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: Unfocused

Where is your focus today?

Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. We know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I’ve put an end to childish things. 1Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. 13 Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13 CEB via BibleGateway

Sitting here in the unprecedented time of global pandemic, each day bringing different news and different guidelines, all of it throwing us for a loop, we are easily distracted. All around my house (my only frame of reference during this time of social distancing), I see glimpses that we are distracted – a half-eaten something here, misplaced items, a lack of structure. It’s hard to remember simple things like the day of the week. Personally, I’m having a lot of trouble staying focused on any one thing. Anyone else having this same problem?

While this situation is new in our lifetime, it is not completely new. God has brought God’s people through challenges before. God will be faithful to pull us through this one.

I am reminded in today’s scripture that we never have the privilege of knowing the full picture. Try as we might, we cannot control all that happens around us. As people of faith, we can take heart in knowing that God’s nature has not changed. God is still love and God is still the light of the world. We can still trust and put our hope in God.

In time, we will see more clearly. In the meantime, we are called to live in love and light even when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

As we prepare for another week of live-stream worship, I will miss our hugs and handshakes, I will miss your beautiful faces and hearing your voices together praising God. As we journey through this time of uncertainty together, I pray that we will all hold tight to God’s promises. May we stay focused on God’s deep love and faithfulness.

Scripture Readings: Ephesians 5:13-15, 1 Corinthians 13

Reflection Questions: There will be a time in the future when we look back at this current crisis. How are you walking in faithfulness today? While we cannot meet together in a common building, how can you serve as the church, spreading God’s love and hope to others today?

Prayer: Holy and loving God, our Good Shepherd, it is hard to walk through this valley of shadows, not knowing what is coming next and feeling afraid. Thank you for reminding us that you are with us, your rod and your staff bring us comfort. May we listen in stillness for your voice. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Lent Devotional: Well

Water well in Mellier, Haiti 2018

From: Psalm 95:1-7a CEB:

Come, let’s sing out loud to the Lord!
Let’s raise a joyful shout to the rock of our salvation!

Let’s come before him with thanks!
Let’s shout songs of joy to him!

The Lord is a great God,
the great king over all other gods.

The earth’s depths are in his hands;
the mountain heights belong to him;

the sea, which he made, is his
along with the dry ground,
which his own hands formed.

Come, let’s worship and bow down!
Let’s kneel before the Lord, our maker!

He is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
the sheep in his hands.

I invite you to be in prayer while looking at your hands as we pray:

Creator God, Ever-Present Help in Times of Trouble,

The Psalmist reminds us this morning that everything from the depths of the earth to the mountain heights are in your hands. All that is and ever has been, from the sea to dry ground, were formed in your own hands.

Shepherding God, today and always you are our God, we are the people of your pasture, the sheep in your hands. You are faithful to care for us.

As we consider the intricacies of our own hands – the way each of our unique fingerprints whorl and loop, it is astounding to consider that even these tiny details matter to You.

From the moment our hands emerged, our fingers were counted and held. We thank you for the hands who nurtured us as we began this life. Thank you for the caring hands along the way who wrapped fingers around ours, guiding us to safety and along life’s path.

Thank you for the hands who have written, typed and taught us, instructing us and modeling how to live and love.

We praise you for the good our hands have been able to do. For good food which has passed through our hands, for good work made by our hands. 

We ask for forgiveness for when our hands have caused harm– for any times we acted in anger, neglected to love our neighbors, or caused brokenness in your creation.

We ask you to hold our hands right now. As we live with fear and anxiety, not sure about our future, concerned about those who are sick or who may become sick, we need to know your presence. Remind us of the peace that is found in you alone. Fill us with the assurance that we are still the sheep in your hands.

As we frequently wash our hands, fill us with the Living Water that we find in you alone. May we be instruments of your handiwork.

We pray this in the name of the carpenter, the one whose hands were pierced and the one who taught us to pray in unity, saying:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

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?

Lent Devotional: Plans

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.”

Proverbs 16:3

I am a planner. Few things make me happier than getting a new calendar and filling in all of the important dates and activities. I like to make “to do” lists and schedules, and I love to cross things off the list.

Life, however, does not always go neatly according to plan. Schedules abruptly change. Events get cancelled. Something comes up that keeps me from checking off the lists.

I have learned to write my plans in erasable ink or using pencils, because things may change unexpectedly. Sometimes I find the changes hard and stressful. I don’t like setbacks or delays.

What I have learned is that God often uses the “setbacks and delays” as opportunities for me to be in ministry, to build relationships and to help in ways I would not have scheduled. Something gets canceled and that means I have the time to reach out to a friend or to just sit still and be. It can be a blessing in disguise.

I think this is what it means to commit your plans to the Lord. It might not go according to my plan, but God’s work is accomplished for God’s glory.

Prayer: May your plans be a glory to God this week, and may your life be filled with opportunities to praise God. Amen.

Reflection questions:

When has something you planned been disrupted, but God used the interrupted time to make good things happen? How can changing your mind about expectations and accomplishment help you glorify God?

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?