Gift – A Christmas Thought

I’m writing this just after midnight, technically Christmas Day. The house is peaceful, kids asleep while Dennis, my mom and I quietly visit. Probably because I had so much to prepare for preaching two days in a row, all of the presents have been wrapped and ready a while now. I can’t remember a Christmas Eve wrapped up so early before (pun intended).

The real gift is that we kept the holiday relatively simple. Our kids are pretty wonderful, so I’m looking forward to a fun morning of Lucas’s excitement and the rest of us keeping the magic alive. It is such a joy to be the parents of our kids.

Another gift was the chance to help lead Christmas Eve worship earlier tonight. I’m honored to be part of the staff at New World UMC.

And perhaps the biggest gift of all was seeing our family friend Allan in worship. He is part of the Kenyan family I mentioned in my sermon & I’m deeply grateful God placed his family in our lives.

My prayer for each of you is the gift of knowing that God is real, God loves you & you, dear reader, are worthy of love. May you find space in your heart and home for the holy.

Merry Christmas to all….and to all a good night!

Love – A Christmas Eve Reflection

We love because he first loved us.
“Love” and “because” showed up in bold because those were the search terms I used on Biblegateway. I think that pretty much sums up the call of Christianity – Love because.
Merry Christmas love from our family to yours!

Many thanks and much love to my friend Allison from Seven Arches Photography for these photos. Not only does she consistently make us look like we came straight from an Old Navy ad, she’s also one of my favorite friends.

Manger – A Thought to get you Centered

Incarnation - Erin Sloan Jackson art copyright 2018The scandal of the cross was preceded by another scandal – the scandal of Christ, the baby. The guy who died at the hands of humans also lived at the hands of humans, he was once a helpless, needy babe.
How does the incarnation help us think better about our bodies?
Notes from Texas Youth Academy lecture on Incarnation. (by Erin Sloan Jackson)
God loves you so much that God walked among humanity, fully human and fully divine. God finds power not through mightiness, but through humility, relationship and love. Merry Christmas.

Wreath – A Welcome Thought for the Day

My sermon on Sunday at 9:30 AM is called “The Wreath.”

Just like a wreath is a sign of welcome and hospitality, you are welcome to join me at church this Sunday to hear more! 9:30am at New World UMC in Arlington, Texas.

You’re invited to come wearing your Christmas sweaters or even Christmas pajamas! We’ll even have a hot cocoa station for you to enjoy.

All are welcome – and I mean all.

Angel – An Advent Devotional (Guest Post!)

My girls dressed as angels

Today’s devotional was written by special guest contributor, Rev. Gena Anderson. Be blessed today! ESJ

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
Luke 2:10-14 ESV

Angels, play a very important role in the Christmas story. An angel announced to the virgin Mary that she was going to bear the Son of God, then appeared to Joseph, telling him the very same thing. Finally, we see a group of them announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem. You might just get the idea that the main role of angels was to make announcements for God, and you would be right! The word for angel literally means “messenger” and they played a similar role as human beings who bore that title: acting as a king’s herald who made royal announcements.

Angels always point away from themselves and to God. During this Advent season, how are you being an angel for God?  How are you pointing others to Christ through the words that you say but more importantly through your actions?

Prayer: Jesus, we worship you as our Savior, our Messiah, our Lord. Help us to be like your angels, announcing the good news of your birth this Christmas. Amen.

Pastor Gena

Worship – Thoughts from Guest Kate Baird

kate baird pic from Levitt

My concept of worship has evolved over time.  For so long, as a musician, I thought it was about how we expressed ourselves through song—hymns and modern music.  I participated on praise teams who appeared to take 100% responsibility for every congregation member’s worship.  Are we trying to contrive a feeling of elation through music for everyone?  I don’t believe so.  Though, I love when I have that ‘feeling’.  This seemed too narrow a definition.

After much contemplation, it seems to me it’s about wanting to live our lives out of delight for what has been done for us.  Our daily work is worship and ministry.  You don’t choose between being a missionary or a teacher or a business person.  We are all on mission, we are all teachers by the example of our lives and we are all in business by how we steward resources.  Doing something for someone else out of gratitude and abundance is worship.  I give thanks to my dear friend, Dave Stone (founder and Chief Worship officer of First Rate), credit for expanding my thinking about that.  “Work is Worship!”  I will one-up him and say “Life is Worship!”

Also, I questioned, as C.S. Lewis did why we need to worship an all-powerful God.  Google his responses if that has puzzled you.  But, here was the personal revolution for me from C.S.’s book ‘Reflections on the Psalms’.

“The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. 

It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.”

“The delight is incomplete until it is expressed.”  Selah.  The worship is FOR OUR DELIGHT!!  SMH!  Then, Lewis goes on to say, that Heaven will be a place where this resounding expression of delight will be with the fullness of worshiping God in spirit and in truth.  Glorifying the (triune) God by enjoying Him forever.   Sign me up for some ‘forever enjoyment!’

I wish for you a presence of mind & spirit this holiday season.  This is so that you can enjoy to the fullest your daily walk and those you share it with.  When you share that enjoyment, it becomes complete and is worship.  

I’ve included a picture ‘Paul Thorn with the Blind Boys of Alabama’ who were at the Levitt this summer.  Hearing live music is the where my husband and I find ourselves ‘expressing delight’ and making the enjoyment complete.

Glory – Thought to Get Through the Day

Heaven is declaring God’s glory; the sky is proclaiming his handiwork. -Psalm 19:1

When I hear the word “glory,” I keep hearing a song in my head, but it’s probably not the Christmas song you’d expect. There’s a praise song written by Holland Davis but often attributed to William Murphy called “Let it Rise,” and the words go like this:


Let the glory of the Lord rise among us
Let the glory of the Lord rise among us
Let the praises of our King rise among us
Let it rise

Oh, let it rise

Let the songs of the Lord rise among us
Let the songs of the Lord rise among us
Let the joy of our King rise among us
Let it rise

Oh, let it rise

I love the upbeat rhythm, the way the song lifts us up. We sing this song at my current church from time to time, but I mostly connect it to many church youth group gatherings throughout the years. (You really haven’t heard the song done right until you’ve heard a few hundred youth singing it loudly, their voices and hands raising with the word “rise.”) 

There’s something about having music as part of worship that is deeply moving and spiritual. There are feelings and emotions that music can reach when words fail us. It’s like the glory of the Holy Spirit rushes in to that space, filling our hearts and uplifting us. 

Questions to consider: Do you have songs that lift your spirits? What is your heart song? How have you seen God’s glory this week?

Be blessed today!

Erin

This blogpost is part of a series based on the New World UMC Advent Photo-A-Day challenge. Feel free to jump in on the photo challenge whenever you’d like, no matter who you are! Tomorrow’s word will be “worship.”

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