Advent Photo-a-Day Challenge

Slide1.JPGAdvent, the Christian season that leads up to Christmas, begins on Sunday, December 2 this year. (It also marks the beginning of the Christian liturgical year, so Happy New Year!)

It’s easy in all of the hustle and bustle of commercialized Christmas to get caught up in being stressed out, rushing from one thing to the next.

This season, I invite you to join me in participating in an Advent photo challenge.

How it works:

Each day has a topic/keyword assigned to it. As you go through your day, try to find something that captures the essence of the keyword for you. (Example – the first word is “bells” – this could mean jingle bells, doorbells, bell curves, alarms. Be creative!)

Then post the picture on social media, with or without any explanation, using the hashtag #NWUMCAdvent. By sharing with the hashtag, we can all look up each other’s pictures and share in the challenge together!

I hope you’ll find this to be an exercise that helps you to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas this season.

Be blessed,

Erin

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Child – An Advent Devotional (guest post!)

Today’s devotional is written by special guest contributor, Rev. Gena Anderson. Be blessed today!stock photo child

 

 “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
Luke 1:14-17

 

The word of the day is child. When I think of the word child I think of wonder. The best way of seeing the joy of Advent and Christmas is through the eyes of a child, which ideally should be our own. We should see the time of expectation, which is Advent, through eyes which are pregnant with wonder. If, however, as is sometimes the case, our own child-like eyes have become dimmed with age or skepticism, the next best way of seeing these two joy-filled seasons is through the eyes of another child; perhaps, if we’ve been so blessed, through the eyes of our own children.

I have been blessed to be able to see the Advent season through the eyes of a child.  Actually two children, my girls Julia and Georgia. The way that they receive the birth of the Christ child is with hope, expectation, and wonder.

This Advent season, may you also experience Christ with the same kind of wonder.

 

Prayer:

God of signs and wonders, heaven touching earth and the divine entering into human flesh, be the peace among us, the hope within us, and that we might become your people filled with wonder so that we can share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all that we encounter along the way. Amen.

Pastor Gena

Heaven – An original by Kate Baird

Today’s Advent devotional was written by a special guest contributor and New World church member, Kate Baird.




Images of heaven, as we can only imagine, are everywhere:

·        White shores, and beyond a far green country under a swift sunrise. 
Gandalf to Pippin in  J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings”

·        “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. … And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, :and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” 
C.S. Lewis

·        A large banquet table with a place set for every individual. 
The Gospels

·        For me personally, it is a piano where my Aunt is sitting at the keys, her sister is sitting next to her turning the pages, and all my aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles and cousins are singing whatever the next page is in the hymnal…after a hearty dinner at the banquet table and naps in the hammocks that hang between the clouds.
 
I need to pause throughout my busy days and busy life and reflect on heaven periodically.  I could spend an hour on C.S. Lewis’s quote alone with its mysteries that resonate as truth. Just considering Heaven for this blog has raised my HOPE, increased the LIGHTness of my heart, soothed my anxiousness with PEACE, while I WAIT for that day.  I’m not in a hurry, but I’m not afraid at all.  How sweet it will be to walk with the one who loves me more than anyone – and I am very well-loved now!  You are well-loved now too!  That’s how I know heaven will be amazing.  My limited abilities can’t register the fullness of it. 
 
Think of it:
Suffering replaced with wholeness and joy. 
Sorrow replaced with dancing and smiles. 
Fear replaced with perfect love for others because we can’t mess up anymore!
 
What is the advantage of not accepting Heaven as a possibility?  If you believe you can impact others with the weather you take with you into a room, into a meeting, into a restaurant, into a hospital, into our social media posts, onto an airplane.  Wouldn’t it be best to take the weather influenced by a heavenly hope and light?  Imagine the positive storm system we could create.  Heaven on earth.
 
 
 

Joy – A thought for today

This series of Advent devotionals has themes based on a Photo-A-Day challenge for New World UMC. Anyone can participate and jump in at any time. For the details: check out this link.

To give an appropriate answer is a joy; how good is a word
at the right time! Proverbs 15:23 CEB

Have you ever had someone say just the right thing to you at just the time you needed it? Perhaps you are having a bad day and someone brings a smile to your face, or you are looking for an answer and someone just says it for you. It’s a joy to hear the right word at the time you need it most.

Some folks might chalk this up to coincidence when this happens, but I believe that God is at work through the Holy Spirit when it happens. Sometimes it means we have to be open to hearing what God might want us to say. Not necessarily literally hearing God with your ears, mind you, but open to what God might be putting on your heart to say to another person.

In the last few months, I had the name of a specific person come up in conversations in several different places. So many people asked me, “have you talked to so-and-so” or recommended I seek out this specific person that I felt like, in order to be faithful, I needed to do my part to make it happen. I set up an appointment.

In our meeting, I was open and curious about what God might be up to. We had an uplifting conversation, and before I left I felt like I needed to share a specific ministry idea with him.

It was delightful when he said, “Oh! We were just trying to make a decision about that!” I was able to encourage him in that particular ministry idea.

I know others might say it must be coincidence (we can disagree), but I am grateful I was able to pass on the word & it will be fun to see what God does with that. It’s a journey of joy.

I would love to hear your stories about when God has been at work in your life, giving you just the word you need at the right time. ESJ

Open – A thought from the “cutting room floor”

Last Sunday I preached a sermon called “The Candle” that included a sermon illustration about getting ready for when company is coming. John the Baptist is preparing the way for Jesus ministry in Luke 3:1-6, we too can use Advent to prepare our hearts and minds for an arrival. There’s only so much a person can fit in a sermon. (Well, I imagine I could make my sermons longer and fit in as much as I can, but nobody wants that!) Today’s Advent devotional is from my “cutting room floor,” a part of the sermon that I didn’t quite get to fit in last Sunday’s message.

Today’s Advent word is “Open” as part of our Advent Photo Challenge. I am interpreting the word as an Open Door, a place of welcome.

As people filed out the sanctuary door last Sunday, shaking my hands as they do, at least one person said, “now I feel like I need to get home and clean the house!” Giving folks stress wasn’t the sermon goal.

I want to share today about my “messy house friends.”

See, my sermon was about getting the house clean, and I mentioned that if I know you’re coming, my house will be clean for you. But my closest and dearest friends fall into a special category – they’re my “messy house friends.”

By that I mean that we’ve agreed we’re going to love each other no matter the condition of our homes. We are going to have the kind of friendship that values relationship over a sparkling clean house (think of the story of Mary and Martha with Jesus in Luke 10:38-42 to get the idea.)

In the same way, Jesus loves us no matter where or how we are. Jesus can be like a messy house friend, full of grace for you and accepting you with all of your imperfection. The door is always open.

Even better, Jesus is not only a messy house friend, Jesus will not leave you drowning and suffering in the mess. You are accepted, loved and welcome how you are and you are loved enough that you’ve got company who’ll help you and love you through the messiness of life. That is grace.

Prayer:

God, help me to get past the temptation to get caught up in making my life seem perfect. Instead, God, help me to open my door and my heart to offer hospitality and love to all God’s children. Thank you for the grace you offer me. Amen.

Warmth – Thought to get you through the Day

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12

I come from a family of quilters. Not that I quilt, I don’t. But my grandma, mom, aunts, cousins and countless other relatives love to make quilts.

There is a really sweet ministry in our church called the Stitchers that makes quilts. They are passed on to people in the hospital, people who are grieving, kids who graduate from school. Each quilt is put together with knots of yarn, little ties to show the prayers that have been uttered over the quilt. It’s a ministry of sharing comfort, love and prayer. We also have a ministry of knitters who make prayer shawls for the same purpose. 

Extra quilts are folded neatly over the back rows in our sanctuary, available to provide warmth and comfort to anyone in need.

There really are few things as comforting as the warmth that comes from a blanket or shawl handcrafted with deep love and prayer. There is warmth to be found in the love and kindnesses of others. I am so thankful that people are using their gifts and talents in ministry of love to others.

What are the gifts you have that you can offer to others in ministry? May today be a day that you find ways to use your gifts in ministry. Whether it is through handmaking something or a warm smile, may God’s love shine through you and warm the hearts of others. Amen.

Peace like a River Pastoral Prayer

God of Love, God of Peace and God of Joy, 

We praise you for the many ways you fill our souls with what we need.  

You are a God of love, a God of agape. When we feel alone, you are ever-present. When we feel unworthy, you wrap us in a deep love that knows no end. Forgive us for when we are in the habit of rejecting one another, of rejecting our own self even. You cherish each of us as your children, no matter how imperfect and fallen we may be. We pray for those who long to know your love, and we pray that you can use us to offer love to even our hard-to-love neighbor.  

You are a God of peace, a God of shalom. When we feel torn apart and divided by the conflict of the world, you give us a peace that transcends all understanding. Our hope can be found in your calming Spirit. Forgive us for when we fall into the trap of believing we should look down upon or separate ourselves from one another. Although we cannot understand the big picture, although we cannot understand why some things happen, we can rest assured knowing that you have got it all within your grasp, your love will undeniably conquer our brokenness. 

You are a God of joy, and with that we have hope. We pray that you, our God of hope, will fill us with all joy and peace as we learn to trust in you, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Allow us to become instruments of your joy and hope in a world that so desperately seeks the Good news you alone can offer.  

We pray all of these things in the name of the one who modeled your sacrificial love on earth, the one who taught us to pray saying, “Our Father….”

Pastoral Prayer – originally delivered 11/11/2018 at New World UMC Traditional service

Tree – Thought to get you through the day

“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.” Acts 5:30 (Common English Bible) 

A wise church member shared this thought with me on Sunday:

“It’s not all the gifts under the tree that matter, it’s the Gift that came on a tree.”

In case you haven’t heard, there are only 12 shopping days left between now and Christmas. Yep, the “doorbuster specials” are long gone and we’re in the “last minute shopping” territory! 

It is so easy to get caught up in the frenzy of last minute shopping, isn’t it? Companies who sell us stuff are counting on this.

But I hope you’ll find time to remember the real reason for the season, the gift that came on a tree, Jesus Christ. It’s not about all the stuff.

Today I challenge you to take a moment to just look, really look, at a tree…or consider the birds of the air. Remember that God is the kind of God who is faithful to provide for all of our needs. We don’t need to be harried,  and rushed. We have all the Gift we need.

Being Content – A Sermon on Philippians 4:10-14

This sermon was originally shared on November 11, 2018 at New World United Methodist Church as part of a series. Here is a link to the audio recording.

Philippians 4:10-14 (source: Biblegateway.com)

10 I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.b11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress. 

Sermon: Being Content 

I don’t want to get your hopes up, but I am not giving you each $100 today. 

I do want to tell you the most exciting stewardship sermon I have ever heard about, but just to reiterate, I’m not handing out money. 

The sermon was given at McKinney Church (now Doxology Bible Church) in Ft. Worth. Our family friend Jake was working as a deaf interpreter there, I was out of town, so Jake invited my husband Dennis to church.  

When Dennis walked in the sanctuary, there was a giant, larger-than-life dollar sign covered in twenty-dollar bills hanging prominently over the stage where the cross is supposed to be 

Dennis had never been there before, so we can imagine he was just wondering what on earth he got himself into.   

The pastor gets up and points out the obvious – yep, this is a message about money, a stewardship campaign, there’s new construction, and so on. 

But then the message shifts to the unexpected. 

The pastor says, “God doesn’t need your money. God has all the money God needs. God needs your heart and God needs you to share your faith with others. So this morning we want to invest in your ministry.” 

To prove that they believed this, the ushers came around and did a reverse offering. What’s a reverse offering? Basically, blank envelopes were stuffed with different amounts of money in them, some had $5, some $10 or $20, a few even had $100 or more, and then they passed the plate around for each person in the congregation to get an envelope. In all, they gave out something like $16,000 to the congregation that morning. 

(SLIDE CHANGE: Woman thinking of money) 

The pastor continues with instructions for this money. 

Whatever dollar amount you received, whether it’s $5 or $100, it’s not money that is meant to be spent on yourself. It’s not money for nothing. You don’t take the $5 to the nearest Starbucks and buy yourself a grande Peppermint mocha. Instead, you pray about it & then perhaps you ask that friend or neighbor you’ve been meaning to reach out to to join you at Starbucks, and you buy that person’s drink and talk about faith over coffee.  

The people of the congregation were instructed to use the money to be the church at work in the world, and then report back with stories of how God was at work through this.  

I invite you to imagine with me what an entire congregation could do in ministry like this. 

 (Slide Change: Garbage Truck in neighborhood photo)

This morning I will share a few stories about giving that may feel like that: 

On Monday, our youngest son, Lucas, turned three years old. It was an especially exciting day because it was a Monday and, in our neighborhood that means something very exciting to our now-three-year-old.   

Monday is garbage day! 

It’s hard to explain the excitement our little boy has about garbage trucks. He can be in his room asleep, in the bathtub, engrossed in a video, hard at play – but when he hears the distinctive rumble of the truck in our neighborhood, he stops what he’s doing, eyes wide open, “Oh the garbage truck!” and he takes off for the front door.  

He jumps up and down, eagerly waiting for the truck to turn the corner and come into view. 

This excitement has not gone unnoticed by the garbage men. First, they honked and waved, eventually we learned each other’s names.  

Frank and Lawrence learned about a month ago that Lucas was having a birthday on November 5, a Monday…and they too were happy to figure out that they’d get to see this excited little guy on his birthday. 

Lucas wanted to make sure Frank and Lawrence could celebrate his birthday. So, much to my surprise, I was making cupcakes the night before for our garbage men so we could include them in a tiny birthday party to go. 

(Slide change – Lucas, Frank and Lawrence) 

How cool is this? On a day that is usually reserved for receiving gifts and being the center of attention, the greatest joy Lucas had was in giving cupcakes to our garbage collectors. He was so happy to give. How beautiful would our world be if we could all just approach giving to others with such complete joy and without reservation? (pause) 

I wish I could say that I always give with that kind of joy and without reservation. 

(Slide change – donate computer) 

I will share that I give 10% of my salary to the church – it is set up to give automatically so I don’t ever have to think about it. I never see it so I never miss it, and I don’t even have to think much about it. 

I have to say, it doesn’t quite feel like having the same kind of joy I saw Lucas have on Monday, but I get to be generous, and I have to trust God will bless my giving. I’m working on the joy part. 

So why am I talking about my giving? 

I’ve been blessed by giving to others, when I’ve been able to get generosity right, filled with joy and without reservation. I have two examples for you: 

(Slide change – Shoes)  

The first story that comes to mind was with a high school student in my youth ministry about 10 years ago. She was a remarkable young woman. Surprising to most, she had the most challenging home life of any teens I knew – her parents and her siblings were a bit of a mess, so much so that at the age of 16, she was living on her own instead of at home. 

Imagine – she was a full-time high school student, working to pay her rent, and still made time for youth group. 

As you can guess, she also was short on cash, although too proud to ask for help. So, when she shared at youth group that she was freezing as her apartment’s gas heat had been turned off in winter, my husband and I knew we had to help somehow. We bought her an electric blanket, wrapped it with an anonymous gift tag, and had a friend of a friend deliver it to her apartment. 

There was another time we sneakily worked to find out her shoe size so we could help her replace her worn out sneakers full of holes. 

She didn’t ask us for help, but it was a total joy to give to her, to anonymously meet some of her needs. We probably would have found a way to let her live at our house if she ever asked. 

Which brings me to the second example of when God gave us an opportunity to be generous with others. 

In the spring of 2010, our neighbors across the street from us informed us that they were moving to Colorado – did we know anyone who might want a one-story house in our neighborhood? 

We definitely did! My mom was retiring that coming Fall and planning to move to Texas a few months later. We jumped on the opportunity to have mom/grandma move across the street.  

What we didn’t expect was that our neighbors would then move out as soon as possible right after the last day of school, leaving us with a vacant house and an extra house payment for a few months more than we anticipated. We tried unsuccessfully to find a college student or someone who might need a short-term place to stay… 

So that summer, when I saw a Facebook post from a clergy friend, Sheila, “What would you do if you found out that a working dad of two was sleeping in his car during the day in 104-degree heat in July?” we knew what we would do. 

It turned out that Peter, a Kenyan refugee, and his two sons were living in the Arlington Life Shelter that summer. The shelter by policy doesn’t allow its adult residents to be there asleep during the day, but Peter worked third shift at the airport and just needed a safe place to sleep between being at work all night. 

Well, it’s not very often that people have spare houses, but that summer we did. There wasn’t a question in our mind – we got in touch with Sheila, met Peter and his two sons George and Allan, and opened up our mom’s vacant house as a safe and quiet place where Peter could sleep in air conditioning on an air mattress during the day and get a clean shower before heading to work. It wasn’t much to us, but I think we can all agree this would be way better than sleeping in a car in Texas during the summer.  

In the weeks that followed, With the shelter and church’s help, we were able to help get furniture to help the small family set up in their simple two-bedroom apartment before the boys started school that year. 

But the best part is that Peter, George and Allan became friends with our family. Our kids all played together, they ended up having their first American Thanksgiving at our house and we were their first houseguests for a dinner of the traditional Kenyan ugali (YOU gall ee). Years later, George graduated top of his class and is a student at UTA, and Allan has a full ride scholarship his first year at Notre Dame. They’ve even come to visit us here at New World. I’m so proud of our dear friends and grateful that God offered a way for our family to say yes to generosity. 

I hope you know that I am telling you these stories not to impress you, but to impress upon you the importance of changing your heart about giving. God will open up opportunities for you to be generous.  

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we are urged to be content with whatever we have, and to be grateful. Imagine with me if we all sought out ways to give to others with the deep joy and without reservation, like Lucas giving away cupcakes to our garbagemen on his birthday? I pray that God blesses you with openings to give to others. 

I love the idea of the reverse offering that other church did – it’s a powerful reminder that the money we receive, whether it’s from an unmarked envelope or in the form of a paycheck, all of it is a gift from God we are called to steward and use for God’s work.    

But what would you do if you were given $5 today to use in ministry? What about if it was $100? How could you use that money to be a blessing to another person? (pause) 

While I don’t have money to hand out to you, I hope you consider using some of the money you already have in the way you just envisioned. 

In conclusion, here are a few questions to consider in personal reflection: 

 

  • What does it mean to you to be content whether you have a lot or a little? 
  • Is something keeping you from giving with joy and without reservation? 
  • If that wasn’t preventing you, what you do and how would that feel? 

Please pray with me: 

God, we thank you for all that you have given us. Please help us to be content with what we have, whether it seems like too little or too much. We pray that you will free us from worry, that you will open our hearts so that we can give to others with great joy and without reservation. In Jesus name we pray, Amen. Invitation 

 

Stillness – An Advent Devotional

Stillness.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.”
Psalm 62:5-6


On Sunday mornings starting about an hour before the first worship service, the sanctuary space is already busy with preparations. There are candles to be lit, fonts to fill, bread and juice to set up. Sound checks, lighting checks and slide reviews. Furniture moved into place. People busily preparing for the congregation to arrive. Throughout the morning the space resonates with people greeting one another, songs are sung, words spoken, prayers uttered aloud. Children play, wiggling and chattering as their adults try to hush and still them. It’s beautiful and it is holy.

The stillness of a quiet sanctuary is not something that everyone gets to see or experience. 

After the crowds leave, or on just about any day during the week, the space sits in stillness. It’s a place of refuge, a place of quiet. Ideal for prayer and thought. It’s still open then, perhaps it’s a place you will come visit during that time.

During this season of Advent, I pray that you will find a space for stillness. Be still and know that you are loved by God. Sit quietly and listen for the Spirit to prompt you. May you be blessed with moments of stillness.

Amen.

Shine – An Advent Devotional


“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.” Isaiah 60:1

The picture above is from one of the paraments that decorates our church during Advent. “Parament” is a fancy church word that refers to the decorations we put in our church, usually on places like the altar or pulpit, to signify the different times of the church year. Blue and purple paraments are used during Advent.

I love the shiny glow of this manger on our parament – the glory of the Lord is shining. What a beautiful reminder of the most important thing to shine during a season full of all that glitters and twinkles.

What are the qualities in you that are shining this season? Is your love for God shining through your thoughts and actions? How can people see the light of Christ shining in you today?

Prayer:

God of all light, remind us this season of what is most important. Keep our hearts centered on the love of Jesus Christ, and help us to share that love with others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.