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The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts

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Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Week of January 17, 2021
Scripture: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)

Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.'"
(1 Samuel 3:8b-9, NRSV)

Devotion

God is calling us.

I do not presume to know in what way God is calling you. I have all I can say grace over trying to figure out my own life. But I do know that God is calling us all.

What if we adopted the phrase, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening"? What if we used it as a prayer practice for a week? What might we learn?

We watch the news on TV. We pray, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening," and then we turn off the TV and sit in silence and listen.

We have a disagreement with someone we love. They get on our nerves. We take ourselves apart for just a second (the pantry is nearby, that will do) and we pray, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." Then we do nothing but breathe for 30 seconds and we listen.

The Zoom meeting goes long and the same person monopolizes the conversation and the same feeling of "I can't do this much longer" washes over us and we take a bathroom break and whisper, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening" and stay in there an extra minute in silence, listening.

I don't know what you will hear. I don't know what I will hear. But I know we will hear nothing if we do not take a few seconds to stop speaking and listen.

Prayer

God, we long to be faithful disciples.

We want to be who you want us to be and do what you want us to do.

Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.

Amen.

Lindy ThompsonLindy Thompson
Lyricist and Poet
Christ United Methodist Church
Franklin, TN 

 

Photo: Pixabay

 

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Beginning

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Baptism of the Lord

Week of January 10, 2021
Scripture: Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth ...
(Genesis 1:1, NRSV)

Devotion

"In the beginning when God ..."

There was a beginning to creation. A before and an after. A not-yet-existing and a look-there-it-is. However this world came to be, there was a before-it-started.

There was no beginning to God.

We don't have words to describe the eternity of God's presence. We try to express ourselves through poetry, we write music, we sing and dance and paint and sculpt. We, as part of God's ongoing good creation, seek to express the wonder of God to each other and all people, and this is good and right and is a gift back to the Giver. We cannot grasp it, though. We cannot grip it. We can only commit to spiritual practices, rain or shine, and make ourselves ready and open so that when the sound of the silence of God comes in the wind or the storm or the laughter or the tears, we are present to it and feel the resonance in our bones, in our souls.

This new year offers us a new beginning. Amen to that. We humbly ask that God work through us to bring about God's will and purpose in this world, and we are thankful to do this work with each other.

Onward, friends! Happy 2021!

Prayer

O God, of whom there is no beginning and no end, be with us in this new year and use us as your vessels to do your good will and your good work. We thank you for each other and we thank you for new beginnings. Amen.

Lindy ThompsonLindy Thompson
Lyricist and Poet
Christ United Methodist Church
Franklin, TN 

 

Photo: Annie Spratt / Pixabay

 

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A Different Road Entirely

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Epiphany of the Lord Sunday

Week of January 3, 2021
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12

... they left for their own country by another road.
(Matthew 2:12, NRSV)

Devotion

When God manifested Godself in a downy-headed, intense-eyed infant, God ripped away a layer of unknowing between humans and the divine. It changed everything. The world as it was, up to that point, was picked up, shaken, and put back down. For those who knew, everything was different from that moment forward. For those who did not know yet, the first ripple had begun its movement and would make itself felt in most locations at some point down the years. Whether in acceptance or rejection, whether in a teaching or an unnamed inner knowing, this ripple would affect most humans in some way from that point forward.

It's not how the people of the time thought they would be saved. It was a different road entirely from what they expected.

Today, it feels to many of us as if our worlds have been picked up and shaken. Everything is different, and there is an overlayer of pain that cannot be avoided. When so many of us are suffering at once, it is going to affect the energy everywhere. There is a collective grieving even as we acknowledge and celebrate the birth of Christ.

We are in need of an epiphany.

So. Since we are obviously not going to make it home on the road by which we came, let us commit to choosing that other road together. The Magi did not walk that new road alone – neither should we. All of us together, connected to each other through our love of Jesus and our deep desire to be vessels of God for our congregations, can set our faces toward unknown horizons, knowing there will be manna enough for everyone because it is God who leads. It is God who provides. We, together, are blessed to companion each other toward our own epiphanies.

We are not alone; we have each other, and best of all, God is with us. Alleluia, amen!

Prayer

Ready my heart for the new, O God, and set my feet on the road of your choosing. Thank you for my loyal companions, and may we care for each other as you have cared for us. Amen.

Lindy ThompsonLindy Thompson
Lyricist and Poet
Christ United Methodist Church
Franklin, TN 

 

Photo: Annie Spratt / Pixabay

 

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As Is

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Christmas Eve

Week of December 24, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 96

... let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy ...
(Psalm 96:12, NRSV)

Devotion

How does a tree sing?

A tree sings by being the best tree it can – by blooming where it is planted.

A tree has no control over where it is located. All it can do is what God has created it to do – to draw deeply of the nutrition of the earth through its roots, to reach as high as it is able toward the life-giving sun. To shunt all its energy towards blossoming in the spring and conserve all its energy by letting its leaves drop in the fall.

We are 48 hours away from Christmas morning. There is still much to be done, and our hearts are missing so many things and events that weren't an option this year. We want to have the desire to sing and celebrate like we always have, and yet …

Maybe this is the year we sing like a tree – by being exactly who we are, in our not-of-our-own choosing locations, in whatever season of life we find ourselves. Reaching down into the foundation of our being for the wisdom God provides, stretching up to the sky for the hope God promises. Spending our energy on being where we are and enjoying what we encounter to the best of our abilities instead of using up our time wishing things were different.

To wish things were different right now is an expected emotion – normal, not unique to us, and completely understandable. However, let us release our grip on that desire as best we can and, right where we are planted, sing for joy with all the trees of the forest, because, do you know what?

The Lord really is coming.

Prayer

O come, o come, Emmanuel, anyway. And thank you so much for your love for us that finds us where we are and grows us to deeper wisdom and higher hope. Amen.

Lindy ThompsonLindy Thompson
Lyricist and Poet
Christ United Methodist Church
Franklin, TN 

 

Photo: Daniel Spase / Pexels

 

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Peace

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Fourth Sunday of Advent

Week of December 20, 2020
Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."
(Luke 1:28, NRSV)

Devotion

The Lord is with you.

Wherever you are in this moment, please take a deep breath.

Sit down if you can.

Gather yourself for just a moment. Those far-flung thoughts that have zipped way ahead of you into the future, into the what-ifs, into the worst-case scenarios. Those thudding fears that keep pulling you down when you need to be thinking up, when you need to be thinking hope and love and joy, and not, “Oh no, what now?”

Gather all of yourself together in one place, just for a moment.

The Lord is with you.

The Lord is with you.

The Lord is with you.

You are not alone. You are not irreparably scattered. You are here, you are gifted, you are needed, you are cherished, you are LOVED.

Your breath calls God, and God calls back. Every minute of every day on this beautiful, troubled, holy planet.

May the peace of Christ be with you.

Prayer

Holy God, be my peace, now and forevermore. Amen.

Lindy ThompsonLindy Thompson
Lyricist and Poet
Christ United Methodist Church
Franklin, TN 

 

Photo: Andre Moura / Pexels

 

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With Joy

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Third Sunday of Advent

Week of December 13, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 126

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
(Psalm 126:5-6, NRSV)

Devotion

In God, nothing is wasted, nothing remains unused, and even the weeping bear seed for sowing. And their harvest shall be joy.

For this exceptionally difficult time in our world, be it viruses or every other type of unrest, it is so wonderful to be reminded that we will, indeed, come home and that our joy will be such that we will be shouting with it! That’s some impressive joy, stronger than anything that has come before, strong enough to see us home, to be our home.

The joy that is found in God through Christ is not dependent on circumstance, health, politics, or tradition. It is a response to the deep, abiding love that God has for us. As we work in our various ways as worship artists this season, making room for God to be born anew in us and in the congregations we serve, let us welcome everyone home with joy and help our congregations express their gratefulness for God’s inestimable gift in Jesus Christ.

Prayer

Jesus, joy of our desiring, please reawaken in us our awareness of you and the gift that you are to us. Please remind us of the joy that is ours just by virtue of being your children. Amen.

Lindy ThompsonLindy Thompson
Lyricist and Poet
Christ United Methodist Church
Franklin, TN 

 

Photo: Jill Wellington / Pexels

 

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Gathered and Carried

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Second Sunday of Advent

Week of December 6, 2020
Scripture: Isaiah 40:1-11

He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
(Isaiah 40:11, NRSV)

Devotion

The worship artist, when exercising their craft, is the parent sheep. Filled with concern, wanting the best, hoping to translate anew the miracle of the Word made flesh for a weary, grieving congregation. Needing this translation themselves, as well, to keep the fire within burning and the faith nourished so that there is inspiration to share, to give away. Knowing with thankfulness that they are not on their own, that God is deeply invested in being known and loved and engaged in relationship – that God is the shepherd and will carry those who are in a time of need.

O the love of the shepherd for the sheep! O the love of God for each one of us – those who lead, those who fall behind, those who need carrying. As we all cycle through the stages of leading and needing, let us keep alive in our hearts the flame of the love of God, and let us be warmed by the promise that God will pull us close in our time of need.

Lead bravely, knowing that you are not, and never will be, alone.

Prayer

O Divine Love! How grateful we are for you! Fill us, inspire us, stir us to again to help us make known your indescribable adoration for all people. Amen.

Lindy ThompsonLindy Thompson
Lyricist and Poet
Christ United Methodist Church
Franklin, TN 

 

Photo: Pixabay

 

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Together in Our Hope

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First Sunday of Advent

Week of November 29, 2020
Scripture: Isaiah 64:1-9

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
(Isaiah 64:8, NRSV)

Devotion

Welcome to Advent! I'm not sure when God's clay has been more collectively fatigued, but here we are; and we are, despite our physical distance, together in our hope – our hope for our world, our hope for our faith, our hope for a meaningful and transformational Advent season.

We are all leading and contributing in uniquely challenging – some might say stunningly challenging – times. When problems seem insurmountable, give yourself grace, and then more grace, because whatever joyful noise (perfectly synchronized or not) we make to the Lord is pleasing in God's ear and is a lifeline for the singers and hearers.

Speaking as a layperson, there have been so many heavy emotions in the last eight months, I have sometimes resisted music because it makes me feel, and I have had all the feelings I could deal with on a daily basis. But music is woven so deeply into the preparation for the birth of Jesus that it cannot, and should not, ever be separated, and this music moves and stirs us – and when have we ever been more ready for a message of hope?

So let voices rise and music soar as the songs and scripture of Advent take us all by the hand and lead us back in time, forward into God's future, and fill us with the eternally renewing hope of Christ.

Prayer

O God, I am in need of you and I am in need of hope. Please open my eyes, ears, and heart to signs of hope and paths of becoming. I trust you; help me trust you more. Amen.

Lindy ThompsonLindy Thompson
Lyricist and Poet
Christ United Methodist Church
Franklin, TN 

 

Photo: Pixabay

 

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God Is In Control

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Reign of Christ Sunday

Week of: November 22, 2020

Editor's note: For our devotions for the month of November, three teenagers will share their experiences during the pandemic and reflect on what they still find to be hopeful and grateful for in these challenging times. These devotions will not reflect the traditional Lectionary scriptures for each week, but we pray that they bring you hope and gratitude as we enter into a season of Thanksgiving.

 

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
(Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)

Devotion

We have experienced so many eventful things in our nation and in the world in 2020. Our everyday lives have been drastically impacted by this pandemic, and it seems that we live in an entirely different world now. Despite businesses, churches, and schools being closed, and activities and programs being canceled, cases continue to rise, which has made many people lose sight of the future.

Being in my last year of middle school in March, I had my year all planned out with activities, summer camps, friends to see over the summer, and preparation for going into high school. However, what started out as a small problem turned out to be much bigger than I ever thought it would be. Covid cases grew at such a pace and once it spread all around the country, I realized that my year would not go as I thought it would. Though knowing God will put an end to this, I, just like many people, still wonder how long this will last.

However, I gradually realized that God put a stop sign right in front of my busy life. This has given me more time in Bible study for growing a deeper relationship with God. Jeremiah 29:11 reminds me that I don't need to worry about how this pandemic is going to go or lose sight of the future because God is in control.

With all of the uncertainties that result from Covid, we should not be doubting what the future holds. God holds the future, and God's plan is perfect for us. Though hope may seem to be hard to find in these dark times, God has given us his words and full assurance. When we fix our eyes on God, we know we can enter into God's rest and see his perfect plan.

Prayer

Dear God, we thank you for everything that you have provided us in these dark times. Forgive us when we lose sight of you and your plans for our future. Help us to remember that you are in control of everything and will provide us hope.

Timothy L.Timothy L.
High school freshman
Dunlap, IL 

 

Photo by Josh Hild from Pexels.

 

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Unexpected Blessings

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Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: November 15, 2020

Editor's note: For our devotions for the month of November, three teenagers will share their experiences during the pandemic and reflect on what they still find to be hopeful and grateful for in these challenging times. These devotions will not reflect the traditional Lectionary scriptures for each week, but we pray that they bring you hope and gratitude as we enter into a season of Thanksgiving.

 

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
(1 Peter 5:10, NIV)

Devotion

This scripture brings me comfort in a time like this because God is reassuring us that through our struggles, no matter how big or small, God will replenish our focus and strength. I imagine almost everyone, no matter if you are a student or working professional, feels drained and possibly even insecure during these challenging times. My family and friends have been a strong source of love and encouragement throughout my life, and I am grateful for their love and guidance as I grow physically, mentally, and spiritually. Yet during the past six months, as one school year ended with a graduation and a new year began in college, I discovered God provided a new and unexpected blessing.

I have been especially thankful for the educators who are teaching my classes this semester. They have done a much better job than I have in adjusting to the times we are facing. I have looked to them for direction and guidance in my education, and they have been there to support and encourage me. However, there has been one thing missing in my first year in college – the opportunity to collaborate with others in some artistic capacity. This all changed last month when my college's jazz band invited me to join them for weekly rehearsals, and I could not have been more excited. For me, the ability to return to making music with others, even in a different format, has given me hope and restored my soul. I now have a way to be expressive again using the talents that God has given me. 

In this pandemic filled with social distancing and isolation, I have discovered that God is blessing me with supportive teachers, new friends, new opportunities, and new ways to collaborate with others despite all we must do to be safe. Take a look at your situation. How is God blessing you in the midst of this suffering and discomfort?

Prayer

Dear Lord, no words can express how thankful we are for receiving your blessings. Thank you for protection and for bringing healing to those who have faced trouble. We know you are on our side every step of our journey, and we pray that you will restore us and keep us steadfast in doing your will. Amen.

Ben KrumpeBen Krumpe
Freshman, Illinois Central College
East Peoria, IL 

 

Photo by Christoph Schütz from Pixabay.

 

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Making Things Good

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Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: November 8, 2020

Editor's note: For our devotions for the month of November, three high school students will share their experiences during the pandemic and reflect on what they still find to be hopeful and grateful for in these challenging times. These devotions will not reflect the traditional Lectionary scriptures for each week, but we pray that they bring you hope and gratitude as we enter into a season of Thanksgiving.

 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
(Romans 8:28, NIV)

Devotion

2020. This year was supposed to be an awesome junior year of high school. I was supposed to have a bunch of challenging classes, hang out with my friends, get my license, participate in extracurriculars, and more. Well, things didn't exactly turn out as expected.

2020 completely defied expectations. It’s easy to complain and view this year as a major disappointment, but this passage in Romans tells us that God has a plan and is working things out for the good of those who love him.

This year, everyone's struggling with many disappointments, challenges, and questions. Instead of responding with complaining, as Christians, we are called to look for God at work and be thankful. It's really hard to be grateful sometimes, but the Bible also tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. I need to ask myself often: How is God working this for my good? "This" can be a lot of different things, from social distancing to remote learning! Once I ask that question, it's easier for me to rejoice in my situation. Sometimes, we don't know the answer. But, we know that God has promised he is working, and when he makes a promise, he never breaks it. Whenever we don't know, all we need to do is ask.

We need to be careful because this verse doesn't mean that everything is good or that God works all things for the good we think we deserve. We need to understand that as Christians, God has given us a promise that even though things may be rough here on earth, there will be good. We can stand firmly on that promise. So when you start to question the rough patches in life, I challenge you, instead of complaining, choose gratefulness, and ask, "How is God working 'this' for my good?"

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for working things for my good. Forgive me for the times when I complain and for when I ignore the work you are doing in the situations that surround me every day. Please teach me to look for how you are working in this world, and help me to choose thankfulness. Amen.

AmeliaAmelia
High school junior
Washington, IL 

 

Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels.

 

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These Things Happen

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All Saints' Day / Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: November 1, 2020
Scripture: Revelation 7:9-17

And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.
(Revelation 7:11, NRSV)

Devotion

As a teenager, I had the opportunity to perform Handel's Messiah with my church choir. After almost an entire year of preparing for this Easter concert, a packed church gathered. The concert was going very well until the very last number. "Worthy is the Lamb That Was Slain" includes a complicated section that quotes Revelation 7:12, "Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God!"

Well, the worst thing happened! Something went wrong between the choir and the orchestra. It was a mess. The choir director desperately tried to bring us back together, but eventually, she just gave us a big wave of her hand stopping the music. She took a breath, turned around to the audience, and said, "Sometimes, these things happen." We started again and went on to a triumphant end. I remember feeling so embarrassed for her, but years later, I see amazing humility.

It would be easy to sing the Messiah and take the glory for ourselves. After all, we worked very hard, but the glory belongs to God. Being a Christian can sometimes feel like a lot of work and things can get messy. Sometimes, these things happen. Perhaps we should stop what we are doing and humble ourselves before God, then start again, confident in the God who created us and redeemed us. When the triumphant end arrives, we will fall before the throne and worship.

Prayer

God of heaven, today we stop and hit the restart button. As we start again, remind us that we are yours and you are our shepherd. All glory and honor are yours now and forever, Amen.

Kelli MullinixKelli Mullinix
Associate Pastor / Contemporary Worship Leader
First United Methodist Church
Hendersonvile, NC 

 

Photo: André Thomas conducts the Adult Choir during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

 

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Is This Working?

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Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: October 25, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands – O prosper the work of our hands!
(Psalm 90:14-17, NRSV)

Devotion

I find myself afflicted by the artistic curse known as "jack of all trades, master of none." A little music here, a little graphic design there, and a mountain of video production over these last six months have contributed to the feeling that "the work of my hands" may not mean much after the music is heard and forgotten, the graphic viewed and discarded, and the video stream silenced and archived. Even when I venture into wood and metalwork, I know these tangible pieces will eventually decay and be forgotten.

So much art made for worship can feel utilitarian and disposable after it has been viewed, performed, or consumed. The constant churn of weekly church sometimes leaves me wondering what will endure after the service is over. This week's Psalm reminds me that God stretches well beyond anything that has and ever will exist – as far back as we can collectively remember, as far forward as our collective minds are able to imagine. While our human place in this vastness of God is like the quickness of a dream or the frailness of grass, the work we accomplish with our hands can find meaning through the satisfying steadfast love of God that renews itself each and every morning.

If you, like I, wonder if the things we make actually make a difference, this Psalm encourages us to rejoice and be glad in the work God has already done, is doing, and will continue to do, even through the work of our hands.

Prayer

Eternal God, you have set eternity in our hearts and mortality in our hands. Give us the wisdom, grace, and steadfast love to unite your eternity and our mortality for the coming of your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Isaac GaffDr. Isaac Gaff
Managing Director of Worship and Creative Arts
Calvary United Methodist Church
Normal, IL 

 

Photo: Eddie Huss plays the organ at Waynesville First UMC during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

 

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Called to Lead

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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: October 18, 2020
Scripture: Exodus 33:12-23

"If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people." The Lord replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."
(Exodus 33:13-14, NIV)

Devotion

I have a terrifying suspicion that when church gets back to "normal," rather than picking up in the same way, I'll be starting over. Many of my volunteers are aging, have tasted the sweet fruit of commitment-free Sundays and will be stepping away. Some of my choir members feel they have lost their voices after months of not singing regularly. The usher ministry will never look the same. In every facet of worship ministry, there are big changes ahead.

During this pandemic, our jobs as worship artists have fundamentally changed. Instead of working with my ensembles on blend, tone, and diction, I'm coaching them on how to record and submit video projects! Our media team's skills in visual worship presentation have shifted to editing software and online collaboration platforms. Church has left the building.

In this week’s text, Moses is on the precipice of some really hard leadership days. He says to God, "You have been telling me to lead these people," and Moses is not sure what that looks like. God is still calling us to lead these people — our people. We lead them to find their voices again, help folks transition into new volunteer ministries, and hone our (new!) skills. In the midst of great change and challenge, God gives Moses a promise: "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." I pray that we find God's rest, but more — that through these difficult days, we will continue to experience God's presence as we are shaped into new worship artists and leaders for the people we are called to lead.

Prayer

God of all gifts, thank you for the gifts of artistry and leadership you have instilled in us. Send your presence with us as we navigate new art forms and new ways of leading your people. Grant us your peace and holy inspiration! May Christ shine in all our endeavors. Amen.

Laurin Daniels AllredLaurin Daniels Allred
Director of Music Ministries & Worship Arts
Muir's Chapel United Methodist Church
Greensboro, NC 

 

Photo: Danny Lyons leads a rehearsal of the Advanced Handbell ensemble during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019.  (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

 

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Make Fresh My Heart

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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: October 11, 2020
Scripture: Philippians 4:1-9

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:4-7, NRSV)

Devotion

Throughout my life when I have felt anxious, I have always been able to find peace by making music. I find that peace alone in an empty room with just a piano or in worship singing a hymn or an anthem. I must admit, not having communal singing has left me quite anxious in the last few months. I know I am not alone in this sentiment.

I find solace each time I read the words to Robert Lowry's hymn "How Can I Keep From Singing?" The hymn reassures me saying "no storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I'm clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?" I am reminded that no matter my anxieties and stresses, God is still creating the song. For the time being, that song might look a bit different, but we have the comfort of knowing God is in control.

In the last stanza of the hymn, the text states "the peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing, all things are mine since I am his, how can I keep from singing?" A fresh heart, a fresh purpose, a fresh song to sing to the Lord. There are so many ways to continue the song. Will you continue to sing with me? How can we keep from singing?

Prayer

God, grant us your peace from all of the worry and anxiety in our lives. Help us to continue to sing our song and give thanksgiving to you as we find fresh new ways to show your love. Amen.

Tony SaneTony Sane
Director of Music
Myers Memorial United Methodist Church
Gastonia, NC 

 

Photo: The Young Adult Choir sings during Evening Prayer held in Memorial Chapel at Lake Junaluska during Music & Worship Arts Week 2019. (Fellowship photo by Daniel Craig.)

 

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God's Creation

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost / World Communion Sunday

Week of: October 4, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 19

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
(Psalm 19:1, NRSV)

Devotion

The first six verses of Psalm 19 state that the heavenly bodies are proof that a powerful, creative God exists. The heavens are God's unfailing evidence that God's truth exists always – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The first verse points out the two areas where God has chosen to reveal God's self. "The heavens" refer to what appears in the sky about "the firmament," meaning the expanse of God's creation.

As worship leaders, we know well the beloved hymn, "How Great Thou Art" (#77, United Methodist Hymnal). Verse 1, in particular, speaks well to this truth.

The writer of this hymn (which was first a poem), Carl G. Boberg, was unforgettably inspired, after walking home from church services near Kronobäck, Sweden, and listening to the calm melodies of church bells ringing. A sudden, violent storm ("rolling thunder") got Boberg's attention, and then just as suddenly as it had made its appearance, it subsided to a peaceful calm which Boberg observed over Mönsterås Bay.

In the storm and darkness that is our world right now, we should, with faith, look forward to the peaceful calm that God alone will provide. We just need to be focused on God's love and magnificent creation, and when doubts and fears arise, look to God's handiwork in the heavens and stars for peace. God's presence and protection are always present and will provide comfort to God's children. In response to the wonders of God's creation and promise to us, we worship, singing about "how great Thou art," referring to God's unfathomable greatness. God's law and the work of God's hands are perfect. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "Only in darkness can you see the stars." Let us all continue to look up to the heavens for our refuge and strength to carry on in God's name.

Prayer

Dear God, continue to inspire us through your creation in heaven and on earth to live, love, and create in the midst of the storm. Let our souls sing, "my God, how great Thou art," to gain the peace that passes all understanding. In the words of Psalm 19:14, let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.

Debbie JailletteDebbie Jaillette
Director of Music
St. Luke United Methodist Church
Lancaster, SC 

 

Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger from Pexels.

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Leaning In

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 27, 2020
Scripture: Philippians 2:1-13

God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out (God’s) good purposes.
(Philippians 2:13, CEB)

Devotion

In this unprecedented time, I am certainly not the only one asking: How do we offer effective, relevant worship experiences? We are all in an off-the-map place. Funny, it's somehow comforting in knowing that we are all in this together, and there is solidarity.

Our church continues to provide virtual worship, complete with virtual choir pieces and artwork. It is tempting to feel stuck by the nearly overwhelming amount of work that goes into this new way to worship each week, but let's turn a corner here. We are each uniquely enabled, by our Creator God, to both want to work and live out the work at hand.

Take a moment today to connect with that ember, that calling which God placed in your soul for ministry. This is the "want." It is God-given. Perhaps then, take another moment to be still and permit the Spirit of God to reveal ways to creatively "live out" the work ahead. Surprising ideas may come to mind! Lean into this uninhibited creativity.

OK. Let's listen, and then, let's get to work.

Prayer

Holy Spirit, think through us until your ideas become our ideas. Amen.

Janna PetersonJanna Peterson
Director of Music Ministries
Normal First UMC
Normal, IL 

 

Photo by Vincenzo Malagoli from Pexels.

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God Has a Plan

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 20, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45

For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant. So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing. He gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples, that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 105:42-45, NRSV)

Devotion

Psalm 105 reminds us of God's work among the people from the time of Abraham through the delivery of his children into the Promised Land. It is a wonderful reminder to us of God's faithfulness to the Children of Israel, but also God's faithfulness to us today. When the Lord remembered his "holy promise" to Abraham, God brought out his people from the bondage of Egypt to the security of the Holy Land "that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws" (vs. 45). When the Lord makes a promise, he does whatever it takes to make it come true. God gives us reasons to praise him.

As pastors, church musicians, and worship artists, we work to praise God within the context of creating a meaningful worship experience. Every component of worship seeks to reach the heart of the worshipper, to enable God's voice to speak to the heart of those seeking a closer walk with Christ.

An important part of our worship experience is to offer our praise to God through singing. Singing is a vehicle by which God comes to us. Singing from the heart has always been a form of worship in which the Lord is pleased. A magical place is found! Every voice is welcome – every soul is encouraged to express itself and to be part of the sometimes mystical, sometimes whimsical immersion in the sound of voices.

Because of COVID-19, churches no longer reverberate with song; hymnals are neatly stacked and television screens project the order of worship. We cannot sing!

As a pastor/musician, I understand the importance of not singing during the pandemic.

Since COVID-19, our organist and I are playing the hymns on Sunday morning, the words are projected on the screen, but we do not sing. My inner soul wants to shout out, "I want to sing!"

Yet, I am reminded how the psalmist concludes his psalm about how God has a plan for all things by noting that after their suffering God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt with great wealth (vs. 44). God led them through the desert to the land he had promised them so that they could worship him and follow his commands. God will do likewise for us. Our voices will once again unite. We will sing again when the time is right, when COVID-19 is behind us. Until then, may our singing come from the depth of our hearts, knowing that God hears what mortals cannot!

Prayer

Dear Lord, prod our memory when we forget your miracles. Write them on our hearts and stir us to sing about your goodness from the depth of our souls. May every song we sing be a sacrifice of praise to your holy name. Amen.

Patti WiseRev. Patti Wise
Pastor
Batestown/Union Corner UMC
Danville, IL 

 

Photo: The worship altar at Batestown United Methodist Church on August 30, 2020. (Photo submitted by Patti Wise.)

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What's Your Opinion?

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: September 13, 2020
Scripture: Romans 14:1-12

Welcome the person who is weak in faith – but not in order to argue about differences of opinion ... Why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God.
(Romans 14:1, 10, CEB)

Devotion

Most of us have unlimited access to one another's opinions via social media, and there's the constant barrage of opinions coming through every news source related to health, politics, race, religion, and so on. Reinforcing it all are messages like, "Make your voice heard!" and "Your opinion matters!"

So, whose opinion wins out? To whom do we listen? Is it the loudest voice? The most popular opinion? The one that sounds closest to ours? What about the voices and opinions that go unheard? The ones that never get a hearing? Are they any less important, less valid?

Paul, in this passage from Romans, is talking to the church about judging and being judged, but ultimately it is about deciding who belongs at the table. How does Paul answer? All who confess Jesus as Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead belong in the same worshipping family and at the same table.

So how do we get everyone to the same table? Right now, more importantly than sharing our opinions, we should be sharing our stories with one another. People who know one another's stories are more likely to feel connected to each other, and people who feel connected are more willing to sit together at the same table.

Prayer

Bind us together, Lord, with cords that cannot be broken. Amen.

Kevin PresleyKevin Presley
Financial and Personnel Coordinator, The Fellowship
Minister of Music and Worship, Emmanuel United Methodist Church
Memphis, TN 

 

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels.

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Give God Praise

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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Week of: August 30, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b

Go ahead and give God thanks for all the glorious things he has done! Go ahead and worship him! Tell everyone about his wonders! Let's sing his praises! Sing, and put all of his miracles to music! Shine and make your joyful boast in him, you lovers of God. Let's be happy and keep rejoicing no matter what. Seek more of his strength! Seek more of him! Let's always be seeking the light of his face. Don't you ever forget his miracles and marvels. Hold to your heart every judgment he has decreed.
(Psalm 105:1-5, The Passion Translation)

Devotion

Tucked away in rural Fayette County, TN, stands a wooden, open-air Tabernacle where for 127 years many families have gathered for a weeklong camp meeting in the heat of the summer. During the event, often called "Campground," family and friends move into cabins (with electricity, but no air conditioning!) and attend Morning Prayer, Bible Study, and Evening Church. I have been blessed to have married into this tradition. A few weeks ago my family packed up the car and headed to Campground for the last four days of the camp meeting.

One of the most holy moments while there was during the closing worship service on Sunday. The song that was sung was "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." As we sang about joining with nature in witness to God, a Golden Swamp Warbler swooped into the Tabernacle to feed her fledglings in the rafters. How remarkable it was that we were singing of joining with nature to praise God as this magnificent bird made her way through the church. I couldn't help but think of Matthew 6:26: "Look at the birds in the sky. They don't sow or harvest ... Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren't you worth more than they are?"

If this season of chaos has taught me anything, it is that God is with us always. In the midst of the chaos of my life, I have been reminded of God's presence and protection. Those few days of rest reminded me that God has this under control. In the midst of the chaos, go ahead and give God praise!

Prayer

God of all creation, of calm and storm, remind us often of your presence with us. When we are consumed by the chaos, send us gentle reminders of your care and compassion. May we seek more of you: your presence, your strength, your light. We give you all the praise! Amen.

Dakota HillDakota Hill
Publications and Media Coordinator, The Fellowship
Director of Music and Worship Arts, First United Methodist Church
Dyersburg, TN 

 

Photo: "Prothonotary warbler" by William H. Majoros is licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

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