We Need Each Other – a sermon on Social Holiness

Here’s my sermon from 9/4/2018 – will be updated with the audio file when that is available. Be blessed! -Erin

Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16 The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.

Sermon: We Need Each Other – on Social Holiness

 “Haiti has been devastated by an earthquake and people in and around Port au Prince are in desperate need of help. We have a plane full of supplies ready to leave Dallas Love Field at 2PM today. We are looking for any volunteers who can get to the airport with their passport on time. We can get anyone who is available to Haiti at no charge, the plane is ready to go, although we don’t have any information yet on how or when you will be able to return. Is there anyone here willing to go?”

The date I heard this announcement was January 13, 2010, the day after a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. This was the lunch announcement made at the SMU Perkins School of Youth Ministry to a room full of United Methodist youth workers.

Would you have volunteered to go help? 

I didn’t get on a plane to Haiti that day (although I did go in 2017 and will go again this year) but how remarkable is it that one of the few places they thought to announce this mission need was to the highest concentration of United Methodists gathered together in Dallas that day. It makes sense when you consider that the UMC has a rich heritage of responding quickly and working together to alleviate suffering, especially for the world’s poor.

This morning we are concluding our Back to Grace series on United Methodism. In week one we looked at the Wesleyan concepts of prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace. Last week we talked about personal holiness & for those who heard my sermon, you were challenged to pick 1 or 2 personal faith practices and “just do it.” How’s that going so far?

Today we are learning about the Wesleyan concept of social holiness. Social holiness is the combination of acts we do as a faith community to grow closer to God, and is often found at the intersection of faith and good works, service and justice. This morning we will look at how we grow in social holiness both inside and outside of the church, including a look at the global United Methodist Church, and most importantly, we will look at why social holiness is critical.

First, we will look at the role the local church plays in nurturing our social holiness.

What is the purpose of a church?

A quote from the Book of Discipline:

“Finally, we emphasize the nurturing and serving function of Christian fellowship in the Church. The personal experience of faith is nourished by the worshiping community.”

If we look at today’s Scripture reading, we are told to “Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another…we were called in the one body. We are to teach one another in wisdom.” There is an emphasis on the one another and the working together as one body. As Christians, we believe that faith isn’t something you get to have all on your own. Wesley once said that no one can be a solitary Christian, we must be in community to grow in our faith. As the sermon title says – we need each other.

Consider the sacrament of baptism.

In our baptismal vows, here’s a question the faith community is asked:

 Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life
and include these persons now before you in your care?

And how do we respond?

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news
and live according to the example of Christ.
We will surround these persons
with a community of love and forgiveness,
that they may grow in their trust of God,
and be found faithful in their service to others.
We will pray for them,
that they may be true disciples
who walk in the way that leads to life.

When anyone is baptized, we promise as a faith community to nurture not only the baptized, but also one another. We need each other to grow in our faith.

We also nurture each other in the faith when we sing in worship.

Now, I don’t know about your typical week, but in my week, there are no other places besides during worship when I am being asked to sing. As we sing together, we connect with one another in praise and we also learn the basics of our faith. Like memorizing Scripture, the act of singing writes what we believe on our hearts. It lifts our spirits. We need each other to sing.

We need each other in small groups. As John Wesley was beginning the renewal movement we now know as Methodism, they began by forming small Methodist societies and class meetings. The purpose of these small groups was so they could encourage each other in holiness, and a distinct way they grew in their faith as a small group was to give to the poor, visit the imprisoned, and to work for justice and peace. Similarly, in our local church, we meet in small groups and grow in our faith. We spur one another on as we discuss our faith, even disagreeing from time to time. Ideally, if we have done the nurturing work right at the local church level, our natural response will be to find ways in our small groups to love and serve our neighbors.

A beautiful feature of United Methodism is that social holiness extends way beyond the local church – we are connected to other United Methodist churches around the globe.

Even this past week, we showed a bit of this connection in our city by participating in the Back to Grace multi-UMC event. Many from New World were there last Sunday night as The Way led worship and Rev. Felicia Hopkins of FUMC Abilene preached on grace. In fact, I’m excited to share that the churches represented raised over $1000 each for Arlington Urban Ministries and the UTA Wesley Foundation.

Consider the global impact of our Church. Unique to church denominations, all United Methodist Churches are connected. This culture of reaching out to the world is a rich part of Methodism’s DNA and makes us a witness and force for peace and justice around the world.

A beautiful example of how we as a connectional church model this sense of social holiness is UMCOR. A quick story: In 2013, a chemical fertilizer plant in West, Texas exploded – many of you may even have heard the explosion if you lived in South Arlington/Mansfield at the time. At this disaster, as with almost every disaster around the globe, many first responders were on the scene to assist people in need. Laraine Waughtal from the UM Central Texas Conference and members of our conference’s early response team were there early among the American Red Cross, United Way and FEMA’s first responders. Laraine reported that, as a trailer pulled up full of supplies with the United Methodist cross and flame symbol on the side, a trailer from UMCOR, she could hear the other first responders say, “Oh thank God! The Methodists are here! Now we can begin to get things done.” UMCOR is known throughout the world as the United Methodist Church at its finest – quick to respond to those in need and willing to stay until the long-term recovery is complete.

Beyond disaster relief and recovery, the worldwide United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice. Wesley and the early Methodists expressed their opposition to societal brokenness such as slavery, smuggling, inhumane prison conditions, alcohol abuse, and child labor. We are known as a denomination involved with people’s lives, with political and social struggles. As part of our global connection, we are still engaged in speaking out against injustice and working in social justice work today.

From The Book of Resolutions of The UMC: The United Methodist Church believes God’s love for the world is an active and engaged love, a love seeking justice and liberty. We cannot just be observers. So we care enough about people’s lives to risk interpreting God’s love, to take a stand, to call each of us into a response, no matter how controversial or complex. The church helps us think and act out a faith perspective, not just responding to all the other ‘mind-makers-up’ that exist in our society.”

As we take a closer look at today’s passage (text is in bulletin), I want you to see the action words. We are to: teach, warn, sing and do. In fact, Verse 17 says “And whatever you DO, in word or deed, DO everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” The life of Christ is a life of action. We are called to be in mission and service to the world.

Wesley said, “The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness. You cannot be holy except as you are engaged in making the world a better place. You do not become holy by keeping yourself pure and clean from the world but by plunging into ministry on behalf of the world’s hurting ones.”

Why don’t we get it right?

John Wesley also struggled with the same question – why don’t we get it right?

At age 86, near the end of John Wesley’s life, most people would have considered him a resounding success. Around the age of 35 he had begun a movement that had spread throughout the British Empire and, by the end of his life it had grown to be the largest church in America. He was widely published and well respected.

But at 86, he was contemplating the significance of his life’s work. A question he asked himself was, “if the Methodist movement he had begun was so successful, as it was, why wasn’t the world a better place?”  For John Wesley, the measure of the success of a minister, of a church, of a spiritual movement, of Methodism, wasn’t the number of members who joined the church or the size/number of buildings they had. The true measure of success was whether the world was a better place, a more just place, a more compassionate place.

We have work to do, my friends. We need to heal the world, make it a better place.

We can think of the church as a body.

As today’s scripture says, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” The Greek word for bind in this verse is the same word as “ligament,” like the part of the body that holds us together. Think like a human body – When we as a faith community are in great shape, bound together in love, when we are doing social holiness right and taking care of ourselves…

We as the Body of Christ can do amazing things.

When our body is out of whack, the binding of love is replaced by distrust or personal agendas, distracted by politics and division and trying to prove others wrong, we become immobilized, powerless.

(Perhaps worse – when we sit idly and don’t exercise the body at all – there’s no inspiration in that!)

It’s easy to be like John Wesley was – contemplating our progress and wondering why the world is not yet a better place. The work of justice and reconciliation, the work of transforming the world, the work of God….it’s slow work. It takes time, and we need everyone to work alongside each other in order to make an impact.

But please take a moment with me and imagine what our future could be like if we committed to getting social holiness right. If we, as the Body of Christ, work together to grow in discipleship and work together to be a force for change in the world, if we connect with one another and have the courage to stand up against the world’s injustices and brokenness – we have (with the help of God’s spirit working in us) the potential to be a force that brings God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. We have the potential to truly make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

We need each other to make transformation happen.

Remember the Haiti announcement at the beginning of this sermon?

Raise your hand if you went on that trip (should be no hands). I didn’t go then either.

But raise your hand if you’ve been on an international mission trip? (keep your hands up)

An out of state mission trip? Any mission trip? (keep your hands raised)

Now raise your hand if you have been engaged in mission work locally – you’ve volunteered, handed out a manna bag, collected donations?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever contributed to the offering at church (hopefully all hands are raised)

This is social holiness – all of us working together to transform the world. God will call each of us in different ways to use our gifts and resources, time and talents for God’s service.

It is my deepest prayer that each of us will Listen to that call.

That we will Have the courage to respond. To get our hands dirty.

It is my prayer that transformation will happen and God’s reign will be on earth, and that we will move forward with passion and excitement as we trust in the slow work of God!

Amen.


Things to consider:

  • Where is God calling you to be in service?
  • Are you giving your fullest to God? If not, why not?
  • Who do you need to connect with in order to be held accountable in your discipleship?

Giving credit where credit is due: The Scripture passage used was from the Common English Bible. Several quotes in this sermon were from umc.org. Quote from Laraine Waughtal found in Vance Morton’s post “UMCOR – the Methodist Connection at it’s Best” on ctcumc.org. Story about John Wesley at age 86 found in sermon “Social Holiness: Our Wesleyan DNA”  by Rev. Dean Snyder.

Be Made New: A Sermon on Personal Holiness

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Listen to the Sermon Here: 

Be Made New Sermon Slides

Scripture Reading

This morning our Scripture passage is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. To give a little background: Paul is writing to a new Christian community that has a Gentile (or non-Jewish) background. As Christians, this faith community is being encouraged to stop their former pagan behavior, and to model kindness and compassion, imitating God’s forgiving and loving ways. Picking up at verse 20:

20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

I know that this is Back to School time, but, as we talk about being made new this morning, I want you to go back in time with me today to the beginning of the calendar year. There are a few things you can count on seeing every January:

  • Exercise clothes and running shoes are going to be featured in sale ads
  • The gyms are pretty crowded
  • There will be good coupons for foods like Special K cereal and Lean Cuisine meals
  • Shelving and organization tools will be on sale and in demand

Who here, like me, makes New Year’s resolutions?

Who here has failed at keeping them?

Perhaps it would have helped if we had listened to a really great motivational speaker, like this video: (VIDEO – “Just do it” Shia LeBouef: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXsQAXx_ao0)

If you’ve had trouble keeping resolutions, no worries, you are in good company. Even in today’s passage, Paul is writing to a church that started with great resolution to live differently, but then they slipped in to old habits.

We are talking about the distinctly Wesleyan emphasis on holiness this morning. What do we mean by “holiness?”

(SLIDE)

Holiness is “the state of being holy, of having total devotion to God” Interestingly, when you Google search “holiness,” the first term that comes up is that it’s a title used to address the Pope. The second reference is to the Holiness Movement started by John Wesley, “A Christian movement emphasizing the routines and faith practices that help us grow closer to God.”

To understand it, we first need to understand a little bit of Methodist history:

Methodism became its own denomination completely by accident. John Wesley, his brother Charles and a few other Oxford college students had grown up in the church but refused to be satisfied with the shallow, superficial faith they witnessed around them. They thought people were going through the motions but missing out on the deeper faith practices.

So, longing to grow in their faith and to grow closer to God, these young men began to live an ambitious schedule:

  • Fasted until 3pm on Wednesdays and Fridays
  • Took Holy Communion once a week
  • Studied and discussed the Greek New Testament and theology each evening
  • Visited prisoners and the sick
  • Systematically reviewed their lives
  • Studied the Bible, prayed and worshipped together

Even in the 1700s, this was unusual behavior! What was even more remarkable was that this small group held each other accountable to stay on track. Their changes in behavior didn’t go unnoticed. They were teased about it, called names like “Bible Moths” “Holy Club” “Sacramentarians” and, the one that stuck, “Methodists”

Here’s what John Wesley said about it in his sermon “The Character of a Methodist”

“I say those who are called Methodists; for, let it be well observed, that this is not a name which they take to themselves, but one fixed upon them by way of reproach, without their approbation or consent. It was first given to three or four young men at Oxford, by a student of Christ Church; either in allusion to the ancient sect of Physicians so called, from their teaching, that almost all diseases might be cured by a specific method of diet and exercise, or from their observing a more regular method of study and behavior than was usual with those of their age and station.”

This group of young Christians did not set out to break away from the Church. What they wanted more than anything was to see renewal within the church.

As we go through renewal here, it’s also my prayer that as a community we will move to deeper relationship with God.

I don’t know about you, but I can see where the Wesleys were coming from. Having grown up in the church, I’ve sometimes felt like the Church was getting distracted and missing out on its main mission to develop Christ followers.

There are practices that I have done that have brought me closer to God. I don’t always get it right, but when I do, it’s beautiful.

When I take the time for silence, prayer, Bible study, quiet walks in nature, retreats…there is a sense of peace that’s hard to fully explain.

You know that holy feeling when we all sing Silent Night on Christmas Eve? Those special, sacred moments when you can sense that the Holy is happening?

That’s what it feels like to do the practices that bring personal holiness, the things that bring you closer to God.

So how do we get there?

To grow in our faith you can really look at our church’s mission statement. (Love God, Love Neighbor, Make Disciples)

There are several practices you can make part of your daily living that will draw you closer to “Love God.” You are in church & participating in regular worship is one of those practices (keep it up!) Bible study, fasting, prayer, fellowship with other Christians, and deepening your knowledge for God are other faith practices.

Loving Neighbor is another way we grow closer to God. A very Methodist practice would be to find ways to respond to human needs and work for justice in our communities.

As we move along the path toward becoming perfect in our love for God, eventually our inner thoughts and motives line up with God’s.

So why aren’t we there yet?

I believe there is a temptation to look at this new faith beginning in the same way as we too often look at New Year’s resolutions. You know what I mean? We can start off with the best of intentions –

  • I’m going to church every Sunday
  • I’m joining a Bible study or Sunday School class
  • I’m volunteering at the Salvation Army, Arlington Life Shelter, Arlington Urban Ministries, Arlington Charities….or even better, I’m now going to volunteer to help out with the youth or the children’s ministry
  • I’ll pray every day…I’ll read my Bible every morning.
  • I’m even tithing.

And we may even start off strong.

Until we don’t. We somehow fall off the discipleship wagon – sleeping in preempts church and Bible reading, you miss a study, you forget to pray. You pick up or take back up habits and addictions and all of the things you swore to yourself you wouldn’t do now that you’re a better Christian person….

Before you know it, you might not even recognize how you got where you are, exactly how far away you fell from where you hoped to be as a Christ follower.

And at this point, you’re tempted to totally give up. Or you beat yourself up and tell yourself stories like “I’ll never be able to do it.” You tell yourself lies like “Oh well, I’ll just mess up again. Why bother trying?” or “I won’t ever have enough time.” Or “I’ll get back to that next week.”

Instead of these lies, you need to hear some truth here.

God has a better plan for you. And God loves you. But you don’t get to waste all the gifts God has given you because it’s more comfortable to believe all of these lies.

I’d like to draw your attention to the stained glass up to your left, the one with the butterfly.

That butterfly, like all butterflies, was once a caterpillar.

Caterpillars are pretty spectacular. I mean, few things creepily crawl along in a garden like a caterpillar. But if a caterpillar stops there, just comfortably creeping along…we all will miss out on what the caterpillar is meant to become.

Please, if you hear nothing else this morning, hear this:

You – and you alone – with the help of the Holy Spirit at work are responsible for who you become and how you grow in holiness.

To become the best you you can be, you have to really commit to the hard work of change. And like any change – think diet or exercise – it takes time and commitment to build up muscles and habits.

Imagine you have made the resolution to train for running a marathon. (stick with me, non runners!)

You make this great decision & you even begin to tell your friends and family about it.

They are genuinely excited for you & full of encouragement. Everyone knows it will be a lot of work to train for a marathon, but everyone believes you are capable.

In order to prepare for the big race, you join a marathon training club and go to a training session designed for potential marathon runners. There is an amazing motivational speaker. She’s really top notch and knows her stuff. The convention has an air of excitement about the marathon – you can practically feel it. They’ve hired a cover band that plays songs like “Born to Run,” “Eye of the Tiger,” and “We are the Champions” so well, you even picture yourself leading a few races. The training is great – you are really motivated.

At the end of the training, you are invited to come back next week to hear the training again.

At the end of the next week’s training, you’re invited to come back again…

All of this motivation and training is helpful, but you need much more than this in order to physically prepare for a marathon.

And, so it is with faith and this Wesleyan idea of “personal holiness.”

When it comes to growing spiritually, I can stand up here and list off all of the practices you could do to grow closer to God…you can mediate, alleviate, and try not to hate…but only you have control over your life.

So you try some of the practices. Maybe you will try 40 different things and 2 will be meaningful and the rest won’t resonate. You’ll have seasons where you fail or forget or avoid…that’s all part of how the journey works.

But like the caterpillar…like the marathoner…you keep on training in spite of the times you make mistakes.

And you can even choose to celebrate your small victories, knowing that sometimes you’ll leap forward and sometimes you’ll inch forward… but you can just celebrate that the movement is forward.

My challenge for you is that you will select 1 or 2 practices that you will resolve to try this week. Think of them now.

Picture who you will share them with, perhaps in the connection time after this service or during Sunday school, so you can hold one another accountable.

Which brings us back to our Scripture.

Paul was writing to a group that was excited about being Christ followers but still struggling with temptations to fall into behaviors they shouldn’t be doing. We’ve all been there.

Be encouraged in knowing you are not alone in the falling to temptations, but also know you are called to move forward, “to put away your former way of life, your old self… and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Just do it. 🙂

Amen.

 

Lament for the Separated

hand holding istockphotoThis is the pastoral prayer I gave on Sunday (Father’s Day) in response to current crises along our borders. I offer this as a prayer to share with people of faith everywhere, for truly we should lament the suffering of others, and ask for mercy for the silent ways we unwittingly cause harm. Based on Psalm 130:

Out of the depths we cry to you, O GOD.

God, hear our voice! 

Let your ears be attentive to the voice of our supplications! 

This morning we are celebrating the love that fathers have for their children, and the never-ending love you have for us, your children.

We remember the special times we may have had with fathers in our midst – our earthly fathers and people who have come alongside to serve as role models and guides to us.

  We struggle in our hearts and in our churches to know the truth of what is happening to other fathers and mothers and their children along the borders of our country:  Open our hearts to the voices of the world.

  We confess that too often the church has been little more than a silent witness to evil deeds:    We have prayed without protest, and without action for justice.   As we remain silent, we have been made complicit in the cries of the hurting.     Lord, have mercy upon us. 

We wait for God, our souls waits, and in God’s word we hope;    

In the midst of our lament we may give thanks –    for pastors and laity who have raised courageous voices; for humanitarian groups who have come to the aid of others, for people who continue to bear witness to the Gospel  under intense pressure and fear, for public officials who have challenged unjust policies risking reputation and career. The Gospel witness has not been completely silenced, and we are grateful.   

Our soul waits for God more than those who watch for the morning,  More than those who watch for the morning, we wait. 

Today we call for humility and courage to accept the futility of our current path.   Today we cry out for creativity to seek new paths of peacemaking and hospitality.  

O People, hope in GOD!

May we join protest to prayer, support ministries of compassion, and cast off the fear that has made us feel helpless in the face of injustice. May we return again to the way of Jesus. May heartbreak end and cries be transformed to the harmonies of justice and the melodies of peace. 

For with GOD there is steadfast love, and great power to redeem. 

For this we yearn, for this we pray, and toward this end we rededicate ourselves as children of a loving God who gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and welcome to the stranger.

O GOD, redeem your People from all iniquities, as we pray for your kingdom to come on earth as it heaven praying as Jesus taught, saying, “Our Father….”.

 

Be blessed today and always,

Rev. Erin

 

Giving credit where credit is due: To read more about Psalm 130, check it out on Biblegateway.com. Thank you to this website for inspiring my prayer of lament.

7 Soul Care Practices You May Need Today

I can’t even look today.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t even bring myself to look at the newsfeed today. I have seen enough to know that the news cycle is devastating. This morning my sweet husband told me all I needed to know to know that this will be a news cycle filled with heartbreak, pain, theories, hurt, blame, politicizing and brokenness. There will be images of the aftermath, biographies of the deceased. Today’s cycle will be inevitably be followed with posts of division, conspiracy theories, differing political arguments about gun control, violence, mental illness, and more finger pointing. My soul can’t take this today.

Instead, I humbly offer to you 7 soul care practices you might need today:

  1. Avoid the media/your newsfeed for a while. I understand the temptation to try to understand how something so unspeakable could happen. There is a primal need to understand evil and understand threats to our well-being. But taking in too much bad news will inevitably hurt your soul. I am hanging on to these words from Philippians: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”
  2. Go for a walk. Take time to enjoy nature and to appreciate the beauty around you. Where do you recognize beauty? Is it the sunshine? flowers? birds? breeze? Take a deep breath and enjoy this, never taking it for granted. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
  3. Consider the goodness of God. When facing evil, it may be tempting to forget the goodness of God. What is it that you know about God to still be true? God is still good, God is still love, God is never leaving nor forsaking you. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
  4. Spend time with a friend or with family. This is a good moment to call a friend to talk to them. Eat a meal together. Just be around people who care about you. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
  5. Give and receive hugs. This would be a good day to give hugs to people. We need physical comfort and care. Be sure to hug your loved ones today. “Let us love one another.”
  6. Pray. Maybe this should be the first one on a list for soul care because prayer is essential for your soul’s wellbeing. Don’t just post that your “thoughts and prayers are with the victims,” spend time quietly devoted to prayer. Pray for peace, pray for comfort, pray for an end to senseless violence. Pray continuously. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
  7. Work for justice and mercy. We might not be able to help in the specific situation today, we do not have the power to undo the evil that has already happened, but we can find small ways to work for justice and mercy in the places around us. “…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

I wish I could end this post with an explanation about why bad things happen to good people. I wish I could explain why evil exists. I just don’t know the answers, but I do know that we will be okay. We can have hope for the future. We need to hang on to that hope today…and we need to love one another.

Who needs to hear a message of hope from you today?

Be blessed,

Erin

Retreated: 2 Things Learned This Week

This week I retreated to a camp in Glen Rose, Texas, for three days of spiritual retreat. Going on a minimum 3 day spiritual retreat is a requirement for my ordination in the United Methodist Church. I had a lot of flexibility on how the retreat itself would go.

Inspired by the TED Talk I heard from “planet walker” John Francis, I decided to incorporate silence and not using a vehicle as part of my retreat.

Two things I learned in the process:

1. It is relatively easy to be silent when you’re by yourself, but it is a challenge to be around people without feeling pressured to say something. For most of my time away, I was on the camp by myself. I went for a long walks, I hiked through the forest, I spent time creating art and reading. I was quiet.

In the silence, I was able to rest. I was able to just be, just listen. I noticed things I might have overlooked – the smell of dew in the morning, the sound of deer as they scamper away, even the sound of a bird’s wings flapping. I ate when I was hungry and slept when I was tired.

On the few occasions I walked in to town, people were friendly and I felt compelled to speak. The person I talked to the longest, an elderly man in an antique store, seemed lonely. While a vow of silence seems like a noble idea, sometimes small talk is a compassionate act.

2. Sometimes I have to consciously choose to feel safe. One of the hardest parts about being by myself, especially as a petite female, was getting over feeling anxious about possible dangers. I had to let that fear go in order to feel at peace. The fears of unknown dangers, especially while walking alone at night in the dark, cluttered up my thoughts.

Once I made the conscious choice that I was going to feel safe, I could enjoy nature fully. I was able to pray and sing like no one could hear me. It was only then that I could fully experience God’s presence.

I think it’s worth mentioning that living in a culture that feels dangerous even if the dangers are not real makes spirituality more difficult. When I walk alone at night, a part of my brain is constantly on the lookout for possible attacks, alert for sudden movements around the corner. I cannot be the only woman who feels this way. It’s a bit heartbreaking to have to choose to feel safe. My hope is that by mentioning it we can all work together for more peace, working to create a culture of safety. (Maybe you were expecting me to learn something more profound, and I did learn other things – I spent a lot of time reading, studying, writing and creating. There will be more blog posts to come.)

“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. ” 2 Timothy 1:7

Flood – A Pastoral Prayer

Here is my pastoral prayer from worship today:

God of all creation,

In the beginning, your spirit hovered over the face of the waters. There has not been a time when you have abandoned us.

As we sit here now, the Bible stories we learned as children about great floods have gained new meaning in our lives. We are reminded that, throughout history, you have been faithful to bring your people through floods and across deep rivers.

As we sit here in the safety of this sanctuary, in this dry place, we are reminded of the countless people who are now without shelter of their own. Rain down your comfort and peace on those in need. In the months that come, bring healing to the brokenhearted.

We pray that you will bring out the best of humanity, O Lord, through this crisis. May the hearts of all be softened as we look beyond all the trivial issues which have divided us, and reach for ways to care for one another with your great love. Let the softening of hearts begin within us right now.

When we are faced with storms in our own life, whether it be literal storms or the pains of illness, grief, depression, hurt or loneliness, remind us of your faithfulness. You promise that when we pass through the deep waters, you will be with us. Forgive us when we neglect to depend on you.

We praise you that, from the beginning, you have been the source of living water for us. With hope from you we can dance in the storms.

As your people, lead us to acts of mercy and compassion. Help us to make justice roll down like waters, and  righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Well up within us, O Water of Life.

In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.

Finding the Common Ground

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” -Philippians 4:8

Which side are you on? Would you say you are on the left or on the right?

As I look through my Facebook friends, my community, my congregation, my extended family – there is so much pressure to pick a side on all the issues. Which issue concerns you the most today? Racial violence? Discrimination? Gay marriage? Immigration? Refugee Crisis? Climate change? Poverty? Employment? McGregor vs. Mayweather?

No question, one glance at the news and you know there are plenty of reasons to be up in arms about something. There are sides that are right and sides that are wrong. We view the world through our personal perspective and cannot understand how anyone can be outraged in a way that is different than our own flavor of outrage. Clearly, your side is right and the other side is wrong, right? It’s tough when people you genuinely love, family members even, feel compelled to share opinions that seem so hurtful and wrong to you. It’s crazy making when total lies are passed on as truth, and no one seems to be questioning things.

I don’t know about you, but I’m just tired of feeling like I have to pick sides on issues, and feeling I need to be either outraged or fearful all of the time. There are definitely reasons to be outraged. I feel manipulated by the news, whether it’s fake news or real news. It’s just exhausting.

But what if there is another option? What if we don’t have to be divided about everything?

As a pastor, I serve a wide range of people. I mean a crazy wide range of people. In my congregation, I have gun-carrying NRA members sitting near pacifist gun control advocates, LGBTQ couples and allies sitting next to gay rights opponents, self-identified liberals and conservatives…name a division, it’s in my congregation. I tiptoe through this socio-political minefield as a pastor and pray to bring God’s words of hope and truth in a faithful, God-honoring way. I try to find our common ground as humans and Christ followers in the midst of a media culture that is determined to instill fear, hopelessness and division.

Finding common ground is an uphill battle, friends, but not an unsurmountable one.

What is our common ground? We worship a God of hope. A God who promises to never leave us nor forsake us. A God who brings redemption to oppressed people. As Christ followers, we can know the deep peace, love, and grace that is offered freely to us. As forgiven people, we have the power and freedom to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We can be a people of hope in a culture that really needs it.

We also have a beautiful opportunity to love others through trying to understand their perspectives. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we can bring steps closer to reconciliation by opening our hearts and minds to hearing how God is at work in the hearts and minds of others. We can listen to one another for the things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. I’ve found that the more I listen to people who are different, really listen, the more I have to see our common humanity. Divisive “issues” slip away when we see the humanity in others.

Let’s go listen to one another in love.

Blessings,

Erin

  • Who do you need to reach out to in order to understand their struggles better?
  • Who can you invite to coffee/lunch/dinner this week to get to know better?
  • Where do you find hope?

 

Project 365: Day 160 First Day of Unofficial Art Camp

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During the last several months, I have discovered a love for creating art and I have a dream of sharing that love with others. The process of creating art can be relaxing, healing, even a way to connect with God. I would love to lead a ministry someday that encourages people to nurture their creativity.

I often use art and creative expression as part of the senior high Bible study I teach. Even though I have more enthusiasm than artistic talent, I don’t let that hold me back. This summer I thought I’d experiment with leading a mini art camp at my house.

How it worked: I invited just enough students (my friends’ kids) to fit around my kitchen table. I researched ideas from Pinterest and my own art classes, picked up supplies, sketched out a lesson plan. Old shirts were purchased from Goodwill to serve as art smocks, a drop cloth was out down, and voila! Art Camp!

Day One was focused on drawing faces and basic art elements. We created art journals and portfolios.

As a class, we came up with the following rules before we started:

1. We are all artists. (We are made in the image if a great Creator and Artist – Claim it!)
2. Be nice to others.
3. Sharing is what we do.
4. Be nice to yourself. (We tend to be our own harshest critics so those negative thoughts were not allowed at Art Camp!)
5. Everything is an experiment.
6. Be careful.

Pretty good rules to live by, don’t you think?

How could you adapt this idea and use it in your ministry? Who can you ask for help?

Here are pictures from Day One of Art Camp:

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Project 365: Day 103 How Not to be *That* Sports Parent

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We are a sports family.  Between the 3 kids, my husband and myself, we have played soccer, cross country, track, baseball, basketball, football and cheerleading.  As an athlete, a sports mom and also a coach, I spend a lot of time at games and practices, and a lot of time on the sidelines.  Today I even had the special opportunity to watch my niece play in a volleyball tournament in Dallas (my picture of the day.)  What really struck me this weekend were the voices and messages from the parents and fans around me.

For the most part, the parents and other coaches I overhear are supportive and encouraging, but not all of them.  I heard a coach reprimanding his player-son this weekend in a way I would never accept as a way he could coach my child.  I’ve half-joked with other parents that you can always tell who the coach’s kids are because the coach reserves a special tone of voice for yelling at their own kid…although to be fair, usually that same coach’s kid reserves a special tone of voice for talking back to his coach.  Among the fans, there are a handful of parents that say things like “Why did you do that?!” “Are you going to actually play hard this game?” “What were you thinking?!”

I’ve also overheard  plenty of parent-fans openly and loudly criticize the calls of refs, usually just teenagers or volunteers working as a referee for the game.  My brother shared with me that the niece I watched play today has spent time working as a referee, and was really hurt by snide comments fans made about her calls.  My niece is beautiful, smart, talented and an all around lovely young person, so it’s painful to hear about how thoughtless parents/fans could be.

It’s tough to just sit there and hear kids getting berated like that, especially about playing a game.  Sure, it’s tough to watch the kids you love lose a game or play poorly, but that doesn’t mean it is your job to criticize them.  I love sports and I hope that kids grow up loving sports too…but I wonder if how we adults are on the sidelines can kill the joy of sports. I even wonder how many of these vocal critics could play any better if they were on the field. There is a lot to be said for encouragement over criticism.  In fact, I think there are really important lessons here for parents, coaches and youth ministers alike.

To parents and fans:  As an athlete, I can tell you that players know full well when they mess up.  There are plenty of self-critical voices. Critical voices from the crowd or from parents especially do not help.  Here’s an idea on what a parent or fan could say at the end of a bad game or play instead of criticism:

Good: “I am proud of what a good team player you are/of how hard you work.”

Really good: “I loved watching you play!”

Even better, add: “I especially loved when you did [specific play here].”

The message that gets caught here is one of love, no matter what.  Add to this an offer to work on a specific skill in between games, or to somehow spend quality time with the kid, and you’ve got a kid who knows unconditional love.

To the coaches: The best coaches I’ve seen will substitute out a player after a bad play to explain on the sidelines what could be done differently, then put the player back in.  It’s the difference between openly criticizing (ouch!) and patiently redirecting…which may feel like the difference between being scolded/embarrassed versus being taught.  To the parents who are coaches (myself included here), let’s remember to try to treat our own kids like a part of the team – neither giving them special treatment beyond the rest of the team, nor giving them harsher criticism.

To my fellow youth ministers: There are great lessons learned on the playing field for youth ministry.  Our “players,” the members of our youth ministry, need us to come alongside as encouraging voices and coaches, not critics.  They need us to come alongside their lives and not say things like, “what were you thinking??!” “Why did you mess up like that?!” but rather, send messages into their lives that say, “I love watching you grow in your faith!” “I’m proud of who you are becoming.”  “I loved when you did [this specific act of love, grace, mercy].”  When youth mess up, we can quietly pull them aside, coach better behavior and then send them back in.  Correct privately, praise publicly.

What results from this is players (youth) who know unconditional love – that’s what we hope for, right?

Blessings,

Erin

Questions:

How do you handle critical voices?

How can you relate sports and faith?

Who has inspired you as a coach?

How do you encourage others?

 

 

 

 

Project 365: Day 100 Wholeness

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I love Whole Foods grocery stores. There isn’t one near my house, so it’s a rare treat. I love walking the aisles surrounded by vibrant colors and aromas of natural, organic, healthy foods, most of which are foreign to me. Chia, flax, collard, gluten-free, vegan super foods with brands like Annie’s and Kathleen’s and Organic Pete’s. It almost feels like shopping in a foreign country’s market.

I’ve been focusing on the word “whole” a lot in my prayer life lately. Having been so broken for the last couple of years has made me appreciate the fullness, the vibrancy of Wholeness. I am so thankful to the God that restores my soul and makes me whole again.

From 1 Thessalonians 5:

“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

Blessings,
Erin

Questions:
Do you have certain words that speak to your heart? What are they?