I Am Surprised!


No one is more surprised than I am that I’ll be serving as the Lead Pastor at First United Methodist Church of Orlando until Christmas.


I was finally getting the knack of being retired, overwhelmingly content in our new home, enjoying a second cup of coffee and a long walk before going to worship with my wife on Sunday morning. I was surprised to hear that my long-time friend, Tom McCloskey, was retiring early.  I was surprised that after days of deep conversation and prayer, Martha and I felt led to say “Yes” to the invitation.  And I’ve been surprised by the emerging clarity of the way I might be helpful in preparing this church for new leadership ahead.  But then…

Surprised by God 

Thinking about this biblically, I should have learned that surprising faithful people is God’s idea of a good time!

  • Abraham and Sarah were so surprised that they laughed in the face of God…and God laughed with them.
  • Moses was so surprised by the burning bush that he had to take off his shoes.
  • Miriam was so surprised by God’s deliverance at the Red Sea that she burst into singing and dancing like the lead in a Broadway musical.
  • Zechariah was so surprised by Elizabeth’s pregnancy that he was speechless for nine months.
  • The fearful disciples were surprised when Jesus calmed the stormy sea.
  • Mary and the other women were surprised when they found the empty tomb and the disciples were so surprised by their report that they called it “an idle tale.”
  • Everyone was surprised when the Holy Spirit showed up on Pentecost with wind and fire and everyone heard the good news in their own tongue.
  • Peter was surprised to learn that people who had been excluded from the covenant were now included in the Body of Christ.

Followers of Christ who live deeply into scripture should always be on the lookout for God to surprise them with new challenges, new opportunities and new callings.  This is, after all, the God who told Isaiah, “Look, I am about to do something new!” Then God went on to ask the disturbing question, Do you not recognize it?  (Isaiah 43:19)

There’s no question that God intends to do new things in the future.  The question is how clearly we recognize it and how obediently we live into it.

So, beginning September 2, I’ll be “back in the pulpit again.”  Consider this my personal invitation to come join us!  And please pray with me that the Holy Spirit will surprise us with the new things that God intends to do in the next chapter of the long history of this church and that together we will recognize and live into it.

A Hero Passing 

Though it’s not a surprise, the death of Senator John McCain and the response to it provide a stirring contrast to the painful polarization of our political culture.  safe_image.php

Among all the well-deserved words that are being spoken, I would add that whether we voted for him or not, we never had any reason to question his integrity, honesty, moral character, or sheer human decency.  We could agree or disagree with his policies, but we never doubted his commitment to place the good of the nation above his own self-interest.

One of his finest moments came when he was accosted by a woman who claimed that Barack Obama was an Arab.  Without hesitation, he took the mike from her and said, “No. No, ma’am.  He is a decent, family man and citizen with whom I have disagreements on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is about.”  And as he neared the end of his life, he asked President Obama to offer a eulogy at his funeral.

That’s the kind of leader we need and that’s the kind of people we need to once again become.

Grace and peace,


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25 thoughts on “I Am Surprised!

  1. Is that sanctuary really off-center? Interesting.

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

    1. Look closer. It’s a pretty amazing combination of a pulpit-centered and table-centered sanctuary.

  2. Jim, this is big news! Susan and I wish you and Martha all the best in this new endeavor God has surprised you with. What a fortunate gift the Orlando congregation has received from God. We will be thinking of you over the next four months and hope you’ll share your experiences.


    George and Susan

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Charles M. Smith August 27, 2018 — 12:10 pm

    Lucky church, lucky preacher. Bob Blackburn came from there to be our bishop 50 years ago, & windows done by same firm that did Highland’s where I served, so feel some kinship with it. Truly happy for all.

    1. Charles M. Smith August 27, 2018 — 12:12 pm

      Make that 46 years ago Blackburn came to Raleigh.

  4. Jim, my prayers as you begin this important new chapter in your life. Larry Hays

    Sent from my iPhone

    1. Jim,I just saw this, and as you may remember I saw you a couple years ago with Ann’s mom. I spoke of you today at my job, where I work with homeless vets. I told a couple of them how I came full circle , after seeing you 40 yrs later,and how important you were to me in my youth, and my faith. I still think you should retire, haha, but few are chosen… Love and Peace. Hope to come back permanently to sunny Fla.

  5. How wonderful for them and you! You will both be such a gift and a blessing to them in this season of transition! Have fun!

    Peace and Joy,
    Sent from my iPad

  6. Dear Jim,

    Blessings on the raod to discovery of new God given surprises. When we throw our net out onto the other side of the boat, God fills it with unbelievable blessings for His people. Best wishes on your new God adventure.

    Pastor Judy

    Judith Cramer judycramer@aol.com

  7. Mary Webb Walker August 27, 2018 — 12:57 pm

    May you and Marsha be richly blessed as I know you will be amazing blessings to that Orlando congregation.

  8. I think it’s wonderful and an excellent thing to do. And I also agree with you about John McCain. Lisa

    Sent from my iPhone


  9. This is welcome news indeed. I have wandered too long and I need to rest a while and “Be Still.” I will be there with a grateful heart.

  10. We welcome you serving as our pastor for the next few months.

  11. Jim, there is actually a camp song about our surprising God. The chorus is (I think) “Surprise, surprise! God is a surprise.
    Right before our eyes ….. so open up your eyes and see.”

  12. I am surprised! You will have to move fast to get that Sanctuary remodeled and make the chancel bigger. Let me know if you need a hand.

    Bruce M. Tigert
    Commercial Specialist

    Bayshore Title, a division of LandCastle Title Group, LLC
    3431 Henderson Boulevard|Tampa|Florida|33609
    Office (813) 878-0066|Fax (813) 876-1298

    1. Your hand is always welcome! Come see us!

  13. Celebrating God’s surprise with you and giving thanks that it wasn’t the same surprise as Sara and Abraham received!

  14. I am a reader of your blogs and definitely a fan of your writings, always insightful. My prayers for a significant ministry these next four months. I hope you can find the time to continue your blog.
    Grace & Peace,
    Clyde Chesnutt, retired UM pastor,
    Albuquerque, NM

  15. Wow! What a blessing for that church! Wish it were closer!

    Sent from my iPad


  16. Praying God’s blessing, wisdom, and strength for both of you in your new ministry. Thanks for being open to God’s surprise.

  17. belltwin@gmail.com August 28, 2018 — 7:35 pm

    Looking forward to your short “season” in our pulpit. Great choice, and glad you and your wife responded as you did! Eleanor Crawford, member of Nu Class.

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  18. right on jim – we need more decent men in this country at these levels of responsibility. I miss obama during these troubled times. Still in colorado and am starting to enjoy the time off. Not even thinking of work. Look forward to seeing you in your new location. Chris >

  19. Hi, Jim, Wjaddya mean, SURPRISED! A young lad like you thinking you were put out to grass. Of course you are back in the saddle – and about time too! They won’t hear of me giving up yet – and I am 91!! I wish you all the best and send love and greetings to your family from the other side of the Pond.



    1. Arthur: Wonderful to hear from you! I can only hope that I have the energy that you have when I reach your age! I am enjoying being a part of the ministry of First Church during this time of transition. It has tremendous potential for the future. I pray I can help prepare the way for the leader who will follow me. At the some time, I’m sure I will be ready to get back to the “work” of being retired soon enough!

      We are all fine. Like you, we are seeing our grandchildren grow up far too quickly and are grateful that we moved to Orlando to be closer to them. Know that we think of you often with gratitude for your witness and friendship!

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