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Whose Will Be Done? – Accepting Helplessness

Discerning the Will of GodKey Bible Verse: But I am trusting you, O Lord, saying, “You are my God.”  – Psalm 31:14

Bonus Reading: Psalm 31:9-20

[continued from yesterday]  Hearing my pregnant wife’s cancer diagnosis taught me what it meant to pray, “Your will, not mine.”

As much as I wanted Cathy’s health restored and a healthy baby, I knew there was nothing I could do to affect the outcome.  Accustomed to forcing outcomes at work and at home, here I was truly powerless.  It frustrated me, but, at the same time, offered an unexpected peace.  For once in my life, I had to place it all in God’s hands. I had no alternative; there was nothing more I could do.

Despite the chaos of having a healthy newborn and a wife drained from weeks of chemo and radiation treatments, I rejoiced as my daughter, Ellen, and Cathy progressed in their growth and recovery. I was ecstatic that, in this case, God’s will was to ordain an outcome that matched my own desires.

In the process, He taught me what true obedience felt like. Now, when I face much more trivial instances of wanting my will done, I remember that turning the situation over to God gives a sense of power in the midst of weakness. Sometimes the first step to accepting God’s blessings is setting my desires aside to receive them.

—Tom Petersen in Iowa

My Response: How has God responded in my life when I’ve prayed, “Your will be done,” and meant it?

Thought to Apply: The will of God is either a burden we carry or a power which carries us.—Corrie Ten Boom (Dutch concentration camp survivor)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to accept your “good and pleasing, and perfect” will, even when that runs counter to my natural desires.


Whose Will Be Done? – Unwelcome News

Discerning the Will of GodKey Bible Verse: If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God. Isaiah 50:10

Bonus Reading: Isaiah 40:27-31

Cathy and I were thrilled when the doctor confirmed her pregnancy.  Married for only a few years, we’d been praying for a child and were giddy at the prospect of this first addition to our family.

Time passed quickly until about six months into the pregnancy.  In addition to the usual odd cravings and inability to go more than 20 minutes without a bathroom break, Cathy assumed her night sweats and the lump growing on her neck were related to her pregnancy.  Conversations with our doctor provided no clear information.

Finally we pressed the issue.  She referred us to a surgeon to take a tissue sample.

We met with an oncologist after the biopsy. Cathy, he grimly informed us, had Hodgkin’s disease. The bottom fell out of our happy world.

The oncologist recommended inducing her pregnancy, in hopes that the seven-month-old fetus was old enough to survive.  That would clear the way for Cathy to begin chemotherapy treatments without further delay.

Suddenly, the pending joy of a baby’s birth was overshadowed by the coming struggle to defeat the cancer—and the uncertain final outcome. [continued tomorrow]

—Tom Petersen in Iowa

My Response: When have I found it hard to trust God?

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to accept your “good and pleasing, and perfect” will, even when that runs counter to my natural desires.


Whose Will Be Done? – A Draftteam Named Desire

Discerning the Will of GodWho Said It…Danny Wuerffel

Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman Trophy in 1996 as the Florida Gators quarterback.  Drafted by the New Orleans Saints, he got involved in ministry in the country’s second-largest housing project.

Desire Street Ministries, which Danny now directs, builds and restores houses, operates a pediatric clinic and Desire Street Academy (with 192 grade-7-12 boys enrolled before Hurricane Katrina), conducts Bible studies, and sponsors a church in the district.

What He Said…A Draftteam Named Desire

How could a talented quarterback walk away from the NFL to work in the inner city when he could still play at the game’s highest level? asked Sports Spectrum writer Rob Bentz.

“I was planning to keep playing,” Wuerffel explained. “In the mornings I’d train to be a pro football player. In the afternoons I’d work at Desire Street Ministries.  But after a month, walking into our gym to visit with one of our kids, I passed on a desk a newspaper with a story about Peyton Manning throwing a touchdown pass to break Dan Merino’s record.  As I looked at the kids, I thought, I wouldn’t trade places with Peyton for anything. I knew I was right where I was supposed to be.

“After Katrina, an incredible moment was when we found a 4-H camp in Florida to temporarily house the academy. It’s run by my alma mater, the University of Florida! ‘Danny, we’re going to make this work,’ the officials told me.  They did, and also donated $50,000!”

Adapted from Sports Spectrum (11-12/05).

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to accept your “good and pleasing, and perfect” will, even when that runs counter to my natural desires.


Loosen Your Grip – Overcoming Selfishness

Overcoming SelfishnessPaul’s letter to the Philippians gives us a snapshot of him in prison, laying aside his personal needs and concerns as he tells members of the imperial household the Good News about Jesus, and as he crafts letters to firm up young believers.

So the self-denying perspective of his “thank you” to the Philippian believers for their gift rings true.

Interact with God’s Word:  Philippians 4:10-20

  1. Paul refers, in verse 14, to his “present difficulty.” What was his situation when he wrote this letter?
  2. How could Paul state, in verse 11, that he had never been in need? Doesn’t he add that he has learned to live on “almost nothing” and with an empty stomach?
  3. When you’ve heard verse 13 quoted, is managing with plenty or little what has come to your mind?
  4. How about the promise of verse 19? Is it unconditional? Or is it offered to those living sacrificial and generous lives?
  5. How do you distinguish between your needs and your wants?
  6. How do you square Paul’s insistence that God is taking care of him with the circumstantial extremes he has just cited?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you focus less on your material situation and more on bringing glory to Him.

Philippians 4:10-20

10 How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. 11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.

13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 14 Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty. 15 As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this.

16 Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. 17 I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness. 18 At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God.

19 And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. 20 Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen.

Prayer for the Week: Help me, Lord, to break the small child’s compulsion to say, ‘Mine! Mine!’ and loosen my grasp on things.

Loosen Your Grip – The Envelope Tradition

Overcoming SelfishnessKey Bible Verse: “You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”  – Acts 20:35

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 9:11-15

Our son Kevin, 12, had a non-league wrestling match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, in ragged sneakers and no headgear to protect their ears, contrasted with our boys in their spiffy uniforms and shoes. We took every weight class.

My husband Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly. “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “This could take the heart right out of them.”

That’s when I got the idea.  Knowing Mike hated the commercial aspects of Christmas, I went to a sporting-goods store, bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church.

On Christmas Eve, I tucked an envelope in the branches of our tree with a note inside telling Mike what I’d done as my gift to him. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year.

For succeeding Christmases, I followed the new tradition—sending a group of mentally disabled youngsters to a hockey game, and so on.  The unmarked envelope became our Christmas highlight.

Our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree—always the last gift opened—to reveal its contents.

—Anonymous in Ken Canfield’s They Call Me Dad

My Response: What giving element could I work into our Christmas traditions?

Thought to Apply: Nothing is really ours until we share it.—C.S. Lewis (British scholar & writer)

Adapted from They Call Me Dad (Howard, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Help me, Lord, to break the small child’s compulsion to say, ‘Mine! Mine!’ and loosen my grasp on things.



Bible Quiz: Test your knowledge

Does the Bible say who Adam’s children were?

Find the answer to that question and test your knowledge with the latest quiz from United Methodist Communications.

Take the quiz

Loosen Your Grip – A “Provision Kiss”

Overcoming SelfishnessKey Bible Verse: Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. Psalm 37:5

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 9:6-10

Our first provision miracle happened with a rental property. After Gail and I married, we lived in a Wisconsin apartment we mockingly called “the Palace.” It had one space heater and a toilet and tiny shower in the closet. We were paying $90 a month.

Friends of ours in St. Louis told us how they got a home for $240 a month in a market where similar homes were going for close to $500. They’d looked at their budget and asked God for a home in that price range.

God might do the same for us, we thought.  We examined our budget.  It would be a stretch, but we could afford $125.  We prayed, “Lord, Your Word says You care about these things.  We ask You to give us a home for $125 a month.”  Then we watched the paper.

For the preceding month it had listed no rental homes for less than $300. But three days later, an ad appeared for a two-bedroom home—for $125!  We went to see it, then called the owner. “I’m probably asking too little for the house,” an elderly lady said. “I’ve had so many calls about it.”

We went to meet with her.  As we were talking, a junior college professor called and offered her more.  “Thanks,” she replied, “but I want to give it to this nice young couple.”

—Ed Gungor in Religiously Transmitted Diseases

My Response: Have I ever prayed about my budgeting?  Should I?

Thought to Apply: You will never need more than God can supply.—J.I. Packer (Canadian theologian)

Adapted from Religiously Transmitted Diseases (Nelson Ignite, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Help me, Lord, to break the small child’s compulsion to say, ‘Mine! Mine!’ and loosen my grasp on things.



Loosen Your Grip – Urge to Splurge

Overcoming SelfishnessKey Bible Verse: Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry. Colossians 3:5

Bonus Reading: Ecclesiastes 5:10-11

Slick, colorful brochures lie on my desk. They’re from sales representatives eager for me to use their state-of-the-art equipment.

But nothing will be purchased until Materials Management scrutinizes my justification letter, explaining why, when, where, and how the equipment will be used. These requirements methodically expose any emotional attachments I have to an apparatus’s newness. I’m forced to honestly measure its value to my department.

And since I know Materials Management won’t approve a purchase based on a letter filled with feelings, I usually don’t waste my time writing one—and throw 98 percent of the pretty brochures into the trash!

Composing a mental “justification letter” is a savvy practice that works great in everyday life, too.

I used to get so excited about the newest high-tech gadget that I’d practically run to buy it, never questioning its value to my life. Soon it would be added to my I-felt-I-had-to-have-it dust collectors.

But my growth in Christ has taught me to be still when the urge to spend strikes. If I pause to allow the Holy Spirit to put my feelings in check, I can honestly measure any product’s value to my life—and break the chain of foolish spending.

—Howard Swann in Texas

My Response: Could I justify my latest major purchase by Material Management criteria?

Thought to Apply: You can’t have everything.  Where would you put it?—Steven Wright (humorist)

Prayer for the Week: Help me, Lord, to break the small child’s compulsion to say, ‘Mine! Mine!’ and loosen my grasp on things.



Loosen Your Grip – Whose Wheels?

Overcoming SelfishnessKey Bible Verse: All the believers … felt that what they owned was not their own; they shared everything they had.  – Acts 4:32

Bonus Reading: 1 Timothy 6:6-8

Several years ago when my mom had to stop driving, I picked up her car, a Ford Escort. Slow but economical, it became my transportation between home and the church I pastored 90 miles away.

After I resigned, it became an extra car.  We knew it belonged to God, so we sometimes loaned out “God’s car” to friends in need. A buddy from a home Bible study needed short-term wheels, so I let him use it. He liked it and asked to buy it.

We agreed on a price, he made a small down payment, and promptly quit paying. He didn’t change the registration with the state, so we remained liable.

Soon after, he quit returning my calls. He did respond to an e-mail, saying he’d take care of the registration. He never did.

Months later I received notice of a parking violation and other problems. I contacted our church, and he’d quit attending. Short of tracking him down and taking him to court, Mom’s car and the money have disappeared. That ticks me off. We had counted on that money and didn’t have a lot to spare. Justice plays a role in my anger.

But, I try to remind myself, God owns that car. He didn’t “steal” it from me, but from God.

Renouncing ownership means we keep a loose grip on our stuff; we try not to get too attached.

—Tim Riter in Not a Safe God

My Response: The part of Tim’s response I can relate to is …

Thought to Apply: All you are unable to give possesses you.—Andre Gide (French author)

Adapted from Not a Safe God (Broadman & Holman, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Help me, Lord, to break the small child’s compulsion to say, ‘Mine! Mine!’ and loosen my grasp on things.


Loosen Your Grip – Found Wanting

Overcoming SelfishnessKey Bible Verse:  “Beware! Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have. Real life is not measured by how much we own.”  – Luke 12:15

Bonus Reading:  Job 31:24-25

Growing up, my brothers and I were notorious present-beggars. We’d get our minds set on the ultimate Christmas toy, then beg relentlessly.

As we got older we became more skilled (or so we thought), strategically placing the Sears toy catalog open to the right page in places we knew Mom and Dad would look: in his recliner, under her pillow, in the refrigerator.

One year we set our sights on a big yellow G.I. Joe troop transport with six oversized knobby wheels. The commercials showed it careening through rugged battlefields, rushing Joe and his Kung Fu grip to the action.

Well, our subtle “product placement” worked; we got the toy for Christmas. We rushed out to play with it, and quickly realized our yard was pretty much … flat. No rugged battlefield to be found.

Sure, with a little imagination we made the toy work, but I couldn’t escape a tinge of disappointment.

So it goes with stuff—and the chase isn’t confined to childhood.  Many people have convinced themselves they should pull the trigger on the bigger TV, the fancier fly rod, the sportier car. It never satisfies, does it?

Solomon said that “Those who love money will never have enough” (Eccl. 5:10).

—Mark Geil in Georgia

My Response: What potential possession am I emotionally chasing? Can it deliver on my expectations?

Prayer for the Week: Help me, Lord, to break the small child’s compulsion to say, ‘Mine! Mine!’ and loosen my grasp on things.


Loosen Your Grip – Lend Your Stuff

Overcoming SelfishnessWho Said It…Tim Stafford

Tim Stafford started his writing career with what is now Ignite Your Faith magazine (then Youth for Christ’s Campus Life). Next he moved his family to Kenya and founded Step magazine, for Christian youth in Africa.

With Philip Yancey, he co-authored notes for the popular Student Bible. Now Tim’s family, including wife Popie, a counselor, and three children, live in Santa Rosa, California.

Tim is a senior writer for Christianity Today and has written many books, including a historical fiction trilogy.

What He Said…Lend Your Stuff

For some people no act of generosity comes harder than lending because they’re emotionally attached to their possessions and can’t let go.

Something seizes up inside at the thought of letting your new car go on the church ski trip or lending your power tools to the group going to Mexico to build houses. The car may get dented. The tools may get lost or broken.

However, such tangible acts of generosity make sense to children in a way that the abstract writing of checks might not.

We made it a family policy, when we bought a new minivan, to make it available to the church or school anytime they needed it. And they needed it frequently!

We sent a full minivan to Mexico, into the Sierra for ski trips, and to a great variety of other destinations.

I almost always found it a little hard to let the car out of my hands. However, I am quite sure my children will remember these small acts of generosity and want to imitate them.

Adapted from Never Mind the Joneses (InterVarsity, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Help me, Lord, to break the small child’s compulsion to say, ‘Mine! Mine!’ and loosen my grasp on things.


Lenten Devotional – Easter Sunday – A Happy Ending

Scripture: Psalm 30:11

11 You turned my loud crying into dancing.
    You removed my clothes of sadness and dressed me with joy.

Just after confirming that I was pregnant, my dad received bad news. Chemotherapy that had successfully treated his cancer failed to produce desired results this time. Options were limited.

My emotions were like a roller coaster, cresting with hope for our child’s birth, then plummeting with grief of losing Dad. I prayed he could live to hold our unborn daughter, but that was not to be. At his graveside she moved within me, nudging me gently to the promise of new life.

Afterwards, I vowed to keep Dad’s memory alive through family stories and pictures. Simple activities combined with commentaries about how Paw Paw would be so proud, or how Paw Paw loved this or that.

Previously, Mom and Dad had planned to take the grandkids to Disney World. At five, Meredith was eager to make that trip, so we loaded up the three grandchildren and drove to Orlando. During the week, we talked about how Paw Paw would have enjoyed the experiences. We spent our final day at Epcot. As we approached the exit at the close of day, Meredith abruptly stopped, looked up toward heaven with outstretched arms, and announced, “Paw Paw, it’s a happy ending!”

As we celebrate this Lenten season, we remember the ultimate happy ending of the good news of joy and gladness as we serve a risen Lord.

Prayer: Father, thank you for sorrow and joy, as you make all things new through the seasons of our lives.

  – Marylane Wade Koch – Byhalia, Mississippi



This is Why We Celebrate Easter

Holidays are often marked with family tradition:

  • At Thanksgiving, we remember the blessings we have experienced, and express our Thankfulness for whatever situation we find ourselves in.
  • At Christmas, we remember the birth of Christ by gathering with family and giving gifts like the wise men gave to Mary and Joseph.
  • At Easter, we celebrate by dying eggs and hiding them as a symbol of the tomb, and new life.

The Earliest recorded Easter celebration happened around the 2nd century, though there were likely unofficially recognized remembrances of Jesus’ resurrection occurring earlier.  Like other holidays, Easter has many customs or traditions that have become a part of the holiday over the years.  Some of these customs differ in regions and among various Christian traditions.  However, across all these traditions, the reason for Easter celebration has one thing in common: the resurrection of Christ, which is the foundation for all Christianity.

The consequences of sin renders it impossible for mankind to satisfy the wrath of God.  Only the fullness of God can.  This leads us to the week of Passover when Jesus was crucified.

However, we do not celebrate Easter as a remembrance of the death of Christ, because his story did not end there, rather the resurrection of Christ and the hope and redemption it brings for humankind.

Twice in the book of Ezekiel we are told that God does not “pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11)

This is why we celebrate Easter.  Christ, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God came to redeem mankind to himself.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:8-11 ESV)

This is why we celebrate Easter, but it does not stop there.

In 1 John 4, the Apostle urges us to demonstrate the love that God has shown us to others.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. [8]  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. [9]  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. [10]  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [11]  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  (1 John 4:7-11 ESV)

Therefore, Easter is a time of remembrance, a time of celebration, and an example for us.

We should remember the depth of the love of Christ as an example for us to demonstrate to others.  So, as we celebrate this Holy Week, we remember how the wrath of God passed over the Israelites in Egypt, and remember that “in Him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Eph. 1:7).  That we may “Know the power of his resurrection” (Phil. 3:10). That we may love one another because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Happy Easter from Central Church!


Wht is Holy Saturday?

Have you heard of Holy Saturday?  What is this day all about and what meaning does it have for Christians?

Holy, Holy, Holy

God alone is holy and no day in and of itself is holy.  Only God can make something or someone holy and so did God declare a particular Saturday as holy?  Why would a day be holy and why a Saturday?  I can understand Resurrection Day being considered by Christians as a holy day or a holy convocation or gathering but what is Holy Saturday and why is it called that?

What is Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is sometimes called Sabbath Saturday but goes by the names Black Saturday, Joyous Saturday, and even Saturday of Light. It is the last day of what is called the Holy Week and is the 40th day of the traditional Lenten Fast.  This day is when the Church holds a deep reflection of the death of Christ.  It is sometimes observed beginning with sunset and lasts until Sunday morning of the day Jesus was resurrected.

The church’s contemplation is believed to have occurred while the church awaited Jesus’ resurrection and Christians mediate on Jesus’ passion, crucifixion, and death.  Some believe that this was when Jesus descended into hell to preach to those held captive (the “harrowing of Hell”).  It is frequently a time of fasting and prayer although mass is not typically held on this day.  Some Christian calendars even call it Easter Saturday although others strongly argue against calling it that.

Other Traditions of Holy Saturday

There are still some Anglican churches, like in the Episcopal churches, that have scriptural readings on this day that commemorate the burial of Christ.  If there is an Easter Vigil, it has to take place at nighttime, typically beginning at or near sunset and ending before dawn the next Sunday.  In the early church, this was the day that most Christians were believed to have fasted collectively, although it was not commanded.

In Great Britain, it is called Easter Even, and even the Great Sabbath.  During some Easter Vigils, a wax candle is inscribed with a cross and the Greek letters   Alpha and Omega are inscribed at the top and bottom of the cross and four numbers are written that represent the current year in which it is being observed.

For many new believers, this is the time when they are baptized, some even waiting months for this time and this is when the new converts are introduced and educated about Lent.  Only then are some of these new converts allowed to take communion for the very first time, on the very next day, that being Easter Sunday.  The baptisms and Jesus’ resurrection are seen as being similar.  Many disagree vehemently that Holy Saturday is called Easter Saturday, but this greatly depends upon which denomination or church one belongs too.


If you have never repented and trusted in Christ, may I ask you why not?  If you have been born again, have you not been baptized?  No one is ever saved by baptism but everyone that is saved should be.  The ordinance of baptism has great meaning to the believer and it represents the death, burial, and resurrection of the old man and the coming out as a new creature in Christ.

Why put this decision off?  Today can be your day of salvation, no matter what day of the week it falls on (2 Cor 6:2).  To delay this decision and with Christ coming before you decide to be saved, you will have no chance to repent and trust in Him then.  We would strongly urge you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ today and you too will be raised at Christ’s return or be with the Lord at your death if the Lord tarries.


Lenten Devotional – Day 40 – Holy Saturday – Humility

Scripture: Matthew 13:3–5

Then he told them many things using stories. He said, “A farmer went out to plant his seed. He scattered the seed on the ground. Some fell on a path. Birds came and ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky places, where there wasn’t much soil. The plants came up quickly, because the soil wasn’t deep.

Several years ago, I went on my first mission trip. I had not planned to go on this trip but someone else had canceled and my pastor asked me to go.

My first reaction to the invitation was, “No, ask someone else.” However, my daughter was with me at the time. She had recently returned from Europe and her comment was “You are always taking one of us to the airport or picking us up, so why don’t you go?” I said yes, not really knowing how much that two weeks would change my life.

The first big surprise was that there was to be a foot washing on the first night that we were together as a team. At this point I was ready to go back home. I told my pastor that I would be in the bathroom until this was over. I was absolutely out of my comfort zone. But a kind friend sat beside me and I learned of the humility that the disciples must have felt when Jesus washed their feet. I also obtained a new understanding of what it means to serve others.

Since that time, I have participated in several foot washings, especially during the season of Lent. I would encourage you to also participate in this ritual. Fear of the unknown can change, bringing a new understanding and joy as you are served and as you serve.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, give us the courage to seek humility in the small acts of kindness that present themselves to us each day. Thank you for your example of how to be a true servant. Amen.

  – Doris Hedrick – Natural Bridge, Virginia


Join Us for Easter – This Sunday at 11 am!

Lenten Devotional – Day 39 – Good Friday – Trials Can Lead Us to Joy

Scripture: John 16:22

22 That’s the way it is with you. Now it’s your time to be sad. But I will see you again. Then you will be full of joy. And no one will take away your joy.

When we are in the midst of struggle, it is hard to see ahead. If we endure, gradually there will be light in the midst of the dark. Joy may begin with little things: the touch of a hand, the song of a bird at sunrise, a rainbow after the storm, a remembered phrase from a favorite hymn. The sources of these moments of are endless. Joy may be fleeting at first. We may hesitate to believe it is happening. Sometimes we are afraid to let joy in. It’s easier to stay in familiar territory. But God has a way of breaking through our fears and hesitancy. Like the sun breaking through the clouds, his love breaks into our darkness and brings joy that can come only from him.

We reflect on Jesus’s suffering during this season of Lent and look forward to the joy of his triumph on Easter morning. May we be reminded anew that trials are not the end of the story. Joy is possible. And our final joy will come when we enter the presence of our Lord for eternity.

Prayer: O God, the source of joy, open our hearts that we may receive your joy. May our lives reflect that joy to the world around us, we pray. Amen.

  – Anne Ownbey – Black Mountain, North Carolina





Lenten Devotional – Day 38 – Maundy Thursday – A Stitch in Time

Scripture: Isaiah 43:18–19

18 “Forget the things that happened in the past.
    Do not keep on thinking about them.
19 I am about to do something new.
    It is beginning to happen even now.
    Don’t you see it coming?
I am going to make a way for you to go through the desert.
    I will make streams of water in the dry and empty land.

Grandma was my super-hero. When I was young, it seemed she could do anything! Her gardens yielded perfect fruit and flowers; her lemon-meringue pie was superb; she could play piano by ear; and, perhaps above all, she could sew any garment from any pattern no matter how complex.

She tried to pass her talents along to me, but alas, my gardens are minimal; my pies are passable; my piano-playing marginal. But I learned to sew—by machine and by hand!

I miss my grandmother. But now, I’m a grandmother too! And just the other day, my granddaughters handed me a bagful of stuffed toys all of which had stuffing escaping. They knew I could mend their toys in no time! And I did. But the real joy was seeing their smiles when I returned their toys to them. I guess I was their super-hero.

Sometimes we are like toys with loose seams and stuffing coming out. We are wounded and wonder if we are beyond fixing. However, God sees us differently. We are not falling apart. So, setting about to stitch us back together, God heals us, and makes us anew. Our season of sorrow ends and, by the grace of God, we enter a season of joy.

Prayer: Holy One, who made us and through Christ has saved us, help us to remember are loved beyond measure and never beyond your plan to make us whole again. Amen.

– Chris Suerdieck – Emmitsburg, Maryland

Lenten Devotional – Day 37 – The Pontiff’s Hat

Scripture: Psalm 30: 2–5

Lord my God, I called out to you for help.
    And you healed me.
Lord, you brought me up from the place of the dead.
    You kept me from going down into the pit.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you who are faithful to him.
    Praise him, because his name is holy.
His anger lasts for only a moment.
    But his favor lasts for a person’s whole life.
Weeping can stay for the night.
    But joy comes in the morning.

It had been a hard winter filled with deep personal losses and my heart yearned for signs of new life but she didn’t know that when we were seated at her table in a small restaurant in a southern historic town that spring day.

I love napkin folds and was intrigued by the exquisite design of the one on my plate. “It’s the Pontiff’s Hat,” she said, as I asked her to teach me. She nimbly reassembled the unfolded napkin and then patiently proceeded to show me step by step. The restaurant was filled with tourists, but she managed to stop by our table to check on my progress while very efficiently serving others.

By the end of the meal, I had mastered the techniques of the Pontiff’s Hat, but, more importantly, and unknowingly, I had started the beginning of a life-time friendship with Dora. Her smile and patience  brought healing that day. And, over time, we continued to stop by Dora’s table on our way south in the spring and have exchanged notes and Christmas cards for almost 15 years now.

God brings sunshine and joy into our lives through many avenues – including folding a napkin into the shape of the Pontiff’s Hat.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the extraordinary healing powers you have given to those around us, who, when we least expect it, bring joy in the morning.

  – Gayle Fiser – Little Rock, Arkansas






Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:55

55 “Death, where is the victory you thought you had?
    Death, where is your sting?” (Hosea 13:14)

In a rural parish, I got a call from a mother one night to come and visit her home. Her grown son had an inoperable brain tumor. He was growing blind.  His cancer was causing him to act violently.

I went and sat calmly with the man and continued to sit and be present with him until he grew peaceful. After that, his mother would call me each time he had a seizure. And I would sit with him until he grew peaceful. This continued until he died.

In the midst of that suffering, there was one unique season of healing. The young man wrote personal letters to a number of people who were important to him. He asked me to deliver the sealed envelopes. I later heard from many of the recipients how the letters expressed love, asked forgiveness, and offered comfort.

1 Corinthians 15:55 –  “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

In the midst of that suffering, there was one unique season of healing. The young man wrote personal letters to a number of people who were important to him. He asked me to deliver the sealed envelopes. I later heard from many of the recipients how the letters expressed love, asked forgiveness, and offered comfort.

After the young man’s death, his mother often told me how much she loved me. She would grab me, hug me, and cry whenever she saw me.  The young man turned his time of suffering into an opportunity for sharing reconciliation and hope. The visit of a pastor reminded mother and son that
the scarred but risen Lord was present with them. Death finally gave way to healing peace.

Prayer: Loving God, we pray for courage to face suffering and faith to overcome it.

  – Norman Tippens – Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina

Lenten Devotional – Day 36 – Sitting with Suffering

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:55

55 “Death, where is the victory you thought you had?
    Death, where is your sting?” (Hosea 13:14)

In a rural parish, I got a call from a mother one night to come and visit her home. Her grown son had an inoperable brain tumor. He was growing blind.  His cancer was causing him to act violently.

I went and sat calmly with the man and continued to sit and be present with him until he grew peaceful. After that, his mother would call me each time he had a seizure. And I would sit with him until he grew peaceful. This continued until he died.

In the midst of that suffering, there was one unique season of healing. The young man wrote personal letters to a number of people who were important to him. He asked me to deliver the sealed envelopes. I later heard from many of the recipients how the letters expressed love, asked forgiveness, and offered comfort.

1 Corinthians 15:55 –  “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

In the midst of that suffering, there was one unique season of healing. The young man wrote personal letters to a number of people who were important to him. He asked me to deliver the sealed envelopes. I later heard from many of the recipients how the letters expressed love, asked forgiveness, and offered comfort.

After the young man’s death, his mother often told me how much she loved me. She would grab me, hug me, and cry whenever she saw me.  The young man turned his time of suffering into an opportunity for sharing reconciliation and hope. The visit of a pastor reminded mother and son that
the scarred but risen Lord was present with them. Death finally gave way to healing peace.

Prayer: Loving God, we pray for courage to face suffering and faith to overcome it.

  – Norman Tippens – Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina

Lenten Devotional – Day 35 – From Sorrow to Gladness

Scripture: John 16:20

20 What I’m about to tell you is true. You will weep and mourn while the world is full of joy. You will be sad, but your sadness will turn into joy.

On August 25, 1984 my forty-four year old mother and best-friend, Lula, died from pancreatic cancer, leaving her husband and six children covered in a veil of grief and sadness. Every year after her death, as the days and months passed by, I could feel the dread, sadness, and sorrow in my heart as the month of August approached.

I asked the Lord to remove the cloak of heaviness and sadness that I constantly felt, and while the pain lessened, it didn’t cease. Six years after the death of my mother I received the joyous news that I was expecting. When my doctor said my due date was August 25 I burst into tears. I explained my reaction to my doctor and she agreed to induce my labor before my due date.

When the time came, on August 23, 1990, she did induce labor, however I was discharged after twenty-four hours as the baby wouldn’t budge.  On the morning of August 25, my labor began spontaneously and my son arrived quickly. I cried as I held him. My Aunt Joyice, my mother’s sister, said, “This day for the last six years has been marked with mourning and sadness, but today we celebrate with joy and gladness the birth of Jamil!”

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the blessing of turning our pain and sorrow into joy and gladness in Jesus’s name,  Amen!

  – Tracy Porter – Pasadena, California

Lenten Devotional – The Sixth Sunday in Lent – Palm Sunday – Joy in the Midst of Sorrow

Scripture: John 16:22

22 That’s the way it is with you. Now it’s your time to be sad. But I will see you again. Then you will be full of joy. And no one will take away your joy.

A number of years ago, my wife’s brother died suddenly. His funeral was delayed because one of his sons was at sea. The day after the funeral my wife’s father entered the hospital. A couple of days later her grandmother entered the hospital. Within the week her grandmother died and then her father died the
next day. It was a time of great sorrow. To this day sometimes tears come to my eyes when I remember.

However, when I think back there were also moments of joy during this time and the time following. When my wife left to help her mother, I stayed
behind for several days until I could join her. We were overwhelmed with support from others, some expected and some unexpected. My mother-in-law’s church and friends, along with family, all stepped in. Members of our church called me daily and brought food before I joined my wife. They also called my wife to check on her. I will never forget that the Sunday before I was to join my wife, our Sunday School Class held a group hug and prayer for us.

Even in this time of sorrow and the times that followed, we experienced joy in the support we received, the shared memories, and the deepening relationships that followed.

Prayer: Lord help us to remember that you are always with us and provide support through those around us. Help us to provide your support to those
around us.

  – Alvin Jenkins – Lenoir City, Tennessee



Lenten Devotional – Day 34 – The Unintended Detour of Divorce

Scripture: Psalm 139:1–3

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

Lord, you have seen what is in my heart.
    You know all about me.
You know when I sit down and when I get up.
    You know what I’m thinking even though you are far away.
You know when I go out to work and when I come back home.
    You know exactly how I live.

Embarrassing, gut wrenching, anger-centered…not the words for a season of joy and gladness, but nonetheless the words often the center-pieces of a divorce.

With initial intentions of full-speed-ahead happiness, there is no thought of a wrong turn in a marriage relationship that goes sour…and all the detritus of destruction that goes along with it: bad words, ruined relationships, and inappropriate behavior. Joy and gladness have left the station for parts unknown.

Even if we, in despair, deny that anything can exist after a detour into divorce, Psalm 139 reminds us that God knows all of our inner struggles especially when we don’t want to share them.

God is always the same. He brings wholeness in a relationship with him even if we don’t think we are worthy of any future slice of happiness. In my
case, a chance meeting with my future partner in marriage happened with an intervention divinely directed (I’m sure of this!) A new relationship of Godgiven hope and happiness I never thought possible came my way, one for which I intend to cherish always. I am thankful that God’s house is one of hopeful happiness for us all.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for standing up for us, even when we think we will never stand again. Amen.

  – Anonymous – Henrico County, Virginia

Palm Sunday 2019: What is it and why is it so important to Christians?

Palm Sunday is a significant day on the Christian calendar, marking the start of Holy Week and the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem.

The day is observed by Christians from various denominations of the religion, including Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians.

The practices of Palm Sunday, such as processions, singing and carrying palm leaves, can be traced back for centuries.

Here’s everything you need to know about Palm Sunday:

What is Palm Sunday?

Palm Sunday, otherwise known as Passion Sunday, is the first day of Holy Week – the last week of Lent which starts on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday.

The day celebrates Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem riding on a donkey days before he was crucified.

When is Palm Sunday?

Palm Sunday always falls on the Sunday before Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

This year, Palm Sunday is on April 14, Good Friday falls on April 19 and Easter Sunday is celebrated on April 21.

Why is it observed?

The day marks Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem riding on a donkey days before he was crucified, according to Christian teaching.

As Jesus approached Jerusalem, he told two of his disciples to go into a nearby village and bring a donkey on which he would ride into the Middle Eastern city.

The Bible states the messiah’s procession was welcomed by people waving giant palm leaves.

“They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!'” reads John 12:13.

How is it observed?

There are many traditions that take place on Palm Sunday but one of the most common is for individuals to give out or receive small crosses made from palm leaves, as a reminder of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and his death on the cross, the Salvation Army states.

While some Christians keep these in their homes all year as a symbol of their faith, other congregations burn them at the end of the day and save the ashes to use on Ash Wednesday of the following year.

Processions symbolic of the one Jesus undertook are also commonplace on Palm Sunday, typically ahead of a church service.



Lenten Devotional – Day 33 – Rainbows

Scripture: Psalm 30:4–5; 11–12

Sing the praises of the Lord, you who are faithful to him.
    Praise him, because his name is holy.
His anger lasts for only a moment.
    But his favor lasts for a person’s whole life.
Weeping can stay for the night.
    But joy comes in the morning.

11 You turned my loud crying into dancing.
    You removed my clothes of sadness and dressed me with joy.
12 So my heart will sing your praises. I can’t keep silent.
    Lord, my God, I will praise you forever.

A good friend, in her mid-sixties and “the picture of health”, died suddenly.

Feelings of shock and stunned disbelief were shared by everyone who knew her. Of course, we did not understand “why”, but knew that we must work through this tragedy together.

Sharing our thoughts focused our attention on how blessed we had been by her friendship. She always gave freely of her bubbly personality, many talents, and she never met a stranger.

These reflections did not erase our grief and disappointment, but rather pointed the way toward a joyful future, tinged with memories of past experiences.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the joys that appear, like rainbows, while our eyes are still heavy with tears. Amen.

– Carolyn P. Maness – Lynchburg, Virginia

Lenten Devotional – Day 32 – Why?

Scripture: Isaiah 43:1b, 2, 3a, 5a

The Lord Saves Israel

43 Family of Jacob, the Lord created you.
    People of Israel, he formed you.
He says, “Do not be afraid.
    I will set you free.
I will send for you by name.
    You belong to me.

You will pass through deep waters.
    But I will be with you.
You will pass through the rivers.
    But their waters will not sweep over you.
You will walk through fire.
    But you will not be burned.
    The flames will not harm you.

I am the Lord your God.
    I am the Holy One of Israel.
    I am the one who saves you.
I will give up Egypt to set you free.
    I will give up Cush and Seba for you.

Do not be afraid. I am with you.
    I will bring your people back from the east.
    I will gather you from the west.

As chaplain at my local hospital, I visit with families who have lost a loved one.  The question often raised is, “Why?” I was called to offer support to a father whose five-month-old daughter had passed away in her sleep. The father was distraught and saying, “I want to hold my baby!” He asked, “Why?” The common responses that people give, often bring up more questions, or makes the parent angry at God.

I, having no answer to the “why?” question, attempted to comfort the father by assuring him God was also hurting in the loss of his daughter.God says, “I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:2a). He will comfort us, protect us, and give us strength.

We can rejoice in the knowledge that God’s love is with us; that God will help us endure the pain, and move from grief to joy. I encouraged the father to remember the joy of holding his daughter in time of health, to remember the joy of playing with her, and to give thanks to God for the brief time he enjoyed his daughter.

Thanks be to God for his love and presence with us when we hurt and the gift of memory to recall the good times.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for your promise to be with us when we hurt, have problems, and difficulties. Thank you for the peace that comes from you (John 14:27) through your son, Jesus Christ! Amen.

– Sam Ramirez – Lakeland, Florida




Lenten Devotional – Day 31 – Joy in the Midst of Death

Scripture: Psalm 34:4

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.

Hearing the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, I knew a long, difficult journey was ahead. I knew enough not be seduced into false hopes of recovery for him.  Years of slow decline unfolded. In December, physical issues emerged. By January, I employed a morning aide and began to consider physical space in our
home to accommodate an anticipated need for a hospital bed, loss of mobility, and perhaps loss of speech.

It was a sad time, but I was determined to fulfill my goal of keeping my husband home, where he wanted to be, to the end. Then January 18 arrived and within an hour my mobile, talking, walking-around-the-house husband was dead. Shock!

As I sat for a time beside his lifeless body, holding his hand that was losing the warmth of life, a realization hit me. All my prayers since hearing the
diagnosis had been answered, “Yes.” He was not suffering pain; he hated pain.  He had ended his journey at home. He had not suffered a time of constant confusion and anxiety. He still knew us. He was free!

Psalm 34:4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.

And so was I. Free from concern about making his days safe and palatable. Free, knowing that expressions of love for each other had been shared to the end. A strange kind of joy in the face of death and separation! Joy just the same.

Prayer: Help us, Lord, to see your provision of joy even in the midst of sadness and loss. Amen.

  – Youtha Hardman–Cromwell – Washington, DC









Lenten Devotional – Day 30 – Witnessing Through the Ages

Scripture: Hebrews 12:1–2

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

When I was a little boy, my grandmother would come and stay with our family for a time. She was always kind, spoke with a sweet southern accent and brought candy to share. She moved very slowly and walked with a cane. She was probably the oldest person I had ever seen, and seeing her age saddened me, and even scared me a bit.

One day, I passed her room and heard her whispering. I summoned my courage to sit closer and eavesdrop. I was fascinated to realize she was praying, asking for Jesus to watch over our family, and to take her home.

Shortly after that, Jesus did take Mema home. By then, I had learned more about her; how she raised four children, sewed their clothing, emphasized attending church each Sunday, prayed regularly, and cared for those less fortunate. She had an iron will and unwavering faith, which persevered to the very end of her life.

My memories of Mema are tinged with gladness, knowing this grand lady is one of the “great cloud of witnesses” in our family. My wife and I carried her Christian message to our children. I am resolute to “run my race,” appreciating that strong Christians, like my grandmother, blazed the trail before me.

Prayer: Gracious Lord, help me to be a witness to your great love, your sacrifice on the cross, and your victory over death during this Lenten season, and always. Amen.

  – Bob Brooks – Fredericksburg, Virginia

Lenten Devotional – Day 29 – Yesterdays

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1–5

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

Being the family of a United Methodist minister, my children and I know what it means to move. Thankfully, as the children were growing up, two of our appointments were quite long term: nine and eight years. While the longest appointment encompassed the years of young childhood and learning to parent, the second occurred during the really active phases of their lives and mine. These were the years of scout troops, music lessons, church and school choirs, UMYF, orchestra, school plays, sports, and lots of friends, many of whose parents I also became friends with. For me they were the years of committees, book clubs, writer’s groups, church choir, Bible study, circle, and exercise classes. Leaving the people connected to both of these appointments was as heart wrenching as leaving real family.

It can be a sad thing to look back and mourn certain people and times in our lives. And, yet, if they hadn’t occurred, we would have nothing wonderful to remember. My children and I will always be grateful for the special people in both the church and community who stepped forward to befriend us. “For everything there is a season,” said the writer of Ecclesiastes, “…a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” Let us love our friends  while we have them today and hold fast to their memories when they are in our yesterdays.

Prayer: Father, thank you for all of those who embrace us with their love.

  – Regina K. Carson – Chesterfield, Virginia



Lenten Devotional – The Fifth Sunday in Lent – Asking Why

Scripture: Isaiah 43:1–2

Israel’s Only Savior

43 But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

My father reigned for years as the steady rock of our family. When he died from multiple hornet stings, we struggled to understand why God took our
beloved patriarch. In time, we realized we had attributed our source of security and well-being to the wrong Abba. For Christians, the true rock must be God the Father through Christ the son.

God allowed us to see how he used our terrible loss—he drew every one of dad’s children closer to himself. But God sometimes chooses to keep his
own counsel, and he shrouds the reasons for our sorrows or hardships. When the answer to “why?” eludes us, we learn from the scriptures to lift our eyes heavenward and have no fear. Rather than dwell on our own afflictions, we can choose to remember the afflictions Jesus endured in our stead.

As we approach Maundy Thursday, let’s dwell on the goodness and mercy of our heavenly Father through the sacrifice of his only son. God has redeemed us and called us by name, and he will sustain us in every circumstance. We may yearn to know why we suffer, but we need to know only that Jesus suffered and died for us. Our rock promises strength for today and salvation for eternity.

Prayer: Thank you, Father, for our trials and their purpose in our lives. Thank you for Jesus, whose trials reconciled us to you.

– Andi Lehman – Hernando, Mississippi



Effective Stewardship – Month #8

God uses money as a tool to help us grow.

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed;

for one’s life does not consist in the

abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).


A wise person once observed, “Half of any task is having the right tool, and the other half is knowing what to do with it.” Although we don’t often consider it as such, money is a tool which God uses in our lives as a means of spiritual growth.

You see, money is not an end in and of itself. It is a means to an end. And in God’s hands, one of its primary “ends” is to instruct us and to help us grow spiritually. God especially wants us to avoid our natural tendency which is a bent toward selfishness, greed, and hoarding. That’s why the Lord Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).

Well, if an individual’s life does not consist in having a lot of possessions, in what does it consist?  Jesus provided an insightful answer to that question in Matthew 6:20-21, where He said, “ . . . store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Now, according to Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25), there is nothing wrong with saving. There is nothing wrong with investing or earning interest on investments. There is nothing wrong with being a wise steward by planning for the future.

In fact, Jesus taught that those who do so are to be commended.  But our primary emphasis as God’s children is to make our investments in the “Bank of Heaven.”  When we do that, our investments are secure.  They are not affected by inflation, by theft, by wear and tear, or anything of the kind.

There is only one way to make deposits in this special “bank”:  By giving to the Lord’s work.  Although the money is used here, it is credited to your eternal account.

Each time you give your tithes and offerings at Central United Methodist Church, you are giving to the Lord by investing for eternity.  You are storing up “treasures in heaven” that will glorify God forever.




Lenten Devotional – Day 28 – Joy Comes – Just in Time

Scripture: Romans 15:13

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are times when joy may feel absent from our lives, leaving sorrow and hopelessness. The God of the Universe knows sorrow; surely he grieved when Jesus suffered and died. Jesus’s loved ones grieved, feeling alone. Then joy returned with the resurrection of Jesus!

My deepest sorrow was the death of my husband, Dan, when he was 35 and our two children were very young. My sadness was unbearable. Joy and hope seemed to have left our home. I will never forget, but because of God’s grace, I no longer feel the pain. It has been replaced with warmth and strength in those memories. With assuredness I can say that joy returned.

How did joy return? It came a bit at a time. Joy was spread by the smiles and kisses of my little children. It came through the mail, attached to a note from a friend. Joy was embedded in the help of neighbors doing yard work and fixing my oven. It traveled through the telephone, a comforting voice of a friend. Joy seeped into our home as the result of many prayers. It walked in the door with friends ready to play with my children. Joy returned to me in the silence of the morning and quiet times spent in prayer. God brings joy – just in time.

Prayer: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”  Amen.

  – Deb Broadwater – Moneta, Virginia



Lenten Devotional – Day 27 – Tribulation’s Joy

Scripture: Hebrews 12:2

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As I write, my daughter Karissa is in her seventh month of pregnancy.  Undergoing labor is on the horizon. Labor, women say, is their hardest physical activity – ever! Yet, they deem labor worth it for the joy awaiting them. They would do it again for the seven and a half pounds of pure beauty and joy they
hold in their arms!

Jesus compared his death to a woman’s labor. Yes, there’s tribulation.  Once the child is born, her painful memory vanishes. Likewise, Jesus’s painful departure gives way to his return conveying to his disciples irremovable joy.

That joy results from Christian tribulation is a deep, universal principle.  Our Lord exemplified it. Scripture says Jesus “for the sake of the joy that was
set before him endured the cross…” Jesus stood his ground before the cross’s ordeal. He held out against its humiliation. England’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill resolutely held out against the continuous Nazi bombing raids, saying, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

The joy that made enduring the cross worth it was Jesus’s profound sense of happiness in obtaining eternal salvation by his own blood. By his atoning
sacrifice any repenting sinner with saving faith might now have fellowship with God. As his disciple, you’ll have tribulation. To you Jesus says, “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice.”

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, help me trust you though “weeping may linger for the night, joy comes with the morning.”

– H. O. Tom Thomas – Forest, Virginia

Lenten Devotional – Day 26 – From Heartache to Happiness

Scripture: Jeremiah 31:13

Then young women will dance and be glad,
    young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
    I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.

When our son was three years old, our hope of adding to our family turned to disappointment and sorrow. The next few years brought us three miscarriages. It was more disheartening to know our son would spend his entire life without a sibling, than for my husband and I not to have another child to
love and nurture.

Years passed, and we continued our life-long focus on service in our community, including foster parenting and hosting an exchange student.  However, that empty spot in our hearts remained. When our son was in college, my husband led a local service organization. In an effort to motivate other members of the group to serve more, we decided to host another exchange student.

We began communicating with our upcoming guest through the summer months, getting to know one another through our emails back and forth. It was a bit unsettling, though, wondering if we would be a good fit for a high school student again. The day arrived for him to join our family for a year of studying in the United States, and the most amazing thing happened! As we exchanged greetings and hugs at the airport, the feeling that we were “family” overcame all four of us. We spent a wonderful year together. Now, over ten years later, we are still blessed to have two sons – and our sons are truly brothers.

Prayer: Lord, your mysterious plan is always right for us. Thank you for turning heartache into happiness!

– Julie Erickson – Olathe, Kansas



Lenten Devotional – Day 25 – The Perspective of Foolishness

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:18

Christ Crucified Is God’s Power and Wisdom

18 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.

When I think of joy, I think of turning normal thinking on its head by seeing life from the perspective of foolishness.

One of my appointments was to a church that was burglarized. The thief stole cash kept for financial assistance to persons in need and riffled through files that included my sermons. When I announced the news about the theft to the congregation, I talked about the theft of the money and my disappointment in discovering that none of my sermons had been stolen.

Between the time of the burglary and Sunday morning worship, I had the opportunity to visit the young man who had been jailed for this crime. I told him the church believed in a God of forgiveness and second chances. I asked if there was anything the church could do for him. He talked about the need for some articles of clothing and asked me to tell the church members he was sorry. When I shared this news with the congregation, people responded with generosity and the children’s Sunday School classes made cards for him.

Prayer: God of forgiveness, help us to see life from the foolish perspective of the cross.  Grant that we may see life through the joy of Jesus.

– Marc Brown – Amherst, Virginia







Lenten Devotional – Day 24 – Happy Birthday?

Scripture: John 10:10

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

On my 48th birthday cancer entered my world to steal, kill, and destroy my life. There were many days, weeks, and months of stress, worry, and uncertainty leading up to my surgery and for several months of chemo which followed. It could have been the worst time of my life.

However, it became an amazing blessing in disguise. People I barely knew contacted me to share how much I meant to them. They thanked me for things I had said or done which helped them… most of which I didn’t recall. I got to hear my funeral eulogies without having to die!

But the greatest blessing of all was the wake-up call from God to live my life, however long that may be, in all its fullness. I had been squandering my life on trivialities… not paying attention to what really mattered. I have lived more fully in the 26 years after my diagnosis than I ever did in the 48 years before.

Life is good!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank you for blessings in disguise and for the joy of living my life to the fullest. Amen.

– Susie Brack – South Hill, Virginia

Lenten Devotional – Day 23 – Afterward

Scripture: 2 Kings 4:8–37

The Shunammite’s Son Restored to Life

One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. She said to her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”

11 One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite.” So he called her, and she stood before him. 13 Elisha said to him, “Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?’”

She replied, “I have a home among my own people.”

14 “What can be done for her?” Elisha asked.

Gehazi said, “She has no son, and her husband is old.”

15 Then Elisha said, “Call her.” So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. 16 “About this time next year,” Elisha said, “you will hold a son in your arms.”

“No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!”

17 But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.

18 The child grew, and one day he went out to his father, who was with the reapers. 19 He said to his father, “My head! My head!”

His father told a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died. 21 She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out.

22 She called her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and a donkey so I can go to the man of God quickly and return.”

23 “Why go to him today?” he asked. “It’s not the New Moon or the Sabbath.”

“That’s all right,” she said.

24 She saddled the donkey and said to her servant, “Lead on; don’t slow down for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.

When he saw her in the distance, the man of God said to his servant Gehazi, “Look! There’s the Shunammite! 26 Run to meet her and ask her, ‘Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?’”

“Everything is all right,” she said.

27 When she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet. Gehazi came over to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me why.”

28 “Did I ask you for a son, my lord?” she said. “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?”

29 Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. Don’t greet anyone you meet, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy’s face.”

30 But the child’s mother said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So he got up and followed her.

31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the boy’s face, but there was no sound or response. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and told him, “The boy has not awakened.”

32 When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. 33 He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he got on the bed and lay on the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out on him, the boy’s body grew warm. 35 Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out on him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.

36 Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, “Call the Shunammite.” And he did. When she came, he said, “Take your son.” 37 She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out.

I remember the day my dream died. It was April 1, 2008.  I was an interim, working as a chaplain at my alma mater, working with the university community in mission, service, and discipleship. I thought I would work there until I retired, but the interim position was cut and I found myself
unemployed.  I was devastated.

Having heard VeggieTales’ creator Phil Vischer’s story about the way VeggieTales had been lost to him, I turned to the Biblical story he’d shared  about Elisha and the Shunammite woman’s son. There, God gave the woman a son, then took him away, and then gave him back. Suddenly, instead of her old dream, God had given her a new one.

As each year passed, I remembered April 1 ironically (no joke!) as I worked in churches and sought other ways to be in ministry to young adults. Each year, the hurt was still there… until this year, a decade later, when the first of April came and went without me thinking about my loss.

All that God has done in the last eleven years doesn’t remove the sting of that first announcement, but I can look back in the rearview mirror and see all the ways God has used me since then. Yes, there are sad, dark times, but we often see the way God was moving even then, afterward.

Prayer: Holy God, even in the dark, help us see you. Amen.

– Jacob Sahms – Midlothian, Virginia