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.

You Need Consecration [Beyond Sunday]

 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes

1 Corinthians 11:26

God uses often uses ordinary things for holy purposes.  Baptism uses ordinary water; communion uses ordinary bread and juice; sabbath is ordinary time that has been set aside.  By our participation in these things, we–who are oridinary people– are made holy.

Throughout these 40 days of Lent, be invited to explore the importance of sabbath time for rest, rhythm, healing, wisdom, and consecration.  Sermons from our series can be heard here.

This week, try one of these practices and embrace some sabbath for yourself:


Before Sabbath time, choose a quiet place. Come to rest. Allow the heart and mind to speak of things that need to be spoken aloud, if only to the candle on the altar. Say aloud those things for which you feel a need for forgiveness, ways in which you were not clear, honest, or kind. If you feel comfortable, you can share this with another—a priest, minister, or rabbi, a therapist, a friend, a stranger. Notice how much of your grasping during the week is to make these things go away. Notice how they dissolve so much more easily when they are simply spoken aloud.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (pp. 198-199). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

A Place at the Table

When we gather for a Sabbath meal, we partake of the spiritual companionship of all who have loved us, all we love, all who have gone before and will come after. Everyone we have touched, those who have taught or held or nourished us all come to the table. It is good to be mindful of our ancestors, our loved ones, our extended family who could not join us in body for this blessed meal. So when you eat, set a place, complete with plate, glass, and silverware, an empty place to hold the awareness of all who join you there in spirit.  For any sacred meal, it is good to leave a place of invitation, mindful of all those with whom we are, now and forever, consecrated family.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (p. 203). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


You Need Wisdom[Beyond Sunday]

Be still and know that I am God!

Psalm 46:10

Sabbath asks us to let go, not only of work, but of the illution that our work can save us.  It reminds us that only God is God, and we are not.  That can be both uncomfortable, and reassuring depending on whether or not we are willing to embrace wisdom.

Throughout these 40 days of Lent, be invited to explore the importance of sabbath time for rest, rhythm, healing, wisdom, and consecration.  Sermons from our series can be heard here.

This week, try one of these practices and embrace some sabbath for yourself:


What can you let go of? One thing, beginning with the smallest thing. A book unread—can it be given to the library? An old postcard on the refrigerator, no longer current? An old appliance, never used? Old clothing, never worn, to the poor? What of projects that feel like responsibilities but bring joy to no one? Pick one thing this week, another the next, and discard something that has become unnecessary. Feel any release as you let it go.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (p. 185). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


Sabbath is traditionally preceded by ritual bathing, a cleansing of the old, a preparation to receive the new. This allows a visceral sense of beginner’s body as well as beginner’s mind. Hands are washed before the meal, bodies are bathed before making love. Ritual cleansing, more than the soap and water, opens us to receive anew. Set aside some time for bathing, long and easy, with fragrances, candles, music. Pay attention to your body, wash yourself gently and with care for every inch of skin.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (p. 191). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

You Need Healing [Beyond Sunday]

Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”  He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.  The angel of the Lordcame a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”  He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

1 Kings 19:5-8

When we come to that moment at the end of our strength, how often do we stop and allow God to heal?  Rest and restoration cannot happen in the midst of unrelenting activity.  And we need rest and restoration or even our victories will start to feel like burdens and our journey will become too much.

Throughout these 40 days of Lent, be invited to explore the importance of sabbath time for rest, rhythm, healing, wisdom, and consecration.  Sermons from our series can be heard here.

This week, try one of these practices and embrace some sabbath for yourself:

Create and Altar

Create a space for an altar, nothing elaborate. It can be a small table, even a box with a colorful cloth. Sit quietly, perhaps in meditation, for a few moments, and imagine what belongs there. Allow images to arise, people, sacred objects, things that hold meaning or great love. Then place these things, one at a time, on the altar, noting how you feel to see them so honored. You may want to light a candle, say a prayer. Let this be a place you come to, a Sabbath in your home, whenever you need to remember something precious you have forgotten.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (p. 107). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sleep on It

Think once again of a particular problem that concerns you. Just as in the last exercise, imagine there are forces at work that are already healing what needs to be healed; it only requires your surrender. Let it be. In the evening, turn it over to the care of God, the angels, and all the Buddhas, all the spirits of the earth and sky. When you awaken in the morning, look at the problem again, and see what has grown there, quietly, invisibly in the night.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (p. 170). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

You Need Rhythm [Beyond Sunday]

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…

That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.

Ecclesiastes 3:1,15

No amount of hustle will add days to your life or value to your soul.  No amount of planning or work can insulate you from the ups and downs of life.  For some of us, to admit that God is in control is a difficult thing because it means acknowledging that we are not. Yet surrendering the illusion of workism frees us to a healthier rhythm of life.

In observing the Sabbath, we are relieved of the burden of false responsibility for our lives.  Throughout these 40 days of Lent, be invited to explore the importance of sabbath time for rest, rhythm, healing, wisdom, and consecration.  Sermons from our series can be heard here.

This week, try one of these practices and embrace some sabbath for yourself:

Cadence of Breath

One beautiful form of meditation is to simply follow the breath. Sit comfortably, and close your eyes. Let yourself become aware of the physical sensation of the breath, feeling the shape, texture, and duration of the inhale and the exhale. Do not change your breathing, do not strain or push in any way. Simply watch the breath breathe itself. Feel the rhythm of the breath, feel its timing, the end of the exhale, the readiness to inhale. When the mind wanders—as it will—do not worry. Simply return your awareness to the breath. Silently note each inhale or exhale, mentally noting in, out or rising, falling. Do this for five minutes at first. What do you notice about the rhythm of rest in your breathing? What do you notice about the rhythm of breath in your body?

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (pp. 74-75). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


Prayer is like a portable Sabbath, when we close our eyes for just a moment and let the mind rest in the heart. Traditional Sabbaths are filled with prayers. But we can begin slowly, with a simple prayer, like a pebble dropped into the middle of our day, rippling out over the surface of our life. Like the Muslims who stop to pray five times a day, like the Angelus, we can be stopped by a bell, a sunset, a meal, and we can pray. Something close to the heart, and simple. Perhaps a line from the Twenty-third Psalm, the Lord’s Prayer, a short blessing: May all beings be happy, may all beings be at peace. Thank you, God, for this most amazing day. The Lord is my shepherd. Thy will be done.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (pp. 86-87). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

You Need to Rest [Beyond Sunday]

As Wayne Muller writes: “For want of rest, our lives are in danger.”  Too many of us have bought the idea that our success, even our worth, lies in what we do and what we produce.   Even people of faith attempt to baptise overwork by saying it is for God.  But God never asked for endless labor.  We cannot be made holy by the work of our hands, or hearts, or minds.

Rest, sabbath rest, is both and command and a blessing from God.  Throughout these 40 days of Lent, be invited to explore the importance of sabbath time for rest, rhythm, healing, wisdom, and consecration.  Sermons from our series can be heard here.

This week, try one of these practices and embrace some sabbath for yourself:

Light a Candle

Three generations back

my family had only

to light a candle

and the world parted.

Today, Friday afternoon,

I disconnect clocks and phones.

When night fills my house

with passages,

I begin saving my life.



Find a candle that holds some beauty or meaning for you. When you have set aside some time—before a meal, or during prayer, meditation, or simply quiet reading—set the candle before you, say a simple prayer or blessing for yourself or someone you love, and light the candle. Take a few mindful breaths. For just this moment, let the hurry of the world fall away.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (p. 21-22). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


Observe Silence

Sabbath time is enriched by some period of intentional silence. Choose a period of time or an activity—such as a walk or hike, alone or with someone you love—when you will refrain from speech. Notice what arises in silence, the impulse to speak, the need to judge or respond to what you see, hear, feel. Notice any discomfort that arises when you are not free to speak.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (pp. 55-56). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Hunger Games: Friends and Frienemies

A devotion for Jr. High Students

In the book and movie The Hunger Games, all the tributes know that only one can be crowned victor.  Yet many of them form relationships.  Just like in real life, Some of these are true friendships and some are not.

Do you remember your first friend?  Are you still friends today?  When we’re young most of us make friends with the people around us because they’re available.  These relationships come and go, a few may stay with us, but as we get older the bar for friendship gets higher and higher.  We make more conscious decisions about who is our friend and what kind of friend we want to be.

During the 74th Hunger Games, Marvel, Glimmer, Cato, and Clove form an alliance.  They have lot in common: they’re older, well trained and confident;  they all come from (relatively) wealthy districts and they’ve received a specialized education.  They treat the games like fun and bond over hunting and torturing the other tributes, but each knows in their heart only 1 of them can survive.  When something goes wrong– like a trackerjacket nest, or their food being destroyed– or when they have no other targets they are quick to turn on one another.   They even pretend to be friends with Peeta, just so he’ll help them find Katniss, and then   Have you ever known anyone like that?  Someone who always puts themselves first?  Or mocks others to make themselves look good?  [allow for answers]

The Career’s friendship is very different than the relationship Katniss develops with Rue.  How would you describe their alliance?  [allow for answers]

They help one another, they try to protect each other.  When Rue dies, Katniss genuinely grieves for her and tries to honor her memory.  It’s that same kind of friendship that makes Katniss volunteer for the games in the first place.

Jesus said “No greater love has anyone than this:  that they would lay down their life for their friends.”  (John 15:13).  That’s the kind of love He showed for us on the cross, and the kind of love he calls us to show to one another.  It isn’t always easy, in fact a lot of times we fail.  But the alternative is living like we’re in a battle; remaining constantly on our guard, never really trusting even the people we’re closest to because we know they’ll hurt us the same way we would hurt them.

Discussion Questions:

  • Can you think of any other relationships from the book/movie?  How did they become friends?
  • Can you name any friends in the Bible?  What is their relationship like?
  • Based on this what are good qualities to look for in a friend?
  • How can you be a good friend?
  • What about Katniss and Peeta?  How would you describe their relationship?  How does it measure up to Jesus’s standard?

Wisdom and Perfection in Tron Legacy

“I did everything you asked.  I created the perfect system.” –Clu

“I know…It’s not your fault.”–Flynn

If you haven’t seen Tron Legacy, I recommend it (and apologize for all following spoilers).  Yes, the movie has numerous faults, and no, its not as thoughtful as the original.  It is trying, nonetheless, to say some interesting things.  While watching it with the CSM youth last week, what struck me was this:  There is a very real difference between perfection and wisdom–between being good, and seeking the good life.

The premise runs thus:  After the fall of the MCP (see Tron), Kevin Flynn, enticed by the possibilities of User power on the Grid, sets out to create a perfect utopian system.  To this end he creates CLU (Codified Likeness Utility), in his own image, to carry out his will when he is not around.  All goes well; until a “miracle” happens–something Flynn neither planned nor created.  Flynn chases this new idea, CLU feels rejected, rebels, traps Flynn in the grid, and seeks to build the perfect system as originally  instructed.  Flynn, meanwhile, spends a lot of very humbling time hiding, pondering his mistakes.

Flynn made perfection (as he saw it) his central goal and source of meaning; he tried to play God.  In the process he convinced Clu that if he  worked hard enough and long enough, if he brought order to the whole system, if he lived up to expectations…then he would be perfect and, because of that, pleasing to his creator.  If Clu can just get every detail right, he will be loved.

I know I have been Clu.  I suspect most of us have at one point or another.  But after watching Tron, I think the bigger danger is being Flynn.  It is wrong to put too much pressure on our children–to ask for perfection in everything, even if we don’t really mean it.  It is risky even to teach them that “perfection” is the goal.  I know that sounds momentarily un-Methodist, but “perfection” for Wesley was not doing everything well.  It wasn’t even being a model Christian.  Perfection is to seek God in all things, to live for the Word of the Lord.  Yes, he felt that life would have some markers, but readily acknowledge that would would all fall short, probably often.  In the real world failure isn’t just an option, it’s frequently the outcome.  We learn more that way.

Flynn learns a great deal in his failures:  respect for CLU, love for Sam, the difference between might and power, the dangers of single-mindedness, the value of patience, the importance of sacrifice.  These he passes on to Quorra with great humility.  At the end of the movie, his greatest gift to Sam  is not the Grid or even Quorra, it is wisdom.

Flynn is opened to the wonders and possibilities of a world that is far to big and too strange for him to craft or control.  Sadly, the CLU he formed in his former image cannot get there.  The ideas of perfection and dominance are too far in grained; the pain of Flynn’s perceived rejection permanently mars their relationship. He cannot grow, he cannot marvel, he cannot forgive.  CLU does everything Flynn asked and in the end, it’s not enough because Flynn taught him the wrong question.

Some of what Flynn learns can only be won through age and experience.  But his mistakes with CLU aren’t necessary ones.  We can offer our children more than the unfulfilling pursuit of empty perfection.  We can teach them to do more than just “be good”.  We should set them searching for God; we should teach them to awe and wonder.  And we must walk beside them on their path, even if it’s not the path we would choose for them.  We can teach them to seek wisdom.

Then Job answered the LORD: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. –Job 42:1-3