Heaven – An original by Kate Baird

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




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

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

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

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

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

Joy – A thought for today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open – A thought from the “cutting room floor”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Peace like a River Pastoral Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tree – Thought to get you through the day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stillness – An Advent Devotional

Stillness.

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


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

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

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

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

Amen.

Shine – An Advent Devotional


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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Watch – An Advent Devotional

During Advent this year (Dec. 2-25) we are having an Advent Photo Challenge! You are invited to participate for any of the topics. Each day I will also send out an accompanying short devotional on the day’s topic. Feel free to share it. Be blessed, Erin

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord
 my Lord, listen to my voice!
    Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy!
If you kept track of sins, Lord
    my Lord, who would stand a chance?
 But forgiveness is with you—
    that’s why you are honored.

I hope, Lord.

My whole being hopes,
    and I wait for God’s promise.
 My whole being waits for my Lord—
    more than the night watch waits for morning;
    yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!

Israel, wait for the Lord!
Because faithful love is with the Lord;
because great redemption is with our God!
He is the one who will redeem Israel
from all its sin.

Psalm 130 – Common English Bible

What or who do you keep watch for?

I took the above picture along the shoreline at Donaghadee in Northern Ireland last summer. My oldest son and I were blessed to spend several days near Belfast last summer and this was one of our stops.

A lighthouse keeps watch over the sea, silently making ships aware of the presence of the shore. Keeping watch and keeping ships from danger.

This sight reminds me of how I feel as a parent of a 17 year old,  watching from the sidelines as this growing child learns to navigate life. It’s tough sometimes, watching him struggle to figure things out, but I trust that ultimately he must learn to do things on his own.

I pray that there will be lighthouses throughout his lifetime, helping him and guiding him through life’s journey.

To consider this Advent: Who has served as a guiding light in your life? How can you thank them this Christmas?

Prayer:

God of light, we put our hope and trust in you. Thank you for your Spirit that guides us, and for the people who walk alongside us in our lives offering love and guidance. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Heart – An Advent Devotional

During Advent this year (Dec. 2-25) we are having an Advent Photo Challenge! You are invited to participate for any of the topics. Each day I will also send out an accompanying short devotional on the day’s topic. Feel free to share it. Be blessed, Erin

 

 

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 
5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 
8Finally, 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. 
9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:4-9
 
The painting featured with this post is one I made while serving as a mentor for Texas Youth Academy a few years ago. To be honest, I didn’t love the art project. The instructions were to paint the realistic looking heart as a starting point, and then we went our own direction from there. The canvas itself was still useful, so I am pretty sure I’ve painted over this image and created something new.
 
That is one of the beautiful things about a life of faith. No matter our starting point, God is not finished with us yet. We have the opportunity to forever be made new, always growing and transforming. Your heart can be transformed.
 
May you have the peace of God today knowing that you are a work of art in the hands of the ultimate Creator God. Be made new today.
 
Prayer:
Creator God,
Thank you for being a God who constantly makes me anew. May I dwell on all the things that are lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy today, trusting that you are faithful to give me a clean heart. Amen.

Waiting – An Advent Devotional

During Advent this year (Dec. 2-25) we are having an Advent Photo Challenge! You are invited to participate for any of the topics. Each day I will also send out an accompanying short devotional on the day’s topic. Feel free to share it. Be blessed, Erin

Waiting.

This little art piece by my favorite artist, Kelly Rae Roberts, sits on a shelf in my office. It serves as a great little reminder that sometimes we just have to wait.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
– Isaiah 40:31 ESV

Do you believe in the power of prayers to change things? I do…but I have learned that I don’t always get to expect prayers to change things the way I want them to be changed.

That’s one of the tricky things about prayers. Sometimes we pray and God’s answer seems to be a clear “Yes” or “No.” But, way more often it seems the answer seems to be “maybe” or “not yet.”

It’s hard to wait. Like an expression I’ve heard, the problem seems to be “the same as it always is – I’m in a hurry and God’s not.”

Sometimes we wait a long time. Even when the answer to our deepest prayer seems to be silence, we can still trust.

I take comfort in knowing that while we wait, our strength can be renewed.

While we wait, may we be blessed with people who come into our lives offering comfort and peace. While we wait, may we grow in wisdom and faith. While we wait, may we continue to trust.

That is our prayer. Amen.