Lent Devotional: Remember

Can you remember when God carried you through something very difficult?

Every week, members of New World United Methodist Church come around a table at a local family shelter for an evening of fellowship, prayer and creating art. Residents in the shelter are there for many different reasons – job losses, deaths in the family, fleeing domestic violence, unexpected illnesses or other expenses.

Art brings people together. The act of creating art has a powerful way of bringing about calm, healing and empowerment. We choose to create art with residents of a local shelter because many of the families are in desperate need of space for calm, connection, dignity and love.

Each week we have a different project and a different theme. In the picture, we are creating very special prayer beads, “ebenezer beads.” You might recognize the word “ebenezer” from the hymn “Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing.” My favorite verse goes like this:

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy help I come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home

What in the world is an ebenezer, you ask, and why are we raising one? The Hebrew word literally means “stone of help.” The song is a reference to the book of 1 Samuel:

Samuel took a stone and set it up . . . and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”  1 Samuel 7:12

In the story, Samuel is raising a special monument in gratitude for God’s faithfulness as the Israelites defeated the powerful Philistines. Samuel wants to make sure that all who come to this place remember what God has done for God’s people. We are called to remember.

In our prayer bead project, each participant was invited to include a few handmade beads made the week before. As they pray with their beads, these special beads serve as a reminder that God will faithfully bring each family through life’s difficult times of transition.

May we all remember that God is faithful.

Prayer: Dear God, we remember the times in our life when you brought us through difficult circumstances and we thank you. We pray for people in our community who are experiencing homelessness. Lead us to be messengers of your mercy, love and grace. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Suggested Scripture:

I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers day and night. When I remember your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with happiness.I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you.Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands.God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled. 

2 Timothy 1:3-7

Reflection Questions:

Remember a time you went through something difficult. How did God bring you through that? How can you thank God for God’s faithfulness?

 

 

Lent Devotional: Tension

I handed the 5×5 Rubik’s Cube pictured here to my spouse and said, “Here, want to solve this real quick for me?”

He chuckled and replied, “No, that’s not how those things work.”

I know there are specific steps to follow, but I have not yet solved a Rubik’s Cube. While I’m not sure where to begin, my teenager whips through them.

There’s a tension in the unresolved things of life, isn’t there?

I can’t bear a puzzle with one piece missing.

Or a checklist with just one box left undone.

Is there anything worse than a song that is cut silent before the chord meant to resolve it?

A cliffhanger on your favorite TV Series keeps you suspended in tension.

Today is an Election Day and our country’s political system – comprised of imperfect people – will always be unresolved. Tension is part of our daily life, part of what it means to be in community.

And yet, we can have a sense of peace in the midst of the tension. No matter what struggles we face now, people of faith live with the blessed assurance that all things will work together for good. As we live in the tension between the “already and not-yet” in the kingdom of God, we can have peace in knowing we are never abandoned.

Prayer:

Thank you, God, for being with us through all of life’s tensions. Create in us a clean heart, ready to share your complete peace with others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Reflection questions:

1. What causes tension in your life today? How can you release it?

2. When do you feel God’s peace?

Suggested Reading: Genesis 4:1-16:

The man Adam knew his wife Eve intimately. She became pregnant and gave birth to Cain, and said, “I have given life to a man with the Lord’s help.” She gave birth a second time to Cain’s brother Abel. Abel cared for the flocks, and Cain farmed the fertile land.

Some time later, Cain presented an offering to the Lord from the land’s crops while Abel presented his flock’s oldest offspring with their fat. The Lord looked favorably on Abel and his sacrifice but didn’t look favorably on Cain and his sacrifice. Cain became very angry and looked resentful. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why do you look so resentful? If you do the right thing, won’t you be accepted? But if you don’t do the right thing, sin will be waiting at the door ready to strike! It will entice you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

The Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

Cain said, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s guardian?”

The Lord said, “What did you do? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. You are now cursed from the ground that opened its mouth to take your brother’s blood from your hand. When you farm the fertile land, it will no longer grow anything for you, and you will become a roving nomad on the earth.”

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Now that you’ve driven me away from the fertile land and I am hidden from your presence, I’m about to become a roving nomad on the earth, and anyone who finds me will kill me.”

The Lord said to him, “It won’t happen; anyone who kills Cain will be paid back seven times.” The Lord put a sign on Cain so that no one who found him would assault him. Cain left the Lord’s presence, and he settled down in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (Scripture source: Biblegateway)

Lent Photo Challenge Devotional: Hunger

“The kingdom, Jesus taught, is right here — present yet hidden, immanent yet transcendent. It is at hand — among us and beyond us, now and not-yet. The kingdom of heaven, he said, belongs to the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for God. It advances not through power and might, but through missions of mercy, kindness, and humility. In this kingdom, many who are last will be first and many who are first will be last. The rich don’t usually get it, Jesus said, but children always do. This is a kingdom whose savior arrives not on a warhorse, but a donkey, not through triumph and conquest, but through death and resurrection. This kingdom is the only kingdom that will last.”

– Rachel Held Evans
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

What does it mean to hunger for God?

When I was working in youth ministry, one of my favorite events to lead was the World Vision 30 Hour Famine. During this event, students and brave adults fast for 30 hours, drinking only juice at mealtimes and skipping out on a dinner, snacks, breakfast and lunch. While fasting, we would play games, learn facts about world hunger, do service projects, and experience first-hand how going without food affects your mental and physical abilities. We developed empathy for the world’s hungry.

After 30 hours, we relished the opportunity to break our fast with communion followed by dinner. Nothing tastes sweeter than a generous helping of communion bread when you long to be fed.

In my privileged life, I have never really had to worry about whether I would eat again. The practice of fasting helped me to appreciate the sense of being empty, longing for nourishment and being filled.

Fasting from food helped me realize my deep hunger. I longed to be nourished with real food, not empty calories.

In the spiritual life, we long for real connection, not shallow faith.

I pray that, in the same way I anticipated that first bite of communion bread, I can also long to be filled with the spirit of God.

Prayer: 

Dear God, we thank you for being a God who meets our needs faithfully. Teach us to be people who hunger and thirst for you. Amen.

Suggested Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout loudly; don’t hold back;
    raise your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their crime,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
    desiring knowledge of my ways
    like a nation that acted righteously,
    that didn’t abandon their God.
They ask me for righteous judgments,
    wanting to be close to God.
“Why do we fast and you don’t see;
    why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?”
Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want,
    and oppress all your workers.
You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast;
    you hit each other violently with your fists.
You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today
    if you want to make your voice heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I choose,
    a day of self-affliction,
    of bending one’s head like a reed
    and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes?
    Is this what you call a fast,
        a day acceptable to the Lord?

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
and breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
and you will be healed quickly.
Your own righteousness will walk before you,
and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.”
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the finger-pointing, the wicked speech;
10 if you open your heart to the hungry,
and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted,
your light will shine in the darkness,
and your gloom will be like the noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually
and provide for you, even in parched places.
He will rescue your bones.
You will be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water that won’t run dry.
12 They will rebuild ancient ruins on your account;
the foundations of generations past you will restore.
You will be called Mender of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Livable Streets. (Source: Biblegateway.com)

 

To learn more about the Lent Photo Challenge #NWUMCLent, click here.

Lent Photo Challenge Devotional: News

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

– Anne Lamott

Where were you when you last received news that brought you to tears?

Last December I got a phone call with news that rocked my world. What I learned was that my dad has cancer, and his future is uncertain. While we are always hopeful, finding out that someone I love is facing a battle for his life has shifted my priorities and helped me to realize what is important versus what is “urgent.” While I would never ask for this kind of news, it’s a blessing to have a reminder of what in life is most important – and the answer is your relationships with people, friends, family, and not work, busy-ness and achievement.

No matter what news you may receive, may you be blessed with learning to dance in a beautiful, life-honoring way. Life is beautiful, complicated and messy. It is full of news – good and bad. And the best news of all is that we have a God who walks alongside and dances with us no matter our circumstances.

ESJ

Prayer:

God of Good News, thank you for the blessings you give abundantly, for dancing with us throughout life. Thank you for the people and relationships who fill our lives with love. Amen.

Suggested Reading – Romans 1:8-17:

8 First of all, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because the news about your faithfulness is being spread throughout the whole world. I serve God in my spirit by preaching the good news about God’s Son, and God is my witness that I continually mention you 10 in all my prayers. I’m always asking that somehow, by God’s will, I might succeed in visiting you at last. 11 I really want to see you to pass along some spiritual gift to you so that you can be strengthened. 12 What I mean is that we can mutually encourage each other while I am with you. We can be encouraged by the faithfulness we find in each other, both your faithfulness and mine.

13 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I planned to visit you many times, although I have been prevented from coming until now. I want to harvest some fruit among you, just as I have done among the other Gentiles. 14 I have a responsibility both to Greeks and to those who don’t speak Greek, both to the wise and to the foolish.

15 That’s why I’m ready to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. 16 I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness for faith, as it is written, The righteous person will live by faith. (Source: BibleGateway.com)

Click here to learn more about the Lent Photo Challenge #NWUMCLent

Lent Photo Challenge Devotional: Give Up

In the face of a rare, possibly fatal colon cancer, author Kate Bowler wrote:

“At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came in like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus.” (from Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I Have Loved)

Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent. During the next few weeks leading up to Easter, Christians traditionally observe the time with prayer, fasting and penance in preparation for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Today, Ash Wednesday, emphasizes our own mortality and our need to confess our sins. 

We remember today that we are made from dust, and to dust we shall return.

At New World United Methodist Church, this Lent we are moving through a sermon series called “Giving Up.” In this life, there are many things we get caught up in that would be good for us to give up. As our culture chases wealth, accumulation, division, fear and greed, we can choose a different approach.

Many Christians commit to giving up something for the season of Lent. We give up things like eating meat on Fridays, eating chocolate, consuming social media, or drinking caffeine. Alternatively, we can give up some of our idle time and take up a spiritual practice like daily journaling, prayer or quiet time. Either way, the small sacrifices made are intended to remind us of the ultimate sacrifice made through Jesus Christ.

May you be blessed this Lent with a deep sense of hope, an utter refusal to give up faith and joy no matter life’s circumstances.

Prayer: 

Almighty God, thank you for ushering in this new Christian season today. Thank you for the reminder of our own mortality, as well as the gift of life you have given us. May we use this time to reflect your love to others. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen. 

Reflection Questions:

Are you giving up something for Lent?

What are ways you can reflect the face of Jesus to people around you this season?

Suggested reading: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21:

“Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

16 “And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward. 17 When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. 18 Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

19 “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. 20 Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. 21 Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (source: Biblegateway.com)

Click here to learn more about the Lent Photo Challenge #NWUMCLent

 

Lent Photo Challenge 2020

It’s no secret that one of my favorite spiritual practices is to integrate art and faith – including the art and imagery of photography. Lent, the reflective, somber season of preparation before Easter’s arrival, is a perfect time to pause and be thoughtful.

How is God at work in your daily life? Show us through a photo.

Beginning on Wednesday, you are invited to participate alongside me in a Lenten photo challenge:

lent photo challenge 2020

How it works: Each day is assigned a different word. The words are intentionally open-ended, open to your interpretation. Take a photo that makes you think of the day’s word. You can explain it or not, that’s up to you. You can participate every day, or just when a particular word speaks to you. Just post the photo with the hashtag “NWUMCLent” on your social media of choice so we can find it and share it.

It is my hope and prayer that you will pause, reflect and grow a bit closer to God in the journey.

Bonus: The theme of our Lenten sermon series at New World UMC is “Giving Up.” (I preach on 3/8, 3/15 and 4/12 if you want to show up in real life!) Rev. Leslie Byrd and I will be creating daily devotionals to go with each photo challenge word. I’ll post them here too – so feel free to follow this blog for a daily Lenten devotional to bless your day!

With great love,

Erin

A Blessing for My iPhone

Man using mobile global network connection on social media virtual screen. Digital technology and networking.Bless to me, O God, my iPhone and its many applications;

Bless to me, O God, the texting apps that connect me to my loved ones;

Bless to me, O God, the navigation apps that safely guide me where You lead;

Bless to me, O God, the Find my iPhone app that enables me to secretly check on my teenage son’s safe arrival while still allowing him space to grow;

Bless to me, O God, the Tile app that helps me find my keys when I get so busy I misplace them;

Bless to me, O God, meditation apps that promote mindfulness;

Bless to me, O God, Bible apps that give me access to your word when I need it;

Bless to me, O God, the Google app that enables me to look up unfamiliar terms and gain deeper understanding;

Bless to me, O God, camera apps that allow me to capture and remember the beauty of your creation;

and Bless to me, O God, the Do Not Disturb feature that keeps my phone silent as I rest.

-Rev. Erin Sloan Jackson, written at the North Texas 5 Day Academy of Spiritual Formation 2018

You are Still Here Among Us – A Pastoral Prayer

20140213-213246.jpgIn the wake of this weekend’s tragic mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, there are few adequate words that can be offered. My soul aches. This is simply too much suffering. May this pastoral prayer bring you comfort and peace today…and may we all be moved to action.

Gracious and loving God, God of all blessings,

Each morning, whether we notice or not, you bring us new blessings. From the morning sunrise, the food on our tables, the roof over our heads, the security of gathering in this place… you give to us so generously. For each new day you have made, we have the opportunity to rejoice and be glad in it.

We confess that, all too often, we neglect to notice the blessings of the day. Instead, we focus on our fears and worries. We fret about the world we live in, discouraged by an overwhelming amount of pain, division and suffering. In our personal lives, we each know people who are hurting and lost. In this moment, we lift up the burdens that have been bearing down on our hearts and minds…(pause for silent prayer)

When we hear news reports, our souls hurt even more. This day in particular we lament and mourn lives lost in acts of senseless violence. We pray for peace and comfort. Wrap your arms around us as we try to process all of the utter brokenness around us.

In the midst of all of this, you are still here among us.

We praise you for the ways you hear our calls of lament. We cherish that you are a God who understands human suffering, a God who wept among humanity. We are assured in the knowledge that you love each of us infinitely. In the midst of this overwhelm, you steadily remain here for us to cast all of our fears and anxieties on you. Thank you for carrying our burdens.

As your followers, we fervently pray that you will lead us to be messengers of hope, grace and joy. Instead of focusing on our worries, help us to focus on your faithfulness. Fill us with a renewed sense of faith, an assurance of your care, and the courage to speak out against injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Our Burden Lifter – a Pastoral Prayer

June 28,2019_Opening EcumenicalHoly and loving God, the one who is rich in mercy,

So often we feel heavy laden with the weight of all that feels wrong in our life. We worry about our future, we worry about the suffering around us, we worry about our health and our finances and our relationships. We carry the load of this stress on our shoulders, often feeling alone in our struggles. Often feeling too proud to ask for help.

Yet you, God, are our burden lifter.

When we feel overwhelmed with stress and worry, when the baggage that comes with living this messy life feels like too much to carry, you gently whisper to us:

“Cast all your anxiety – cast all your cares – on me. I love you, my child, let me share the load.”

We lift up this morning the people who are struggling to hear your whispers of hope.

We pray for our brothers and sisters who are trapped in broken systems of injustice. We pray for our kindred who are mourning the loss of a loved one. We pray for children who have lost their parents, no matter their age. We pray for your whispers of hope and your arms of love to bring comfort and peace.

We do not need to be anxious about anything, but with our prayers we can bring our requests to you and you are faithful to mercifully help us with our burdens.

We pray that through all of our past, present and future suffering, we can remember that you call us to acts of mercy. As you are our burden lifter, you call us as your children to help others in need. Grant us the courage and wisdom to walk boldly and mercifully so that, in all we do, you may be glorified.

We pray this in the name of the One who carried our sins to the cross, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name…

Preparing for Pilgrimage

trail in n ireland

This week I leave on a pilgrimage.

What is a pilgrimage, you ask? Pilgrimage is an intentional, meaningful journey to a spiritual place. It is retreat, renewal, prayer and worship. It is time away to process and reflect, to reconnect to God and to refill one’s soul. I will be joining fellow pilgrims from around the U.S. and U.K. for a week of spiritual community on the tiny island of Iona, Scotland. The organization leading our trip is the Missional Wisdom Foundation.

Preparing for pilgrimage in my external life looks a lot like making sure childcare is arranged, planning details ahead of time for work, looking ahead to make sure preparations are being made for Mother’s Day, a prom, a graduation, a confirmation. What are all the deadlines and responsibilities that need to be covered during the next couple of weeks? What must I do and what can I delegate? Do I have enough wool socks? Do I need to bring both walking sticks or will one suffice? When will I get to watch the next Game of Thrones episode? Who is taking me to the airport anyway?

Preparing for pilgrimage in my internal life looks a lot like curiosity about what I will encounter. The questions abound: Who will be my fellow pilgrims? Where will I see God? Will I feel God’s presence along the way? What will change within me? How will my renewed perspective impact me? I am praying for God’s spirit to open my heart and mind that I might be renewed.

As my life has moved and is moving through so many transitions and changes, I am full of gratitude for this time apart as a pilgrim.

I look forward to sharing more along the way.

I ask for your prayers for the journey ahead.

Shalom.