a guided prayer for the new year

Dear Loving, Holy, and Gracious God,

As this year comes to a close and we prepare for a brand new year, we’d like to take a moment to stop, reflect, and prepare – reflect on all that you have done through out the year we just had, and prepare our hearts, with you, as the new year comes.

*Pause in silence for a time of reflection. Perhaps think about some of the times during which you saw God at work or heard God speak in 2017*

Lord, we acknowledge that to many, this year has been filled with suffering, sickness, pain, trauma, loss, tragedy, and heartbreak. We ask that you would wrap your strong yet tender and gentle arms around those people, who found 2017 to be a year that they would rather not remember. We pray that you would help them to see you clearly and remind them that you are with them always. Help them remember that it is okay to feel whatever it is that they feel from those experiences, and that you love them through it all.

*Pause in silence for a time to remember all those who have lost loved ones, and to remember loved ones whom you have lost in 2017*

We ask that you would take the hardships we endured in 2017 and help us see light in those situations, as well as the strength we gained from those situations. As hard as it is often times, we thank you for the difficult times, acknowledging you did not once leave our side through those darker times.

*Pause in silence for a time to remember the hardships you endured this past year, and allow God to hold you through whatever it is you feel from them*

Lord, we thank you and we praise you for the wonderful and memorable times we had in 2017. We thank you for the joy that we shared with the people we love. We thank you for the triumphs we had and even thank you for the challenges 2017 brought, acknowledging that every triumph, challenge, and even failure we endured has made us to be more like the people you have called us to be.

*Pause in silence for a time to thank God for all the joyous things he has done in your life and in the lives of those around you*

God, We thank you for the endless grace that you offer to us daily. We acknowledge that we do not and will not ever deserve your grace or love, but that you give it to us each day, and for that, we thank you. Far too often we do not acknowledge the presence of you or of your grace in our lives, and for that, we are sorry. We ask that you would forgive us for the times in which we have sought to glorify ourselves instead of you, for the times we have ignored you or turned away from you, and for the times we have neglected to give you praise for amazing things that have happened in our lives that only you could have done.

*Pause in silence for a time to ask God for forgiveness*

We pray for the wisdom to know where you are leading us each day. We pray that you would guide our steps when we are unsure which way to go, and even when we think that we are sure.

Lord, take the plans we have made for ourselves, and wreck them completely. 

Show and tell us of the marvelous plans that you have for us, while helping us to remember that our plans are always insufficient compared to yours.

This year, God:

Take our fears and replace them with your promises.

Take our anxiety and replace it with your peace.

Take our sorrow and replace it with joy.

Take any obstacles and use them as opportunities for growth.

Take any desires to glorify ourselves and replace it with desires to glorify You.

Help us seek You over the things of this world.

God, we pray for growth in this new year.

We pray that you would give to us open minds to talk with people who are like us, as well as with people who are not like us. Help us to remember that we are all Your children, no matter ones race, political party, age, sex, ethnicity, physical, or mental state. We pray for your help in always remembering that no difference between any two people is great enough to prevent us from showing them the love of Christ. We also pray that we would always have open ears with which to listen to those who simply need to talk, may we be present and alert to those in need. We pray that we would have open hearts to welcome into our lives anyone who may need to experience the love of your Son, Jesus. And also open doors, to welcome both strangers and friends into our churches, homes, and lives, for we are all brothers & sisters in Christ.

We ask that you would bless this year of 2018, God.

We pray for the strength we’ll need that only you can provide, to face any challenges that may arise in 2018. We pray for a focus in 2018 that is constantly on you, and when our focus shifts, we pray that you would guide our eyes straight back to you.

We pray that this coming year, you would place in our lives an abundant amount of opportunities to serve in Your Name – opportunities to give our time, money, and love even when we feel we have nothing to offer – opportunities to serve others even when we would rather not – opportunities to be kind even when we’re having a bad day and would rather turn away – help us always choose to serve, and grant us the vision we need to always see those opportunities, and not turn a blind eye as we would often do.

In this new year, God, we pray that we, your servants, would be the hands & feet of your Son, Jesus. And finally, we pray for Your will, in 2018 – nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

Optional: The Lord’s Prayer written below

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

This marks the end of this guided prayer. If you have any prayer requests at all that you would like to share, please feel free to leave them written in the comments section below.

 

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A Reflection: AUMC Living Nativity

This past Friday, December 22nd, my home church told to our community the story of Jesus’ birth through a Living Nativity. This was the first year my church has done this, but I definitely see many more in the future with how wonderful the turn out was, as well as how powerful and memorable it was for each individual involved in preparing this beautiful night.

I wanted to write a bit of a reflection on this night because of the ways in which God worked throughout both the creation of this night, as well as the actual night of the showings.

There were four showings on Friday evening, one at 6, 7, 8, and 9pm.

I had the joy of being Mary at two of the showings, and I thought that the way(s) in which that came about were worth writing about! For me, and maybe for you, too.

You see, I originally said no when I was asked to be Mary. Acting does and always has made me super nervous, so to me, this was nonnegotiable. Some people love acting, and they have a gift for it — I don’t consider myself to be one of those people. You may be thinking, “But you preach all the time in front of people, how can that not scare you, yet acting does?”

Let me just tell you that acting and preaching are two very different things!!

So I said no, but I also said that if they could not find anybody else, email me again, and I will be there. While I know that it is okay to say no and not need a reason or excuse (something I am working on) the last thing I wanted was to be the reason the Nativity was without a Mary, especially if I was going to be there anyways.

After saying no, however, this continued to weigh heavily on my mind and heart. I hadn’t heard that they had found a Mary, but that didn’t mean they hadn’t found one. I was at school in the midst of final exams, so I tried not to worry about it, telling myself that it wasn’t my problem. But continued to have this sense that I was being nudged — not necessarily nudged to be Mary, but I had this feeling that because I was going to be there,  I should serve wherever needed. And, well, being Mary was where there was a need. That nudge, of course, was God, and at the end of the day, I kept hearing him boldly say, “hey, Ashley, you’re there – serve wherever needed.” I had those words in my head every time I thought about doing it, and that did not mean nothing to me.

Five days before the Living Nativity, I found out that there was still nobody to be Mary.

I said, “well, I’m here if you need me.” 

And friends, I am glad that I was ‘there’ wherever needed, because it was so neat to experience the telling of this wonderful story in that way, entrenching myself into Mary’s shoes, trying to act and think about how she was feeling in that moment – so very happy to meet her sweet baby Jesus; all fears relinquished as she gazed into his perfect eyes.

While there’s no telling if I’ll ever do that again or even be asked to do it again, I am grateful that I did it this year. I am grateful to have said ‘yes’ to something that absolutely scared me – as I told people, I was just getting a little head start on my new year’s resolution to do more things that scare me! And in this experience of mine, doing something that scared me, it was so very worth it.

By the Sunday before the showings, we actually even ended up having two people including myself to be Mary, which was such a blessing! This meant that we would each do two showings instead of one person doing four. I went to rehearsal the Tuesday before the showings and was still nervous, but also oddly excited. It just felt ‘right’ that I was there. And the people I got to participate in this ministry with were people I admire and love so much – they made me laugh and constantly eased the nerves I had. They made this Living Nativity experience memorable and powerful, and I’m so happy that when I look back at this cherished memory, it will be with them in it.

In this Living Nativity, we also had animals – live animals, of course, which the crowd got a kick out of. There were sheep, goats, a cow, and a donkey. The donkey, named Gracie, was walked into the Nativity by Joseph as Mary would walk next to them. The donkey was adorable, fluffy, and super stubborn, of course – there were a couple showings where she decided to be difficult and stand still, or walk in the opposite direction that we needed her to walk, but it all worked out – “the show went on” I believe the saying goes. Really the donkey reminded me of how ministry tends to be sometimes – you can only plan so much, and often times, there is a lot of ‘going with the flow’ which is exactly what we had to do with the donkey. We ran through the Nativity numerous times, but we didn’t have the donkey with us when we did that. There’s no telling how animals are going to cooperate or act – you can only plan so much because so often they are unpredictable little creatures. You just have to laugh, which is exactly what the audience did when Gracie got stubborn, and it’s exactly what you have to do sometimes in ministry.

Finally, at the end of the final showing of this Living Nativity, it started to rain (another thing I suppose you can only plan so much for). The whole week we had been praying that the rain would hold off, and it did up until then, but personally, I think the rain was God’s perfect little way of transitioning to the next part of the story — to send us off to respond to the beautiful story of Jesus’ birth, and what his birth, life, death, and resurrection means for us. A curtain closing or a “the end” wouldn’t have been right, because the story does not stop there at the manger. The rain was a refreshing reminder that now, we are sent off, to respond to this beautiful story. May we make that our goal in all that we do & say – to go out into this world & tell of the GREAT news that is Jesus Christ, today & always. 

 

“God is (still) with us” Sermon

Back in 2015, I had the opportunity to deliver the sermon at my home church’s 11pm Christmas Eve service. This memory is one of the many, many reasons I love this time of year; not only do I love that it is a time during which we prepare our hearts for Jesus’ birthday, and then celebrate his birth, I also love that I am able to remind myself of the pure joy I had in realizing pastoral ministry was where God was leading me. God used my pastor at the time to ask me to preach, He used my delivery of this sermon, and really He used this entire Christmas eve service as a whole to affirm this call to the pastoral role. He ignited in me an even greater passion for the ministry into which I’m called and gave me a whole new perspective and understanding of Jesus’ birthday. With that, it may go without saying, but it would be hard to approach Christmas Eve without being swarmed with sweet memories from 2015. It is so special and I will cherish it forever. What makes it even more dear to my heart is that I was able to do this while I was still a student at Liberty University back in my freshman year of college. To preach on Christmas Eve in the midst of my year at a school that was constantly telling me I couldn’t preach or pastor, was so significant for me. It was affirmation that I needed; it was God not whispering this time but yelling (sternly but kindly) at me, that this is my call – it is his call upon my life. And that He is constantly preparing a way for me, even as I would be heading back to Liberty after winter break in January of 2016 for not only the hardest semester, but four of the hardest months probably of life thus far. But God? Boy was he present. He was present and stirring this call and passion from the moment I first spoke on Youth Sunday, to my first semester at Liberty, to Christmas Eve 2015, to every ministry opportunity I’ve had thus far, to present day. I remember beginning to prepare my Christmas Eve sermon at least a month in advance because of how excited I was – after all, it was the Christmas Eve message! And it would be the sermon folks would hear 11pm-12am as they rung in Christmas day. While I know there is no such thing as a perfect sermon, I was determined to write to the best of my ability, with the Spirits lead, a message celebrating Jesus in all of his precious glory. This sermon is titled, “God is (still) with us,” and it elaborates on, “Emmanuel – God with us” It is about how God was with us at Christ’s birth, and how he still remains present with us today. This is a reminder I know I need often, and maybe you do, too. It’s easy to let Christmas come and go the same as we do with any other day, but carrying this message of Christ’s birth with us each day of the year is as important as carrying the message of his life, death, and Resurrection is.

The other day I stumbled across the DVD from that Christmas Eve and I wanted to share it in a post because I know personally I needed the reminded that God is still with you and I today as he was when Christ was born. I needed to be reminded of that beautiful truth, as well as the truth that God is faithful – he brought Jesus into this world. The God who did that, is the same God whose presence is among you, whose hand is guiding you, whose voice is calling you.

I have the sermon copy and pasted below **only slightly edited…I was 18 at the time…but I wanted to edit it as little as possible before posting it here because I personally love seeing how I’ve grown since then!**


Matthew 1:18-25 (NRSV)

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Mary and Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded and they called Jesus, Emmanuel: “God with us” because God was with them when His Word became flesh, and God has been with us ever since that day – that day when there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn, leaving Mary with no choice but to give birth to Jesus in a stable.

In the song, Joy to the World, the lyrics read, “let every heart prepare him room.” That is what Advent is about each year – preparing our hearts and our minds for the birth of our Savior, and making room for him in our lives because he is our Savior. The more we acknowledge that God is with us, and the more we make room for him in our lives, the more we can be filled with the peace, joy, and comfort that Jesus brought when he was born. The feeling of calmness and security that his presence brought is still capable of being felt, because God is still present in this world, just as he was when Christ was born.
We can go out and show the world that God is with us, just as Jesus did, because the Holy Spirit that allowed Jesus to be borne of the Virgin Mary, is the same Holy Spirit that is alive inside of us today.

Jesus introduced this world to God by first being a miracle born child, and later on by healing the paralyzed, giving sight to the blind, and forgiving those who did wrong and who were against him. He even asked God to forgive those who helped put him on the cross. We obviously may not be able to do those exact miraculous things Christ did, because we’re not perfect as he was, but we are still children of God – we can be examples of Him, by the way we live, and treat people, and especially by the way we love. The love that God displayed for us by sending into this world his only Son, Jesus, is beyond comprehension, and the love His Son displayed for us by giving his life up for us…that love is eternal.

Jesus was born into this world, to go to the cross – that is why he is our Savior. That is why it’s so important to acknowledge Christmas as the birth of Jesus – because it was the birth of the man who saved us – that was God’s intention when he placed him in this world.

Jesus’ birth and life had an impact on those in the Bible – The Wise Men and the shepherds at his birth, and people such as Peter and Mary Magdalene later on in his life, and he still has an impact on us today or else we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be here in church remembering Jesus on Christmas, or on any day. We wouldn’t set up Nativity scenes in our houses, we wouldn’t sing songs about his birth if he wasn’t special.

Jesus is still leading us, his followers. He is still calling us, his followers.

Jesus was adamant about sharing The Word, and being a light, and a messenger. That light was shown and that message was prepared to be given when Christ was born. And that message? The message that Christ was sent into this world by God, to be borne of the Virgin Mary, and save us from our sins, is still capable of being shared today, and we as Christians are called to be that light. And that light is going to shine the brightest when we prepare room for him in our lives and acknowledge that God is with us.

Preparing room for Jesus in our lives is something we can do daily, it doesn’t have to wait until Advent- Christmas is not just an event to look back on, you all, it’s something to be celebrated every single day because Jesus’s birth was THAT significant-
The significance and the beauty of Christmas is not in the presents we get, it’s in JESUS’S presence. The peace, joy, and comfort that he brought when he was born is what makes Christmas so special. HE is so special. Jesus is the reason we have this entire season, and that’s not just a bumper sticker that’s the truth. God’s Word is the truth and because we still have the Bible, and we know Jesus Christ, God is still with us and he is alive, just as much as he was when Christ entered this world. Jesus is still Emmanuel.
Christ was born so those in the Bible would see and hear the good news, and continue spreading the good news, that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and rose again. He was born to save. He was born so that we may know God. He was born so that we may know love, and peace, and forgiveness, and know what it is like to be followers of Jesus and leaders, who can lead others to become followers of our Savior. A savior who was perfect. A savior who didn’t have a single bit of sin in his life. Yet a Savior who gave himself for us. A savior who was born to go to the cross to save us from our sins.

That is a gift. Christ’s birth was a gift. Not a gift wrapped underneath a tree that holds some new material item – The good news of Christ’s birth isn’t new, or different each time Christmas comes around like the presents we get are. The good news of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection is all the same. Jesus is the same Savior, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is the same Christ every single Christmas, and thank God that we can rely on him, and his Word, to never change.

Jesus was born and that is how this world came to know God, but when he was crucified and died on that cross, God didn’t just leave. Remember Jesus rose 3 days later, and God was still with us during those 3 days. Jesus led this world to know God and we already know because God has told us in His Word that he is never going to leave us and he is never going to forsake us- that is proof that God is with us and that is never going to change.

Because we know His Son, Jesus – the innocent, sinless, perfect human being born in Bethlehem – because we know the Savior who was crucified, died, and rose again, we know God. Praise God that we can have a season of time each year where we can so openly and happily remember the birth of our Savior. The birth of the man who had such an impact on this world, and taught us exactly what love looks like, what a miracle looks like, what God looks like.

Right when Jesus was born he had people bringing him gifts, and worshipping at his manger. Right when he was born there were shepherds praising God, because they had seen God through what had happened with Jesus’s birth. That was God’s plan, it was his intention. He wanted people to know him and believe in him by seeing the miracle of his son and he wanted them to know they were saved because of his son.

The story does not stop there because Jesus did not stay in that manger. God sent him out and he changed the world, he had an effect on people, he showed God to the world, and he taught. He taught what love looks like. We as Christians are called to do that exact same thing, and because of that- because we’re supposed to be Christ-like and be examples of Him, God is with us because if we are examples of Jesus, we are showing God to this world, which is exactly what HE did. It’s what he was born into this world to do. As long as that Holy Spirit is living inside of you and me, God is with us.
This time of year on Christmas is the perfect reminder that he was with us when Christ was born and he is still with us, in the midst of the busyness and stress that this holiday may bring, we get to celebrate the peace that Jesus brought, and be thankful for receiving the greatest gift of Jesus Christ – a gift that we didn’t even have to ask for.

Amen.

A Christmas Prayer

Loving, Gracious, and Holy God,

It is that time of year again, where we celebrate the birth of your beloved Son, Jesus. We spend the Advent season awaiting his marvelous birth ever so eagerly, and we celebrate when Christmas day arrives, and we can bask in the peace and joy that is brought when he enters this world.

God, during this holiday season, we acknowledge that it is easy for us to get caught up in the craze of finding presents for those we love, in the parties we attend, the trips we plan, the traditions we have, but we pray that our eyes would not be taken off of the precious gift that is your Son – the gift that is what this season is all about.

We pray that you would open our eyes so that we may see to the fullest picture how marvelous this gift is, and we pray you would clear our vision when it becomes fogged by the pressure of hosting get together’s, by finding ‘the perfect’ presents, or by spending time hoping for that one expensive gift on our list. We pray for perspective.

We pray that you would give to us a heavenly peace in our hearts and in our minds, and that this peace would overwhelm us in the midst of whatever it is that is stressing us out during this holiday season; stealing our joy, anticipation, and celebration during such a beautiful time.

We pray for those who find this time of year difficult, for whatever reasons there may be. We pray for those grieving the absence of loved ones. We pray for those who find themselves plagued with depression, and anxiety, and we ask that you surround them with your gentle arms; your love and care.

We ask for your forgiveness for the times in which we neglect to acknowledge and appreciate to the fullest this gift that we are about to receive. And above all, God, we thank you. We thank you for this gift that you have given to us, and we acknowledge it is a gift which none of us deserve. But we thank you for sending your Son to be born, to show us what pure, magnificent love looks like, and to show us exactly how we should live, as disciples of Jesus. The love that you didn’t have to prove but that you did prove by sending Him into this world, only to soon be sent to the cross, is a love we will not ever deserve, but we thank you, God, for that love you offered to us, and continue to offer to us daily.

We ask that, for Your glory, you would help us carry the story of Jesus’ birth with us in our hearts and minds not only on Christmas, but every single day of the year, for the rest of our lives. We acknowledge this story as one that cannot afford to go untold, for it is far too marvelous and great. We thank you for this story we have the ability, by Your grace, to tell, and we pray we never, ever, take it for granted.

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – we adore you & we love you.

Amen.

a thanksgiving post for those in recovery.

I write a post like this one every year to publish on Thanksgiving, because I know how difficult Thanksgiving can be for those struggling with an eating disorder, and for those in recovery from an eating disorder. When I was in the very depths of my eating disorder, I absolutely hated Thanksgiving day – I dreaded it as it approached. I was someone who feared food and got easily overwhelmed by the thought of eating on any given day, so Thanksgiving was like that but on steroids. Because of this, I sought out tweets, articles, and posts by other people who I knew understood the anxiety that Thanksgiving brought to someone struggling and/or in recovery from an eating disorder. So I want to provide something like that for those who may need it today, just as I did not too long ago. Being over 4 1/2 years in recovery now, and someone who loves food, I am excited for Thanksgiving, because cheesy as it may be, I’ve got lots to be thankful for, including yummy food. I do still get some anxiety surrounding this holiday, so because I know the anxiety well, I’m hoping this post can maybe be of some help to you if you’re struggling. These are just some things that I’ve always found helpful that I wanted to write out for you if you find yourself plagued with any type of fear or anxiety about Thanksgiving because of your eating disorder.

First and foremost, please please know that you are not alone in the anxiety that you are finding yourself consumed by. While the people you are physically surrounded by on Thanksgiving may not understand how you’re feeling or why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling, rest assured that there are people, including myself, who do understand. The fear you have of this holiday is not a fear that only you have, and it’s not something you have to be ashamed of. It is also a fear that does not have to consume you and steal this day away from you. It does not have to have the satisfaction of stealing away your focus from the things that you are thankful for.

Don’t think that you have to eat a ton of food, just because there is a ton of food present. This is something I struggled with a lot. I would feel such pressure to fill up my plate simply because that’s what everyone else was doing. And yes, you still need to eat, but you don’t have to stuff yourself. You eat what you are comfortable eating (but still eat, please, your body needs food whether its thanksgiving food or not!)

You also don’t even have to eat the Thanksgiving food if you don’t want to. Eat food that you are used to eating on a regular basis if that is less overwhelming to you. I’ve done that on Thanksgiving before! I think one Thanksgiving I had chicken fingers?

Step away if you need to. It’s okay to walk away from the dinner table and take a breather if you need. Go on a walk, write in your journal, take a nap, watch a funny show on Netflix, call or text a friend, pray, open up your Bible and read some scripture. You don’t have to remain in an environment that triggers anxiety for you. You’re allowed to step away.

It is okay to treat yourself!! Allow yourself to eat that slice of pumpkin pie. Have multiple helpings of turkey or stuffing if you want. Eat 2 servings of ice cream or cranberries if you’ve still got more room in your stomach. It is one day. It will piss the eating disorder off, for sure. But that’s really a huge part of recovery – pissing the eating disorder off and doing exactly the opposite of what your disorder wants you to.

Make this holiday more about the gratitude you have in your heart and make it about being present with the people around you. Make it less about the food. I know, so much easier said than done. But Thanksgiving is not about food. Clearly, we humans have made it about food – it’s an excuse to eat an excessive amount of food, right? That’s okay. But you have so much to be thankful for – bask in that!!

Stay away from the scale. Better yet, put the scale away. A scale is not helpful on Thanksgiving day or around this day. Even if you’re eating “normally” and not eating a ton,the scale becomes 10x more stressful around the holidays because of the emphasis on large amounts of food. You don’t need to stress yourself out about your weight, which is really a reminder for today and every day of recovery!

Know that this day doesn’t have to be different from any other day. It will come and it will pass just as any other day does. Try as best you can to enjoy this day with the people around you, difficult as it may be. Be present with the people you’re surrounded by and constantly be thinking about the things you’re thankful for, because this day should be more about that than it should be about food.

Lastly, you can do this!!!!! You’ve made it trough every Thanksgiving meal you’ve had so far in your lifetime, be confident in your ability to make it through this one as well. You are strong. You can do it.

a post for pastor appreciation month

One of my favorite things in the world to do is use writing as a way to express gratitude and love for people, so today, as we acknowledge clergy appreciation day, and more broadly, October as Pastor Appreciation Month, I am going to try and do just that. Even as a writer, I have to say, however, that it is certainly difficult to find enough words to express appreciation for pastors to the extent to which they deserve to be appreciated. Pastors undoubtedly have one of the hardest jobs in the world, yet they continue that job each and every day, acknowledging that it is not simply a job, rather, a lifestyle into which they have been called by God to pursue.

Every year when this month of pastor appreciation rolls around, it always reminds me of how very thankful I should be (and am) this month and always, to know all of the pastors in my life.

Each and every pastor I know or have simply crossed paths with has taught me something that I will undoubtedly carry with me for the rest of my life, and I am so grateful. So, if you are pastor and reading this post today, I just want to thank you. Thank you for pursuing God’s call upon your life, and dedicating the life that you have been given, to God, in order to serve his church and his children. This post today is for you, and I want you to know that you have impacted me in one, if not more than one, of the ways written below. Thank you for all that you do each day to first be a disciple, so that you can make disciples, and love and lead others. I know that pastors are imperfect human beings just like the rest of the world. I know sometimes you find yourself exhausted, burnt out, overworked, and very much in need of a vacation. I know you become hurt, stressed, and think that you are not doing a good enough job, or feel as though what you are doing isn’t effective, or feel as though you have to have all of the answers but don’t – I want you to know that you are doing good, you are making a positive difference, and you are putting a huge smile on God’s face each day.

You all have taught me so much; more than I ever thought I needed to know about ministry, about being a pastor, and about simply being a Christ follower.

You have taught me to never take anything too seriously, including myself. Yet you have also shown me what it looks like to lead during difficult and very dark, serious times. You have taught me and reminded me that I do not need to be perfect in order to lead well or effectively. You have exemplified for me what it looks like to  remainin patient and full of grace, during church meetings, during conflict, in every conversation, with every person (even difficult people). You have been there when I have needed someone to simply be an ear. You have listened to me talk about my triumphs and trials, and you have been there as I have cried tears of sadness and tears of joy. You have offered me wisdom that I will remember and carry with me in the months and years to come, especially wisdom that I myself will need and use when I become a pastor myself. You have reminded me about the importance of self care, Sabbath, and not spreading myself too thin, which I know you probably struggle with too, and I’m sure when you’ve told me that, you were preaching it to yourself just as much as you were preaching it to me. You have shown me how to stand up for what is right, without fearing what others may think. You have helped me develop thick skin by offering advice that you have gathered from your own personal experiences in ministry. You have reminded me over and over again that there are always going to be naysayers, so I should simply let their comments roll off me like rain. You have reminded me of my call when I have felt discouraged and unable. You have never once doubted me as an individual or as an aspiring pastor, rather, you have challenged me. You have challenged me in a way that makes me think and better discern, and in challenging me, you have reminded me that it is because you love and because you want to help me become better. You have welcomed me into your churches and into the pulpit; I know it takes a certain level of trust to allow someone to come into the church you pastor and preach a message to the congregation you shepherd, and I will never not be grateful for those of you who have welcomed me to do just that. I am so incredibly grateful for your presence and for the light and perspective you have brought into my life. I am grateful for your support and your encouragement, as well as your constructive criticism. I am grateful for all of the hugs, for the opportunities to preach, for the serious chats and the ridiculously silly chats over coffee or lunch, for the ways in which you have mentored me, and for the many, many other ways in which you have impacted my life for the better.

It makes me excited (and only sometimes nervous) to watch intently (no pressure) as you each do this whole ‘ministry’ thing. When I was younger, I never said, “when I grow up, I want to be a pastor” because I didn’t know this was something God had in mind for me until junior year of high school. But these days, when I see you all leading church services, meetings, preaching, or whatever it may be – I can’t help but think about how excited I am to get to do that someday. You have let me in and shown me all of the many different sides of ministry; the good, the bad, and everything in between, and I am so glad for that, because though chaotic and intimidating sometimes, it has given me a better understanding of what the ministry I am called to is all about…It’s messy, but it’s beautiful, and it’s all for Christ.

So now that I have rambled on for way longer than I should have, I hope what you can take away from this post is that all of you have impacted me and helped shape me into the individual I am, the aspiring pastor I am, and the pastor I will be someday, and I will always be thankful for that. And if you are a pastor I do not know, I can say with confidence you too have impacted the lives of many. I know there is no such thing as a perfect pastor, rather, an imperfect person simply following a perfect God’s call to serve his church – keep doing what you’re doing, and know I’m praying for each of you.

To Pastor Rob, Rev. Davis, Pastor Megan, Pastor Paul, Pastor Will, Pastor Marc, Pastor Sarah, Bob, Rachel, Danny, Pastor Fuss, Pastor Larry, Pastor Steve – to every pastor I know, whether we’ve met once or know one another quite well, please know I have nothing but love, respect, appreciation, and care for you, and I hope you know that today and always.

 

A Prayer for Las Vegas

Las Vegas has been weighing heavily on my heart and mind today, as I’m sure it has been on yours as well. Right now, I feel as though I have nothing to offer but prayer, and I am encouraged by that, because I believe there is great power to be found in prayer, and it is needed right now, as it is always. I cannot begin to imagine the unbearable fear that the people attending this concert must have been filled with when this person opened fire, killing 50+ people and injuring hundreds more. I checked Twitter every chance I could today, trying to keep informed and updated on what was going on in Nevada, but I had to stop. I had to stop because it became overwhelming and sad to see politics trumping the compassion, empathy, love, and prayers that Las Vegas is so desperately in need of right now. My brothers and sisters, events such as the one that occurred today is not an excuse to argue about our political views. I am not saying that the political issues associated with events such as this one should not be talked about, but remember to tread lightly, and remember that people have died and there is a lot of grief to be had right now. May we also remember that these acts of terror and hate that leave us broken, also leave us with an opportunity to unite in a type of love that casts out the hate that people who carry out such events strive to spread. May we stand with the community of Las Vegas as they mourn and heal, may we be in prayer for them, and may we unite to uplift them during this time.


 

Merciful God, we come before you burdened with a pain and sadness that we can never seem to comprehend when these events occur. As we watch the effects of the massacre in Las Vegas unfold, we are filled with anger, fear, and anxious and hurt hearts for the community of Las Vegas. We come to you, God, with the hope and prayer that you would heal the enormous hurt, whether emotional or physical, that has been caused by this event. We pray that you would be with the friends and families of those who lost their lives as a result of this hate-filled act. We pray that you would cover with your loving and healing hands all of your children who were affected. We pray that you would bring comfort to those who are mourning – may we mourn with them. We pray for the courage, during this time, and always, to love one another amid a world that is so constantly seems to be on a mission to divide us further and further apart, especially when tragedies like this strike. We pray for the wisdom to always know that no matter what, your love is greater, stronger, and more powerful than any act of hate that tries to overcome our country and world. We pray for peace right now, God, and we thank you that when we feel there is no good left in the world, we may be brought peace by the simple reassurance that there is good left in the world because YOU are GOOD, and YOU are here, even amid all of this turmoil. Help us to see you, seek you, and be like you each day. Help us to be bearers of your goodness and perfect love in a world that is in such desperate need of it more and more each day. We pray that you would help us to know how to act in response to the massacre that occurred in Las Vegas. Help us to speak in love and act in love so that people, especially like the person who committed this act of hate, would know your love. Help us to be beacons of your peace, love, grace, and compassion, everywhere we go. We ask above all right now that you would simply be present with Nevada and each person affected by this shooting – may they know you and your peace and comfort. We pray all of this in your son Jesus’ precious and holy name –

Amen.