Light of the World
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.” John 8:12

It is fun to see people switch on their phones’ flashlights and then hold up their phones at a concert or sporting event. A more biblical display of the power of light happens at Christmas Eve candlelight services. One candle lights another, then another, then another—until slowly the darkness in the auditorium is pushed back as the light spreads.

Darkness cannot prevent light from shining. Even the smallest light can enlighten a dark place—like a single candle in the depths of a pitch-black cave. In the beginning, Genesis tells us, “Darkness was on the face of the deep”. That physical darkness was dispelled by the creation of the heavenly lights. The apostle John builds on that theme to talk about the dispelling of spiritual darkness when Jesus came into the world. Jesus said He was the Light of the world, then told us we are as well (Matthew 5:14-16).

Your light matters in a dark world—shining alone and in concert with others. The darkness can never overcome the light of Christ in you. “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.” V. Raymond Edman.













Bad Hair Day
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God
 1 John 3:1

Some men have a hard time trying to figure out how to say, “I love you.” One fellow did a poorer job than most when he told his wife, “You’re just like dandruff, darling, because I just can’t get you out of my head, however hard I try!” It’s not just men. Saying, “I love you” can be a challenge for teenagers, young adults, sons, daughters, wives, and friends. We can be intimidated by the intimacy of those words.

The Lord has no such problem. In Jeremiah 31:3, He told us, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” The love of God is the strongest magnet ever known, the warmest blanket ever woven, and the safest region ever discovered. It’s a love beyond words, demonstrated in our Lord’s death, resurrection, ascension, and return.

In God’s love, we are made complete. We are saved!

Ignoring God’s love is life’s greatest tragedy; receiving it is our greatest honor and joy. The greatest of all motives which actuates God in the exercise of His saving grace is the satisfying of His own infinite love for those ruined by sin.  (Louis Sperry Chafer)


Turning Point
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A Tale of Two 
Brothers
In the 1920’s in a small 
town in Germany, two 
brothers, Adolf and Rudolph 
Dassler, became business 
partners, operating an 
athletic-shoe business out 
of their home. Adolf 
(known as Adi) designed 
and made the shoes, while 
Rudolph (known as Rudi) 
was the outgoing salesman. 
They were incredibly successful. But soon, a rivalry developed.

The rivalry escalated; so much so that the brothers split their company in 1948, creating two brands. Adi’s shoes became Adidas. And Rudi’s, after trying to call his brand Ruda, then changed it to the more athletic-sounding Puma. They built competing factories on opposite sides of town and as their brands grew, almost everyone in town worked for one company or the other. There were local businesses that served only Adidas or only Puma people. Dating or marrying across company lines was forbidden. And their town became known as “the town of bent necks” since people first looked at which company’s shoes you were wearing before deciding to talk to you.

I've used this story as an illustration before when preaching about conflict, division, and Christian community, and it popped back into my mind today. The issues in our churches, denomination, and world are significant and I don't want to minimize them. And yet, I also don't want us to become "people of bent necks" who are so focused on judging others for what "side" they're on that we are not open to conversation or community.

The Global Methodist Church launched on May 1. We will vote on a handful of disaffiliations this year at Annual Conference (less than 2% of our Conference's total churches.). Other churches and pastors are still discerning and deciding how they will proceed. I don't feel particularly anxious about that. I wish the new denomination well. And I'm looking forward to remaining United Methodist with the vast majority of you who will stay.

As I travel around our District - Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, and Polk counties, I see lots of people and places who need the Church. They need food, school supplies, and other social services that churches provide. They need friendship and community in a world filled with loneliness and judgment. They need hope and joy and peace. They need the gospel, the good news of Jesus.

As we move throughout our daily lives, I hope we can all remember to keep our eyes up, our gaze in front of us. Don't be the "people of bent necks," looking down to judge whether someone is an Adidas-wearer or a Puma-wearer. Eyes up. God has work for us to do. And I'm praying for a spirit of unity and peace throughout our churches and District as we do that work.

Peace,
Rev. Emily Hotho
Superintendent, Gulf Central District

The Story Behind "It Is Well with My Soul"
This incredible story of faith belongs to Horatio Spafford (1828-1888). A devout Christian who’d immersed himself in scripture, many years of his life were joyous. He was a prominent Chicago lawyer, whose business was thriving. He and his beloved wife had four beautiful daughters and one son. Life was more than good — it was blessed.

In 1873, Horatio decided to treat his wife and daughters to a much-needed escape. He sent them on a boat trip to Europe, with plans to join them shortly after wrapping up some business in Chicago. Just a few days later, he received a dreadful telegram from his wife, “Saved alone…” It bore the excruciating news that the family’s ship had wrecked and all four of his daughters had perished.


Horatio was on his way to meet his heartbroken wife, passing over the same sea that had just claimed the lives of his remaining children. It was then that he put his pen to paper and the timeless hymn was born, beginning with the words: 

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Famous hymn composer, Philip Bliss (1838-1876), was so moved by Horatio’s prose, that he composed a peaceful tune to accompany the words. The song was published by Bliss and Sankey, in 1876. It’s incredible to think such encouraging and uplifting words were born from the depths of such unimaginable sorrow. We pray this brought you inspiration. Be sure to share this story with others who could use a reminder that our God will see us through any storm.


When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain
It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul!
Open Letter from 
Our Bishop
To the people of The United 
Methodist Church in Florida—
and especially the clergy 
members and lay leaders of
 our annual conference,

Grace and peace to you in the
 name of our risen Savior and 
Lord. I write to encourage you in these days following Easter, and in anticipation of Aldersgate and Pentecost. I give thanks for the reports of confirmation classes joining local churches, persons being baptized, offerings being received for Ukraine, our continued mission work in connection with Angola, and fresh expressions of church. This month I will share in a retreat with this year’s class of ordinands. And we are preparing for annual conference, where our focus is on “remembering the body and creating a spiritual home for all.” After two years of online annual conference, it will be wonderful to be together!

I also write in the context of the anticipated formation of another expression of Methodism. I have consistently stated that it is not my purpose to pass judgment on that work, which is not ours. Our calling is to be The United Methodist Church in Florida. This is what we were called to be and do, in the vows of our baptisms and in the promises we have made in commissioning and ordination.

I write simply to remind us of a few essentials in our life together:

  • To be a leader in The United Methodist Church is to be in healthy, accountable relationships, and this includes shared leadership with laity and supervisory relationships with district superintendents (BOD, 401, 403).
  • To make important decisions on behalf of a local United Methodist Church is to do so in an open, transparent, and public way, and this includes the announcement and holding of charge conferences (BOD, 246, 247).
  • The departure of a United Methodist Church from our denomination, or the withdrawal of United Methodist clergy from the ministerial office are connectional acts that take place through accountability to the annual conference with the actions of the board of trustees, the cabinet and the board of ordained ministry, each carefully honoring the rights and responsibilities of the gifts of God that we steward (BOD, 360, 2553). No significant changes occur in our relationship apart from the actions of these authorized bodies.

Each of these essentials is for the purpose of building trust. The overwhelming majority of our pastors, lay leaders and local churches do this work with integrity and from a deep and mature faith. Thank you.

The United Methodist Church is founded on a Wesleyan theology of grace, anchored in Scripture, and based in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the continuing movement of the Holy Spirit. I see this reality in your lives and ministries, even in a complex time where we are coming through a pandemic, living in a time of deep polarization, reckoning with the sins of racism and exclusion, and seeking at the same time to renew the church and be sustained in our own lives and leadership.

The presence of the living Jesus is with us. All that is taking place is not an interruption to our becoming more faithful disciples and invited new persons into discipleship. This season is the soil (Mark 4) in which God has planted us, to be mature, generous and warm-hearted followers of Jesus, in the United Methodist connection. Our calling is to Be UMC. This is also our path to holiness. We are on the way (Philippians 3:12). Thank you for reading, receiving, and sharing these words.

Your partner in the Gospel (Philippians 1:5),
Ken Carter, Resident Bishop, Florida Conference
The United Methodist Church