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: Trap

When have you felt trapped?

Sometimes there are stories that we tell ourselves that entrap us. We get stuck in untrue stories we say about ourselves: I’m not good enough. I can’t. I am not capable. This is the way it always has been. This is just how I am expected to be. I am not strong enough. Things can’t change.

These false stories cage us, limiting our abilities to create full lives for the glory of God.

Jesus tells a story about an unnamed woman who feels trapped:

“And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he returned to the temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and taught them. The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery.In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” They said this to test him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger.

They continued to question him, so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” Bending down again, he wrote on the ground. Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”

She said, “No one, sir.”

Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.

John 8:1-11 (Common English Bible via BibleGateway)

 

The people around her are also trapped in continuing the same old storylines. Jesus does what Jesus does best – he disrupts the storyline. He allow space for a new story to be told – one of the new choices, one of freedom, one of dignity.

What are the stories you have chosen to believe? How can you begin a new chapter of your life?

Prayer:

Author of life,

Like a caged bird, I have too often let lies, doubt and even my own sins trap me and hold me back. I ask you to give me the courage to re-write my story. Let my life be a story of freedom, peace, and the joy found in you alone. Amen.

Lent Devotional: Complaint

“The Psalms are, in a sense, God’s way of holding space for us. They invite us to rejoice, wrestle, cry, complain, offer thanks, and shout obscenities before our Maker without self-consciousness and without fear.”

Rachel Held Evans
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

There’s a common misconception that to be “a good Christian” means to always be nice and happy, careful to not make waves. It’s okay to be fully human, including feeling all of our emotions. I believe we are also called to speak out against injustice and to make a difference.

The Psalms model for us that we are called to lament about our pain and cry out in the face of injustices. God is big enough to handle our cries of pain, anger and doubt. God is big enough to stand with us when we speak up to help the oppressed. God is big enough to handle our complaints about God’s very self. See Psalm 13 for an example:

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

   How long will you hide your face from me?

 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.

    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”

    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;

    my heart rejoices in your salvation.

 I will sing the Lord’s praise,

    for he has been good to me.”

Psalm 13 NIV (via Biblegateway)

Prayer:

God, you know the pains, doubts, anger and fear in my life. You know the world’s deepest suffering. I lament the suffering in the world! I trust in your unfailing love and ask for your guidance to make a difference. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Reflection Questions: What does it mean to you that God can handle all of your emotions, even your complaints? Who “holds space” for you, giving you a time and place to be genuine? How can you hold space for others?

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: Protector

I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
God won’t let your foot slip.
Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job.
No! Israel’s protector never sleeps or rests!
The Lord is your protector;
The Lord is your shade right beside you.
The sun won’t strike you during the day;
neither the moon at night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
God will protect your very life.
The Lord will protect you on your journeys –
whether going or coming –
from now until forever from now.

Psalm 121 Common English Bible

Our dog, Mig, is a wonderful dog but a relatively unreliable protector. In the face of harmless things like an Amazon package delivery, garbage trucks strolling by, or the neighbor across the street opening her garage door, she will faithfully break into a full-blown, barking attack mode. If we get excited about something, or if we are having too much fun, she will often bark at us until we settle down.

However, if someone else actually enters our home (thankfully it has not ever been an intruder), we are lucky if she lifts her head up from her nap or notices at all.

At least she looks intimidating, right?

We live in a culture in which we are inundated with scary news about anything from microscopic germs to worldwide destruction. It’s a natural instinct to want protection from our fears, real or imagined, and countless industries use our fear to manipulate us into buying protection in some form.

While a healthy amount of fear keeps us safe in the face of genuine danger, an exaggerated sense of fear can paralyze us. As people of faith, we are challenged to serve God, love others and do good even if we are feeling afraid. We are not to let fear stop us from our call to ministry.

Today’s Psalm reading is a pilgrimage song, believed to be speaking about God’s protecting the faithful as they were on a religious journey. It is my prayer that we can continue to remember that God is faithful to protect us.

Prayer:
Holy God, thank you for your faithful protection. Help us to discern when our fears are keeping us from loving your children. Lead us to love in the face of our fears and doubts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Reflection Questions:
1. Where do you find security and protection?
2. When have fears about people kept you from loving them well?
3. What fears can you lift up to 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 Devotional: Tension

I handed the 5×5 Rubik’s Cube pictured here to my spouse and said, “Here, want to solve this real quick for me?”

He chuckled and replied, “No, that’s not how those things work.”

I know there are specific steps to follow, but I have not yet solved a Rubik’s Cube. While I’m not sure where to begin, my teenager whips through them.

There’s a tension in the unresolved things of life, isn’t there?

I can’t bear a puzzle with one piece missing.

Or a checklist with just one box left undone.

Is there anything worse than a song that is cut silent before the chord meant to resolve it?

A cliffhanger on your favorite TV Series keeps you suspended in tension.

Today is an Election Day and our country’s political system – comprised of imperfect people – will always be unresolved. Tension is part of our daily life, part of what it means to be in community.

And yet, we can have a sense of peace in the midst of the tension. No matter what struggles we face now, people of faith live with the blessed assurance that all things will work together for good. As we live in the tension between the “already and not-yet” in the kingdom of God, we can have peace in knowing we are never abandoned.

Prayer:

Thank you, God, for being with us through all of life’s tensions. Create in us a clean heart, ready to share your complete peace with others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Reflection questions:

1. What causes tension in your life today? How can you release it?

2. When do you feel God’s peace?

Suggested Reading: Genesis 4:1-16:

The man Adam knew his wife Eve intimately. She became pregnant and gave birth to Cain, and said, “I have given life to a man with the Lord’s help.” She gave birth a second time to Cain’s brother Abel. Abel cared for the flocks, and Cain farmed the fertile land.

Some time later, Cain presented an offering to the Lord from the land’s crops while Abel presented his flock’s oldest offspring with their fat. The Lord looked favorably on Abel and his sacrifice but didn’t look favorably on Cain and his sacrifice. Cain became very angry and looked resentful. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why do you look so resentful? If you do the right thing, won’t you be accepted? But if you don’t do the right thing, sin will be waiting at the door ready to strike! It will entice you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

The Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

Cain said, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s guardian?”

The Lord said, “What did you do? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. You are now cursed from the ground that opened its mouth to take your brother’s blood from your hand. When you farm the fertile land, it will no longer grow anything for you, and you will become a roving nomad on the earth.”

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Now that you’ve driven me away from the fertile land and I am hidden from your presence, I’m about to become a roving nomad on the earth, and anyone who finds me will kill me.”

The Lord said to him, “It won’t happen; anyone who kills Cain will be paid back seven times.” The Lord put a sign on Cain so that no one who found him would assault him. Cain left the Lord’s presence, and he settled down in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (Scripture source: Biblegateway)

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: News

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

– Anne Lamott

Where were you when you last received news that brought you to tears?

Last December I got a phone call with news that rocked my world. What I learned was that my dad has cancer, and his future is uncertain. While we are always hopeful, finding out that someone I love is facing a battle for his life has shifted my priorities and helped me to realize what is important versus what is “urgent.” While I would never ask for this kind of news, it’s a blessing to have a reminder of what in life is most important – and the answer is your relationships with people, friends, family, and not work, busy-ness and achievement.

No matter what news you may receive, may you be blessed with learning to dance in a beautiful, life-honoring way. Life is beautiful, complicated and messy. It is full of news – good and bad. And the best news of all is that we have a God who walks alongside and dances with us no matter our circumstances.

ESJ

Prayer:

God of Good News, thank you for the blessings you give abundantly, for dancing with us throughout life. Thank you for the people and relationships who fill our lives with love. Amen.

Suggested Reading – Romans 1:8-17:

8 First of all, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because the news about your faithfulness is being spread throughout the whole world. I serve God in my spirit by preaching the good news about God’s Son, and God is my witness that I continually mention you 10 in all my prayers. I’m always asking that somehow, by God’s will, I might succeed in visiting you at last. 11 I really want to see you to pass along some spiritual gift to you so that you can be strengthened. 12 What I mean is that we can mutually encourage each other while I am with you. We can be encouraged by the faithfulness we find in each other, both your faithfulness and mine.

13 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I planned to visit you many times, although I have been prevented from coming until now. I want to harvest some fruit among you, just as I have done among the other Gentiles. 14 I have a responsibility both to Greeks and to those who don’t speak Greek, both to the wise and to the foolish.

15 That’s why I’m ready to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. 16 I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness for faith, as it is written, The righteous person will live by faith. (Source: BibleGateway.com)

Click here to learn more about the Lent Photo Challenge #NWUMCLent