What is a pilgrimage, you ask? Pilgrimage is an intentional, meaningful journey to a spiritual place. It is retreat, renewal, prayer and worship. It is time away to process and reflect, to reconnect to God and to refill one’s soul. I will be joining fellow pilgrims from around the U.S. and U.K. for a week of spiritual community on the tiny island of Iona, Scotland. The organization leading our trip is the Missional Wisdom Foundation.
Preparing for pilgrimage in my external life looks a lot like making sure childcare is arranged, planning details ahead of time for work, looking ahead to make sure preparations are being made for Mother’s Day, a prom, a graduation, a confirmation. What are all the deadlines and responsibilities that need to be covered during the next couple of weeks? What must I do and what can I delegate? Do I have enough wool socks? Do I need to bring both walking sticks or will one suffice? When will I get to watch the next Game of Thrones episode? Who is taking me to the airport anyway?
Preparing for pilgrimage in my internal life looks a lot like curiosity about what I will encounter. The questions abound: Who will be my fellow pilgrims? Where will I see God? Will I feel God’s presence along the way? What will change within me? How will my renewed perspective impact me? I am praying for God’s spirit to open my heart and mind that I might be renewed.
As my life has moved and is moving through so many transitions and changes, I am full of gratitude for this time apart as a pilgrim.
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
“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.
John 14:272Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Yesterday the word for the Advent candle lighting was “Peace.” In a world that seems so full of everything that is decidedly not peaceful – busyness, frenzy, rushing, hurriedness, violence, division, and so much noise – peace is wild and countercultural.
So today, be wild and countercultural. Be an instrument of peace. Dare to catch your breath. Dare to breathe in deeply. Dare to rest. Dare to be quiet.
Model the deep love and peace of the Prince of Peace. Refuse to follow a culture that models everything else.
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
4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
7And 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.
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.
December 2-25, our church is participating in an Advent Photo Challenge. No matter who or where you are, you are invited to participate. Each day a different keyword is given for people to try to capture in an image.
Today’s word is “Hope.” To accompany the challenge, here is a short devotional to go along with the day’s word. Feel free to read this and share it with a friend. Be blessed! -Erin
From Psalm 46:1-3 ESV:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
The above mixed media artwork is one I created as part of the Mission and Art Nights at a local family shelter. Each week, volunteers from my church and residents in the shelter (primarily mothers temporarily without homes) met in creative community. We met together to create art, to share a devotional, to laugh and heal, and to share our lives together.
Whenever we go through difficult seasons of our lives, it is comforting to know that we have a God who is faithful to be our very present help. No matter what happens in this world, we can rely on God to carry us through. We do not need to be afraid.
As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, let us remember that God’s promises give us hope for the future.
God of hope, thank you for being a God who is always present, even if we struggle to see or feel your presence. Help us to trust in you. Remind us we can be hopeful about our future and to share that hope with others. Amen.
This photo was taken by a friend of mine, Scott Sigrist, and used for this sermon with his permission. You can see more of his work at www.sigristphotos.com. (thank you, Scott!)
This is the second day of our Advent Photo Challenge and the keyword is “Star.” Since I preached a sermon with that title yesterday, I thought I’d share the text of my sermon with you today.
Our Scripture reading comes from Luke 21. Adult Jesus is talking his disciples in the temple and this is the last chapter before the Last Supper and all that follows. It’s an odd way to start the Christmas season, but we will understand why before the morning is over.
Luke 21:25-36 CEB
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves. 26 The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. 27 Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.”
A lesson from the fig tree
29 Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that God’s kingdom is near. 32 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until everything has happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.
34 “Take care that your hearts aren’t dulled by drinking parties, drunkenness, and the anxieties of day-to-day life. Don’t let that day fall upon you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. It will come upon everyone who lives on the face of the whole earth. 36 Stay alert at all times, praying that you are strong enough to escape everything that is about to happen and to stand before the Human One.”
I love going to places where you can see all of the stars, even the stars in between the stars.
One of my favorite things about getting away from the city is being able to see the stars. I’ve even been known to pull my car over at night on an empty Texas state highway in order to make my entire family endure my making them all look at the stars. (I’m sure they appreciate it.)
So, I was really excited when, about five years ago, my family planned a weekend vacation at Canyon of the Eagles in the Texas Hill Country. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a nature park west of Round Rock, in a part of the Hill Country that is an official “dark sky” area. There’s very little lighting in the park to cut down on light pollution. When you walk around the park at night, they give you special little flashlights to carry around. It is home to the “Eagle Eye Observatory” and one of the best places to see the stars at night, because, of course, they are big and bright, deep in the heart of…
Canyon of the Eagles is a migratory path for eagles, so we also hoped to catch a glimpse of one of those too. (pause)
Well, I wish I had a better star story to tell you. What ended up happening was that it was cloudy and rainy the entire weekend. The mosquitos ate us alive. And although we had a nice video tour from the resident astronomer of what we could have seen if there were no clouds, it just wasn’t the same as we had hoped. (side note: We didn’t see an eagle either – total bust.)
But isn’t this picture beautiful that my friend Scott Sigrist took at Dinosaur Valley State Park? We didn’t get to see the stars like that on our weekend, but we know they were still there.
Stars are a constant – throughout history, sailors and travelers have used stars to navigate and keep their sense of direction.
When was the last time you noticed the stars? Do you have a lucky star or a favorite constellation?
Today we begin the Christian season of Advent.
The word “Advent” comes from the latin word “adventus” which means “to come toward, to draw near, to approach.” It is a time of expectation, a time of waiting.
Waiting…How are you at waiting for things?
Now, I don’t know about you, but I am not very good at waiting. Just so you know that I’ll go to extremes to prepare for a sermon (smile) I spent my Friday afternoon waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles so we could get my son’s driving permit. Oh the waiting! This time I paid attention to what people do while waiting – it’s no surprise that most people spent that time distracted by their phones or TV. A few people read books. Very few just sat there, waiting and watching.
Not all waiting is terrible – as we spend this season waiting, we can be on the lookout for what is to come. It’s the perfect time to look for signs as we wait.
Advent is an “in between” time of year. Obviously it’s in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it also marks the time between the “already” and the “not yet.” In fact, during Advent, we are waiting for three things at the same time. I’ll explain:
The first thing we are waiting for is the obvious one – the “already” – we are waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. When we celebrate this, we are celebrating something earth-shattering that has already happened.
Think of it this way: imagine that you ordered a package from Amazon (not too hard to imagine.) You are so excited that it’s on its way. Then you check the app and see that, much to your surprise, it’s already delivered. You check your front porch and, sure enough, all of the great stuff you’ve been waiting for has been there all along. It’s already arrived.
The second thing we are waiting for is the “not yet.”
Our Scripture passage today talks about all of these signs of that the end is near. There will be signs in the sun, the moon, the stars, it says. Throughout history, there have been times when doom and gloom preachers have pointed to naturally occurring events like eclipses, earthquakes, and meteor showers to declare the end of all civilization. “Repent! The End is Near!” they’ll shout.
This is a really odd way to start the Christmas season, isn’t it? Here we are ready to hear the good, predictable news that sweet little Jesus is going to be born in a manger…but then the scripture is all about the end of time. What’s going on?
With wildfires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and natural disasters, coupled with human evils of wars, oppression, violence, intimidation and discrimination, dominating our news cycles, it may even be tempting to fall into “fear and foreboding,” to see what is going on and wonder, is this a sign of the end of the world? In the face of all that is going on in the world today, it is tempting to be overwhelmed by all of the brokenness we see around us.
But if we pay close attention to today’s scripture, our message is not about doom and gloom at all. It’s a message of hope!
“Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that God’s kingdom is near.”
Notice that adult Jesus is talking here, pointing out the signs that something good is happening as we notice the leaves sprouting – summer is coming, not winter! As humans in an unpredictable world, we look for signs that will predict what’s coming. Yet, as people of faith, we know that there will come a time of final victory – this is the “not yet” that we wait for – a time when everything is restored and God’s reign is on earth as it is in heaven. So we wait for that day with hope.
We wait for the “already,” and the “not yet,” and the third thing we wait for during Advent is the “right now.” It’s the signs and symbols of God at work today.
It’s tempting to look at our world with fear and despair, isn’t it? But if we’re not careful, we will totally miss where God’s kingdom is breaking in to our world right now. When God’s people work for justice, for mercy, for wholeness and compassion – that is God’s kingdom on earth right now. The exciting thing is we get to be a part of that! Every time we – individually and as a community – work to restore the broken systems and people in our lives, the more we bring glimpses of God’s reign on earth, we bring the signs of hope in a world that desperately needs to be reminded.
Which brings us to the symbol of the star at Christmastime.
During Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, we often place a star on top of our trees. The star reminds us of the star that shone over Bethlehem, guiding the magi to the place where Jesus could be found. It is a symbol of something that guides us – a divine guide, a constant presence.
Especially times in uncertainty, it’s comforting to look for reliable signs to follow.
Funny thing – Do you know when it is hardest to notice the stars? During the brightness of day.
As it turns out, even during the brightness of day, they are there. It may be that the biggest challenge we face is finding God’s guidance when things are going well for us, when we are in our own bright days…when we are tempted to believe we can do all things on our own. (pause)
As we journey through advent together during the next few weeks, I challenge you to fight the pressure to rush to Christmas. Prepare for Christmas by praying, becoming aware of God’s guidance, and doing good work for God’s glory. Be the “right now.”
It is so fitting that we begin Advent with the sacrament of communion. I invite you to remember during communion today of all that God has already given you, to reflect on the promise of hope for the future, and to find ways to bring God’s restoration on earth today. Let us begin…
Where have you seen God at work recently?
What is something you are really looking forward to?
This sweet little jingle bell started as a preschool craft project for one of my big three kids. It was delightful to have our littlest one put it on the tree this year!
The jingling of bells reminds me of this passage from the book of Psalms:
Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! 2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! 4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Advent, the Christian season that leads up to Christmas, begins on Sunday, December 2 this year. (It also marks the beginning of the Christian liturgical year, so Happy New Year!)
It’s easy in all of the hustle and bustle of commercialized Christmas to get caught up in being stressed out, rushing from one thing to the next.
This season, I invite you to join me in participating in an Advent photo challenge.
How it works:
Each day has a topic/keyword assigned to it. As you go through your day, try to find something that captures the essence of the keyword for you. (Example – the first word is “bells” – this could mean jingle bells, doorbells, bell curves, alarms. Be creative!)
Then post the picture on social media, with or without any explanation, using the hashtag #NWUMCAdvent. By sharing with the hashtag, we can all look up each other’s pictures and share in the challenge together!
I hope you’ll find this to be an exercise that helps you to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas this season.