Advent Devotional: Dec. 5, 2019

Waiting or Running?

by David Stanley
December 5, 2019

Read Hebrews 11:1-2 and 12:1

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
Hebrews 12:1

This is not really an Advent passage. It was read at my wedding … which was in the spring … it is my father’s favorite, who celebrates his birthday today, December 5 … so we are at least closer to Advent there. But what do these words mean for us in a season where our church is “waiting with purpose?”

When my father’s father was a young boy, his older brother was drafted into the Second World War. Bob left for training in November 1943; the family faced the bleak prospect of Christmas without him. On Christmas Day, they opened a record instead. Like many troops, Bob recorded a holiday greeting for family. Just as his voice began to play through the speaker, Bob himself walked in the door, having received last-minute leave and traveled through an ice storm to make it home.

Still reading? You are farther in the story than Grandaddy ever got. He always started crying well before the end; Daddy, too. I cried writing it, even though my brief telling doesn’t really do it justice. I never knew Bob, but I know that story. Understanding its importance to my family means I’ve known “Uncle Bob” is part of my great cloud of witnesses for quite some time.

This Advent, we prepare to hear another story: a miracle of our faith, the story of our greatest witness, the story about a son showing up unexpectedly. In the context of that familiar tale, we find that the ordinary stories we hear everywhere remind us of the miracle. The best part? Everyone can tell the story. We are called to be witnesses to those we do not even know—like shepherds, angels, and wise men.

This is my family’s first Christmas without Grandaddy. I’d like to hear him tell that story again. Of course, I don’t have a record and he won’t walk through the door. But, as it turns out, I’ve spent the last year finding Grandaddy everywhere, and realizing that my great cloud of witnesses—our great cloud of witnesses—really is a miracle.

Maybe it is an Advent verse after all. “Running with perseverance” seems a lot like “waiting with purpose” to me.

Prayer: Dear God, when we feel bleak, help us be active: running with perseverance and waiting with purpose. Fill our clouds, reveal everyday miracles, and make us faithful witnesses.

Lenten Devotional: Friday, March 9

by Colleen Pruitt

Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I was late to the game in discovering Barbara Brown Taylor, so I have done what only made perfect sense to me at the time: I began been binge reading her books.  I turned page after page, at great speed, in hopes of devouring her wisdom as quickly as possible.  Imagine my surprise when her very words stopped me dead in my tracks and turned my little world upside down.

In “Leaving Church,” Taylor recounts her journey of faith. She tells the story of a friend coming to visit her after leaving the hustle and bustle of her big church in Atlanta to serve as pastor of a small church in Clarkesville. The friend, unfamiliar with the rural back roads, becomes lost and begins speeding her way through small towns in hopes of finding her way.  No surprise, she gets pulled over by a police officer and immediately apologizes and explains her predicament.  He replies, “Well, I’m sorry about that too ma’am,” while writing her citation, “but what made you think that hurrying would help you find your way?”

Wait, what?  You mean to tell me that hurrying through my life is not getting me where I want to go?  How can this be? I have spent most of my adult life believing that faster meant better.  What do you mean, hurrying is not the way?

You see, somehow along the way, hurrying had become my main mode of transportation. Hurry the kids to school in the morning.  Hurry through my to-do list at work.  Hurry to do the laundry or take out the trash or [insert any other chore here].  Hurry through conversations with loved one (including my spouse, children and dear friends). Hurry us all to church on Sundays. If I am being entirely honest, I had become consumed by the hurry, by the busy.  I am now (slowly) coming to realize that this relentless pursuit to get things done is not the way.  I have been missing so much in pursuit of the hustle.  Not only that, I have been missing what matters most.  For some time, I have been sprinting towards the wrong thing.

The words we have been singing each Sunday during Lent, “Come and rest, Come and listen,” have become my new rally cry. I don’t want to miss any more moments. I want to run patiently in the right direction.  I want to make time to truly listen to God so that I can be the person he has called me to be. How silly and lost I had become to think that God cared about my efficiency and productivity? God cares about my heart, not my check list.

The Bible calls us to “run with endurance.” I have read this passage from Hebrews again and again searching for any mention or reference to speed.  I cannot find any.  How many times have I been told life is a marathon, not a sprint?  When will I start actually believing it? As I read and reread this passage, I am slowly starting to hear what God is trying say to me.  I am to run with endurance while looking to Him.  So during this Lenten season, this is the very thing I am trying to do. To focus my eyes on Jesus — in my hurry, I have missed a great deal of time with him, too — and run my own race with perseverance and patience. I hope this for us all.

Prayer: Dear loving God, please help me to remember to breathe. Please help me to stop and pause.  Please help me to slow down and resist hurry. Please help me to notice and delight in your wonder.  Please help me to focus on my own race and help me gain the endurance to stay the course. Please see my heart and help me to be the person you have called me to me. Amen

Lenten Devotional: Monday, March 14

From Diana Butler Bass based on her new book Grounded: Finding God in the World.

 “A door is the place of coming and going, of safety and protection, and of welcome. . . . Doors keep out danger, but also usher guets and strangers into the sanctuary tht is home. The doorway serves as a moral stage for the practice of hospitality, an architectural reminder of how we receive others into the inner places of our lives.” (From Grounded, pp. 181-182)

 Hebrews 13:2  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Reflection: The only thing that can save us from suspicion, division, and nativism is the practice of hospitality – the act of welcoming the stranger into our lives, communities, and homes. Hospitality is the single most radical and transformative thing we can do in the world today. And it is a practice at the heart of God.

Prayer: Give me courage, God, to offer hospitality to anyone who wanders through my life today – to give a kind word, a smile, a hand of help, or a moment of blessing to those in need of welcome. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Friday, April 4

by Joe Dennis

April 4, 2014
Hebrews 10:25

Some people have given up the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.

“My faith is strong. I have a good personal relationship with God. I pray every day. I do good deeds. There’s really no need to go to church.”

Do any of those reasons for not attending church resonate with you?

They certainly did for me a few years ago. But now, I can’t imagine – nor would I want – a life without church. My faith grows with every Sunday service. Countless times my faith has been renewed, my spirits uplifted, my practices challenged and my life inspired, by being an active member of Oconee Street UMC.

In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul reminds us of the importance of a faith community. But what Paul doesn’t warn us about is how easy it is to lose touch with that community, and in effect lose touch with God.

It’s happened several times in my life. I miss church one Sunday for a “legitimate” reason like a sick child or I’m out of town. The next Sunday I think about all the work I have to do, and somehow that one hour on Sunday morning is absolutely critical for me to do all that work. The next week I realize my Sunday afternoon is crammed with kid’s activities, and since I worked all day Saturday I deserve that one hour to relax. After three weeks of missing church, I’m embarrassed to return, so I stop attending altogether.

Meanwhile, I’m not being challenged by Pastor Lisa’s sermons to change my life to be more Christ-like. My faith is not being renewed through singing hymns, hearing the Gospel and listening to the opening prayer. My spirits are not being uplifted through greeting church family in the passing of the peace. My life is not being inspired through hearing everyone’s joys and concerns.

By missing church regularly, God begins to disappear from my life.

I won’t let that happen anymore. If I want to remain faithful, I need to attend church.

Prayer: Dear God. Thank you for giving us such a wonderful church family at Oconee Street UMC. We pray that you help us remain faithful to you through our presence, practice and prayer. Amen.