball, a mountain to climb, and more. The fun never stops!

#2 – Rafting down the Ocoee River. Back in 1996 when the olympics where in the USA they went here to go rafting. Don’t worry we will be on the easier part of the water. I am huge chicken and I had a blast when I went a couple of years ago.

#3 – FOOD! Snowbird is the best camp food you will ever eat.

#4 – Worship and Teaching. I was blown away by how moving our time was with not only the teachers and worship, but also the small group leaders. They have a staff full of college age people who are ready to listen and pour into students.

#5 – It’s a high school retreat! We all deal with some similar issues, but this will be just for high school students. You will get to hang with people your age.

This is our first high school retreat and I am SO PUMPED! You should go talk with your parents right now about coming.