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

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.

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.

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

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.