Between: Lift up your eyes [Beyond Sunday]

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord  in the land of the living.

Psalm 27:13

When we find ourselves between an ending and a new beginning, we are in a liminal space. All of us pass through these seasons in our lives. They can be places of incredible growth, but sometimes we struggle to embrace liminal spaces because they come with uncertainty, anxiety, and very few answers.

Most of what we know– the routines, tools, and habits we rely on– breakdown. To successfully navigate liminal spaces (or to just come through them unscathed), we have to lean into three spiritual shifts. We must move from a posture of Knowing to Unknowing, from Advocating to Attending, and from Striving to Surrendering. Susan Beaumont does an excellent job of unpacking these in her book How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going.

Briefly, moving from Knowing to Unknowing means accept that all the skills and expertise that got us where we are may not take us further. We must bring all the best of knowledge and wisdom but remain open to questions we can’t answer alone.

Moving from Advocating to Attending involves releasing our need to take a position and fight for it. We must accept we cannot “power through” everything. Sometimes we must simply be present to the moment and allow it to teach us.

Moving from Striving to Surrendering calls us to trust God more than our efforts. We must be honest about our present and not be driven by either our past or what we think the future is “supposed” to be.

  • Read the story of Abraham learning to trust God’s promises in Genesis 15:1-18.
    • What promises has God made to you?
    • Describe a time you had trouble believing they would come true?
    • How has God reassured you in the past?
  • Read Philippians 3:7-4:1. Paul, amid his own struggles, writes to the Philippians to encourage them to trust in God.
    • Think back on a time you were struggling or in a liminal space. Write a letter to your past self about why they should trust in God.
  • With children play, God is Bigger Than That.
    • If they are young, invite them to name the biggest thing they can see, they’ve ever seen, and they can imagine. To each excitedly answer, “God is bigger than that!” and ask what that means to them.
    • If they are older, ask what the biggest, hardest, or most frightening thing is for them right now. Encourage them to describe it in detail. Then ask, what would it mean for God to be bigger than that?

Between: Grieve what you’ve lost [Beyond Sunday]

Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?”    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

Ecclesiastes 7:10

Liminal spaces are the places between what was and what will be. If we are engaged, we are no longer single, but not yet married. When we are learning to drive, we are no longer forbidden from using a car, but we’re not a fully licensed driver either.

Everyone passes through liminal spaces in their lives. They challenge us and can help us grow, but the first step is often grief. As we leave one phase of our life, there will be possessions, habits, even relationships we must leave behind to enter the next stage. If we hold tight to old hurts or try to keep repeating bygone days, we risk getting stuck.

The wilderness of Sinai (or Sin) was a liminal space for the ancient Israelites. They were no longer slaves in Egypt, but they had not yet inherited the promised land of Canaan. The unknown around them and ahead of them is overwhelming, and, in Exodus 16, some begin to long for their old life in Egypt. To eventually cross the Jordan, they must grieve the familiar patterns of that past and let them go.

  • Read the story of the Israelites (Exodus 16)
    • Compare it to how Jesus dealt with His time in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13)
  • Reflect on what you from your past needs to be grieved and released.
    • Is there any anger you harbor?
    • Are there relationships that have ended?
    • Do you have habits that no longer help you?
    • Are you struggling with a change in your life?
  • Write a letter or create an image of these things. Pray as dig a small hole and bury it. Ask God to help you grieve and let go.
  • With children: Invite them to draw something or someone that they miss. Hold a small funeral for the drawing and pray together. Ask God to hold our sadness and help us try new things.

Let Us Pray III (Beyond Sunday)

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

This week, we tried an experiential sermon time at DPUMC. There was only small amounts of exposition; most of our time was spent in practicing two kinds of prayer. Below are instructions for our in service activities and how to follow up at home. Special thanks to our pastoral intern, Annie Meek, for the Sharing section.

Being

Practice:

  1. Take three deep breaths, feeling the air fully inflate your lungs and fully exit your lungs.
  2. Focus your attention only on what comes from your senses. Be aware of what you’re touching, hearing, smelling, and sensing. Know that you are safe and comfortable.
  3. Take a word, preferably single syllable, that represents God’s love and care for you. Hold in your mind only this word.
  4. As thoughts, questions or distractions arise, repeat your word until they subside. Then allow the word itself to fade.
  5. Allow yourself to simply be in the presence of God without goal or agenda. Take up your word when you need, then let it fade.

At home, try repeating the practice for 20 min in the morning or evening (or both). Give yourself plenty of time to experience just being with God, but don’t worry if its hard to do for long at first. As you finish your prayer, use your sense to draw you back out of the silence and into the world. Repeat the focusing of attention on touch, sound, smell, and sense. Remind yourself you are loved.

Sharing

Practice :

  • 1) Ask your neighbor if they would share a prayer request with you.
  • 2) Listen mindfully and calmly, not trying to fix whatever comes up or go on tangents.
  • 3) Allow for a moment of calm silence and focus on your breath, remembering God is ever present, tending, and loving. 
  • 4) Pray for each other aloud or silently as you feel led.


At home, continue to practice sharing with these prayer practices alone or together with friends or family: 

  • 1) “Give thanks and pray for the world, the Church, and the concerns of the heart, followed by the Lord’s Prayer.” (The Book of Offices and Services of the Order of St. Luke, a United Methodist ecumenical religious order)
  • 2) Share gratitude with someone. Ask “what are three things you’re grateful for today?” And share the same for yourself. 
  • 3) Share time in silence or stillness. Practice contemplative prayer or meditation with a friend for 2, 5, 7, 10 15, or 20 minutes a day. Talk about it! 

Let Us Pray II (Beyond Sunday)

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,

    you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;

you stretch out your hand,

    and your right hand delivers me.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;

    your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.

    Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Psalm 138: 7-8

One tool that disciples have long used in their prayer life is the Examen. Often associated with Ignatius, prayers of examen invite us to review our inner and outer life in the light of God’s grace. They encourage us to reflect on ourselves and to embrace our growing edges. (For more on Prayer of Examen read Maisie Spark’s article at Urban Faith)

There are several variations and patterns for Examen. This is an easy outline with which to begin:

  • Remind yourself God is present and what that means to you in the moment.
  • Recognize where God has been at work around you.
  • Repent your mistakes, transgressions and opportunities you missed to practice grace and service.
  • Reflect on the state of your heart and feelings that emerge during prayer.
  • Renew hope for growth and the days to come.

In my planner, I have the following examen prayer. It helps to center me and invites me to reflect when things get difficult. Like most prayers of examen, it is meant to be prayed slowly with space for reflection and listening after each section.

Lord, I know that you love me and that you are with me right now.

Lord, help me to be aware of your presence in the people I encounter and experiences I’ve had this day.

Lord, forgive me for the moments when I fall short; times when I am not the person you want me to be.

Lord, give me a heart that is more like your own so that I may be grateful for the blessings of this day.

Lord, grace me with the strength to embrace what awaits in hopefulness with hands outstretched to what lies ahead.

This week, try making a Prayer of Examen part of your spiritual practice. Journal what you discover about yourself and God.

Let Us Pray I (Beyond Sunday)

You desire truth in the inward being;

therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins,

and blot out all my iniquities.

Psalm 51: 6-9

In his Prayer, George Buttrick offered the following “hints” for a regimen of prayer: (Read an excerpt from the book)

  • Prayer is friendship with God. Friendship is not formal, but it is not formless…
  • Prayer begins, not in asking, but in a silent self-preparation.
  • …a primary impulse and the experience of praying people show that the first stage may be thanksgiving
  • Prayer my next become confession…It should not be ruthless, but it should not excuse…
  • Then may follow a prayer of intercession, without which most earnest prayer might sink into selfishness.
  • The fourth-order in our prayer may be petition. It comes last, not because it is most important, but because it needs the safeguard of earlier prayer
  • The intervals of these four prayers should be filled by meditation…Prayer is listening as well as asking; and its deepest mood is friendship held in reverence

How does your prayer time look? Is if frequent? Does it have a regimen?

Buttrick often urges specificity in all prayers. Why might that be important?

Try setting aside some time each day this week and pray according to Buttrick’s outline. Journal your thoughts and observations.

What does the Protocol mean for DPUMC?

UPDATE: UMCNews has added this chart that outlines the major plans coming to General Conference and links to primary sources.

You may have seen the UMC denomination in the headlines over the weekend. A plan called The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation was released Friday and captured the attention of many people both inside and outside the UMC. Since then I have and several questions and conversations about what this will mean for Deer Park UMC.

The shortest answer is, it means nothing until General Conference meets in May. The UMC has been having a long conversation about polity and human sexuality. That conversation has been particularly intense over the last 18 months. At a Special Session of the General Conference in February 2019 the denomination adopted part of what was called the Traditionalist Plan. It maintained prohibitions on performing same-sex weddings and ordinations, and restructured the process for dealing with complaints and punishments for violation of those prohibitions. That legislation went into effect on January 1, 2020.

Caucus groups across the denomination met over the year and several have submitted plans or legislation for General Conference 2020. Notable among them are The Bard-Jones Plan, The UMC-Forward Plan, The UMNext Plan, and the Indianapolis Plan. All provide for some form of separation from the UMC denomination or breaking the UMC into multiple denominations. The Protocol is like these in that responds to GC2019 and proposes a path forward via multiple expressions of Methodism; all will require debate and adoption by GC2020 to become a reality.

What is different?

  • The Protocol was worked out by leaders from a wide spectrum of caucus groups with the help of a professional mediator and is being supported by 8 Bishops.
  • The Protocol does not yet have legislation for its implementation. When that legislation is ready, it will need to come to the GC2020 either through a Special Session of an Annual Conference (our AC is Texas Annual Conference) or by permission of the General Conference organizing committee because the deadline for legislation is long passed.
  • The signers of the Protocol have expressed a desire for the plan’s legislation to come to the floor for debate and vote as a whole (inseparable) package. The Indianapolis plan also has an inseparability provision, and the validity of that has been challenged.
  • The way the Protocol was crafted and released gained far more media attention than any similar legislation.

UMNews has done an excellent job of summarizing the specific provision of the Protocol and had provided an extensive FAQ.

The Protocol is ultimately one plan among many coming to GC2020. I will not speculate here on its likelihood of adoption and we will not have a firm answer on this plan or any other until May. It is worth noting that the Protocol, like several other plans provides for votes by Annual Conferences and/or local churches. Our bishop, Bishop Jones, has already announced that all actions stemming from GC2020 will be taken up at a Special Session of the Annual Conference in August. This is because our normal session occurs only 9 days after the close of GC2020, and that is not enough time for meaningful conversation or considered decisions.

The leadership of DPUMC was already considering when to hold information sessions and town-halls ahead of GC2020. Those will likely be scheduled in the March-April time frame. While possibilities and contingencies will be discussed all year, no decisions can be finalized or actions taken until we know what the General Conference does in May and the Annual Conference does in August.

In the meantime, I ask you to do 3 things:

  • Be in prayer for our church, our leadership, our denomination and its world wide leadership.
  • Check any information you see in or on a major media outlet. The UMC is a large denomination, movements are going to make headlines from time to time, but they often fail to do the background research necessary to understand our polity or the wider implications of a single action. umnews.org is a great source for accurate information.
  • Be in conversation with one another. In times of anxiety or conflict it can be tempting to seek peace through silence. We have reached a point where that is not viable. We need to listen to each other, seek to understand each other, and hold each other accountable for understanding the options on the table.

Q&A: How do we see God [Beyond Sunday]

Across generations, the people of God have created metaphors and imagery to explain God, imagine God, and relate to God. Children asked to draw God will often picture someone who cares for them and teaches them about God. As adults, how we imagine God can have a subtle but profound impact on how we live our faith.

Quick Q&A:

  • What does God look like? The Bible gives us lots of imagery for God
  • Is God a He? Yes, especially when we’re talking about the human/divine Jesus. For all of God, She and They (singular) are also appropriate.
  • Does the way we imagine God affect how we live our faith? Yes.

Full Sermon: How Do You See God? Nov 10, 2019

Reflect: What images of God do you find helpful or comforting?

Small steps:

  • Check out the UMC’s primer on who is God.
  • Find an image from art or life that helps you imagine God and journal about what that picture says to your faith.

Long Strides:

  • Spend some time with a scripture that images God. Pray through it and respond to it by creating visual art that reflects what it teaches you about God.
  • Ask someone else how they see God and mediate on their answer and how it relates to you.
  • Gather images of God from Christians around the world. Study what each one reflects about their culture and God. Create a devotion or series of devotions around the images and share them with your Sunday School or Small Group.

Q&A: What is most necessary for being a Christian? [Beyond Sunday]

Scripture: 1 John 2:3-5 Instructions to love one another

Though we won’t often admit it, we all like to know our boundaries. What is the minimal effort required, what is the most that is acceptable. We might not always color inside the lines, but we like knowing where the lines are. So perhaps we find ourselves asking questions like: What is the least you can believe and still be Christian? or What must I do to be saved? The questions are eternal, and so is the answer. As Jesus said, love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.

Quick Q&A:

  • Does everyone need salvation? Yes
  • Does Christ offer salvation to everyone? Yes
  • Do I have to go to church to be saved? God does the work of salvation, church helps us grow in our love for God and neighbor.

Full Sermon: What is Necessary for Salvation? Oct 20, 2019

Reflect: What actions this week displayed your love for God and neighbor?

Small steps:

  • Do one random act of kindness for someone every day for a week and journal a prayer about it each night.
  • Write to your Senator or Congressional Representative on be half of a neighbor in need.
  • Write thinking of you cards and send to three people who might need encouragement.

Long Strides:

  • Read When Helping Hurts and reflect on how it calls us to love our neighbors.
  • Find a holiday season volunteer opportunity and commit part of your November/December to serving others.
  • Connect with an organization like CASA* and be trained to advocate for neighbors.

*Court Appointed Special Advocates for children. Learn more here

Q&A: What happens when I pray? [Beyond Sunday]

Scripture: James 5:13-20 Prayer for ourselves and others

James exhorts us to pray in the midst of suffering and celebration. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. Again and again we hear the power of prayer exhorted. But exhortation doesn’t necessarily answer all our questions. There is great power in prayer, and it is an essential part of our faith life. But what if that power is bigger and wilder than what we imagine with our well loved platitudes.

Quick Q&A:

  • Does God always hear our prayers? Yes
  • Why doesn’t God answer every prayer? God always answers, just not always in the way we expect or with what we hoped for; sometimes the answer is no, or not right now.
  • If God is in control of everything, do our prayers matter? Yes.

Full Sermon: What Happens When I Pray? October 13, 2019

Reflect: When you pray, what do you expect to happen? How do your expectations affect the way you follow up on prayer?

Small steps:

  • Check out the 5-finger prayer to use with a child in your life.
  • Set aside at least 10 minutes for prayer every morning this week.
  • Keep a journal with what you pray for on the left pages and what happens on the right.

Long Strides:

  • Read The Cloud of Unknowing and reflect on how it describes prayer.
  • Gather a group of friends and commit to share prayer time together once a week. Reflect together on how your prayers are answered.
  • Take a 3-day silent retreat to listen for what God might be saying in response to your prayers.

Called to Transform [Beyond Sunday]

Read the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10

Big things begin from small seeds. A tax collector can be reformed by dinner. A small group of women in a church basement can become a mission organization with worldwide outreach. You may see your gifts as small, but in them God sees great opportunity. 

Remember a time when you offered a small kindness that was received as a great blessing. 

What actions have had ripple effects in your faith community?

What big work would you like to see accomplished? What small step might begin it?

Small Steps:

  • Set aside 30 days to pray for discernment about where God is leading you now. 
  • Read “Maid” by Stephanie Land
  • Volunteer 10 hours with an organization that works directly with poor or marginalized persons 

Long Strides

  • Commit a year to learning about a broken circumstance in the world (poverty, immigration, polarization, etc)
  • Start a small group to focus on a single issue. Study together, pool money, and offer service together.