On Earth as in Heaven
Weekly Devotional
"For nothing will be impossible with God."
A New Record
Have you been to the movies lately? If you listen to the news, you'll get conflicting reports. On the one hand, no one is going to the movies. On the other hand, the new "Spider Man: No Way Home" has just become the eighth highest grossing movie of all time internationally AND will, in all likelihood, move higher (potentially into the top 5 of all time). So which is it? Are movies struggling or are we setting new records?

This is a silly question because of course you know it's both. The pandemic has chilled the desire of audiences to attend "in person" movies. The change to dual releases at home and in theaters means you don't always HAVE to see a movie in the theater. A lot of the biggest movies have seen their release dates pushed back. And yet, with a big event movie that is released ONLY in theaters that people have been anticipating for a while and will see the return of multiple favorites - people show up big time.

Does this description of the movies sound like anything else to you? Even before the pandemic, I was being asked all the time "reports say church attendance is down, but such and such a church is HUGE." I tried to explain it in the same way as above, but our lack of context societally meant that it was difficult to grasp. Now that we are (prayerfully) seeing some sort of easing and return to normal (even in the midst of another variant spike), it seems like its time to share with you what we are learning at this early stage of "recovery."

First, the trends before the pandemic have accelerated. Churches that were drawing a lot of people, by and large, are drawing a lot of people still. Churches that were struggling or on a steady decline, have precipitously declined coming out of it. Not a day goes by that I don't hear of another congregation who has dropped below the "25 in attendance threshold" that marks a congregation as potentially nonviable depending on their financial situation. And yet, not a week goes by that I don't hear from some pastor or another telling me their attendance is going up. So the trends continue but are accelerated. Worship attendance in America is declining rapidly, but some churches are doing very well.

Second, our congregation is doing well in terms of attendance and finances. We continue to live stream both services on different platforms as we work towards installing and integrating new camera and production systems. Our in person attendance, while not back to pre-pandemic levels, has seen an increase since reopening. We have also seen some early signs of vitality and new growth. We are working to online all of the teams in our church over the next year and have taken some major strides in those areas. Things are changing, but in exciting directions.

Third, our average Sunday is lower, but we had good attendance on Christmas Eve. We know from watching box office returns that big "events" like this will continue to see supportive crowds (we saw this with the Cantata too). And yet, we know that we will need to continue to work hard, serve Jesus well, and not simply "play church" but offer transformative discipleship opportunities in order to reach the community around us.

And that last sentence is the big takeaway. The reason Spider Man has hit so big is because there was a large community waiting for something just like that to enter into the cultural current again. If we are to "set a new record," then we will need to ensure that our focus is on presenting the Jesus who cares about communities, who interacts with the community around us to transform it more closely into the image of God's beloved community, and who calls us to provide space for all of God's children to enter into community together to see their lives transformed.

How are you joining us on this journey? Have you invited your person to worship for the month yet? Have you shared an invitation to Alpha with anyone yet? Let us know how we can help you follow through on this year's challenge and reach the community.

In Christ,
Pastor Nathan
Stephanie says...
Yesterday the children and youth were learning more about John the Baptist and his ministry to “prepare the way for the Lord.” A few weeks previous, we’d taught the lesson on Elizabeth and Zechariah and we are now showing John as an adult, albeit a pretty odd one.

Now I can’t tell you how long I have known this story; just that it’s been a pretty (very) long time. Yet one of the things that I love about my job is that I learn new stuff all the time. Or I re-learn stuff that I had forgotten. That’s what happened with this story. Here is what I know that I know about John the Baptist:
1.      John was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah. Luke 1
2.      His calling was to ‘prepare the way of the Lord.’ Isaiah 40:30
3.      He prepared people for Jesus by calling them to repent and be baptized. Mark 1:4
4.      His was the “voice crying out from the wilderness.” Isaiah 40:3
5.      He ate locusts and honey. Matthew 3:4
6.      He baptized Jesus and heard the voice of God from Heaven, which marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth. John 1:33-34
7.      He was imprisoned and ultimately beheaded. Mark 6:14-29
I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a basic and true overview of John. Yet preparing for the lessons this past week, some other truths appeared. Here’s that list:
1.      John was odd, perhaps even a little crazy by the standards of his day (and ours). I knew that part, just never looked into why he was so. His strangeness was advantageous because it got the people’s attention. His sense of urgency allowed him to get to his point quickly. And it worked! Matthew 3:4
2.      All of the people of Jerusalem went to hear him speak. This is, of course, hyperbole, but the exaggeration lets us know that many people went to hear him, and were persuaded by him to repentance and baptism. I didn’t realize that John had such a large following. Matthew 3:5-6.
3.      The Hebrew word for sin is “khatta’ah” which means to miss the way/path or go in the wrong direction. In other words, the original understanding of sin for the Israelites was not about ‘bad actions.” Instead, sin meant you were off-track or perhaps aimed at the wrong target. I had always assumed that they thought about “sin” the way that we do today.
4.      The Hebrew word for repent is metanoia and it means to turn around. Putting these two words together then we find that John is telling people to turn around. Not a 360 but a 180. Like if you were going the wrong way on a one-way street.

Another way to look at John is to compare it to when we go to see a doctor. First, we’ll see a nurse who will check our weight, take our temperature and blood pressure, and get any pertinent history. The nurse is preparing us for the doctor like John prepared the Israelites for Jesus. 
Finally, Jesus chooses to begin his ministry with baptism, which acts like dominoes falling. Because of his choice, the Holy Spirit descends upon him and that enables and directs Jesus’ time on earth and the rest of the story begins. Matthew 3:16 talks about the heavens opening up which underlines a strong theme of Jesus’ entire ministry: The kingdom of God is at hand.

Kind of like that “earth as it is in heaven” phrase that we say so often… 
Grace & peace,
P.S. If you missed any of the Sunday messages, you can view them on YouTube here.
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What's up at OUMC?
Jan. 16 – Coffee with the Pastor after 10 AM worship
Jan. 17 - Church offices closed for Martin Luther King Day
Jan. 23 – Cuban Sandwich Fund Raiser. Pre-order here or you can call the church office at 727-391-4769.
Jan. 24 – Alpha Begins at 6:30 in the Foundry. Register here. If you'd like to serve by helping with a meal, please email Stephanie Fergenbaum.
Jan. 30 - Snowbird Brunch. Join the OUMC church leadership in welcoming our snowbirds. Register here by January 24.
Check out our calendar for the most up-to-date info:
We have multiple people from Freedom Square would love to worship with us on Sunday mornings! If you'd be interested in serving as a part of a Sunday Morning Transportation Crew, please reply to this email. Our goal is to have a two-person team work one Sunday per month so that no one gets overwhelmed. We want this to happen as soon as possible.

UPDATED AGAIN! We now have four drivers and one assistant! Would you be willing to serve once a month in this capacity?

If you've offered to drive, please stop by the church and fill out the required paperwork.
Oakhurst United Methodist Church
13400 Park Blvd.
Seminole, FL 33776