Lent Devotional: Fool

Kids and Sand Castles

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Matthew 7:24-27

Did you know that there are expert consultants in sand castle building?

In 2011, I took a youth group to the beach and we hired a sand castle expert teach us how to make elaborate sand castles. His team brought buckets, shovels and special carving tools. We learned special techniques to make elaborate spires and the like. Naturally, we broke into small groups and had a friendly competition on which group could make the best castle.

Our creations were gone before the end of the day. Most sand castles are not quite as elaborate, but the act of making something and molding the wet sand is like no other. No matter if you spend hours working on an elaborate sand fortress, or you are just trying to build something as quickly as possible before your toddler smashes it, eventually sand castles are meant to fall.

You shouldn’t get emotionally attached to a sand castle. We definitely couldn’t live in one.

As the scripture reminds us, we don’t even want to build our foundation on the shifting sand. In the same way, there are many things in our life that are not permanent after all. But God remains faithful and our faith is a solid foundation. More than ever, we can remember to build our foundation on the Solid Rock that is found in God alone. As we face struggles of any kind, we can rely on the foundation of our faith to keep us strong.

May you find joy in this April Fool’s Day as you walk in wisdom.

Prayer: God, thank you for being our firm foundation. Every new day we remember that we can count on you. May we find joy in this day you have made. Amen.

Scriptures: Matthew 7:24-27, 22:23-33 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Reflection Questions: In what way is your faith helping you today? Where can you find support and peace today?

Lent Devotional: Guide

Listen to my prayer, Lord!
Because of your faithfulness, hear my requests for mercy!
Because of your righteousness, answer me!
Please don’t bring your servant to judgment,
because no living thing is righteous before you.
The enemy is chasing me,
crushing my life in the dirt,
forcing me to live in the dark
like those who’ve been dead forever.
My spirit is weak inside me—
inside, my mind is numb.
I remember the days long past;
I meditate on all your deeds;
I contemplate your handiwork

I stretch out my hands to you;
my whole being is like dry dirt, thirsting for you. Selah
Answer me, Lord—and quickly! My breath is fading.
Don’t hide your face from me
or I’ll be like those going down to the pit!
Tell me all about your faithful love come morning time,
because I trust you.
Show me the way I should go,
because I offer my life up to you.
Deliver me from my enemies, Lord!
I seek protection from you.
Teach me to do what pleases you,
because you are my God.
Guide me by your good spirit
into good land.
Make me live again, Lord, for your name’s sake.”

Bring me out of distress because of your righteousness.
Wipe out my enemies because of your faithful love.
Destroy everyone who attacks me,
because I am your servant.

Psalm 143 CEB (via Biblegateway)
Iona Pilgrimage

Who is your guide?

Last May, I joined eleven other people of faith for the Missional Wisdom Foundation’s pilgrimage to the tiny Isle of Iona, Scotland. We traced the steps of many others who have made the journey to Iona and its famous abbey for hundreds of years. The purpose of our pilgrimage was to pull away for a time of retreat in one of the world’s “thin places,” a place on earth where the veil between heaven and earth seems thin. It truly is a breathtaking, sacred place – a place to experience God’s presence.

It would be nearly impossible to arrive on the tiny island of Iona by accident. Christian pilgrims have been making the journey for hundreds of years. From the United States, it involves taking flights to London and Glasgow, followed by a 4 hour train ride to the north of Scotland, a 1 hour ferry boat trip, 1 hour bus trip, and finally another 45 minute ferry ride. We then walked a half mile trek to the hostel for our week of community living.

This journey was possible because we had experienced and knowledgeable guides leading the way. They patiently but directly made sure all of the pilgrims made it to the right stations along the way on time, knowing that a delay anywhere along the journey would have ripple effect on everyone. The journey was made possible because we had dependable guides every step of the way.

It occurs to me that we are collectively on an unchartered journey right now, one none of us saw coming. It doesn’t seem that we have the benefit of being guided by a physical human being who has experienced global pandemic before. The journey feels treacherous, scary, hard. It’s overwhelming if we try to look too far down the road, but we can all go just one step at a time.

And yet, what we can remember as we take each small step together, is that none of us are on this journey alone. You are not alone. As the Psalmist reminds us, God is full of faithful love for us each morning, ready to show us the way to go. While this journey is difficult, we can trust that God is by our side, directing us on the way to go. May we find protection with God on our side, and the peace that passes all understanding as we remember that God is with us.

Prayer: Shepherding God, we believe that you are will us, guiding us and protecting us. We count on your faithfulness and know you to be a God who loves and cares for your children. We pray for your healing throughout our world and we put our trust in you. Please wrap your arms of love around us. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Questions for reflection: How has God directed your steps in life? Who is on this journey with you? Who can you reach out to today to remind them that they are not alone (and in the process remember that you are not alone either)?

Lent Devotional: Hurry

Thursday 3/26 Rush hour, Northwest Highway, Grapevine, Texas

I took today’s Lent picture yesterday when I was out for a walk with my husband. What a strange sight to see a nearly empty Northwest Highway. It was around 5:30PM, and most week nights that same intersection is packed with cars as people rush home from work, rush out to their evening activities, or line up in their cars for dinners delivered through drive-thru windows. Ordinarily, I would not have been in that spot at that time of day – and I certainly would not have thought to take a picture of the typical evening rush of traffic. According to my calendar, I had plans to be at a junior high track meet, most likely eating another last minute dinner of something like popcorn and a hot dog from a booster club’s concession stand.

In fact, my usual life is all too often defined by the word “hurry.” I rush to get kids out the door to school in the morning, hurry to get dressed up and ready for work, wade through speeding traffic, scramble to meet deadlines, quickly consume lunch, hustle to wrap things up at the office, hurry home fighting traffic again, grab a bite to eat, run out the door to catch the evening’s activities. And so the cycle repeats the next day.

But not this week.

This pandemic and its accompanying stay at home order has slowed my routines to a halt. It has slowed many of us – and painfully caused emergency rushes to others. I don’t know about you, but I am so ready to have things back to normal, so we can have this all behind us. I long for days of normalcy.

One of my favorite quotes is this:

“The trouble is I am in a hurry, but God isn’t.”

Phillips Brooks

While I long for days of normalcy, long for these troubled times to be over, there are things we can learn while we wait.

Today’s scripture reading is from Revelation 21:3-6 CEB:

“I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring.”

The book of Revelation, considered apocalyptic literature, often confuses and scares people. We don’t want to think of end times, even if we as believers know that end times include the promise of all things made new and the reign of God, and the symbolism of the book can be overwhelming. However, the term “apocalypse,” often glamorized by Hollywood movies or end-times fictional novels, doesn’t really mean what we think it means. Actually, the word “apocalypse” is a Greek word that means “revealing” or “revelation.”

While I don’t think the times we are in are apocalyptic in the “world ending” sense, they are revealing some very important things. Through this global experience, much has been revealed about our human experience and values.

For me, I have been forced to come to terms with what I value the most. I have had more time for reflection and less time for hurry. Family time is cherished in a whole new way. When my family wants to do something together like an extended walk, we just keep walking together. This is not a time for hurry.

I long for normalcy, yes. But I also wonder what I might want to let go of in my normal life – it’s a good time to take stock of what matters the most. My deepest desire is not to return to rushing around for hurrying’s sake, but to return to connection with others and being immersed once again in community.

Dear friends, God will bring us through this and something beautiful will emerge. We can count on God’s promises. God is making something new. As resurrection people, we can always know that the worst thing is never the last thing.

For now, we wait.

Scripture readings: Revelation 21, Psalm 130

Prayer: God of all time, it is so hard to wait through something this difficult. We lift up all who are ill or who may become ill, we pray for healing. Heal us physically, Lord, and also heal us spiritually. We count on your promises. Remind us that you are always present no matter our circumstances. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Reflection Questions: What have you learned about yourself in these last few weeks? Where have you seen God at work? What have you learned about your values?

Lent Devotional: Wait

“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, via Biblegateway
Roadside bench, Isle of Iona, Scotland

And so here we all are – just waiting together.

The words for this Lenten devotional series were selected weeks before these days of shelter-in-place orders. It was just a few weeks ago, but none of us imagined our circumstances today – collectively staying home and waiting for a coronavirus to run its course. Waiting for a vaccine or a waning of outbreak, waiting for the go-ahead to join together again. When the word was picked, I envisioned a devotional about the perils of waiting our turn in long lines…now I cannot wait to be back in large crowds, just waiting with other people around. What an unexpected place to be. What can we learn through our waiting?

Waiting is not new to God’s people.

Scripture is full of stories about when God’s people had to endure with patience as they waited for God’s next actions. Noah and his crew waited through 40 days and nights of rain, followed by about 10 months of more waiting in the ark. The Israelites wandered through a desert for 40 years on their way to a promised land. God’s people waited patiently under cruel leaders, God’s people endured hardships, plagues, persecution, wilderness. Jesus’ followers waited through dark days until resurrection. We wait now in the already-not-yet time, knowing Christ is with us, knowing we are accompanied by the Holy Spirit as we wait for God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. And so we wait in good company.

We wait in hope because we know that God is faithful.

What all of these waiting stories have in common is God’s faithfulness throughout. God never leaves nor forsakes God’s people. God provides the manna for each day, faithfully sustains us. During this time of waiting, may we be people who rest in God’s faithfulness. May we be a witness to the hope that God continues to provide. May we wait things out so all of God’s children can rejoice together on the other side. To God be the glory.

Scriptures for today: Psalm 130, Romans 8:18-28, 12:12

Prayer: Patient and loving God, be with us as we sit in the in-between places of our lives, waiting for the next thing to happen. We are grateful that you never abandon us as we wait. Help us to see the good that is all around us as we wait for your reign on earth. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Reflection Questions: What is something you are waiting for with great anticipation? When have you struggled with waiting patiently? What can you learn from waiting?

Lent Devotional: Justice

“This is why it’s especially important for those of us who come to the Bible from positions of relative social, economic, and racial privilege to read its stories alongside people from marginalized communities, past and present, who are often more practiced at tracing the crimson thread of justice through its pages.”

-Rachel Held Evans, Inspired

I am finding it difficult to write about justice today. What we are all enduring now, a global pandemic, feels terribly unfair, doesn’t it? Yet it is something that ties us all together.

We are learning each that we have more in common than we thought – we are equal. Even though we try to separate ourselves from others, this coronavirus outbreak makes no distinction between nationalities, races, cultures, religions, occupations, socioeconomic status. The virus does not ask who it infects about their accomplishments, their religious beliefs, citizenship status, skin color, sexual preference or gender.

In our humanity, we are all vulnerable.

In our common humanity, this outbreak reminds us that, even though we make great efforts to highlight how different we are from one another, we are inextricably tied to one another. We are dependent upon one another and our actions affect the whole. While this has always been true, our perspective may change as we see glimpses of both the best and worst of humanity. It is my prayer that we as people of faith emerge from this with a new sense of community.

My heart aches with the tenderness of this truth: Each and every life is sacred, precious. Each and every day is a gift, not to be taken for granted. We can love one another best by all working together to limit the spread of a virus. As we move slowly through the days ahead of us, may we be people who honor one another with love and justice, kindness and generosity. May God be glorified by our actions.

Scripture for today: Psalm 146, Acts 9:1-20

Reflection Questions: How is it with your soul? What is something you can do today to help someone in need? Who do you need to talk to today?

Prayer: Holy and loving God, our hearts ache as we consider how our world is hurting today. We pray for your loving arms of comfort to surround us. Heal those who are sick and brokenhearted. Help us to be agents of healing, justice and mercy for your people. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Lent Devotional: Darkness

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

Genesis 1:1-5 ESV

From the beginning, light has been good. It is human nature to avoid the darkness.

In the darkness, we cannot find our way. We stumble. In the darkness, we face the unknown. We feel afraid. In the darkness, our thoughts may be overcome with fear, worry, doubt and worst-case-scenarios. Darkness is hard.

In the darkness, we want to close ourselves off, pull inward, hide in our fear. In the darkness, we want to cling desperately on to anything that will make us feel more secure.

In this time of pandemic, are we in a time of darkness? Consider this familiar passage:

“And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And in the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ““Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.”

Mark 15:33-37 ESV

At Jesus’ death, his followers were swept into darkness. Imagine their fear and uncertainty. The bad news just kept coming. Many ran and hid, denying the hope they knew in their teacher, afraid of persecution, scared of the dark. Perhaps we are living in a week in which we can relate a little too well.

And yet, the story does not end in darkness. Oh people of faith! Remember that we are resurrection people! The story never ends in darkness. In the famous words of Frederick Buechner, “Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.”

In this time of apparent darkness, we are called to be the children of light, the people of faith we have been all along. With renewed meaning, we can hold securely on to promises of Scripture 1 John 1:5 “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” and Psalm 18:28 “For You light my lamp; The LORD my God illumines my darkness.”

My prayer for you today is that you find hope in remembering that you are a child of God. God is faithful to light our path, God will guide us through any darkness, God will overcome the darkness.

My urging for you is to be a light for others today. Reach out to ones who may feel hopeless, lost and alone. Pray for people who are afraid. Check in on neighbors. As you share a message of compassion, hope, love and concern for a neighbor today, may you also find peace in remembering that you are a person who knows the Good News.

Suggested scriptures for today: John 1:1-5, Psalm 139

Reflection Questions: What is a practical way you can be hope and peace and love in your community right now? Who is one person you can reach out to today who may need to know someone cares about them?

Lent Devotional: Pride

My proud artist

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Ephesians 2:10 NLT

I love this picture of my sweet little boy, standing so proud of his artwork. He is four, and he is an artist.

I know he is an artist because if I ask him, “Are you an artist?” He says, in this adorable four-year-old voice “yes, i ‘hink so!” (I know someday he will pronounce the “th” properly, but until then it is so stinking cute.)

I love his hope and confidence. I believe that all of us had a time when we knew we were artists, too. As children, we created things and stood back full of pride for our workmanship. Ask a kindergartner to draw something, and they jump right in. Of course they are proud little artists! (We adults might not actually be able to decipher what the artwork is supposed to be, but we learn to say things like, “I love it! Tell me all about your art.”)

Somewhere along the line, though, all too often our artistic spirit gets thwarted. Maybe it’s when a teacher looked at a drawing of yours and you got a less than stellar grade. Maybe too many people forgot to praise your work, or you noticed that other young artists received more accolades. We let the voices of criticism and self-doubt dampen our spirits.

Pride is a complicated concept. Too much pride is a problem – it keeps us from seeing one another clearly, in blocks us from loving each other well, or keeps us from admitting when we have made mistakes. Too much pride breaks our relationships.

But having not enough pride can be a problem, too. When, for example, we stop doing things we love like art because we feel like we are not good enough, we can miss out on some of life’s greatest joys.

You are an artist – it’s true! You can be proud (in a good way!) that you were made in the creative image of a creative God. To create something is to lean into this creative nature of the God who loves us. It doesn’t have to be “art” in the traditional sense, but I believe that the act of creating something has the capacity to bring healing, hope and empowerment.

When we feel like our circumstances are beyond our control, the act of creating something draws our focus in, brings us rest, connects us to our Creator. During this difficult time for everyone, my prayer for you is that you’ll find a way to express your creativity.

This applies to all areas of your life. When times are hard, you find creative ways to make it through. Together, we are artists, together we will find a creative way to do hard things together.

May you find a reason to smile today. Be proud of who you are and the beautiful way God has created you.

Prayer: Creator God, thank you for the beautiful ways you have made each of us. As we navigate through these uncharted new circumstances, create space in our lives to connect to you. When we are full of criticism and self-doubt, fill us with a childlike faith. We trust in your guidance, we know you remain faithfully by our side, help us to rest in you. Amen.

Reflection:
In what ways are you an artist? Where do you find joy in creation? What is something you’ve created that you are proud of?

Art comes in many forms, but the act of creating something helps us to process what we are going through and to rest in God’s spirit. What can you create today? I encourage you take time to draw, journal, write, sing, build – whatever makes your heart sing. How can art bring you healing?

Lent Devotional: Ground

Lent Devotional: Ground

“We are standing on holy ground,

And I know that there are angels all around

Let us praise Jesus now

We are standing in his presence on holy ground.”

(Song written by Geron Davis)

In times of utter chaos, we long to return to spaces of peace, comfort and holy presence. Where is it that you have felt closest to God’s holy presence?

Every couple of years I return to the Five Day Academy of Spiritual Formation (http://www.5daynorthtexas.com/) for a time apart to learn, enjoy the quiet, pray often and live in community. The grounds of the Prothro Retreat Center at Lake Texoma have become holy ground for me.

It is in these woods where I remember to walk slowly, deliberately. It is on these grounds that I remember to listen and look and smell the beauty around me. I breathe deep here in the holy ground. It refreshes my soul.

You do not have to travel to find holy ground – it is wherever you choose to pause and walk deliberately. It is where you remember to listen, look and experience the beauty around you. It is where you look up and know you are loved.

My prayer for you today and always is that you will find glimpses of this peace. I pray that you will know the presence of God in your life, the sense of angels all around.

No matter how chaotic life may seem, God is with you. May you find your holy ground today. Amen.

Suggested Scripture: Psalm 95

Reflection Questions:

Where do you feel closest to God? What noise do you need to shut out in order to hear the whispers of God?