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?

 

 

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

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