Pastor Appreciation: Sam Vernon

October is Pastor Appreciation month. This has me thinking about the pastors in my life who have me into the pastor I am (and strive to be) today. Through October, I am posting a tribute to each them as a way of saying “thank you” for the way they invested themselves in my life.

VERNON-SAM_JIT2QZHDSam Vernon was Melanie’s pastor long before I had the opportunity to get to know him. Sam was serving as the campus minister of the Wesley Foundation at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia. I believe he was also pastoring a small United Methodist church at the same time. Melanie would share often about how she was growing through the ministry of the Wesley Foundation.

Fast forward to 2006, as Melanie and I are in our first year of wedded bliss and living in Valdosta. We were looking for a church, and heard that Sam was sent to pastor Lake Park UMC. We connected quickly at the church, and made it our home.

I credit Sam for getting me to Asbury Seminary and teaching me first hand about discipleship and accountability. Pastors often find their weeks consumed with all kinds of fun stuff like; committee meetings, endless email, and administration. All that is important, but not why pastors get into this line of work. Sam made time to disciple those in his church. We would meet together often, over breakfast or lunch, usually at Denny’s. We would talk about what God was doing in my life, challenges I was experiencing, and the call to pastoral ministry I was feeling. Sam has a way of asking the tough questions and pushing me to trust Jesus with all my heart and life. Sam took seriously (as serious as Sam can be) his pastoral call to make disciples, and he took time for a 24 year old newlywed and his wife.

After a lot of prayer and leading by the Spirit, Melanie and I decided our next step was to go to seminary. I had two schools on the table, both Southern Baptist. My theology the was not a good fit for an SBC school, and I knew it. I recognized a call to be a pastor the emphasized accountability and person-to-person discipleship. I decided to look at Asbury Seminary, because that is where Sam went. I want to be a pastor who preached, led, and discipled like he did. He learned it at Asbury, and Asbury quickly rose to the top of my list. As it turned out, Asbury was exactly the right place for us. I found that my theology, my understanding of God, was best articulated in the Wesleyan tradition, and eventually found my way back to the United Methodist Church.

Thank you Sam for modeling to me person-to-person discipleship, the importance of accountability, and sharing with me the richness of the United Methodist tradition.  Sam is currently the Senior Pastor at Douglas First UMC in Douglas, Georgia.

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Sermon Afterglow: Ride the Waves

James 1:2-8
2 My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. 3 After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. 5 But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. 6 Whoever asks shouldn’t hesitate. They should ask in faith, without doubting. Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind. 7 People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord. 8 They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways.

James writes about the daily reality of decision making. What will I wear? What meal will I post to Instagram? What does God want for my relationships, my job, my life? Everyone, whether a follower of Jesus, or not, is faced with daily tests, trials, and temptations. Surprisingly, he does not tell us to pray that every decision would be easy. Instead, we are told to consider each trial, test, and temptation as a joy. Through all these God is training and growing our decision-making ability. But sometimes we are not sure what to do, how to respond, or how not to give in. James invites us to ask God for wisdom. God delights in giving us wisdom, we just have to ask. When we ask for God’s guidance we never ask wrong. It is a prayer He loves to answer!

There is a prayer that is a solid guide. It comes from Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian. He may be familiar to you, but you have heard adaptations of his prayer.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.”

In this prayer we recognize that some things we can fix. However, we begin this prayer by affirming that many things we cannot fix. We must throw ourselves onto God. We gain the endurance James talks about as we embrace the things we cannot change. The key is in the last line. We ask God for wisdom to know what we can do, and where we must trust God fully. This has kept my heart aglow, I hope it sets you ablaze too.

Next Step on the Journey: We each wrote down a decision we are facing. For some it was a big one where we really need wisdom. Others a small decision, as they learn to trust God in all things. We committed to praying James 1:5 daily; “But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.” God delights in giving wisdom, just ask!

Feel free to share this graphic on your social networks.


Pastor Appreciation: Troy Schmidt

October is Pastor Appreciation month. This has me thinking about the pastors in my life who have me into the pastor I am (and strive to be) today. Through October, I am posting a tribute to each them as a way of saying “thank you” for the way they invested themselves in my life.

photo 1
Eric, Troy, Bret, Me (2001)

In 2001 I accepted a college internship with the Walt Disney World Company. In my Sophomore year of college I moved down to Orlando, Florida to work for the mouse. At this point I had been a Christ-follower for about two years. I moved to Orlando knowing no one. One of my first tasks was to find a church community. This was also the first time Melanie and I met. She was looking for a church too, and we lived in the same apartment complex. First Baptist Windermere has a small satellite church close to Disney property, and we loved it. They had recently started a new worship service for the college interns. Most of use worked on Sunday, so they offered worship late at night on a weeknight. It was perfect. We connected quickly with the pastor, Troy Schmidt. He was interested in starting a small group in the apartment complex where the Disney college interns were housed. Each week we would watch a current movie and then discuss spiritual themes of the film. Soon we had 15+ college students at Melanie’s apartment each week for the group. Some were Christians, some were not, others were undecided. During the week, Melanie and I made it our job to promote the group. I would design a flyer, we would go together to copy store to print and cut the flyers. Then, we would wander the complex inviting unsuspecting students to our group. Troy offered the later part of the night to a community of students from all over the world. He modeled fresh and relevant ways to understand our faith, worship, and how we share the good news of Jesus.

I am thankful to Troy for modeling creative ministry to non-traditional groups of people. Up to that point, my models of church were “stock.” The music, style, and feel were pretty much what everyone else was doing. Those models worked for a lot of people. But, as a pastor, Troy had a heart for those who the “stock” models were missing. He broke the mold and challenged existing structures. A worship service during the week, very late at night, designed to be experiential was pretty different. Yet, each week, The Vista would see anywhere from 20-50 college gathering together. It was a place where people felt both welcome and challenged to grow.

Without Troy, I might tend to a “business as usual” type of pastor. Instead, he taught me that a pastor looks out for those on the sidelines. We look for people who might not fit into our traditional structure and find new ways to welcome. Hmmm, that sounds like something Jesus would do. The Sunday Evening Worship service is a product of how Troy taught me. It is designed to reach downtown young adult who are otherwise working, resting up, spending time with family and friends, or hungover during the usual Sunday morning service. It is a service that is designed to be experiential. Our 20s and 30s are times of experimentation. We are embracing who we are and what we believe. That does not happen overnight or in a linear fashion. Instead, it happens as we try various things on and find a fit. I pray that Commune Sunday Evening Worship provides that kind of space. A place to try on faith in Jesus, and see how He has made the perfect place for us, in Him. Thanks Troy for modeling how a pastor reaches out to those who are otherwise overlooked. Thanks for being a great storyteller of the gospel. Thanks for shaping me into a pastor whose heart breaks for those who don’t know the grace of God!

Troy is currently the Downtown Campus Pastor of First Baptist Church of Windermere…in addition to all the other amazing things he does for the Kingdom!

Other Posts in the Series “Pastor Appreciation”

Sermon Afterglow: Everyday Blessings

“Sermon Afterglow” is a new category on the blog, and I am excited about it. I have the privilege of preaching each Sunday night at the Commune Evening Worship serivce. For me preaching is more than standing up and talking away. I really believe God is involved in the process. I see that when I deliver the sermon. It is one thing to reherese it by myself. However, the proclaiming of the Word takes on a whole new level when we worship together. I cannot explain it, but to say, I consistently walk away from preaching having felt the Spirit speak to me also. In this category I want to do two things; reflect on the best of Sunday worship, and keep the “next steps” out in front of us as we enter the new week. Enjoy!

In our current series, Everyday Theology, we are connecting what we say and believe to our everyday lives. We are seeking to answer to the question, “Does what we say and do in worship make a difference in our day to day lives?” Each week, we close our worship service in the same way. We all stand, look around the room at each other, and bless one another on God’s behalf. The blessing is familiar to many;

The LORD bless you and keep you,
The LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you,
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26

The blessing is pretty straitforward. It is a prayer for the Israelites as they journey from Mt. Sinai to the Promised Land. Yet, this simple blessing speaks boldly about how God interacts with humanity. Each line is like a layer of cake that stacks upon the next. When you finish you have this amazing blessing cake. A Red Velvet blessing…if you will. Take a look:

God directs us to pray for each other to be blessed and protected. Here we are invited to ask for the everyday things we need; the finances we need to support ourselves, reliable transportation, and success in our work-life. It is not a glamorous beginning. But, God knows we need these basics, and tells us to ask them of Him. We then move to the second tier of our blessing cake. We ask God to shine His face upon us. Picture the sun coming out from behind a cloud as you lay on the grass. The light is so bright, you have to close tight your eyes. But, the light still pours in. You feel the warmth of the sun all over. There is no darkness, just the warm and comforting light. God illumines the darkness revealing our sin and brokeness. He does not do this to shame us, but “to be gracious unto you.” God’s desire is to give grace. Check out the third layer, as God’s intention becomes more clear. When He lifts up His face, it means He is not ashamed of you. In fact, He welcomes you into His presence, sin and all, in order to give you peace. The peace comes as we receive the forgiveness of God, through Jesus.

It is a pretty amazing prayer. I have been using it this week as a form to pray for myself and others. Try it out, and you will find that you can pray in a new way for those in your life.

Here is my afterglow, the part that has stuck with me and set my heart afire with God’s love. We say these words to each other each week because we need to remind each other what the voice of God says to us. Adam and Eve heard the voice of God in the garden and hid themselves. They were ashamed that they gave in to temptation and were afraid God would be angry. The result of sin is that we believe God’s voice creates fear. We believe that if we allowed Him to shine His light in our lives He would take a look around and say, “you failed…again, you’re broken, you messed up too big, to far gone, you suck.” This voice is not God, it is the enemy. But, we have come to believe it is God. This scripture is God redeeming His lost voice for humanity. God’s desire is to bless, guard, shine, give grace, forgive, and bring peace. We say these words each week, because we need to train our ears to hear God’s voice in the midst of our everyday lives.

Our response this week is two part. First, to pray this blessing each day. Second, to be ready when we encounter someone this week who needs to know this blessing. Many are going through life thinking God is ashamed and angry with them. The truth is made clear in this passage. We are the priests who offer this blessing in the world.

Here is the image from the business card we handed out. Save it for yourself, and share it with someone who needs these words this week. Maybe a post on their Facebook wall, or a private message. Maybe you print it, seal it in an envelope and deliver it. We all need the real voice of God spoken in our lives, offer that blessing to one another this week.


I would love to hear your response, leave a comment below.