Call to Prayer for Health Care Workers

I am reflecting this morning on what it will be like when we gather again for worship in a familiar place, with our friends and loved ones, raise our voices in song and praise.  When that day comes and surely it will, though we do not know when, I hope every congregation in the Nashville Episcopal Area will sing the great Wesley Hymn, “And Are We Yet Alive?”

  1. And are we yet alive,
    and see each other’s face?
    Glory and thanks to Jesus give
    for his almighty grace!
  2. Preserved by power divine
    to full salvation here,
    again in Jesus’ praise we join,
    and in his sight appear.
  3. What troubles have we seen,
    what mighty conflicts past,
    fightings without, and fears within,
    since we assembled last!
  4. Yet out of all the Lord
    hath brought us by his love;
    and still he doth his help afford,
    and hides our life above.
  5. Then let us make our boast
    of his redeeming power,
    which saves us to the uttermost,
    till we can sin no more.
  6. Let us take up the cross
    till we the crown obtain,
    and gladly reckon all things loss
    so we may Jesus gain.

The United Methodist Hymnal #553

In the early Methodist movement, this hymn would have been sung on the occasion of annual conference when those gathered would not have seen one another since the previous annual conference.  Circuit Riders would have traveled by horseback and/or canoe to arrive at the site of Annual Conference. I was gifted a gavel set made from the wood from The Asbury-Babb House in Lebanon, TN (circa 1810).  The base is made from heart poplar from a rafter and the gavel is from a chestnut log. I am imagining Francis Asbury presiding at his last conference before his death in 1816. I am imagining the testimonies of circuit riders.  I am imagining them singing heartedly, this great Charles Wesley hymn. The Methodists are singing people.  And when we are together is it a joyous thing.

This hymn, for the early Methodists, was a praise for every “danger, toil and snare” they had overcome. It was a joyous occasion to sing, pray and reflect on all that had transpired in the previous year.

This day, I am imagining what that day will be like in the future, when we again gather and “see each other’s face.” The stanza, “What troubles have we seen?” comes to mind. I pray that God will protect us all from danger and illness.

This morning I am also reflecting on all the healthcare workers who are on the front lines working night and day to help people overcome the virus, COVID-19. Those of us who can stay in the comfort of our own homes are sheltered from those who every day show up to bring healing and hope to all who sustain our healthcare systems across our land. Daily, they come face to face with this virus.

I invite you today at 12 noon and everyday hereafter to stop and say a prayer for our healthcare workers. As we watch and pray for those who are stepping into the fray, we lift up those who stand in the gap for us.  While we wait to be together again, we do our part by physically distancing ourselves so that the curve can be flattened.

Last week, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward reminded me of John Wesley’s instruction on health and wellbeing. Wesley was committed to the spiritual and physical health of the people called Methodist.  This was a central tenet of his teaching, having written a small volume, “Primitive Physic.”  This little volume was a collection of remedies for a number of health concerns.

Bishop Ward writes: The double blessing of physical and spiritual health was – and is – a central dimension of Methodist ministry. Like our spiritual forebearers, we are convinced that God wants to give us both inward and outward health. Realizing that the least resourced people of his time were without medical care, he recorded his reflection: “At length I thought of a kind of desperate expedient. I will prepare and give them physick myself.” 

 Wesley told his assistants in each region — basically, lay preachers — to leave two books in every home for spiritual and physical care: “The Christian’s Pattern,” his abridgment of Thomas à Kempis’ “Imitation of Christ” and “Primitive Physick.”[1]

In this season of disruption, when we are asked to do our part in flattening the curve, be reminded of our need for spiritual and physical wellbeing. It is my deep desire for each of you to find your spirit renewed and your body strengthened through this season.

The leaders of the Nashville Episcopal Area are finding amazing pathways to stay connected. Thanks be to God.

Please pray for our health care leaders, those who are standing in the gap to bring health and healing to our communities.

I offer this blessing to you this day:

               Glory to God

               Whose power working in us

               Can do abundantly far more

               than we can think or ask or imagine.

               Glory to God in the Church and in

               Christ Jesus to all generations. Amen.

Be safe and be well.

Bishop M

 

 

[1] Randy Maddox: John Wesley says, ‘Take care of yourself’ :Faith and Leadership, Duke University. https://faithandleadership.com/randy-maddox-john-wesley-says-take-care-yourself


Hope in the Lord!

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

This is the Psalm for the 5th Sunday in Lent.

What a powerful witness to our collective spirit!

Hope is in the Lord! In the midst of the fear and anxiety of this uneven and unusual season, we are people of hope!

Our mission in this season is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in the face of disruption and distance.

The number of persons worshiping with us virtually has grown exponentially thanks to the technology of livestreaming and interactive worship.

Daily, I learn of the amazing creativity of our leaders in this season of disruption. I give thanks to God for all our pastors are doing to be faithful. I learned today of pastor who is driving to the homes of her parishioners, calling the parishioner on the phone and inviting the person to come to the window while she offers a prayer of blessing.

Congregations are gathering on Sunday in their cars in the church parking lot and technology is allowing the worship service to be broadcast over FM radio signals.

Virtual Communion and Continued Remote Worship 

In thinking about how we might engage our people virtually with regard to our liturgical traditions, I have reflected on John Wesley as a practical theologian as well as an innovator. He wanted pastors on the frontier to have the ability to offer the sacraments, so he ordained Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke.

After prayerful and careful consideration of the theological concerns with virtual communion, I offer the attached Guidance on Virtual Communion as a way for our pastors to faithfully exercise sacramental authority.

Based on the best information I have been able to receive from multiple sources, I have determined that it will be in the best interest of our communities for worship services to be suspended through April 26.  Should it become necessary to continue that suspension after April 26, we will notify you.

Annual Conference 2020

It is my deep hope that we will be able to gather in June for Annual Conference. At this time, we have not made a decision about postponing Annual Conference. However, we will make that decision no later than May 1.

With the Psalmist, I pray:

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

Hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.”

Remember:

Stay Calm,

              Stay the Course (stay on Mission)

                                            Stay Connected

May the peace of Christ be with you all.

Bishop M

 


Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow

Psalm 23 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

The rhythm of the liturgical year is a source of strength. The Psalm for this the fourth Sunday in Lent is Psalm 23.  Everyone has a personal favorite translation that brings Scripture alive and language that speaks clearly. My personal favorite for this particular psalm is the King James Version. The poetic style and the memory of this passage dwell deeply within my soul.

 

On this fourth Sunday in Lent, I pray that you will be comforted in the midst of this unusual season as we face an enemy without a face and one that invades without warning. Not only do I find scripture comforting today, but I am also comforted by the amazing connectivity of friends and loved ones. Perhaps the great unexpected gift I am experiencing in this unusual season is the gift of networking and sharing great ideas, prayers and poetry.

A friend sent this John O’Donohue poem yesterday:

 

This is the time to be slow,

Lie low to the wall until the bitter weather passes.

 

Try as best you can, to not let

The wire brush of doubt

Scrape from your heart

All sense of yourself

And your hesitant light.

 

If you remain generous

Time will come good;

And you will find your feet

again on pastures of promise

Where the air will be kind

And blushed with beginning.

 

These two poems, Psalm 23 and this poem from John O’Donohue, gather for me a sense that in spite of my own experienced anxiety and frustration in this moment, we are not alone. In this season, this long unanticipated break with routine and ritual, there is One who walks with us.

So be comforted.

On this Fourth Sunday in Lent, Breathe.

  • Breathe deep the Psalm for this day.
  • Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Winfield Bevins calls “The Lord’s Prayer” a portable sanctuary we take with us everywhere we go.
  • Listen to the Taize song, “O Lord Hear My Prayer.” And with the Psalm, let this worshipful music wash over your anxiety, your fear, your uncertainty. (Below find a You Tube link to the song.)
  • Remain generous.

 

Nashville Mayor John Cooper has asked that today be a day of prayer for the city of Nashville.

I extend that invitation to the Nashville Episcopal Area.

  • Pray
  • Offer prayer for others
  • Offer prayer for medical workers on the front lines who are facing incredible challenges
  • Use the prayer below to stir your mind for those we do not always remember

 

Be comforted and reminded of God’s presence for all of us with the following prayer by Dr. Cameron Wiggins Bellm of Seattle, Washington. It was shared with me by one of our clergy colleagues in the Memphis Conference.

I offer it with the grace of our shared life.

 

“Prayer for a Pandemic”

May we who are merely inconvenienced

Remember those whose lives are at stake.

May we who have no risk factors

Remember those most vulnerable.

May we who have the luxury of working from home

Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.

May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close

Remember those who have no options.

May we who have had to cancel our trips

Remember those that have no safe place to go.

May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market

Remember those who have no margin at all.

May we who settle in for a quarantine at home

Remember those who have no home.

As fear grips our country,

Let us choose love.

During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,

Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.  Amen.

 

As Psalm 23 comforts, as John O’Donohue invites, as the prayer above petitions, let us choose to hold one another in our physical distance with the unending presence of God’s light and God’s love.

May we soon find our feet again on pastures of promise. May the green pastures and the still waters of the holiness of God’s grace and strength go with you into another uncertain week. And may the goodness of the Lord follow us all the days of our lives.

 

 

O Lord Hear My Prayer

 

 


Keep Alert

1 Corinthians 16:13-14  (NRSV)

The Apostle Paul bids farewell to the saints at Corinth, I Corinthians 16:13-14:

13 Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

With the entire world, the Coronavirus will continue, for the foreseeable future, to have disruptive consequences in our shared life. We are in the midst of a disaster of global proportions as we learn every day how our lives are being altered.

In the Nashville Episcopal Area, from Camden on the edge of the Tennessee River, to North and East Nashville, from Hermitage to Mt. Juliet to Cookeville, life was disrupted by the tornado of March 2.  In the midst of this moment, our Disaster Response team continues to do the work of cleanup.  This work will become more challenging due to the need for social distancing.

We learned yesterday that General Conference would be postponed. We do not yet know when it will be rescheduled. We are not, at this time, making a decision regarding the Annual Conference in June.  However, we continue planning for our time together so that we will be ready in June or beyond. It remains uncertain if the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference will be postponed.

We continue to monitor new information as it relates to my request of you to suspend worship.  It now seems obvious that to help protect the health of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will need to forgo gathering for worship and meetings in our buildings at least through Palm Sunday, April 5, and potentially throughout Holy Week and Easter.

In the midst of this unusual and uneven time when life becomes confusing, disappointing and certainty is no longer a given, our first response is prayer. Naming to God the truth of our experience as the Psalmist did. Expressing to God our confusion, our fear, even our anger will allow God through the Holy Spirit to give us strength and calm in the midst of this crisis.

I noted on a call to some of our team this morning that we are in the wilderness, not the promised land. The one constant in the wilderness is that God provided. It was God who gave manna. God was the only One who had agency. As we journey through a most unusual Lenten season of a wilderness not of our own making, let us be comforted by the promise of scripture in Hebrews 11.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” By faith…we travel, even when we know not where we are going. God is with us.

I invite you to continue networking with one another to discover the most creative ways we can stay connected even as we are separate. I have witnessed God working through you to be the church in the world in new, adaptive ways.

Recently Tom Laney gave me a book about leadership, “Resilient Leadership” by Bob Dugan and Bridgette Theurer.

The heart of the book is centered in these three phrases:

Stay Calm

Stay the Course (Stay on Mission!)

Stay Connected

The essence of the authors’ work is to lift up the need to lead with calm, clarity and conviction in anxious times.

If there was a time when we need these concepts to guide our thinking, it is now. It is paramount that as Christians we model leadership that serves those most vulnerable in our world. When we hear Jesus teach us to love our neighbors, we can do that by staying connected while not being in the same room with them.

Here is what I am learning: no matter who we are or where we are, all of us are facing the same fears, anxieties, and uncertainties. We have a unique opportunity to pray for wisdom and strength as we discover how to serve Christ in the midst of this pandemic. The creativity of our leaders is outstanding and the Holy Spirit is equipping us. You are discovering awesome ways to be in ministry with our communities.

Remember—stay calm, stay the course (on Mission!), stay connected.

Serving Christ with you,

Bill McAlilly

13 Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love. I Corinthians 16:13-14

 

Holy God,

Our lives have been disrupted.

We feel vulnerable and uncertain about what to do.

We are told to stay at home, to create distance.

And by doing so we are loving our neighbors well.

This is counter to our instincts and desires to be close

to our loved ones, our friends, and our colleagues.

Teach us, in this strange time, to find new ways of being connected

In spite of our distance.

Teach us to be patient with one another

And to find ways to support those most vulnerable in our world.

Strengthen us, hold us, and help us, we pray.

Help us to see what we have not seen and know what we have not known

So that all of our decisions are rooted in your great wisdom.

This is our prayer.

Amen.

Helpful Resources

World Health Organization

Centers for Disease Control:

COVID-19 & Ministry Resources:


How churches can help during COVID-19, including rural ones!

Lately I have found myself repeating a phrase in my conversations:

We are living in unusual times.

For the people called Methodists in middle and west Tennessee and western Kentucky we are mindful of the need to make whole those families and churches who were affected by tornados.  Yet, we are faced with the reality of COVID-19 causing a global pandemic and economic concerns.

We must be adaptive in this season.

I’d like to share with you a piece from Rev. Allen Stanton that offers some best practices on how our congregations can stay connected in this new reality.  Allen leads the Turner Center for Church Leadership at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tn.  I hope it is helpful to you in this time, you can read it at HOW THE RURAL CHURCH CAN HELP DURING COVID-19

In order to support rural and small membership churches as they adjust to leading during the COVID-19 outbreak, Allen will be hosting a free 1-hour webinar on Thursday March 26th at 10:00 a.m. Central time.  During the webinar, Allen will share best practices and answer questions about worshiping together, serving in mission, and opportunities for building upon the strength of the small church during uncertain times.  The webinar is free, but registration is needed.  To register, visit https://www.cultivaterural.com/registration-for-responding-to-covid-19-in-the-rural-church.


In these unusual times

We are living in unusual times.

I give thanks for the faithful, adaptive leadership of our United Methodist pastors and congregations. As your Chief Pastor, I pray for you all daily.

Two weeks ago, many of our communities were upended by a devastating tornado. Just as we were beginning to make sense of our new normal, the coronavirus raised its head and caused us to take unusual steps to help stop the spread of the virus.

I appreciate the quick adaptability of many of our churches this past weekend and your plans for the Sunday to come.

But, this global pandemic is not over. New information about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and how it will affect us in our various contexts emerge every day.

While there is so much uncertainty, one thing I know is our deep Wesleyan heritage commands us to love God and love our neighbors by doing no harm.

We need to do our part to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in and through our church settings, so our already-burdened healthcare system in our communities is not overwhelmed.

Please continue to monitor and abide by best health practices being offered by our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Later this week, we will make more resources available to you on how to have worship in this unusual reality we face.

We all must be adaptive during these uncertain times.

As you might imagine, this includes the work of the appointive cabinet.

Because of this adaptive challenge, the cabinet is moving its final week of appointive work for the 2020-21 year later to April 13-17.

This means:

  • Clergy who will be involved in moves this summer will be notified April 17, along with pastor/staff parish chairpersons.
  • Congregations receiving a new pastor will announce their projected appointments on Sunday, April 19, during worship.

In closing, I want to personally thank you for your prayers in the death of my mother,  Laudis Lorene Long McAlilly, on Thursday, March 12. She lived a good, faithful life of a servant and died a good death. After her recent stroke, we had some quality moments with her until she died unexpectedly in her sleep. Our family has been richly blessed by the power of the United Methodist Connection in these days of grief and loss.

During these unusual times, I still claim with Paul that “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.”  Let us hold fast to the faith that formed us and follow Christ into the future unafraid.

 


Guidance for Churches with Regard to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

These are confusing, uncertain times. Our Episcopal Area is still responding to devastating tornado damage and now we are advised to beware of our potential role in spreading a deadly disease.

After consulting with a number of leaders across the Area, I am convinced the faith community has a very important role to play in slowing the speed of COVID-19 disease transmission.

We must be proactive rather than reactive. Our action could avoid potentially disastrous consequences for our communities.

Therefore, I am advising our churches to consider suspending worship and other large gatherings for at least two weeks in order to slow the rate of transmission of the COVID-19 virus, also known as the coronavirus, and to support the work of our medical community.

I ask that our churches find other ways to practice and sustain our faith. Our witness and our example may save many lives, especially the lives of those at risk in our own congregations.

Social distancing may seem to be an unnecessary reaction to those of you who are not sick, but medical professionals are telling us that if we wait until the need is obvious – it will be too late.

If we use social distancing now, patients will arrive at hospitals at a much slower rate, and lifesaving treatment for the critically ill will remain available.

Given that so many depend on our church ministries, we hope you will be mindful of the need to continue to support these ministries. Our contexts differ across our Episcopal Area. Please use your best judgment in continuing your outreach. Be wise and use precautions recommended by the CDC.

We want to continue to love people well, but we also need to take care to do no harm.

My former bishop, Hope Morgan Ward framed it well. She wrote: “Your prayers, presence (in spirit), gifts (including financial support), service, and witness are still important and needed to sustain and strengthen our ongoing mission.”

We encourage congregations to continue to support local church ministry by using online giving or by simply putting a check in the mail and sending it to their church.

Many of our congregations will be offering online worship opportunities. If your church does not offer this, our conference website will provide a selection of avenues to participate in worship. Please encourage those in your community to take advantage of this United Methodist connection.

Our Wesleyan roots have always included the concern for those most vulnerable. The people called Methodist established some of the first hospitals in this country.   Now is an especially important time to live out our calling to love one another and to take care of those around us.

Link to Coronavirus Resources for Churches 

Online Worship Opportunities

Tennessee Conference Churches

Memphis Conference Churches


Tornado Update

We give thanks to God for the powerful connections of our United Methodist brothers and sisters! In the last few days numerous United Methodists have reached out to us and offered prayers and financial contributions to aid in the recovery of our people affected by the tornadoes.

Robert Craig, our Disaster Response Coordinator, and Angela Overstreet, Consultant and Trainer with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) met with other agencies in the area to begin coordinating response efforts. We are still in the rescue and assessment phase of this disaster.

UMCOR teaches us that Disaster Response is long term. Our team is working on infrastructure to build a team that can go the distance on what will be a long-term recovery effort. To be sure, UMCOR is us—so watch for developments as we grow our team.

Of our United Methodist Congregations, Dodson Chapel, Braden and East End all sustained damage.

Hermitage United Methodist Church, already partnering with Dodson Chapel, is working to assist Dodson Chapel in next steps. Pastors Chris Seifert and Tommy Shelton are working together to sort out how to move forward. A big loss to that community is the Dodson Chapel UMC day care ministry which allowed working mothers and fathers to have confidence their children were well cared for. The storm disrupted this valued ministry in the near term which, in turn, has further disrupted these families.

The Braden UMC congregation, though small in number, sustained damage to their sanctuary have set into motion a process for food to be served to volunteers who are working in the East Nashville cleanup.

Numerous congregations are stepping up to offer assistance to East End. In speaking with Pastor Judi Hoffman last night, she simply said, “I’m grateful for the response and attention we are getting but I am more worried about our North Nashville neighbors who are not receiving the attention we are.”

Tonight, at Providence United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, a prayer service will be held in partnership with Grace, Lebanon First and Cooks United Methodist Churches.

Cookeville First UMC is becoming the hub of response for the response efforts in that community.

Our trained Early Responders have responded quickly across the conference where so much destruction is left in the wake of the tornado Monday night. Leaders are stepping up offering help and hope. Numerous Conferences are inviting offerings to support our response efforts. We are so very thankful for all of this support.

Our Disaster Response Coordinator wants you to know when and how you can help. Please continue to check the Tornado response page on the Tennessee Conference website. It is updated frequently and will continue to be updated throughout our recovery over the months ahead.


Lenten Devotions cont’d

Sisters and brothers in Christ,

As we begin the slow process of recovering from the tornadoes that ravaged our area this week, I hope you are comforted by these devotions.  They are a gift from the students of our Wesley Foundations in the Nashville Episcopal Area.


 

Thursday, March 5

Have Faith and Give Thanks Even in Hard Times

Read Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 1: 3-7

We have all had rough patches in our lives, and sometimes it is rather hard to stick with God through it all, but I would like to share a story from my life that might help you understand why it’s important to keep faith in God.

About 10 years ago, my grandma was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was kind of advanced when the doctors found it and, if I remember correctly, they wanted to operate right away so that it did not spread to the rest of her body. My family and I did not know how to handle the situation right away and it was hard to grasp the enormity of it. But my grandma told us that she was determined to get through it and survive, and she was NOT gonna let the cancer break her down. Even though things weren’t exactly going the way she wanted, she kept her strong faith in God. Her faith, support from her family and friends, and a lot of chemotherapy treatments made her – after 8 long, hard years ­– cancer free. And for that everyone was so thankful.

Two years later, however, the cancer was back. But this time it was in her liver. This was not what we were expecting at all. My grandma went through more treatments, except it was with radioactive beads. The doctors decided to try this and see how it worked so it was kind of like a test run. We were not very sure about this, but my grandma decided to try it if it would possibly help with the cancer. Now my grandma is doing pretty well most days even though it is sometimes tough, but she has been a fighter and a survivor throughout this whole cancer ordeal. Her faith in God has never wavered through all of it, and it has inspired our family to keep going and keep our faith in God strong also.

I’m telling you this story to show how important it is to keep believing in God even when everything seems to be going completely and totally wrong. We should stick with God in the good and the bad because He is who will help get us through it all. God should also be thanked both in the good times and the bad. It makes God happy when we thank him even when things are not going our way. That tells him that we trust that he will make all things work out for the best. Far too often I think we forget that God likes to hear our prayers in addition to giving thanks to him. The combination of the two delights God and says that we have faith that he will make things better in the future.

Thought for the Day:  Remember no matter how hard things in life may seem, keep you faith in God. He will NEVER leave you.

Prayer: Hey God, thank you for always watching over us. Help us to always remember to pray to you and to thank you both in the good times and bad. We love you so much. Amen.

                • M. Einerson  (UTM Wesley)

 

Friday, March 6                              

 “The Greatest Participation Award”

Read Psalm 121, Micah 7:18-20, and Romans 3:21-31

What is the one thing that everyone has done at some point in his/her life? Youth Sports. If you remember your recreational sport days, you’ll remember the best part of it all: the postgame juice boxes and oatmeal cream pies and the participation awards. Everyone was a winner. You didn’t receive an award for playing well, it was for your ability to get a ride, show up with a jersey of some kind, and occasionally try to make a basket, shoot a shot, or catch a pass while your teammate picked flowers or sometimes their nose.

When we embark on our walk with God, we come to realize the difference between a participation award and a reward. For clarification, a reward is something that is given to your because you have earned it through hard work, while a participation award is given to anyone who shows up to an event. Verse 23 of Romans 3 says,” ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, but ALL are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus.” Paul goes on to use phrases like “Through HIS faithfulness” and “GOD’s patient tolerance”, but what does this tell us? We have received, not achieved, the most important participation award possible. We play a game called life on Earth, and we can miss the target, fall short of success, and sometimes struggle, but God continues to award us with forgiveness, unwavering love, and compassion.

As I read through Micah 7:18-20 and Psalm 121, I also recognized a common theme of God’s protection and compassion. Micah 7:18 finishes with “He doesn’t hold on to his anger forever; He delights in faithful love.” How amazing is it to know that someone DELIGHTS in faithful love, DELIGHTS in forgiving us for our sins, and DELIGHTS in continually having to overlook our sins? Again, God is awarding, not rewarding, us with His compassion and love. Despite our defiance and failure to uphold our end of the deal, God is joyous in the process of forgiving us. Not only does He continue to wash us clean of our sin, but He also protects us in every way possible. From Psalm 121:6-8, you can see that in all circumstances, conditions, and directions, God offers his protection; He’ll protect you in the “night” or “day”, when you are “going” or “coming”, from “now until forever from now.” In all parts of life, if we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, or if we show up with a jersey ready to play, God will reward you with protection, compassion, and unwavering love- the most important participation award possible.

With all of this said, these passages serve as a proclamation of God’s power, His absolute permanence in our chaotic life, and His amazing grace. I hope as you read through them, you didn’t focus on our imperfections, but His ultimate strength and sacrifice. He loves you! He loves to watch you grow, and He will ALWAYS love, protect, and forgive you… “from now until forever from now.”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, allow us to recognize your strength and compassion and to glorify your amazing grace, because it is you who has given us this life and the opportunity to praise your name. We thank you Lord for all you have done. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

                  • C. Hunt (UT Martin Wesley)

 

Saturday, March 7                     

  “The Mountains”

Read Psalm 121 

 “I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Ever since I was a child my parents have taken me to the mountains in East Tennessee. It was always a great experience, but the trek up the mountain was always an arduous task. We would go hiking around the cabin and after a while our legs would get tired and sweaty.

Though these times in life were hard there would always be a time that my parents would take out of our walk to pray. This gave us time to rest, relax, and take in the beauty of God’s creation. This moment of prayer taught me that in life when times get hard, it’s okay to take a moment and breathe.

When we take time out of our day to pray to God and realize that he is where strength comes from, we can breathe and get a second breath that God gives us.

Prayer of the day: God please be with us as we go through our busy lives. Give us the strength to walk up our own mountains and keep our eyes on you. Amen.

                • G. Haynes (Austin Peay Wesley)

 

Sunday, March 8                                                                                           

Transformation

Read Matthew 17, 1-9 and John 3, 1-17

            Throughout the Bible, many people are transformed through God. Jacob is “transformed” into Israel. Saul is “transformed” into Paul. In both cases, God takes someone and helps them become the person He has planned them to be. But for many people, we aren’t called to service by wrestling with God, nor in a flash of light. Many of us, like Nicodemus in the Gospel of Luke, have questions, and that’s ok.

In today’s society, we as Christians feel that we need to know the answer to every question anyone will ask us about our faith. And, even worse, if we can’t make a strong argument for Christ in any given situation, we sometimes don’t. But, as we see in Luke, even those who lead us have to ask questions. And, most importantly in Luke, we see, despite the fact we don’t know everything there is to know, that God is there to help us when we stumble.

Thought of the Day: Don’t dwell on the past. Rather, use it as a guide so that you can be transformed through Christ in your future.

Prayer: Lord, help us to not be ashamed of our questions, but rather use the questions we have so we may grow closer to you. Amen.

                • T. Lawson (MTSU Wesley)

 

Monday, March 9

“But God… Why?”

Read Psalms 128:1-6 and Hebrews 3:1-6

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5

God has placed many roadblocks in my way throughout my life. Each time I was faced with one of those challenges my response was, “But God… why?”. Why, God, can my life not happen according to my plan? Why not this way? I was upset and confused by the times God told me no.

They say hindsight is 20/20. After some time, I began to see how God was working through those hardships. In Psalms 128, it speaks of the blessings God gives His people when they are obedient. Obedience is not an easy concept for me, especially when the task is something that I struggle with. My heavenly calling is the first thing that comes to my mind. The call to love others no matter how they are different than me. The call to lay my pride aside and to be a servant to all. The call to see everyone as a precious child of God. Our callings are not easy tasks and can take years of practice, but they are not impossible with God’s help.

Hebrews 3:1-6 encourages us to keep our thoughts fixed on Jesus. We must hold firmly to the hope that He gives us and be obedient to God’s individual calling that he has for each of us. Let us not respond with, “But God… why?”, but instead let us answer with, “Here I am, Lord”.

Thought of the Day: God wants me to trust him and respond with obedience to his calling.

Prayer: Gracious and Loving God, we confess that we have heard your calling but find it difficult to obey. Help us to respond with joyful obedience. You are a good good father, and we choose to put our trust in you alone. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 Prayer Focus: Those who are discerning God’s call for their life

                • H. Underwood (MTSU Wesley)

 

Tuesday, March 10

“God’s Blessings for Us”

Read Romans 4: 1-13

The LORD bless you from Zion. May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. ~ Psalm 128: 5

Often, we hear in our society and culture today the phrase #BLESSED. It is often accompanied by pictures on social media of dream vacations, expensive electronics or jewelry, or new cars or houses. Yet in all of us that use that phrase, how often are we thanking God rather than showing up our peers? Do we remember what it means to be truly blessed?

The blessings that God gives us are perhaps a little different from the #BLESSED blessings that are so often shared. We see in Paul’s letter to Rome how God has blessed Abraham, and how God chooses to bless us. Paul reminds us that it isn’t through any works of our own that we earn a blessing. If we seek to earn such a gift, we see it as wages, or a payment that is owed to us. In versus 6-13 Paul shows us that it is through faith in God that we receive God’s blessings. It doesn’t matter the “stage” of faith you have, or how far in your journey in Christ that you are. God loves you and blesses you because of who God is and not how much we do.

Remember to take a break. God rested on the seventh day and so should we. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy.” As you slow down from the grind we have of life, look around you. How has God blessed you in life? Despite all the twists and turns in life I’ve been through, when I remember to pause, look around, and really SEE the people and community around me, I can’t help but see how God has #BLESSED me. It really is through nothing that I am, but everything that God is that I have a network of people that love and care about me. Reach out and talk to someone. More people love you than you know. As a challenge for the rest of this season of Lent, share the people that love and care about you with #BLESSED and why they are a blessing in your life. You’ll be reminded just how much love is out there, and maybe, if we all do it, we may remember the true meaning of blessed.

                • A. Barker (MTSU Wesley)

 

Wednesday, March 11

 Freedom Through Christ

Read John 7:53-8:11 & Psalms 128

21 whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
– John 3:21

All of us, like this woman, has been caught in the act of sin and stand condemned by God; but God offers grace to those who repent. This passage shows God himself changing the appointed punishment and he reestablishes the foundations of righteousness. In John 7:53-8:11 God shows us his mercy towards all people. God said “neither do I condemn you, Go now and leave your life of sin” he said his after he told the Pharisees “if anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. He was saying that no one is without sin, but through the glory of God and his mercy we are covered by grace. Colossians 2:13-16 tells us that “13when you were dead in your sins… God made you alive with Christ. 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross”

In John 3:18-21 it tells us that the Light (Jesus) has come into the world to show us mercy and not punish us but deliver us from darkness. Life is not fair; our lives are messy and hard, and most of the time we think that nothing is going our way. Forgiveness is God’s recipe for a fresh start. Not only will God free you from your sins but, he will bless you beyond compare. In Psalm 128 it says that God blesses all who walk in his ways. Blessing and prosperity will be yours, who walk in the footsteps of God. Follow God down his path and not your own. Seek him first and may his will be done.

Thought for the Day: God wants us to repent for he has shown us mercy

Prayer:  Lord, in our repentance show us your glory and lead us down the path of righteousness. Help us to follow your will and show mercy to others. In Jesus name, Amen

                • D. Stott (MTSU Wesley)

 

Thursday, March 12

“Where’s the Exit?”

Read Exodus 16:1-8

“He is before all things, and by him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first born from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For God was pleased to have his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.”  Colossians 1:17-20

Do you ever feel like you’re burning the candle at both ends? Like you’re running around with no direction? Wherever you turn things fall apart? So much so that you want to give up or even shut down? I have.

I am the kind of person that likes to be in the know. I like to know everything that is going on and be involved in it all. I like to be in control. I like to know what is going to happen when and why and have a back up plan in case the first falls through. I do this with everything: school, work, home, etc. I give my all to everything. But sometimes I think, “What’s the point? Why am I giving everything but getting nothing? When is someone going to help me?” But the irony is… I am often so busy, that I ignore the people that are trying to help me, check in on me, tell me to slow down and rest.

I am so busy running around, that instead of taking note of the ways and people God has provided for me, I keep complaining about how exhausted I am. But if I just took a moment to stop and look around, I would see that I am not alone. Even if there aren’t people around me helping, when I take a step back and look, I see all that God has done for me. God has and is always providing exactly what I need in each exact moment. No more. No less. I try to rush Him. I try to ignore Him. I complain to (and sometimes about) Him wondering when He is gonna show up and do something. But most of the time, He has already done it, and I missed it because I wasn’t focusing on Him. How often do you find yourself in this situation? I know I find myself here more often than I would like to admit.

How have you been missing God’s provisions in your life? Have you been running so far, so fast, so long that you missed your exit? Maybe even your exit to the cross? Have you been living your life in fast-forward wondering when the happy ending will come?  Let’s pause, rewind, and see that it already has come. God has already written and executed His plan. He has already provided. Jesus died on the cross so we don’t have to live each day wondering where our strength will come from, wondering what will happen next. Just like God provided the exact amount of quail and manna the Israelites needed for each day (no more, no less), He is providing for you. He is right next to you running this race. Sure, we have all screwed up along the way, taken wrong turns, ignored the road signs, and run out of gas, but God has the Map and is guiding you through each turn.

Thought for the Day: Where has/is God providing for you?

Prayer Focus: Ask God to show you ways that He can provide for someone else through you.

                • C. Shepard (MTSU Wesley)

 

Friday, March 13                         

“The Walls that Build Temples”              

Read: Ephesians 2:11-22     

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.
Psalms 95:3-5 (NIV)

Every day, in every moment, we are surrounded by walls. Not literal walls, necessarily, though that may be true for some of us–but figurative walls. Ones that separate us from each other. Personally, I feel these walls in every aspect of my life; they dictate my actions, my thoughts, and my words. There are so many walls that I can name–walls between me and people of different races, genders, beliefs, ages, and lifestyles. These could be walls that have been “constructed,” so to speak, by society and culture, established long before I physically existed; these could also be walls that I have built to protect myself at the expense of relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have learned to walk through life with fear, sticking to the path that I can easily see, avoiding touching these walls for fear of disrupting the “peace.”

But what peace could there possibly be if I live in fear? God does not call us to live in fear. Because of Jesus and his sacrifice and because of God’s mercy and grace, we are told not to live our lives in fear–that we have nothing to fear, because we have an all-loving and amazing God on our side. The earth molds to the will of His hands and the seas part with the whisper on His breath, so why do we let these walls control our lives? In Ephesians 2:11-22, it speaks on how God breaks down the walls of hostility between us and creates a unified body—one of peace and love. The most amazing part of this is that not only does God break down the walls of hostility that we have built between us, but that He has constructed a new set of walls—ones that guide us and unify us. These walls—the ones built from God’s love—form buildings and these buildings become a holy temple, built in peace; it says, “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” It is described as a household and a dwelling where we find reconciliation through God, with Jesus Christ as its cornerstone.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves: what are the walls of hostility and isolation that exist in our lives? What are the ones that exist due to society, culture, or history, and what are the ones that we have created? How can we, as individuals and as a, community allow God to break down these walls to build ones that will rise to create a guiding, unifying, loving holy temple, not with our worldly lust for control as the cornerstone but with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone? How can I/we recognize the holy walls that have already been built and that are being built now?

Thought of the Day: God calls us to recognize the holy walls in our lives and to let them guide us.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us let go of this want for control over these walls in our lives. We need Your holy temple, a set of walls that does not separate us, but unifies us; with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone, this holy temple can exist on Earth as it does in Heaven. Amen.

Prayer Focus: Those struggling to feel unity and peace.

                • B. Barnett (MTSU Wesley)

 

Saturday, March 14

Trust When Things are Tough

 Exodus 16:27-35 and John 4:1-6
One day, discussion at my Sunday school came around to the idea of finding a reason for why certain events happen in your life and whether we should accept that everything that happens in our lives is a part of some master plan.  And on one hand I can be a very independent person.  I like to think of myself as self-sufficient and capable of taking care of myself.  And yet on the other hand, what this passage in Exodus shows has its own draw.  The idea of being able to depend on God to provide your food every single day for forty years is something that can be hard to fathom in our fast-paced modern world.  As dangerous as the Israelites’ situation was, I can’t imagine a more physical example of God’s love then to have him literally rain food from the sky every day, just for you.

More times in my life though, I feel closer to Jesus in our passage in John.  Here Jesus is said to leave Judea not because of any higher plan he hears from God, but because the Pharisees have caught wind of all the people the disciples and he are baptizing.  When I face situations like this, where I feel pushed around by circumstance and not in control of my own life, it can be frustrating.  More than anything I would prefer if God just swooped in and dropped just what I need from the heavens.

Yet there’s something comforting in how Jesus travels from baptizing people and ends up arriving at a well.  No matter the chaos and pressures surrounding his circumstances for coming to Samaria, he still ends up connecting to water.  I feel like we get asked to trust in God, we aren’t expected to sit around and wait for our solutions to just pop out of nowhere.  I believe sometimes what we need to do is keep our eyes open and see how even when change comes around, we can continue to do what we were called to do in different ways.

Prayer: Dear Father, keep our eyes and hearts open to you so that even in times of tribulation, we don’t lose sight of your unfailing love. Amen.

Prayer Focus: Noticing God providing in big and small ways.

 

                • M. Schremmer (Vanderbilt Wesley)

Response to Tornadoes in Middle Tennessee

I was saddened when I woke up this morning and discovered that tornados had ripped through our area last night affecting so many here in middle Tennessee. We especially pray for those families who have lost loved ones.

I am thankful that through our United Methodist Connection, before daylight, our people were connecting and mobilizing to respond to the disaster.

As we continue to assess damages to churches, homes and businesses, our hearts and minds are with the families of those whose lives have been lost.

UMCOR has been at work this morning connecting with our leaders to create a path to quickly respond to the needs of our communities across Tennessee.

Robert Craig is the Nashville Episcopal Area Disaster Response Coordinator.  With our friends at UMCOR, Robert will be guiding our next steps into what will become a long-term recovery effort.  We are working diligently to respond faithfully to the needs of our communities and we know you will want to help.

First, please continue to pray for all those affected. Please also reach out to those who you know who were in the path of the storm to be sure they are okay.

We will be updating a page on the Tennessee Conference website tnumc.org/tornado with opportunities for how you can provide hands-on assistance.

In the meantime, you may choose to give financially to support our Disaster Response efforts.

CONTRIBUTE

In the near future, we will need teams to help with long term recovery. It is our natural impulse to desire to respond in tangible ways. When we receive the green light from our Disaster Response leaders, we will want to be prepared to mobilize. Please let Robert Craig know you would like to help by emailing him at: disasterresponse@tnumc.org

In the meantime, continue to support and pray for strength and comfort for those who have been directly impacted by this devastating storm.

 

 


Lenten Devotions for the coming week

 

Sisters and brothers in Christ,

Today I offer more devotions from the students of our Wesley Foundations across what will be the Tennessee Western Kentucky Conference.  I hope you find them helpful.

 


 

Thursday, February 27

“Up on Your Feet and On Your Way!”

Read: Jonah 3:1-10, Psalm 51

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. -Psalm 51:10 (NRSV)

In Jonah 3, God calls Jonah to travel across Nineveh, which was a three-day walk, and proclaim God’s message. This is the second time God commands Jonah to go, and after him running from God the first time and ending up in the belly of a whale, he obeys. I really like the Message translation of the first two verses. It says, “Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh!” Sometimes I feel like life is kind of like this. I sense God nudging me to do something or use me in a way that feels uncomfortable and I push back on it, not wanting to take the risk and step out of my comfort bubble. Often, this lands me in a figurative whale’s belly, but the cool thing is, God doesn’t just give up on me or leave me in the belly. God challenges me again, tells me to get up on my feet, and leads me where I am called to go.

I also catch myself doubting my ability to successfully follow God. Oftentimes I don’t feel equipped to carry out God’s mission or confident enough in my own faith to make a difference. When I am in these lows, I find comfort in praying Psalm 51, asking God to renew my heart, grant me a willing spirit, and deliver me from sins of the world. It is in these moments of crying out and blindly trusting God that the greatest transformation is experienced in my life. I want to get up and go on my way to sing the praises of the Lord now and forevermore.

Thought for the day:  God wants me to run alongside God.  Not away, against, or into, but with.

Prayer: Lord, open my heart and mind to follow You when I am called. Blanket me in grace so that I may live my life in an abundant way that glorifies You. Call me and I will follow. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

                    • M. Hudson (Belmont Wesley)

 


 

Friday, February 28

Transgression Met with Compassion

Read: Jonah 4: 1-11; Psalm 51; Romans 1:8-17

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt of erings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” – Psalm 51:16-17

Jonah 4:1-11 Like Jonah, I can let worldly inconveniences cause me to be angry. When God shows his love and compassion I resist and insist on staying in my dark mood. Jonah tells God in verse 3 “please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live” but God doesn’t work by our commands. The Lord doesn’t wish for Jonah to suffer or to die, instead, He shows his kindness and compassion. Whenever faced with opposition or anger, a response in kindness and love prevails. You cannot fight anger with more anger, just like you cannot fight hatred with more hate. God taught Jonah the importance of trusting in His prevailing love.

Romans 1:8-17 Paul reflects on how he’s accepting of all and will not hold back the Gospel from anyone who will listen. He’s unashamed of his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. In our world of instant messaging and endless exposure to marketing, we as Christians must remember our priorities. Paul’s priority is to live out his passion for spreading the Gospel. He knows that “in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed” therefore he is just the messenger. We often take on the weight of worrying if our words will bring others to Christ, but this is a reminder from Paul that God will prevail.

Thought for the day: Our time on this Earth is finite, spend the precious moments with those you love and show love to strangers even when it seems uncomfortable. The Lord sees all and most importantly, your heart.

Prayer: Lord, let my life be a beacon of Your Goodness and compassion for humanity. I pray that my disposition for kindness and love will resonate with every soul I come across in my daily life and forever. Amen.

Prayer focus: Someone with unresolved anger.

                    • C. Collier (Belmont Wesley)

 


 

Saturday, February 29

“Moving into Consciousness”

Read Psalm 51

“About that time… “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven”… What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting.” – Matthew 18: 1-7

Thought of the Day: God wants me to be aware of my actions during the day.

When I was 5, my twin sister and I were in a Chinese restaurant with our family after the Christmas Eve service at church, and they had some of those coin machines that you could get those little floppy sticky hands that you could throw against something and it would stick to it. We didn’t have any money, and couldn’t convince any family members to give us any, and so we made the decision to take quarters out of a St. Jude’s donation display. The reason I tell this story though is not to point out the obvious sin that came in that moment, but to point out the bad decision that led to the sin.

Psalm 51:5 says “For I was born a sinner, yes from the moment my mother conceived me.” I think for a lot of us, the word sin is hard to define. For me, sin comes from the decisions that we make that end up causing harm to others or more importantly ourselves. What Matthew 18 is trying to convey is that unless you become aware of what causes the decisions that lead up to the sin, you can’t ever fully move away from the pain it causes. The temptation of sin that the passage talks about is the moments that lead up to the “sin”. To stop the temptations and the loud thoughts that run through our unconscious brain, we have to become aware of ourselves consciously in the moment. To be able to see and understand what is causing those decisions to be made. For my sister and I, those moments leading up to stealing the money weren’t full of conscious thoughts of stealing from sick children, but instead of unconscious thoughts of what we wanted in that moment and of reassurance that it was the right thing. We didn’t think about the way we were hurting others.

In our daily lives there are things that we do that can hurt others and hurt ourselves, and it comes from the temptations of our own brain. It’s the unconscious thoughts that we let run wild in our heads that can tend to override the transition into conscious and purposeful thoughts that drive our actions. To truly move away from the bigger sins that this passage refers to, we have to become aware of ourselves and the way that our actions can cause pain. We have to chose in that moment, to fight the unconscious thoughts to become present in the moment, and to choose to let the conscious and rational thoughts drive the way we come into a better way of living.

Prayer: Dear God, help me to move into my conscious thoughts in moments that are tough, so that I can move away from the temptations of my unconscious self. In your name, Amen.

                    • A. Mink (TTU Wesley)

 


 

Sunday, March 1

The Daily Examen

Read Psalm 32

The prayer of Examen is a spiritual practice that trains us to still our hearts and minds, reflect on the day/week/month/season that has just passed, and reset for the time to come. We have sprinkled this practice throughout this devotional guide to assist you in your journey through the season of Lent.

  1. Become aware of God’s presence: Lookback on the day and note the times you felt God was with you, assisting. Feel God with you now and ask to become more conscious of God’s presence. It may be helpful to repeat a phrase like, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), or any other prayer that connects you to a Higher Power.
  2. Look back with gratitude: Review the past 24 hours and notice what you’re thankful for. What happened to make you feel blessed? Take a moment to give thanks to God for providing you with these blessings.
  3. Take an honest look at your day: Note everything that happened over the course of the past 24 hours, your interactions with others, and your emotions. We often rush through each day, not pausing to reflect. Doing a deep, honest reflection of the past day causes us to learn more about ourselves and improve our future actions.
  4. Choose one part of the day, and pray about it: From doing your review, you might find something God is directing you to work on – an emotion, a relationship that needs mending, an unpleasant situation. Pray for it, ask God’s guidance to resolve it.
  5. Pray for tomorrow: Ask God to guide you tomorrow leading you to your highest purpose. Send love and light to tomorrow, praying for wisdom and strength. Feel deep gratitude, knowing God has already answered your prayer and tomorrow is already blessed. Take some deep breaths, and know that all is well.

 


 

Monday, March 2

Fear Meets it Maker

Read Psalm 32

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 3Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.  -1 Kings 19:1-8

Ever since I was a small child I was scared. I was scared of talking to new people, trying new things, speaking up for myself, taking risks, and even cutting my own food. I was and still am constantly afraid and nervous, just as Elijah was so scared for his life that he asked God for him to die. Yet God told the man to get up off his but and eat, just as he tells me everyday to get up and to speak for myself and others. Just as God tells all of us to go out and show those who despise us love, courtesy, and respect. Just as God tells us to go and serve those who are lacking, whether it is with money, housing, food, or love. No matter how scared we are at taking those risks, God tells us to go on out and go on our journey, just as Elijah did.

As said in Psalm 32, the Lord will protect and defend us as long as we admit and acknowledge our sins and mistakes. This applies to us falling short of delivering peace, love, and service to those that we think to have wronged us. We need to acknowledge that we fell short and admit that we failed due to our fears and anxieties in order for us to grow past them and for us to properly serve our communities. Once we are able to come to terms with our own shortcomings and misfortunes we will finally be able to properly use the strength God has always provided us. It is only when we keep silent and fail to speak up that we fail ourselves and our community, but we can always come back from it due to god’s love and patience.

Prayer: Dear Father, thank you for your everlasting patience for when we feel scared and lost. Through you and our own acceptance, we can find the strength and courage that we need to get through the day, as well as helping others through their own days.

                    • L. White (Austin Peay Wesley)

 


 

Tuesday, March 3

The Daily Examen

Read Hebrews 4:14-5:10

The prayer of Examen is a spiritual practice that trains us to still our hearts and minds, reflect on the day/week/month/season that has just passed, and reset for the time to come. We have sprinkled this practice throughout this devotional guide to assist you in your journey through the season of Lent.

  1. Become aware of God’s presence: Lookback on the day and note the times you felt God was with you, assisting. Feel God with you now and ask to become more conscious of God’s presence. It may be helpful to repeat a phrase like, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), or any other prayer that connects you to a Higher Power.
  2. Look back with gratitude: Review the past 24 hours and notice what you’re thankful for. What happened to make you feel blessed? Take a moment to give thanks to God for providing you with these blessings.
  3. Take an honest look at your day: Note everything that happened over the course of the past 24 hours, your interactions with others, and your emotions. We often rush through each day, not pausing to reflect. Doing a deep, honest reflection of the past day causes us to learn more about ourselves and improve our future actions.
  4. Choose one part of the day, and pray about it: From doing your review, you might find something God is directing you to work on – an emotion, a relationship that needs mending, an unpleasant situation. Pray for it, ask God’s guidance to resolve it.
  5. Pray for tomorrow: Ask God to guide you tomorrow leading you to your highest purpose. Send love and light to tomorrow, praying for wisdom and strength. Feel deep gratitude, knowing God has already answered your prayer and tomorrow is already blessed. Take some deep breaths, and know that all is well.

 


 

Wednesday, March 4

GOD the Father

Read Exodus 34:1-9, 27-28; Matthew 18:10-14

“Blessed is the one who’s transgressions are forgiven, whose sin is covered…. Therefore, let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found… You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance…. Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” ~Psalm 32

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At the beginning of the spring semester, I received a word written on a paper star at the first UT Martin Wesley Foundation worship service. We talked about epiphany and the magi who were enlightened and came with frankincense, gold, and myrrh. At the end of the service, I received the word comfort. This word brings back memories of home, snuggling up to my mom and dad with baby sister in tow to listen to them read bible stories when we were little. It’s nostalgic, homey, and comforting. I’m reminded of my parents’ rules as I grew up and how I often found them unfair and compared my friends’ house rules to mine. Now that I’m older, I know that was a way to show me their love. They wanted me home safe every night and out of trouble. For that, I am immensely grateful.

Still today, I’m learning repeatedly of God’s love, protection, and comfort he provides for us as a Father would. I’m reminded of the Ten Commandments, which He gave to the Israelites and what we still follow today. And even as I, or we, may wander and compare God’s inbreaking Kingdom versus the consumerism of our world today, God is looking—calling—for us like in the parable of the lost sheep. He constantly leaves the ninety-nine in search of the one and rejoices when he finds him/her and brings His sheep home.

In this season, I remember how Jesus Christ taught and discipled faithfully for three years, walking his way to the cross to make way for His sheep to come home and receive grace and mercy. When trials and failures come, remain strong in his grace and mercy, the path is not meant to be easy. Come home and be comforted, share God’s love, protection, and comfort with others. Exercise his grace and mercy by opening your fists, receive and be fed. Then, when the time comes, go and feed others and rejoice.

Prayer: Dear God, our Father who protects, loves, and comforts us, we pray that You may open our fists and we may come home. May we remember the grace and mercy You offer us now and forever, and may You guide us as we feed Your sheep, and remember Your sacrifice as we walk our way in this season to the cross. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Prayer focus: Comfort, feed and be fed.

                    • L. McGranahan (UT Martin Wesley)

A devotion for Lent

Recently I received a packet of Lenten devotions from the students of our area Wesley Foundations – that they put together – together across the east and west.  They are the present and future voices providing spiritual direction to our church.  Thanks be to God!  I wanted to share these devotions with you. I hope that you will incorporate them into your Lenten devotional time.

On this Ash Wednesday, I remind you that the promise of Easter is never gone – even in the midst of Lent!

I will be sharing these with you.

 

Wednesday, February 26

“How are you?” 

Read Psalm 51:1-17

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.”  

-Isaiah 58:1

 

I frequently find myself confronted with the question “How are you?” Although this seems like a simple question, I almost always avoid answering this question with the truth. Typically, I respond “I am good. How are you?” because it’s the easiest answer. I tell myself that I choose the easy answer because I am in a hurry or I don’t know the person who asked the question well, but I make this choice because I am afraid to allow myself to accurately evaluate how I am. Although it is not hard to just tell others how I feel or what is happening in my life, I don’t want to answer the question because it means admitting the truth to myself.

I believe that many people struggle with admitting the truth of what is going on in their lives. After taking part in many sins, David struggles and avoids the feelings that weigh on his heart. In a confrontation by Nathan, David begins to let all of his feelings and struggles pour out, and he asks God to create in him a clean heart. I like to think that Nathan could have asked the simple question of “How are you? No, really, how are you?” to get this response from David. This simple question, when asked by the right person, shows that people care about what is happening in our lives and prompts us to let down any walls we surround ourselves with.

Now is the time to let down your walls. I ask this question to you: How are you? Really, how are you? Take some time to think about the events happening in your life and how they make you feel. You may actually be happy and well, but it is also normal to feel sad, lonely, or just like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Take this time to be honest with yourself because it’s never too late to admit your feelings to yourself, someone else, or to God. Answering this question truthfully brings us closer to God.

 

Prayer: Dear God, allow me to let down my walls to share and face the truth of my own burdens. Help me give my troubles to you, Lord, so that you can create in me a clean heart. In your name, Amen.

                      • A. Webb (Belmont Wesley)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Letter regarding the Protocol proposal

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In this New Year I invite you to join me in praying for the United Methodist Church and her people in all places across the world. I invite you to pray that we expand our mission in every place so that those for whom Christ is a stranger will find in Him a gracious and generous friend.

It is no secret that the United Methodist Church has continued to struggle with conflicting views regarding human sexuality, and today I write to you with news that emerged this morning about a mediated agreement called “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation.”  This Protocol is a response by a number of constituencies within our Church to propose to the General Conference a plan that would allow a gracious separation among faithful Christians so that we may avoid continued distraction from the work of the Kingdom of God.

The individuals adopting this proposal have affirmed their recognition that they do not, and cannot, speak for every constituency in the United Methodist Church, but have made this proposal after prayerful consideration about how best to go forward in doing our most important work—making disciples of Christ.

This news comes to us from our own United Methodist News Service.  Many of you have no doubt read reports coming from other media outlets.  In light of some of the confusing messages contained in those reports, I would offer the following.

Some have interpreted the proposal as a decision that has already been made, or as a call by the Council of Bishops for a Church divide, or both.  In fact, it is neither.

The Protocol is a mediated agreement among a group of persons who have committed individually and collectively to pursue a common legislative goal when the governing body of the global United Methodist Church meets in May.  That legislative body—the General Conference—is the only body with authority to establish the governing law of the United Methodist Church.  The group of individuals who have come together to propose the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace have made clear that their proposal is theirs alone and is not at this point an official action of the United Methodist Church.

It is to be noted, however, that this proposal is unique in that it was generated by a group of individuals representing diverse advocacy groups with contrasting views and bishops with a variety of perspectives, rather than by a group with a single theological perspective.

The group came together as an outgrowth of dialogue initiated by Bishops from Central Conferences outside the United States and collaborated on a proposed agreement for the separation of The United Methodist Church (UMC) that has the unanimous support of these individuals representing varying perspectives.

Some of the central ideas of the proposed legislation are the following:

  • The creation of four regional conferences—Africa, U.S., Europe, Philippines—each with its own ability to adapt the Book of Discipline;
  • The ongoing existence of The United Methodist Church;
  • A path and financial support for the formation of a new traditionalist conservative Methodist denomination as well as other potential Methodist denominations which may emerge;
  • The removal of restrictive language related to LGBTQ identity and practice in the post-separation United Methodist Church immediately following the May 2020 General Conference;
  • Holding in abeyance any church disaffiliations or closures related to human sexuality issues, and any administrative or judicial processes regarding restrictions in the Book of Discipline related to LGBTQ persons, beginning January 1, 2020;
  • Creation of a fund to strengthen ministries with and among persons and communities historically marginalized including Asian, Black, Hispanic-Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander communities;
  • Provisions allowing Annual Conferences and local churches to vote to depart from The United Methodist Church with their property in order to participate in another Methodist expression, but making clear that no Annual Conference or local church is required to take such a vote, and no one is asked to leave or separate from the United Methodist Church;
  • Continuity of pension service from Wespath across the various Methodist expressions.

In May of this year the General Conference will gather to consider this document as one of a number of proposals that are before the General Conference.

In the meantime, the work continues in the Nashville Episcopal Area, the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences. We continue to press toward God’s call upon our lives to “discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that offer Christ to a hurting world, one neighborhood at a time.”

Change, and especially talk of separation, is daunting:  yet is heartening that persons of very diverse views have come together to do this serious work, and have listened to, and heard, each other. I would remind us that despite the uncertainty, God is doing amazing work among us and we have tremendous leaders who are focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ.

I recognize that for many this report is received with some measure of anxiety. My prayer for you is that you turn toward one another, not away from one another.

A friend sent a book of prayers to me this Christmas, and I share this prayer with you:

 

Where there is separation,

There is pain.

And where there is pain,

There is story.

 

And where there is story,

There is understanding,

And misunderstanding,

Listening

And not listening.

 

May we—separated peoples, estranged strangers,

Turn toward each other,

And turn toward our stories,

With understanding

And listening,

With argument and acceptance,

With challenge, change

And consolation.

 

Because if God is to be found,

God will be found in the space between.*

 

Amen

 

*Daily Prayers with the Corrymeela Community by Padrig O Tuama

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION:


Christmas Message

Isaiah 9:2

[a] The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the days grow shorter until December 21, the winter solstice. I am not particularly fond of the shorter days, the longer nights. I prefer daylight into the evening.

Thanksgiving means many things in our family. It means being thankful, eating well, family time.

It also means a shift toward Advent and Christmas. The ritual we practice is enacted annually  the Friday after Thanksgiving.  We decorate for Christmas.

At our house there are distinct roles when it comes to decorating for Christmas. My role, always, is to go to the attic and bring down the several boxes filled with 40 years of Christmas decorations. Pandora is playing our favorite Christmas channel. It is a beautiful time in our home. Lynn turns our home into a holy place for the season of Advent. And the waiting begins.

There are the cross-stitched ornaments that Lynn made for our tree our first Christmas in Georgia.  Here we were, not yet 25, married less than a year, in a strange place, far from family. The thought of Christmas away from home created a longing I had not previously experienced. An awareness was awakening in me that I could not yet name. The longing is as old as time–the longing for home. That longing is keenly present when Christmas draws near.

With every box pulled from the attic, there are memories.

There is the box that has the first Christmas ornaments given to our children. It also contains their handmade ornaments they made each year.

There is the brass Advent wreath my father made in his shop.

There are Moni angels gifted to us the years we lived in Philadelphia, MS. Moni was a potter who was a member of our Church.

There is the nativity set that sits on the mantle, given to us by Lynn’s maternal grandmother in the early years of our marriage.

There is the apple cone form made by Wayne West which Lynn uses to make an apple tree each year.  There is the Christmas village given to us by Sam and Barbara Creekmore when we lived in New Albany, our first appointment.

Now there is another Christmas village that lights our home—the one we acquired from my mother when she entered the nursing home.

These are the friendships, memories and stories that sustain us.

I’m remembering the Christmases of my childhood tonight.

When I was six years old, it snowed in North Mississippi on Christmas Eve. We were scheduled to go to see my mother’s family. I remembered my parents discussing the weather and potential road conditions. My mother was uncertain, my father confident that he could navigate any challenge weather could present.

Darkness visited us that night.

We should have listened to my mother.

Traveling on Highway 30, west of New Albany, MS, we crossed a bridge covered with ice. My father lost control of our Volkswagen Beetle. When we came to a stop, the car was upside down. My father was thrown from the car (no seatbelts in those days), and miraculously he received the only minor injury. My father’s chin was cut, requiring stitches.

The rest of the family was uninjured.

After receiving medical attention, my father and the men of the family went to the scene of the accident, borrowed a neighbor’s tractor, turned the car right side up, pulled it out of the ditch, added 4 quarts of oil, and drove the battered car back to my aunt’s house.

By then, the party was over. Uncle Dalton, my mother’s brother closest to her in age, loaded my mother, sister, brother and me in his car and drove the 2 hours to our home in West Point, MS. My father wrapped up in as much warm clothing as our relatives could spare, and he drove the wrecked car home. My vague memory is that we followed him, warm and dry.  

 The mind of six-year old thinks many things under such circumstances. The conversation between my brother, sister, me, wondered out loud about the arrival of Santa Claus. What if we walked in on him while he was delivering our presents? The closer to West Point we travelled, the greater our excitement built. I can still remember the disappointment that washed over me when I walked into our living room and it was exactly as it had been earlier in the day when we departed and no Santa.

Of course, Santa did come as Santa had come in prior years and has come every year since.

I’m remembering this story tonight, the weekend a year ago when we celebrated my father’s life in the service of death and resurrection. It was a dark time in our family. Just five years earlier, we walked through another dark time in Advent, the death of my nephew, killed in the line of duty as a policeman on December 23.  Sometimes it helps to say to yourself, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

For some of us, seeing the light this Christmas will be hard to see.

Indeed, many persons within our tribe of United Methodists will walk in darkness, experiencing the holidays with an emptiness that is penetrating. We  remember our loved ones and the empty space they occupy in the places we gather. I remember last year praying as my father’s life was nearing the end, “Lord, please do not let him die on December 23.” The prayer was answered. Yet, the December grief in our family has multiplied.

For some reason, I remembered the Christmas Eve accident today as I visited with my mother who wrestles with her memory due to dementia. Somehow,  recalling the story with her, stirred a memory for her.  She smiled, then laughed, remembering. She laughed loudest when I reminded her that she said, “I knew we should not have come.” It was a rare moment of recognition. I give thanks to God that she is not aware of the dark spaces that occupy much of her mind.

In the midst of darkness, the light still breaks through. 

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

John 1:3b-5 

If you were to ask me, I would tell you that my theology is rooted in the Incarnation. The darkness becomes more bearable knowing God is with us.

And yet, without Good Friday and Easter morning, Christmas is a nonevent.

Can you imagine—no Christmas. No Story. No star in the East. No Angels. No Wise men. No shepherds. No Mary. No Joseph. No manger. No memory of Jesus.

Ours is a story of rebellion and redemption.

The world still, as much as ever, needs a Savior.

Indeed, Jesus came…and comes…to redeem.

He redeems those exiled in loneliness, or addiction, or alienation.

Jesus is light shining in the darkness.

One of the ways we deal with darkness is the beautiful hymnody of the Advent and Christmas season.

In 1868 Phillip Brooks, penned the words to this now sacred hymn,

 

O Little Town of Bethlehem

               O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie.

               Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, The silent stars go by;

               Yet in thy dark streets shineth, The everlasting Light;

               The hopes and fears of all the years,  Are met in Thee tonight.

 The closing lines of the hymn resonate with me still tonight:

                  O Holy Child of Bethlehem,  Descend to us, we pray;              

                  Cast out our sin and enter in; Be born in us today!

Tom Ehrich reminds us:

A messiah [was] sent to lead God’s people out of bondage and home across a fearsome desert, as Luke put it.  A shepherd for lost sheep, as Matthew put it.

 Apart from the darkness, the birth of Jesus makes no sense.  All of us, in one way or another long to escape the darkness.  To drive away the fear, the loneliness, the anxiety.  The way we do Christmas is madness if we fail to acknowledge the darkness we are trying to escape. There are no good tidings unless we can acknowledge the darkness and ourselves as people who walk in darkness.

The light has come into the world and the darkness has not overcome it.

There is an additional verse to O Little Town of Bethlehemnot in our hymnal, that captures my imagination this Christmas:

    Where children, pure and happy Pray to the Blessed Child

   Where misery cries out to thee, Son of the Mother mild;             

   Where charity stands watching   And faith holds wide the  door,

   The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and  Christmas comes once more.     ,  

 As I write this, I can see the light from our Christmas tree reflected in the window in the next room. Across the street, the neighbor’s Christmas lights illuminate their home. I am comforted by the warmth of light.

I pray for you that, this Christmas, the dark night will wake, the glory will break,  the light around you will comfort and Christ will come once more.

Merry Christmas!

Bill and Lynn McAlilly

 

 


It’s Time to Name Our New Conference!

The time has come to name our new conference! The new conference guide team is initiating the process that you will find below.  I will be appointing a discernment committee to collect the names, pray, listen, and discern the new name. 

The process relies on your submissions. Please consider submitting a name that you believe God is giving us. 

Please continue to be in prayer for the committee and for the Memphis and Tennessee conferences as we create a new conference together.

Bishop McAlilly

—–

Names are very important and hold meaning in our lives. We are intentionally given names at birth. In Scripture, when people experience rebirth or transformation, God gives them a new name. When something new is planted or formed, it is given a new name. Many names tell stories. The name for our new annual conference is important as we lean into who God is calling us to be.

Bishop McAlilly will appoint a new conference naming discernment committee composed of members of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences with intentional attention on the inclusion of young members who will be living and leading for decades to come in the new conference.

Names for the new conference will be submitted through forms available through the Memphis and Tennessee Conference websites from September 16 – October 14, 2019. The form will ask for submitter’s name and contact info, the suggested name for the new conference, and an open box to share the why, the story, the meaning, the related scripture or the rationale for the name.

The naming discernment committee will meet and consider all submissions and discern the new name. The mission, vision, values and strategic initiatives that were adopted for the new conference at annual conference 2019 will be considered in the discernment process.

The name will be announced on Sunday, December 1, the first Sunday of Advent.

Submission Form (This link also will be available on both conference websites and via E-Newsletters through October 14)

Mission, Vision, and Values for the New Conference (adopted at both 2019 annual conferences)