Lent Devotional: Hurry

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

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

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

But not this week.

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

One of my favorite quotes is this:

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

Phillips Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For now, we wait.

Scripture readings: Revelation 21, Psalm 130

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

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

Lent Devotional: Wait

“I cry out to you from the depths, Lord—
 my Lord, listen to my voice!
    Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy!
 If you kept track of sins, Lord—
    my Lord, who would stand a chance?
But forgiveness is with you—
    that’s why you are honored.

 I hope, Lord.
My whole being hopes,
    and I wait for God’s promise.
My whole being waits for my Lord—
    more than the night watch waits for morning;
    yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!

 Israel, wait for the Lord!
    Because faithful love is with the Lord;
    because great redemption is with our God!
 He is the one who will redeem Israel
    from all its sin.”

Psalm 130 Common English Bible, via Biblegateway
Roadside bench, Isle of Iona, Scotland

And so here we all are – just waiting together.

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

Waiting is not new to God’s people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent Devotional: Justice

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

-Rachel Held Evans, Inspired

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

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

In our humanity, we are all vulnerable.

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

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

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

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

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

Lent Devotional: 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: Darkness

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

Genesis 1:1-5 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 15:33-37 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent Devotional: Pride

My proud artist

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

Ephesians 2:10 NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent Devotional: 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: 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: 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?