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?

 

 

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: 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…