175 Years
About Us

8002 U. S. Highway 301 South, Riverview, FL  33578  813-677-5995

A Mother’s Smile
Who was there to see the baby Jesus smile for the first time? I think it would be safe to say that it was most likely his mother Mary, as she would have been the one person with the most “face time” with her new born baby boy.

A smile is a mysterious thing. Sometimes we smile as a spontaneous reaction to a pleasant or funny thought or sight or sound. We all have certain triggers that can always bring a smile to our face. We can also smile on cue, a more conscious action, like the smile we use for the camera when we are having our picture taken. There have been many scientific studies done on the mental and physical properties of a smile. Most of them suggest that a smile is at first an instinctual thing, and then it can become more deliberate as a form of communication of our feelings. The scientific findings show that no matter if the smile is planned, or if it just catches us by surprise, there is a connection between the muscles making the smile happen, and the part of our brain that controls those movements. They have found that when we experience something that makes us want to smile, sometimes something as simple as someone else’s smile, our brain instinctually shows that emotion in our facial expressions.

They have also determined that when we “force” a smile, the same part of our brain stem that generates the physical smile sends a message to our brain that tells us on a subconscious level that we have experienced a pleasurable event that made us smile. Simply put, something happy can make us smile, and simply smiling can make us feel happy. And the studies also show that people who are happy, and therefore smile a lot, tend to live longer and healthier lives. This is a bit like trying to determine which came first, the chicken or the egg, because it is difficult to be sure if being happy causes a person to live longer, or if living a longer life makes a person smile more.

One thing is for sure: smiles are definitely contagious. When you smile at someone you will get a smile back, almost every time. It is pretty automatic. We have all been answering a smile with a smile since we were babies and our mothers first smiled at us. And who in the world could witness the innocent explosion of a baby’s smile, so full of joy they end up kicking their little feet, and not have a smile born deep in their own soul come across their face?

God sent us an eternal smile in the form of Jesus. And we now have the joy of The Lord living in our hearts, and we should be smiling back up to God with every breath we take for this wonderful gift of life He has given each of us to share. There are times in every life when it is easy to smile, we don’t even have to try. And we know that there will also be many times when we will have to force a smile through the tears, all the while trusting that God has seen us through before, and he will deliver us again.

As Christians, we should be teaching the world to smile with the good news of Christ living and breathing inside of us. We need to show those who do not yet know Je-sus that we should smile not only when the world and our circumstances make us temporarily happy, but that we should smile even in the worst of times as we remember the promise of God to one day restore us and make all things new again.

Hard times and bad circumstances cannot steal the Joy of Salvation from our hearts. I believe that when God first breathed the breath of life into our beings, He smiled down on us, and we smiled back. And when our mothers smiled as they sang to us just as Mary did to Jesus, we smiled again, and now we can share the love of God with others without ever saying a word. Our smile will say it all. 

Rev. Rick Phillips
Grace UMC, Plant City

The Benefit of a Doubt
Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?  (Matthew 11:3) There’s a difference between doubt and unbelief. The latter involves the heart. Doubt is a matter of a rational mind asking good questions, often during periods of stress. John the Baptist had such a moment in Matthew 11. It didn’t upset Jesus. God isn’t scared by our doubts. He can use our doubts to draw us closer to Himself. He has solid answers for honest questions.

If your children or grandchildren are asking questions—or if you are—don’t panic. Learn to search out the answers. Josh Rasmussen is a philosopher who went from Christianity to atheism. But his honest questions led him to evidence that drove him back to God. “The biggest threat to the discovery of God, and to productive truth seeking more broadly,” Rasmussen wrote, “is blind faith … Seek truth. Follow the evidence. Align with reason. … You may come to discover that the foundation of reality is greater than you had imagined.”  When people fight their way through their doubts to the conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord, they have attained to a certainty that those who unthinkingly accept things can never reach. (William Barclay)

Turning Point Ministry

One More Thing...
He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.  (Psalm 126:6) Beneil Dariush is an Iranian-born MMA fighter. Last year he won an important match, and during the post-fight interview he addressed his countrymen in Iran. “I need to dedicate this fight to my people in Iran,” he said. “I know you’re struggling. I know you’re fighting for freedom. I know it’s a tough struggle. I want you guys to know we’re praying for you, and we love you.”

Then he said, “Let me tell you one more thing … There is true freedom, a freedom that no one can take from you in the name of Jesus Christ, the son of God. Don’t ever forget that.”

We never know when we’ll have an opportunity to say a word for the Lord or to present the Gospel. When God leads you to share Christ with someone, obey immediately. He will give you the words you need. God can help you plant a seed in someone’s heart, even if you don’t immediately see the results. Let’s not miss any opportunities!  Success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God. (Bill Bright)

Turning Point Ministry

The Real May Message
Do you remember that old Bonnie Raitt song, "Let's Give 'Em Something to Talk About?" That song popped into my mind today as I was thinking about our work together as United Methodist Churches in this season.

The headline is so often disaffiliation. Don't get me wrong—disaffiliation and the discernment process surrounding it are deeply important. It's something I spend a lot of my time on and I seek to handle it as pastorally and professionally as I can.

But lately I've been saying to myself, "Disaffiliation doesn't get to be the headline anymore in the Gulf Central District." We're happy to help churches in their discernment process; I love giving presentations, meeting with church councils, or talking with individual members who have questions about disaffiliation. But there's got to be a deeper "why" beyond the churches' decisions to stay or leave. And, thankfully, there is. We know our "why." Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I've been telling myself that that gets to be the headline this Spring. That's the lead story for the Gulf Central District: all the ways that churches and extension ministries are making disciples of Jesus and transforming the world. All the ways that we as a District get to help you do that even better. Let's give them something to talk about.

As I visit churches around the District, there's so much disciple-making and world-transforming already going on. It simply matters what we choose to see, and what we choose to amplify. Let's give the world something positive, amazing, and mission-focused to say about The United Methodist Church.

Emily Hotho
Superintendent, Gulf Coast District