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In Memoriam: Bill Graham

Billy Graham went into the presence of the Lord on February 21, 2018.

The Bible tells us in Revelation 14:13: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord … that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them” (NKJV).

Many have said that his death ends an era, but he would be the first to say that when God’s ambassadors die in Christ, the Lord raises up others, because the preaching of the Gospel will go forward until the end of the age.  God’s blessing continues as He opens doors for the Gospel around the world.

As this very public ambassador is laid to rest, please pray with us that the testimony he leaves behind will touch many lives and point them to salvation in Jesus Christ.  Billy Graham’s journey of faith on earth has ended.  He has stepped into the eternal joy of Heaven in the presence of his Savior, in whom he placed his hope.

 

 

 

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Lenten Devotional – Day 13 – A Little Knowledge

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:  “… When the Christ appears, no one will know where He comes from.”  – John 7:27b

Bonus Reading:  John 7:25-32

Some of the Jerusalem folks think Jesus is paranoid. Others won’t even consider whether He might be the promised Messiah.

Why? Because He is from Nazareth, and no one is supposed to know where the Messiah comes from. The funny thing is this: they don’t know.

Jesus only grew up in Nazareth; He was born in Bethlehem. But Jesus is the eternal Son of God who came down from heaven and was born in Bethlehem to save us. Using their little knowledge, they are content to write Jesus off and live in the darkness of their thinking.

Being content with a little knowledge is dangerous. Consider those who are content to know Jesus was born at Christmas and died on a cross, but that’s all they care to know. They don’t know that He lived and died to save them from God’s wrath and rose again to give them eternal life.

We live in a time where people believe—and try hard to persuade us to believe—that reality is what we think it is. And what may be true for you isn’t necessarily true for me. Once I am satisfied with my sense of reality I don’t have to dig any deeper.

Being content with a little knowledge is not just a dangerous thing— it’s deadly!

Each of us is a sinner who needs God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. He is the only Savior, the only way we can escape God’s eternal wrath and live forever in heaven.

This Lent God calls us to keep digging deeper and see the whole story of Jesus’ suffering and death for our salvation.

Prayer: Lord, forgive my being content with a shallow knowledge of My Savior. Open my mind to want to learn more. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 12 – Judging by Appearance

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:  (Jesus said) “… ‘Why do you seek to kill Me?’”  – John 7:19b

Bonus Reading: John 7:14-24

The darkness of unbelief hangs like a thick blanket over the temple grounds. For the first half of the festival it looks as though the darkness has driven away the Light—Jesus is nowhere to be seen.

But midway through the festival He steps into the temple courts and begins shining His light for all to see. Jesus immediately addresses the reason He stayed away for the first half of the festival. He asks the religious leaders why they want to kill Him for doing a good deed.

Unaware that Jesus is talking to the Jewish leaders, the crowd thinks He is talking to them. Since they aren’t seeking His death and are unaware of their leaders’ thoughts, they reach a false conclusion: they accuse Him of being demon possessed!

When He hangs from the cross they will reach another false conclusion: Jesus was a fake and God is using the cross to show the world Jesus of Nazareth is not His Son. They will have no idea God is giving His only-begotten Son to die for the sins of the whole world.

Judging by appearances and jumping to conclusions is something we often do too. We are offended by our neighbor, so we condemn him before we even learn his reasons. Jesus warns, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

Stop a moment and reconsider Jesus Christ.

Did you start this Lenten season thinking of Jesus as only being meek and humble? Have you begun to see His strength, commitment and courage? Stick around, because as Jesus once told Nathanael, “… You will see greater things than these” (John 1:50b).

Prayer: Father, forgive me for judging by appearances. Open my eyes to see Your Son as He is—my powerful Lord and Savior. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 11 – Silent Fear

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill Him”  – John 7:1

Bonus Reading: John 7:1-13

Even though the crowds thin around Jesus, He won’t stop preaching and sharing the Gospel. He remains in the north in Galilee, avoiding the southern region and Jerusalem where the Jewish leaders are waiting to kill Him.

But His brothers notice this and think He is being unwise. If He wants to make a name for Himself He needs to go to Jerusalem where He will actually have an audience. At first glance it sounds like they are really interested in His ministry and want Him to succeed. But then we read John’s comment, “Not even His brothers believed
in Him.”

Jesus remains behind when they leave for the festival. It must be surprising to the crowds when Jesus doesn’t show up at the Feast of Tabernacles. Each day they come to the temple expecting Him, but He is nowhere to be seen. The people wonder and whisper about Him. Some say He is a good man; others think He is misleading the people. But no one speaks openly for fear of the Jewish religious authorities.

Do you have the courage to speak of Jesus in your family and among your friends and coworkers?

As we will see, many of the people who saw Jesus’ great miracles and heard His powerful words were more afraid of losing their place in society than of displeasing the God who will be their Judge on the Last Day. For this sin, too, Jesus is on His way to the cross for our salvation.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see You with new eyes this Lent so that Your light may shine through the darkness of my mind. Give me courage to speak of Your great salvation with boldness, joy and confidence. Amen.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – The Second Sunday in Lent – Hidden Darkness

Lent 1Key Bible Verse: “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil’”  – John 6:70

Bonus Reading: John 6:66-71

In sadness Jesus watched the crowds turn and walk away. Now He turns to His twelve chosen disciples and asks if they want to leave too. The Lord won’t force them to stay at His side; He won’t force you and me to stay either.

Peter answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” The Holy Spirit led Peter to this great confession.

But Jesus knew Peter wasn’t speaking for every one of the disciples. He knew all too well that one of them had turned away, even though he was still standing by Jesus’ side. None of the other disciples was aware, but Judas had secretly rejected Jesus’ Kingdom of light and allied himself with the prince of darkness. The darkness had so deceived Judas he thought Jesus would never know what was in his heart.

Judas’ darkness is in each of us too and can deceive us as thoroughly as it deceived him. On the outside we can be active in our churches. Yet deep in our hearts we may have grown cold to Jesus. It’s so easy to go through the motions of faith, while our hearts turn away to the darkness like Judas.

Jesus calls us to stop and examine the depths of our soul. Are we sincere in our faith, or are we servants of darkness going through the motions? It’s a matter of life and death and heaven and hell for us just as it was for Judas.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, remove all that is false and impure from my heart, and fill me with the fire of faith in Jesus Christ my Savior. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 10

Lent 3I’ve been told that the best way to spot a counterfeit dollar is to know the genuine version forward and backwards, inside and out.  The same goes many things, I’m sure.  When I rehearse truth; lies or half-truths stick out as abnormal.

This is one reason why getting to know the true character of God is life changing.  When I rehearse what is true about Him, I know how to process the world around me.

Choose one of God’s characteristics discussed on Cru.org’s “Discover God E-devotional” page.

My hope is that we will learn (or rediscover) something wonderful about our Creator and Lord today.

Consider bookmarking this page for a shortcut to Truth in the coming weeks.

Lenten Devotional – Day 6 – Darkness or Light?

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.”John 3:19

Bonus Reading: John 3:19-21

Before Jesus sends Nicodemus on his way, He leaves him one last warning. “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

Will Nicodemus admit he is drowning in his sins and only Jesus can set him free? He came to Jesus at night under the cover of darkness so no one could see. Is he willing and ready to step out into the light and receive the forgiveness Jesus came to bring?

Coming to Christ isn’t easy for us either. We want to impress each other. Why would any of us want to open up and let our brothers and sisters in faith see the dark secrets we keep hidden away inside?

Like Nicodemus there is a Pharisee hidden deep inside every one of us too.

We take pride in going to church regularly, putting our money in the offering plate and holding offices in our local congregation. But Christ knows us inside and out.

He knows our pride, our stubbornness and our judgmental heart. Jesus’ call to Nicodemus goes out to each of us—no matter who we are.

Are you willing to come to Christ Jesus in His Church? Are you willing to look to the crucified and risen Savior, to confess your need and follow Him?

Prayer: “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!” Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 9 – Short Sighted

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.’”  – John 6:26

Bonus Reading:  John 6:22-27

After the festival Jesus returned north to Galilee. He spent a whole day preaching and then fed the huge crowd with five loaves and two fish. That night after He sent them away, He walked across the Sea of Galilee. Gathering again the next day, the crowds walked around the lake to find Him.

At first those people sound like genuine followers of Jesus. But our Lord knows better. They aren’t really there for Him; they are there for themselves.

They want Jesus to be their king—but only on their terms. They aren’t concerned with their deep eternal needs like He is; they only want what Jesus can give them in the present.

We can be just as near-sighted as they.

We are consumed with today’s needs and desires, but we don’t see the more significant eternal gifts Christ comes to bring. So we ask Him to help us through our needs and problems, but we don’t give a single thought to His Kingdom and the part He would have us play in that Kingdom.

That is why coming to Christ in worship is so vital.

Each week in church He shows us the bigger picture—the unending punishment we deserve for our selfish, disobedient lives, as well as the forgiveness and eternal future He gives us through His life, death and resurrection.

Yes, He knows and cares about all our earthly needs and will provide for each of them just as He has provided for our eternal needs.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when I get too wrapped up in this life and my daily needs, lift my eyes to see the glorious future You have won for all of us by Your life, death and resurrection. Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 8 – Just Asking for a Fight

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”John 5:18

Bonus Reading: John 5:1-24

Jesus left Jerusalem when things got pretty tense, but now with a Jewish festival at hand, He heads right back down toward the temple again. And He turns the heat back up by healing an invalid on the Sabbath.

Jesus’ enemies protest to this breaking of their Sabbath rules. His perfectly natural answer totally enrages them. He says, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” Instead of seeing the Light, they stand in the darkness protesting that Jesus is making Himself equal to God. But protest as loud as they will, Jesus knows who He is and refuses to back down.

The darkness of their thinking is amazing. They would have kept a man trapped in his paralyzed body to keep their Sabbath rules. Thankfully, Jesus saw it differently. And He sees it differently for you and me too. He sees us trapped and helpless in our sins. And just as Jesus stood up for a paralyzed man and set him free on the Sabbath, so will He stand up to any and all opposition to set us free—even though it cost Him His life on the cross.

In the coming days, we will see Jesus turn up the noise even louder and see His enemies respond with more hatred. But we will also see Him sacrifice Himself for them.

Hanging from the cross He will answer their taunts with a plea: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. …” (Luke 23:34a).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You suffered and died to set me free. Fill me and all Your children with joy and courage to share Your great story of sacrifice and dedication to everyone. Amen.

 

 

Billy Graham dies at age 99, the most influential Christian of the 20th Century

Billy Graham has died today at age 99 – Preacher to millions in massive football stadiums. Counselor of Presidents, Kings and Queens.

It would not be too much to say that he single-handedly averted the decline of the Christian Church in the West more than anyone else of his generation. But God also achieved amazing things through him in every continent of the World.

A life well lived.

A death infused with hope of spending an eternity with his LORD.

I’m sure the words that Billy would want us to hear today are these:

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” (Billy Graham).

His death marks the end of an extraordinary era.  He was an outstanding Evangelist the like the world has never seen before or since, and perhaps never will see again.

 

Christian Persecution: World Watch List 2018

The Open Doors World Watch List is an in-depth record of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. These are the places where followers of Christ must keep their beliefs hidden and where living the gospel means facing beatings, imprisonment, discrimination and abuse.

For the fifth year in a row, the level of overall persecution has risen. North Korea remains number one on the list – but only just. Afghanistan is only one point below it. India – the world’s largest democracy – has risen to its highest ever position of 11, as Hindu nationalists continue to attack other religious minorities. Islamic extremism continues to strangle the expression of the Christian faith, fueling persecution in eight out of the top ten countries.

1 North Korea

2 Afghanistan

3 Somalia

4 Sudan

5 Pakistan

6 Eritrea

7 Libya

8 Iraq

9 Yemen

10 Iran

11 India

12 Saudi Arabia

13 Maldives

14 Nigeria

15 Syria

16 Uzbekistan

17 Egypt

18 Vietnam

19 Turkmenistan

20 Laos

21 Jordan

22 Tajikistan

23 Malaysia

24 Myanmar

25 Nepal

26 Brunei

27 Qatar

28 Kazakhstan

29 Ethiopia

30 Tunisia

31 Turkey

32 Kenya

33 Bhutan

34 Kuwait

35 Central African Republic

36 Palestinian Territories

37 Mali

38 Indonesia

39 Mexico

40 United Arab Emirates

41 Bangladesh

42 Algeria

43 China

44 Sri Lanka

45 Azerbaijan

46 Oman

47 Mauritania

48 Bahrain

49 Colombia

50 Djibouti

 

 

 

The United Methodist Lent Quiz

We invite you to take a short quiz to test your knowledge of the season of Lent.

Be sure to share this link with friends so you can compare scores later!

Lenten Devotional – Day 5 – Lifted to Save

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”John 3:14

Bonus Reading: John 3:9-18

Nicodemus is just not getting it. He’s not a bad guy; why can’t he earn his way to heaven?

Patiently, Jesus reminds the teacher of a time when Israel grumbled in the wilderness and God sent poisonous serpents. After thousands died, the survivors begged Moses to ask God to remove the serpents. Surprisingly, God answered No! The serpents would stay, and they would keep biting people. But Moses was to lift a bronze serpent on a pole.

Imagine you were bitten. All you had to do was look at the bronze serpent on the pole, trust God’s promise and you would live. Jesus told Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

Just like Nicodemus, you and I are infected with the deadly poison of the serpent who bit our first parents in the Garden of Eden. There is no way to save ourselves from our poisonous sinful nature. So God sent His only-begotten Son to save us.

When Jesus was lifted up on the cross He paid for our sins by being punished in our place. Only when we look at Jesus and trust the Father’s promise to forgive us for Jesus’ sake can we be saved from the venom of death within us.

Nicodemus had a clear choice! Just like the ancient Israelites bitten by the serpents and just like you and me today, he could look to Jesus the Light of the world in faith and live or walk away into the darkness and die.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, turn my eyes to Your cross, that I may believe and live. Amen.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – The First Sunday in Lent – A Visit in the Dark

Lent 1Key Bible Verse:  “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’”John 3:9

Bonus Reading:  John 3:1-8

Jesus made powerful enemies when He cleansed the temple. But He also impressed some leaders with His boldness and His miracles.

In chapter three a prominent leader comes to the Light, but fear of his colleagues leads him to come to Jesus under the cover of darkness.

Being a Pharisee, Nicodemus thinks his good life will win him heaven. Jesus immediately challenges this false hope. “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Answering Nicodemus’ confused reply Jesus explains He is talking about baptism. But Nicodemus still finds it difficult to accept these words.

You and I might find it difficult also.

Like Nicodemus we have so many good qualities going for us, especially when compared to others we can point out. We work hard to provide for our families. We try to be good citizens. We try to treat our neighbors well.

But Jesus is clear and unbending, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” It can never be anything but flesh. You and I can try as hard as we want, but we are and always will be sinners.

And saying, “I’m only human” is no excuse either. Jesus was truly human, yet He was without sin.

That is why our Lord commanded His Church to baptize sinners. Through the power of God’s Word in that water Jesus takes our sins
and guilt upon Himself and suffers and dies in our place. He fills us with His Holy Spirit and makes us children of God. Just as Jesus rose again on the third day, He will raise us to live with Him in paradise forever.

Prayer: Jesus, bring me out of the darkness of my self-righteousness to the light of Your forgiveness and peace. Amen

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 4 – The Light Blazes in Fury

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: “Making a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen …”   – John 2:15a

Bonus Reading:  John 2:13-22

If you picture Jesus as a meek, gentle man you might be surprised at what He does here in the temple. But you shouldn’t be—the thicker the darkness, the brighter the Light must shine.

Our Savior knows animals must be sold for sacrifice, and foreign currency needs to be exchanged for temple currency. But His problem is where this is all taking place.

This trading is being done in the Court of the Gentiles, i.e. in the back of the church. The Jewish worshipers aren’t bothered, they can move
up front closer to the temple. But what infuriates Jesus is the way the Gentile believers are being forced to worship and pray in all this noise and commotion.

When Jesus shouts “Take these things away; do not make My Father’s house a house of trade,” the Jewish authorities are filled with a dark rage of their own. The darkness tries to overcome the Light as they demand Jesus perform a miracle proving His authority to cleanse the temple.

Jesus will provide that sign in His coming death and resurrection. On the cross His enemies will destroy His body—the true temple and dwelling place of God. But on the third day Jesus will raise it to life again.

Today the darkness still challenges Jesus. When we gather at the Lord’s house to worship, pray and receive Christ’s gifts in Word and Sacrament, the darkness fills our minds with all sorts of trade and business concerns, as well as other worries, fears and distractions. But the light shines in the darkness and draws our thoughts back to our Savior.

Prayer:  Lord, cleanse my heart and mind that I may hear Your words of grace and forgiveness. Amen.

 

Prayer Following Florida School Shootings

Life brings good days and bad. From natural and man-made disasters to personal struggles, we all face tough times. God is always there to comfort us. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15)

A football coach. An athletic director. And young, eager and forward-looking students. They were among the 17 people killed by a gunman Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

On days like these that end in “why,” this prayer reminds us of God’s constant presence in our lives.

Dear Lord,

When all we have left to do is cry out in the midst of the pain, give us hope.

When our tears feel like the only way to quench our thirst, remind us of your providing presence.

When loneliness seems overwhelming,

Make your presence known.

This world seems so full of death and destruction, but you are a God of life and restoration.

Mold us into an unwavering people of grace, passion and love that cannot ever be ignored.

Amen.

 

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 3 – The Darkness of Rash Judgment

Lent 30Key Bible Verse: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? …” John 1:46a

Bonus Reading:  John 1:43-51

As we near the end of John’s first chapter, Jesus is gathering His twelve disciples.

Even here we see the battle rage between light and darkness—in this case it’s the darkness of a preconceived notion. Before he ever met Jesus, Nathanael arrogantly asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

That’s what the darkness in us does. We sit as judge of everyone and everything around us, jumping to conclusions about people without knowing their whole story. And it’s just too bad for the person who doesn’t fit into our nice neat categories—whether it’s that nerdy kid at school who doesn’t dress like we do or that estranged family member, quirky neighbor or congregation full of hypocrites.

We even do the same with God. We judge His holiness and faithfulness by the circumstances of our lives. We don’t give God the right to be God.

Philip is wise. He doesn’t try to argue away Nathanael’s prejudice. He gives his friend a simple invitation: “Come and see.” He is confident Jesus will shatter Nathanael’s false judgment, and Jesus doesn’t disappoint him.

Lent is the time to humble ourselves and to come to Jesus and admit our rash judgments.

Jesus does something we would never expect: He shines His grace, power and love as He suffers from the darkness of human rejection, flogging and a cross. Yet in that brutality, suffering and death Jesus won our salvation. He gathers us together in congregations around His Word and Sacraments to shatter our preconceived notions and empower us to accept one another and work together to show His love to all those around us.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, forgive me for judging by appearances. Open my heart to see You as You are and to share Your Name everywhere I go. Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 2 – He Takes Away the Sin of the World

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”John 1:29

Bonus Reading: John 1:19-34

The teacher walks into the classroom and finds a broken vase. She’s not sure who broke it, but she has a pretty good idea. She singles
out the one child who always gets into trouble—the scapegoat— and though it’s completely unfair, off he goes to face the principal in place of the child who is truly guilty.

The word “scapegoat” comes to us from the Old Testament Day of Atonement, the day God forgave the nation’s sins. God commanded His people to bring a goat to His altar. The priest laid his hand on its head confessing the sins of the people of Israel.
The scapegoat took the punishment for their sins as it was led out into the wilderness.

Here in the middle of John’s first chapter, the Baptist points at Jesus and calls out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29

John looks past Jesus’ Baptism to Good Friday when He will suffer the full wrath and punishment for our sins. When we receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness in Jesus’ body and blood in Holy Communion, we repeat John’s words, “Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us; grant us peace.”

As we follow Jesus through this season of Lent, we will see how brightly God’s Light shines in our dark world.

Prayer: Lord God, turn my eyes to my Savior this Lenten season that I may say with John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”—and my sins. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 1 – Ash Wednesday – Shining in the Darkness

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

Bonus Reading:  John 1:1-18

Our Lenten season begins in the darkness of winter and by the end of our nearly seven week journey the darkness will have given way to the light of spring.

This battle between darkness and light is the theme of the Gospel of John, and it will be the theme of our Lenten devotions this year.

Chapter 1 begins with the Christmas story; John tells us the Word of God became human and entered our world. But immediately John hints at the struggles our Savior will face: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  (John 1:5)

In the coming weeks we will see Satan, the prince of darkness, use many instruments in his efforts to snuff out the Light: fanatical crowds, treacherous enemies, a disciple’s kiss, a high priest’s oath, a Roman official’s fear, a whip, thorns, nails, a dead tree
and a huge stone.

All of us struggle with the power of darkness in our lives, the darkness of fear, doubt, dread and anxiety. We see it in our health problems, financial struggles and our strained relationships. We see it in the darkness of our own struggles within.

Ash WednesdayOn this Ash Wednesday, the Holy Spirit calls you to gather with His people in church where He will shine His glorious light into the darkest corners of our sin-filled hearts and minds.

The ashes of Ash Wednesday remind us of the death that darkness has brought to all. But it also reminds us our Savior took our death upon Himself, giving us His life and forgiveness.

Join us as we journey through the Gospel of John, watching the Light battle and overcome the darkness for us.

Prayer: Light of the world, shine in my heart and bring me peace. Amen.

 

“Fat Tuesday”

Mardi GrasIn Louisiana, Mardi Gras is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday.  Mardi Gras began as a festival to enjoy the things a person was “giving up” for Lent.  During the parades, beads are tossed from the floats to the onlookers.

Okay, let’s talk about what happens after Mardi Gras.  The day after Mardi Gras – tomorrow – is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  Lent is a season of the church that we use to concentrate on the suffering of Christ.  People “give up” something, usually a sweet food, a bad habit, etc. for the 40 days, representing Christ “giving up” his life for us.

What is the difference between a crucifix and an empty cross?  The empty cross represents Christ’s resurrection. The crucifix represents Christ’s choosing to suffer for us.

Christ didn’t have to die on the cross, He could have saved Himself, but He chose to die for our sins.

Prayer:  Dear God, help us to remember during Lent, and always, of Christ’s suffering for us. Amen.

Preparation for Lent – A Mardi Gras Prayer

Mardi GrasToday is Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) and Carnival (“Farewell to Meat”), which precedes Ash Wednesday and Lent around the world, even where Lent has ceased to have much religious meaning.  It was natural to develop a festival, a “last fling,” before the prayerful fasting and abstinence of Lent.

How can we give this day before Ash Wednesday some religious meaning for us?

It may be that we are going to a Mardi Gras party and there will be much feasting.  Our country may celebrate Carnival with gusto.  Perhaps we can have a special family dinner together, with meat.

Lent 4What’s important is that we let our feasting anticipate our fasting.  One way to do that is to begin to focus on the meaning of the day, when we first get up. 

It can create a sense of anticipation all day, that something very new is about to begin tomorrow.

We can prepare for whatever we will do, no matter how purely “social” or simply ordinary our day will be.  Knowing why we go to a party, or enjoying the planning or preparation for a special meal, will add much meaning to this day.

Our Prayer

In these or similar words, we can pray in the spirit of this day.

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for it is from your goodness that we have this day
to celebrate on the threshold of the Season of Lent.

Tomorrow we will fast and abstain from meat.
Today we feast.
We thank you for the abundance of gifts you shower upon us.
We thank you especially for one another.
As we give you thanks,
we are mindful of those who have so much less than we do.
As we share these wonderful gifts together,
we commit ourselves to greater generosity toward those
who need our support.

Prepare us for tomorrow.
Tasting the fullness of what we have today,
let us experience some hunger tomorrow.
May our fasting make us more alert
and may it heighten our consciousness
so that we might be ready to hear your Word
and respond to your call.

As our feasting fills us with gratitude
so may our fasting and abstinence hollow out in us
a place for deeper desires
and an attentiveness to hear the cry of the poor.
May our self-denial turn our hearts to you
and give us a new freedom for
generous service to others.

We ask you these graces
with our hearts full of delight
and stirring with readiness for the journey ahead.
We ask them with confidence
in the name of Jesus the Lord. 

 

What Does the Bible Really Say About Immigration?

Now that Congress is poised to take up the issue of U.S. immigration, you may find this short February 8 article by Dillon Burroughs to be of some assistance in helping to frame the major issues and what possible responses might be from thoughtful Christians.


The recent “Dreamer” immigration battle in U.S. government continues to elicit strong emotions from Christians of all backgrounds. Pelosi quotes the Bible to support her Democratic view, while wall-supporters argue security is of utmost importance.

One interesting observation is the use of the Bible by those who hold views across the spectrum on immigration. What does the Bible really say about immigration?

The Old Testament is clear about providing care to what translations often call “foreigners.” The Torah based this on the concept that the Jews knew what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land. As those who had encountered brutal slavery at the hands of another nation, they were called to treat the immigrants among them with better respect.

The New Testament likewise notes immigrant-friendly teachings regarding not showing favoritism, no distinction between Jew and Gentile, and unity in Christ. The Sermon on the Mount tends to appear more immigrant-friendly than security focused, even supporting “turning the other cheek.”

Yet the Bible’s words are not fully immigrant-supportive. The Jewish people often warred against neighboring people groups, taking some as prisoners of war while annihilating others. Some of the most disturbing passages of Scripture involve God’s commands regarding treatment of the Canaanites, instructing genocide rather than an open border.

A full look at the biblical data shows support for and against immigrants depending on other factors. This is extremely important and relevant to America’s current immigration discussion.

For example, many Christians may desire to show love and compassion to immigrants already within the nation’s borders, but these same principles may apply different regarding those yet to enter the nation. It may also apply differently to those undocumented individuals convicted of criminal activities. After all, Scripture does command Christians to abide by the laws of governing authorities (Romans 13).

So where should Christians stand on immigration? A few guidelines to consider:

We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, no matter the origin of the neighbor’s home.

Love is the overarching command of Scripture.

We are challenged to protect our loved ones, community, and nation.

Safety is an important factor. This influences immigrants with a criminal history, the issue of “the wall,” future immigration laws such as banning immigration from terrorist hot spots and other related factors.

We are called to treat people as we wish to be treated.

If I was the undocumented person, how would I desire to be treated? If I was honest, I would accept punishment or deportation for breaking the law, but would still desire to be treated with dignity and respect. There is a tremendous difference between enforcing current laws and sheer discrimination.

As followers of Jesus, these three concepts should inform our views and actions regarding immigration. God’s love does not stop at the border; neither should ours.

If we really care about all the people God has created; if we really desire to make disciples of all nations; if we desire to provide safety for our children and their children; if we long to be known by our love; then we must deal with the tension between accepting every person who breaks the law to enter our nation and showing respect to those who have.

 

What is Lent?

Lent 4Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday, the day of Mardi Gras.  This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the 40 days of Lent (not counting Sundays). 

Did you ever wonder what these terms mean?   Well, here’s the scoop!

Mardi Gras – is a French word pronounced: märd grä, the last day before the fasting season of Lent.  It is the French name for Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Literally translated, the term means “Fat Tuesday” and is so called because it represents the last opportunity for merrymaking and excessive indulgence in food and drink before the solemn season of fasting.

Ash Wednesday – is the first day of Lent.  On this day, ashes are placed onto the foreheads of the faithful to remind them of Christ’s death, of the sorrow one should feel for their sins, and of the necessity of repenting, which is turning from your sins and turning to God.

Ash Wednesday, is so called from the ceremony of placing ashes on the forehead as a sign of penitence.  The ashes are obtained from burned palm branches from the Palm Sunday of the previous year.

The ashes are placed onto the foreheads of the officiating clergy, and the congregation, while saying: “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

Many believe the practice of placing ashes onto the forehead began in 1091 A.D. by the Roman Catholic Church.  However, the custom of placing ashes onto the head as a sign of repentance dates back to Old Testament times:

“So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. Daniel 9:3-5

See also, Esther 4:1-3, Job 2:8; Job 4:2-6, and Isaiah 58:5.

 

Lent– from Old English ‘lencten=spring’, Latin ‘Quadragesima’.

In Christianity, Lent is a time of penance, prayer, preparation for, or recollection of baptism, and preparation for the celebration of Easter.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the 40th weekday before Easter.  Of the Sundays in Lent the fifth is Passion Sunday and the last is Palm Sunday.

The week preceding Easter is Holy Week. Lent ends at midnight, Holy Saturday.

Lent may also have a parallel in the Jewish Omer, the interval between Passover and Shavuot that has become a time of semi-mourning and sadness.  During the weeks of the Omer period, Jews in some communities refrain from wearing new clothes and there are no marriages or other public festivities.

Although we are almost to the beginning of this special season, remember that Jesus wants all of our hearts and lives–everyday–not just during the 40 days of Lent.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:11-14.

Preparation for Lent – What Can I Do Before Lent Begins?

Lent 2Anything worth doing is worth preparing for.

Just imagine that this Lent is going to be different from every other Lent we’ve experienced.  Imagine that there will be many graces offered me this year.  Let’s even imagine that God is going to help transform our lives, with greater freedom, greater joy, deeper desires for love and service.

If we want it, we will choose it.

Lent will be this wonderful season of grace for us if we give ourselves to it.  And, we will give ourselves to it to the degree we really want it badly.  So, in these days before Lent, we need to prepare our hearts.  We need to prepare by realizing how much we want to grow in freedom, how much we need to lighten our spirits and experience some real joy, and how much some parts of our lives really need changing. 

So, preparing our hearts is a process of preparing our desires.  This means practicing our sense of anticipation.  If I imagine Lent as an “ordeal” or a time I dread in some way, then I’ve already predisposed myself to not get very much out of it.  These days before Lent are a time to start anticipating something wonderful that is about to happen.

Our Focus:  On what God wants to give us.

Our sense of excitement and anticipation will grow more easily if we begin to imagine what God wants to give us.  There is really something coming that we can truly look forward to.  If we get too focused on ourselves, and what we are going to do or not do, we could risk missing the gift God wants to give us.  We have to keep aware of the fact that grace comes from God.  This is about God’s great desire to bless us.  Then, it is easier for us to imagine that what we really want to do is place ourselves in a space to receive what God wants to give us.

Not starting from a dead stop.

LentTaking some time to get ready for Lent will ensure that we aren’t going to miss the first week or two of Lent, because we are just getting started.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, but we want to be ready to really take off on that day, rather than just beginning to think about Lent on that day.  Part of what makes a vacation or a special anniversary so special is the build-up to it. 

Before we get to Ash Wednesday, we should start asking ourselves some questions and we should start with some preparations.  “What does God want to give me this year?”  This question may require that I slow down a bit and listen to my inner spirit.  For example, even if I’m very busy, I realize I’m hungry when I hear my stomach start “growling.”  “What am I going to be doing on Ash Wednesday?” 

Too often, Ash Wednesday is like every other day, except that I manage to get to church and get ashes on my forehead.  Is there anything else I can do on Ash Wednesday?  How will fasting and abstaining happen for me, for my family on that special day? 

Lent is not something I need to do alone.

If I have a spouse, or children, or some close friends, or distant e-mail companions, I can begin now to talk about how we will support each other in this Lenten journey.  The anticipation and the preparation is transformed with the companionship of family and close friends.  We shouldn’t be deterred by the fear that our spouse or children or friends “won’t be into it.” 

Jesus said, “Fear is useless; what’s needed is trust.”  Let’s begin now to tell others about our desires.  Let’s help support others’ expectations.  Let’s help others see that Lent doesn’t have to be something I avoid, and certainly can’t be reduced to “giving up candy.”  We can help our loved ones to begin to imagine what they could receive from God in these days.

Ash Wednesday is a great place to start with our planning.  “What are we going to eat?”  We shouldn’t be embarrassed if we really haven’t fasted in a long time, or perhaps ever before.  We can plan to intentionally have only one full meal on Ash Wednesday.  We can make that meal very meaningful and symbolic. 

Lent 4Getting ready, means getting my house ready, too.  And, it can mean lots of choices.

The symbols in our home, and the concrete choices we make can shape the way we will begin Lent, as individuals and as a family.

And, it doesn’t take much time.

It doesn’t take a lot of time to prepare for the beginning of Lent.  It just takes desire and focus.  God can do so much with that.  We can give God more of a space to touch our hearts if we begin to establish some simple patterns. 

We could  wake up each morning, and for something like a half a minute to a minute, stand by the edge of our beds, and just ask the Lord for the grace to let this day be one in which I long for the beginning of Lent.  Perhaps we need to ask for specific helps or graces to get ready to begin Lent. 

Whatever we try to say, our Lord can understand the Spirit trying to speak through our simple words. And all it takes is the time to find and put on our slippers. 

And each night, in the days ahead, we can practice giving thanks to God before I go to bed.  This simple pattern, in the morning and evening can stir our spirits to look forward to and prepare for Lent, as a season of grace.

May our Lord bless us all on this journey ahead.

 

Fat Tuesday – Booster or Buster?

Key Bible Verse: You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were pure and honest and faultless toward all of you. 1 Thessalonians 2:10

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 4:17-24

All too often, when talking with a guy who’s a believer, I hear statements like, “WMardi Grase had a great service last weekend. Pastor hit the nail on the head. I’d be there this Sunday, but I’m going to Vegas.”

For me, hearing this statement is like scratching a fingernail across a chalkboard. I know that are some decent shows there, but when I hear “Vegas,” my mind goes to gambling, sensuality, and organized crime. “What happens here stays here.” Sin City.

I believe when most unbelievers hear statements like this or “I’m going to Mardi Gras” they have the same reaction. It’s a witness buster. An unbeliever can conclude, “He’s just like me” or “He’s worse than me.” It will at least arouse his suspicion. Christ doesn’t appear to be directing and altering that person’s life. Multiply this statement by thousands like it across our country, and the gospel is severely undermined.

How much better for an unbeliever to hear, “This weekend I’m going on retreat to a Christian camp to recharge my batteries. It’ll be a lot of fun too.” Or “A bunch of us guys from church are going to repair a home for a single mother this weekend. We’re looking forward to helping her out.” Witness boosters.

—James Hilt in Wisconsin

My Response: How do my pursuits validate or cast doubt on my faith claim?

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me the discernment and determination to make my conduct consistent with my beliefs.

 

Schedule of Our Lenten Worship Services

  • Wednesday, February 14 – Ash Wednesday – Community worship service of all of the downtown Beaver Falls churches at First Presbyterian Church (11th Street & 8th Avenue), beginning at 7 pm

 

  • Sunday, February 18 – The First Sunday of Lent –        Central, 11 am
  • Sunday, February 25 – The Second Sunday of Lent –   Central, 11 am
  • Sunday, March 4 –  The Third Sunday of Lent –            Central, 11 am
  • Sunday, March 11 –  The Fourth Sunday of Lent –         Central, 11 am
  • Sunday, March 18 –  The Fifth Sunday of Lent –            Central, 11 am
  • Sunday, March 25 –  Palm Sunday  –                                Central, 11 am

 

  • Thursday, March 29 –  Maundy Thursday – Combined community worship service at Central at 7 pm
  • Friday, March 30 –  Good Friday – Combined community worship service at Central at 12 Noon.

 

  • Sunday, April 1 – Easter Sunrise Service – Combined service with Christ’s Lutheran Church at Grandview Cemetery, 6 am (with breakfast to follow)
  • Sunday, April 1 – Easter– Central, 11 am

Please join us for these special times of worship this Lent.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”1 Corinthians 1:18

2018 Lenten Devotionals (February 14 – April 2) – The Light Shines in the Darkness

Lent 2“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwell in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2).

In John 9:5b Jesus declared, “… I am the Light of the world.”  That will be the theme of our Lenten journey as we follow Jesus of Nazareth to His cross and empty tomb.  From the very beginning of His Gospel to the end, John follows the tremendous struggle between Jesus Christ and the forces of darkness gathered together against Him.

Lent 3We will see Jesus wrestle with the darkness all around Him—the darkness of Satan and his demons, the Jewish crowds and religious authorities who made themselves His enemies and even those who called themselves His friends and followers.  But Jesus Christ will also wrestle with the darkness that still hides in the corners of our hearts, our families, our churches, and our world.

Each day, beginning with Ash Wednesday on February 14, through Easter Monday on April 2, we will read portions of John’s Gospel in our 2015 Daily Lenten Devotionals on our “Food for Thought” page, but we encourage you to read the verses in between as well. 

Lent 4May our Lord richly bless your Lenten journey. 

Along the way expect to see a few surprises; you may see a side of Jesus Christ you never saw before and a side of yourself too.

Lent Your Way!

Worship Services, Printed Devotionals, and Online Devotionals

In addition to our weekly and special worship services during Lent, this year, we also have “Journey to the Cross”, a 40-day printed guide for family or individual reflection.

If your tastes run to the electronic format, we will also offer special daily Lenten devotionals on the “Food for Thought” page.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwell in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2).

In John 9:5b Jesus declared, “… I am the Light of the world.”  That will be the theme of our online Lenten journey as we follow Jesus of Nazareth to His cross and empty tomb.  From the very beginning of His Gospel to the end, John follows the tremendous struggle between Jesus Christ and the forces of darkness gathered together against Him.

We will see Jesus wrestle with the darkness all around Him—the darkness of Satan and his demons, the Jewish crowds and religious authorities who made themselves His enemies and even those who called themselves His friends and followers.

But Jesus Christ will also wrestle with the darkness that still hides in the corners of our hearts, our families, our churches, and our world.

Each day, beginning with Ash Wednesday on February 14, through Easter Monday on April 1, we will read portions of John’s Gospel in our 2018 Daily Lenten Devotionals on our “Food for Thought” page, but we encourage you to read the verses in between as well. 

May our Lord richly bless your Lenten journey.  Along the way expect to see a few surprises; you may see a side of Jesus Christ you never saw before and a side of yourself too.

 

 

Destiny and Detours – Navigating Through the Wilderness

Wilderness 2The ragtag “marching army” of Jacob’s enslaved descendants abandoned the beaten travel route from Egypt to the Fertile Crescent, heading from Etham into uncharted wilderness.

That’s when the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night appeared.  Forty years later, as they crossed the Jordan River into Canaan, it disappeared.

While we don’t require such visible direction, the pillar provides important clues about how God guides His children today.

Interact with God’s Word

Exodus 13:17-22

  1. Was the circuitous route the Israelites took to the Promised Land a chance development or was it deliberately directed?
  2. What reason for this divinely directed detour is given in verse 17?
  3. What other reason is described at length in the next chapter (14:1-4, 19-28)?
  4. Why would taking Joseph’s coffin with them (v. 19) reassure the Israelites that they would eventually reach their destination?
  5. How did God give the Israelites a tangible sense of His presence (v. 21)?
  6. How did the cloud column reveal God’s direction, timing, and protection (see also Numbers 9:15-23; 10:34)?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to make you content to accept the direction in which He points you and the timing of the pauses and moves He determines for you.

Exodus 13:17-22

17 When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them on the road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest way from Egypt to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led them along a route through the wilderness toward the Red Sea, and the Israelites left Egypt like a marching army. 19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear that they would take his bones with them when God led them out of Egypt—as he was sure God would.

20 Leaving Succoth, they camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. 21 The LORD guided them by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. That way they could travel whether it was day or night. 22 And the LORD did not remove the pillar of cloud or pillar of fire from their sight.

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, decrease my preoccupation with my destination and increase my concern for the process You are using to shape my character.

Worship Services During Lent

For many of us, we have come to assume Easter is all about chocolate and Easter bunnies, but originally it was the celebration of the Christian church to commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He did that on his own power as the God who had come into human history in human form and died on the cross to redeem people from their sins. In all of history, no one had ever made that claim before.

Because of this fact, history was split in two; the Christian church was started, and the disciples who ran away in fear after the cross became the fearless messengers of this message

Many people today believe that life goes on after death and we would agree with that, but we also think it is important to share that though we believe that God created everyone to live eternally, we won’t all live in the same neighborhood. Not only do we believe that because of Jesus we can spend eternity in heaven, but we also believe that those who do not trust Jesus will spend eternity separated from God in conscious torment forever.

Join us for our worship services during Lent and learn how you can choose to live in the neighborhood of joy forever.

Schedule of Our Lenten Worship Services

  • Wednesday, February 14 – Ash Wednesday – Community worship service of all of the downtown Beaver Falls churches at First Presbyterian Church (11th Street & 8th Avenue), beginning at 7 pm

 

  • Sunday, February 18 – The First Sunday of Lent –        Central, 11 am
  • Sunday, February 25 – The Second Sunday of Lent –   Central, 11 am
  • Sunday, March 4 –        The Third Sunday of Lent –      Central, 11 am
  • Sunday, March 11 –       The Fourth Sunday of Lent –   Central, 11 am
  • Sunday, March 18 –      The Fifth Sunday of Lent –       Central, 11 am

 

  • Sunday, March 25 –       Palm Sunday  –                           Central, 11 am

 

  • Thursday, March 29 –   Maundy Thursday – Combined community worship service at Central at 7 pm

 

  • Friday, March 30 –        Good Friday – Combined community worship service at Central at 12 Noon.

 

  • Sunday, April 1 – Easter Sunrise Service – Combined service with Christ’s Lutheran Church at Grandview Cemetery, 6 am (with breakfast to follow)

 

  • Sunday, April 1 – Easter– Central, 11 am

Please join us for these special times of worship this Lent.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18

 

 

Giving God the (Olympic) Glory: Christian Athletes to Watch in PyeongChang

Giving God the (Olympic) Glory: Christian Athletes to Watch in PyeongChang

Image: Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images

An article in Christianity Today online relates how the Winter Olympic sports take strength, grace, speed, precision, and incredible courage.

For many of the athletes we’re about to see in PyeongChang, South Korea, those qualities are bolstered by their faith in God, which has seen them through their darkest hours and hardest struggles.

Here are just a few of the athletes who have shared about God’s role in their Olympic journeys.

Maame Biney, speedskating (USA) @BineyMaame

Just before her 18th birthday, Maame Biney became the first African American woman to qualify for the US Olympic speedskating team, winning accolades from one of her heroes, Apolo Ohno. For the bubbly teenager, it’s been a long road from her native Ghana, which she left at the age of five to live with her father, Kweku, in the United States.

Both Biney and her father thank God for her phenomenal success. Kweku Biney believes it was God who first drew his attention to a sign advertising skating lessons, which inspired him to ask Maame if she wanted to try—though he sometimes regretted it when his little girl woke him up early on Saturdays to go to the rink. As Maame herself posted on Instagram after her win at the Olympic trials: “If God hadn’t given my dad the strength to wake up, and take me to practice, I wouldn’t be here today.” In her emotional post, she also thanked her church family for their “prayers for safe travels and successful competitions.”

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, figure skating (USA) @Scimeca_Knierim

A couple on and off the ice—they were married in 2016—the Knierims won the United States’ only pairs spot at this year’s Olympics. But their victory wasn’t always a foregone conclusion. Not long after their wedding, Alexa underwent three surgeries for a life-threatening abdominal illness. The photos she posted online of her recovery process, including her surgical scars, drove home just how serious and scary the ordeal had been.

Yet the pair was back on the ice not long after Alexa’s final surgery. At first, she could skate only a few minutes at a time before needing a nap, and certain pairs moves were harmful to her incision. But the two made it to the 2017 World Championships and are now headed to their first Olympic Games. “I may have lost a lot of faith in myself, but I grew with my faith in God,” Alexa says. “I have some insecurities now that I didn’t have before, but I’m able to work on it and move forward because I’ve shifted my focus and my attention to my faith instead of myself.”

Katie Uhlaender, skeleton (USA) @KatieU11

As she prepares for her fourth Winter Olympics, Katie Uhlaender is still dealing with fallout from her third. At Sochi in 2014, Uhlaender barely missed a bronze medal, coming just four hundredths of a second behind Russian Elena Nikitina. In the years after that, Uhalaender found herself on an emotional roller coaster. When Russia’s doping program came to light, Nikitina was banned and stripped of her medal by the International Olympic Committee (IOC)—only to be reinstated when the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the ruling.

Along with other Winter Olympians, Uhlaender has had to deal not only with suspense over whether a Sochi medal might come to her after all but also the possibility that Olympians who flouted the rules will be in PyeongChang. Uhlaender is relying on her faith in God to see her through. “I’m a human being. There is a lot of emotion in just seeing something so unjust happen,” she says. “But to be a good human, to be a good Christian, I have to focus on what I can control and set the example.”

Seun Adigun, bobsled (Nigeria) @Seun_MsAmazing

Former Summer Olympian Seun Adigun represented Nigeria in track and field during the 2012 Summer Olympics, but confesses that she “stunk it up.” Hungry for athletic “redemption,” she then switched to bobsledding, building her own training sled from scratch. (It’s called “The Maeflower,” after her sister Mae-Mae, who died in 2009.) She and her teammates will constitute Africa’s first Olympic bobsled team.

At the same time she was training for her new sport, Adigun was also earning two degrees: a doctorate of chiropractic and a master’s in exercise and health sciences. Asked how she managed it all, she says, “I honestly only have the one answer: God.” The support of family and friends helped, she adds, but prayer was a significant tool in getting through her massive workload. And the “fearlessness” and “selflessness” that come with faith are the ultimate key to her success.

David Wise, freestyle skiing (USA) @mrdavidwise

In Sochi four years ago, David Wise was the first man to win gold in the ski halfpipe, which was then a brand-new Olympic event. Since then he hasn’t been at his best, dealing with various injuries, including concussions. But he managed to fight his way back onto the Olympic team.

With him in South Korea will be his wife, his children, and his sisters, his sources of support through good times and bad. Four years ago, NBC News caught some flak for saying that Wise—with his focus on faith and family instead of partying with his fellow athletes—was living an “alternative lifestyle.” He’s still living that lifestyle, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I know that whatever happens to me is not outside the control of a God that faithfully cares for my family and I,” he says. “The fact that God is in control over my life and my family’s life, takes pressure off of me. It makes it easier for me to go out there and enjoy the ride.” Wise has also had the opportunity to support his family in turn—for example, pledging 10 percent of his winnings and endorsement earnings to a charity he and his sisters founded that provides children with prosthetic limbs (Wise’s sister Christy, an Air Force pilot, lost her leg in a 2015 boat accident).

Gim Sohui (a.k.a. Kim So-hee), Alpine skiing (South Korea)

Gim competed for South Korea in Sochi in 2014 but could not finish the slalom event because of injury. Now she’s back to compete in her home country.

In an interview before Sochi, Gim said that she prays before every competition. Like her grandmother, minister and skiing tutor Rev. Jang Jin-seon, who helped raise her, Gim hopes “to spread the Gospel through sports,” possibly as a future member of the IOC.

Nicole Hensley, ice hockey (USA) @NicHens29

Nicole Hensley may be known almost as much for her love of Scripture as for her goaltending skills. The 2018 Olympic women’s hockey team member tweets out Bible verses and writes them on her face mask. Recently seen on the mask was Psalm 144:1: “Praise be to the LORD my rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.”

Hensley—one of the featured athletes in a YouVersion “The Winter Olympics & the Bible” reading plan—credits God’s Word not just with inspiring her athleticism, but also with forming her character. “I would say that I used to have a bit of a temper on the ice. … That is not how I want to portray myself or portray how God has acted in my life,” she says. “My faith has calmed me down on the ice and helped me realize too that the result is not necessarily the most important thing. It is more important to be on the ice and enjoy the chance to play when God has given me such a passion and ability in this game.”

Elana Meyers Taylor and Nic Taylor, bobsled (USA) @eamslider24 and @NicTaylorUSA

While Elana Meyers Taylor is going to PyeongChang as a member of the women’s bobsled team, her husband, Nic, will be there to play multiple roles: both an alternate for the US men’s bobsled team, and Elana’s trainer and biggest supporter. Pastor Ryan Schneider, who married them and who leads a Bible study in which they participate, tells FCA Magazine that Nic’s sacrificial support of Elana, prioritizing her training and her needs above his own, is “the perfect picture of a husband loving his wife like Christ loved the church.”

Kelly Clark, snowboarding (USA) @thekellyclark

As she heads to her fifth Winter Olympics, Kelly Clark will take with her a board with a sticker that reads, “Jesus, I cannot hide my love.” After her victory at the 2000 Games, Clark turned to Christ for the sense of “significance” that even her beloved sport couldn’t give her. Now she relishes the opportunity to take the gospel to her fellow athletes. “I’m in an industry where [faith is] very foreign and it’s very counter-cultural,” she says. “I get to love these people really well who would never step foot in a church.”

Simidele Adeagbo, skeleton (Nigeria) @SimiSleighs

At age 36, Simidele Adeagbo is about to become the first African woman to compete in skeleton at the Winter Olympics. Like Seun Adigun, she moved from track and field to winter sports, though Adeagbo never became a Summer Olympian. After 10 years of trying and failing to qualify for the Summer Olympics in track and field, Adeagbo was inspired by watching the Nigerian bobsled team to try a winter sport instead, intrigued by the possibility of “making history.”

Though she only began skeleton last September, Adeagbo credits her background in track and field for helping her master the sport so quickly that she’s able to go to the Olympics just months later. She also credits God, saying, “Faith is most important because faith made this possible.”

 

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is this coming Wednesday, falling on Valentine’s Day this year.

Join us and the people of the other downtown Churches at First Presbyterian Church, 11th Street & 8th Avenue, at 7 pm for a combined worship service as we begin our season of Lent and consider the depth of love our Father God has for His children.

Destiny and Detours – Plan or Presence?

Trail GuideKey Bible Verse:  The paths of the Lord are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them.  But sinners stumble and fall along the way. Hosea 14:9

Bonus ReadingPsalm 139:1-12, 23-24

People are constantly inquiring about how they can discover God’s plan for their lives.  Years ago I began first to doubt and then to disbelieve that God has a specific plan for me because it seemed to me that would run contrary to His purpose.  God’s overriding purpose is our maturity, and maturity can’t be reached by plan.

I think we North Americans are very arrogant to assume that all the principles that applied to the great leaders of the Scripture—Moses or Abraham or Joseph or David—apply to us as individuals.  I don’t know why we don’t rather apply to ourselves the principles of the followers among the children of Israel.

I’m sure that God does have an overall plan and those who are specifically involved in it are going to know about it, for He’s going to tell them, even coerce them, as He did Jonah.  But for most of us, His purpose is our maturity.

It has struck me that none of the saints whose writings I’ve read over the years talk about a specific plan that God has for his or her life.  They talk about the presence rather than the plan.  It seems that when you have a guide you don’t need a map.  We often try to substitute a program for His presence.

— Sr.Fred Smith in Texas

My Response: I’ll pray to be more absorbed with the Guide than with His guidance.

Thought to Apply: The center of God’s will is our only safety.

—Betsie Ten Boom (Dutch concentration camp victim)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, decrease my preoccupation with my destination and increase my concern for the process  You are using to shape my character.

Destiny and Detours – Malfunction Junction

????????????????????????????????????????????????????Key Bible Verse:  The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives.  – Psalm 37:23

Bonus Reading: Psalm 25:1-15

The intersection is a six-way circle of traffic confusion in the center of Missoula.  Every time I approach it, my head pounds and my hands grow clammy.  It is nevertheless the most direct route through the business district.

Approaching Malfunction Junction recently, I saw a puzzle of detour signs.  It looked to me like it had become the mother of all nightmares.  But I was wrong!  The detour led me to discover a route to get around Malfunction Junction in the future.  Although longer by distance, it’s shorter by time.

Sometimes God reroutes us as we travel the roads of life.  But His detours always turn out.

King David, the author of Psalm 25:1-15 had been anointed king as a teen, but it was many years before he actually ascended the throne.  As God flagged David’s life through many detours, He was building the character of one of Israel’s greatest kings.

Like David, the routes to our God-given destinies aren’t direct; they’re a tangle of detours designed to prepare us for our final destinations.

If the zigzags of God confuse you, ask Him to show you what He’s up to.  David often did, and came to see how God was directing his steps.  God will do the same for you.

—Mike Raether in Montana

My Response: I’ll read psalms of David and observe how he blurts out his questions to God.

Thought to Apply:  The basic decision, after all, is to let God be God, to say “yes” to the work of the Lord.

—Luke Timothy Johnson (theologian)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, decrease my preoccupation with my destination and increase my concern for the process  You are using to shape my character.

Destiny and Detours – Destination Confirmation

Cubicle FarmKey Bible Verse:  God guided all of them by sending a cloud that moved along ahead of them, and he brought them all safely through the waters of the sea.  – 1 Corinthians 10:1

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 32:8-11

Sometimes, in the midst of the zigs and the zags, we become discouraged.  If the progress seems slow or we appear to be going in the opposite direction, we even begin to doubt whether there is a point B.  Maybe that’s not God’s goal, we begin to say.  Maybe I wanted it so bad I just psyched myself into it.

If God is lovingly leading us toward His intended goal, how does He keep us encouraged and affirm the direction He’s taking us?

If point B is of God, He’ll find ways of coming to you and letting you know that’s where He’s taking you.  It may be that while you’re over there in this side cubicle, and nobody knows you work for the company, that somebody who phones in to do business with your company will find you at your desk, and say, “Are you still at that desk?  I would think that by now with the abilities you have you’d be … ”  And out of the blue, of all the positions in the company, he picks point B—and you’ve never breathed a word to anyone.  In your heart you hear God saying, “I am reminding you.”

God will also give you a tangible sense of His presence.  You’ll have a palpable sense of His nearness, His protection, and His guidance.

—Don Sunukjian in Preaching Today

My Response:  What indicator of God’s good intentions for me can I hang on to today?

Thought to Apply: Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.—Winston Churchill (statesman)

Adapted from Preaching Today (Tape 251)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, decrease my preoccupation with my destination and increase my concern for the process You are using to shape my character.

Destiny and Detours – Fast Track?

WildernessKey Bible Verse:  God did not lead them on the road that … was the shortest way from Egypt to the Promised Land.  Exodus 13:17

Bonus Reading:  Exodus 13:17-22

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  True in geometry, but not necessarily for what God is doing in my life.

Say I’ve started work at a certain company, point A, and sense that God’s will is to take me to that corner office on the second floor, point B. I envision being assigned to lead a strategic task-group and coming in under budget and on time.  This brings me to the attention of the decision makers, who start moving me to different positions to gain experience with the whole operation.  When the corner office comes open, I’m the natural choice for it—a nice straight line.

Instead, I get assigned to something peripheral, working in some side cubicle, and nobody knows I work here.  God in His wisdom knows that the shortest distance is a zigzag!

It may be that there’s some person who’d be envious of my rapid promotion and undercut it, and I’d never get to point B.  It could be that I’ll need some skills I don’t yet possess, and God will take me on an alternate path to develop them.  Perhaps some networking connections are key.  Then when I’m ready, He’ll move me back into the straight-line path.

—Don Sunukjian in Preaching Today

My Response:  Can I accept the alternate track God has placed me on without understanding the reason(s) for it?

Thought to Apply: I find that doing the will of God leaves me with no time for disputing about His plans.—George MacDonald (Scottish author)

Adapted from Preaching Today (Tape 251)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, decrease my preoccupation with my destination and increase my concern for the process You are using to shape my character.

Destiny and Detours – Calling Crisis

MetroKey Bible Verse:  We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.  – Proverbs 16:9

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 42:16

3 a.m., Moscow. I helplessly watched our one-year-old struggle for each breath.  We had no car.  The metro shut down at 1 a.m.  Even if we got a ride, reaching the American Medical Clinic across town would take at least an hour.

“Do something!” I screamed at God.

He did, but in the process He smashed the dream I thought He’d given me.  The short-term answer came quickly.  An American acquaintance with a car drove us to the clinic, where our son received timely oxygen treatments for his asthma.

The long-term answer proved much more difficult.  Over the next few weeks, my wife and I realized that we’d need to return to the States to get our son’s asthma under control.  What I considered a calling and had pursued for 14 years—teaching as a Christian professor at a university overseas—would have to wait.  Perhaps indefinitely.  What was God doing?

Four years later, as I teach some of my first Russian graduate students in the United States, I can begin to see God’s hand.  I also sense His healing hand on our growing young boy, on a struggling marriage that needed renewal, and on my own heart that needed rejuvenation.  I now thank God for His detour.

—Perry Glanzer in Texas

My Response:  What detour in my life can I now thank God for?

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, decrease my preoccupation with my destination and increase my concern for the process You are using to shape my character.

Destiny and Detours – Fog-Bound

Fog BoundWho Said It…Jerome Daley

Jerome Daley pursues the passion of his life—intimacy with God and people—in partnership with his wife, Kellie.  Through oneFleshministries, the Daleys speak, write, and lead worship.

In a culture that says go, go, go, Jerome’s book When God Waits challenges us to wait, wait, wait, looking for God’s hand in unexpected places.  Jerome likes to return—with his three children or alone on writing retreats—to the house his grandfather built in a Blue Ridge Mountain town.

What He Said…Fog-bound

As the fog hung close for two days, cabin fever struck, and I launched out for an eerie yet enticing morning walk.  I could see 20 or 30 feet in front of me, enough visibility to follow the path on its circuit through woods and meadow.

I soon realized I was relying heavily on my sense of hearing to observe what was going on around me: the crows cawing obnoxiously, the wind whistling quietly along the ridges, hammers falling in the distance as work progressed on a new house, an occasional car creeping cautiously through the mist.

Funny, I thought, how much we rely on our vision when we can see, but then how automatically we listen more intently when we can’t see.

Fog, huh?  Not unlike this season of waiting.  I can see far enough ahead to keep walking but not enough to know what lies ahead or on either side.  I can’t envision much of what lies beyond two or three months ahead.  So I must listen more intentionally to all the sounds that may convey God’s voice.

Adapted from When God Waits (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, decrease my preoccupation with my destination and increase my concern for the process  You are using to shape my character.

An Inside Job – Evil Desires

Evil Desires At War Within YouAccording to the Apostle James, all external conflict can be traced back to what he calls “evil desires at war within you” (4:1) and motives that are wrong (4:3).

For this reason, attempts at external reform will never be fully effective short of transformation of the way a person thinks.  Our “self-talk” gets to the core of our spiritual state.

The passage to be reviewed today points out some characteristics of the positive and negative attitudes that drive the way we behave.

Interact with God’s Word

James 3:13-18

  1. What sources for human attitudes are identified in these paragraphs (vv. 15, 17)?
  2. According to verse 13, what is it that makes a person wise?
  3. What satanic “wisdom” does James mention (vv.14-16)?
  4. What is identified as “God’s kind of wisdom” (vv. 13, 17-18)?
  5. What kinds of high goals is it appropriate for you to set as a believer? What kinds may draw you into greed and destructive competitiveness?

Spend Time in Prayer:   Ask God to deliver you from internal turmoil because you understand His ways and are shaping your thought life to match up with them.

James 3:13-18

13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don’t brag about the good you do, then you will be truly wise! 14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your hearts, don’t brag about being wise. That is the worst kind of lie. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and motivated by the Devil.

16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere.18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.

Prayer for the Week:  I can cope with external challenges, Lord, if I’m internally aligned with Your will.  Help me to think like a true Christian this week.

An Inside Job – Passed Over

Denied PromotionKey Bible Verses:  “Riches and honor come from you alone … and it is at your discretion that people are made great and given strength.” 1 Chronicles 29:12-13

Bonus Reading:   James 3:13-18

When the CEO of our import-export company resigned, I believed I was the natural choice to replace him.  However, another person was appointed.  I was told by the board that my contributions were valuable to the corporation and that they very much wanted me to remain as chief operating officer.  But for me, a dream of many years had been shattered in seconds.

Bitterness and resentment swept over me, permeating my work and everything else.  I secretly applauded any slip by the new CEO.  As I allowed my emotions to spiral out of control, I knew I was heading for a crash.

Six weeks after the announcement, I began to see and understand a larger question: Either I believed in God’s providence and that He was sovereign, or I didn’t!  The issue was not my promotion or even the success of the company.  The issue was my spiritual attitude, and that was my responsibility to correct.

So rather than continuing to grouse, I began focusing my efforts on fixing my attitude and improving my job performance.  Shortly thereafter, the new CEO resigned unexpectedly, and I was promoted.  With my new perspective and attitude, I was ready.

—Steve Marr in Arizona

My Response: Since God is in control, I must surrender resentment about …

Thought to Apply: Keep your heart right, even when it is sorely wounded. — J.C. Macaulay (Christian educator)

Prayer for the Week:  I can cope with external challenges, Lord, if I’m internally aligned with Your will.  Help me to think like a true Christian this week.

An Inside Job – Attitude Saver

VCRKey Bible Verse: “I don’t just do what I like or what is best for me, but what is best for them.”  – 1 Corinthians 10:33

Bonus Reading:  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

My daughters frequently interrupted me in the fourth quarter of a crucial game or at a crucial part of a TV mystery show for something that needed my immediate attention.  I’d eventually get up.  But even if their request was appropriate, I’d procrastinate, moan, and glare while doing the chore.

When I finally caught sight of my poor attitude, I realized I needed a different way of reacting to interruptions.  Today, the first thing I do if I’m going to watch a game or show is start the VCR.  I have a blank tape labeled “Dad’s Tape: No FooFoo Shows; Sports and Guy Stuff Only.”

Now, when Cindy comes and asks for my help on something that can’t wait and there’s only two minutes left in the fourth quarter, I know the game’s being taped.  When Kari calls and needs to be picked up from cheer practice, I know the mystery’s being taped.  When Laura wants to shoot hoops with me and it’s the ninth inning of the playoff game, I haven’t missed a single run.  I can watch it later, and fast-forward through the commercials!

Your VCR can free you to meet the needs of your family—and protect a positive attitude at the same time.

—John Trent in Dad’s Everything Book for Daughters

My Response:  An adjustment I’ll make for positive interaction with my family is …

Thought to Apply:  Irritation in the heart of a believer is always an invitation to the devil to stand by.—Source Unknown

Adapted from Dad’s Everything Book for Daughters (Zondervan, 2002)

Prayer for the Week:  I can cope with external challenges, Lord, if I’m internally aligned with Your will.  Help me to think like a true Christian this week.