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Posts from the ‘Food for Thought’ Category

Lenten Devotional – Day 28 – I Found It!

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:17

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!

As a teenager, I remember being handed a button to wear by my youth pastor. It simply said, “I found IT!” No one had to explain to me what this meant because I had found what everyone was, ultimately looking for, when I found Jesus. My thirsty soul had tasted of the Living Water. God had done a new thing in my heart and my search for meaning was over. As people asked me what I had found, I was able to share the Living Water with them.

Within every person, there is a God-shaped vacuum that only Jesus can fill. Only He can quench the desire of the spiritually thirsty soul. We try to quench the thirst with all kinds of things this world suggests will satisfy our deepest longings. But, we will come up dry every time; only to find ourselves thirstier still. That is, until we drink of the Living Water that never runs dry!

When God does this new thing and makes us new creatures and the resurrected Savior pierces the darkness and brings life to the dead soul, the search is over. Only Jesus can satisfy the soul. Since I found IT, I find myself unable to keep it to myself. Like having the cure for cancer, how could I not share this Living Water with my world?

Prayer: O, Lord, our thirst is for you. May we never look to anything or anyone else for what only you can give! Amen.

  – Teresa Pugh | Northport, AL

Two Versions of a Hymn of Hope and Comfort: “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”

Today’s hymn is sung to the tune REPTON by the choir and congregation of Westminster Abbey. Many like the gentle encouragement of the augmented melody that REPTON brings to this text.

For those of you who prefer the more familiar version (REST), here is a link to that version:

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard,
beside the Syrian sea,
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word,
rise up and follow thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity
interpreted by love!

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

– John Greenleaf Whittier, 1872

 

May we all find the peace to listen to that still, small voice of calm that speaks through the noise of sickness, death, and political posturing abounding in our current situation.

Central Church’s doors decorated for Christmas

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 27 – Gratitude is Living Water

Scripture:  Hebrews 13:2

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

After years of distributing church funds to those in need and managing area ministerial group funds for the same purpose, there have been more than a few times when my compassion quotient has hovered on empty.

Though I have never even hinted at the need for repayment of assistance, you can only be told so  many times, “I’ll pay you back as soon as next week’s check comes in” – never to see the person again – before frustration begins to threaten.

Hearing the exact same family tragedy explained 3 months later because someone has forgotten which church they last came to for help, lays the foundation for apathy to reign.

Living Water has come to me in the occasional ‘thank you’ note slipped under my office door, in the one in 200+ envelopes that has a few dollars in it for the assistance fund and the crayon drawing showing a smiling child who is happy their daddy made it home after the car broke down in our little town.

I am eternally grateful that God has never reached a point of frustrated apathy in answering my needs, and I am blessed that he has sent refreshing reminders of who I am serving when I assist angels unaware.

Prayer: Loving Father, giver of all good things, help me each day to remember that you have blessed me that I might be a blessing to others. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

  – Joe Phipps | Fairfield, IA

A Hymn of Hope and Comfort: “He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought”

Today’s hymn is one of the gems to come out of the Sunday School tradition in the 19th century.

William Bradbury, one of the most prolific composers of that movement, wrote the tune HE LEADETH ME to go along with this text.

Once again, we have the robust Aeolian-Skinner and full-throated choir of Houston’s First United Methodist Church, Downtown Campus leading the congregation in song.  While most Protestant denominations abandoned downtown Houston during the past half century, First United Methodist has remained, faithfully serving its original community in varying economic climates.

 

He leadeth me: O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

He leadeth me, he leadeth me,
by his own hand he leadeth me;
his faithful follower I would be,
for by his hand he leadeth me.

Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,
sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom,
by waters still, o’er troubled sea,
still ’tis his hand that leadeth me.

Lord, I would place my hand in thine,
nor ever murmur nor repine;
content, whatever lot I see,
since ’tis my God that leadeth me.

And when my task on earth is done,
when by thy grace the victory’s won,
e’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,
since God through Jordan leadeth me.

  – Joseph H. Gilmore, 1862

 

Central Church’s large, 5-lancet stained glass window – “Holy Spirit”

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 26 – Baptized with Living Water

Scripture:  John 7:37-38

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

A social worker at the hospice where we worked asked me to visit with a patient who was struggling spiritually. Upon arrival at the patient’s home, I  was met at the door by his spouse who greeted me with trepidation. I found the patient lying on the couch weakly smiling when I introduced myself as a pastor.

The patient shared with me that he had recently given his life to Christ, and he desired to be baptized. Another pastor who had recently visited him told him that doing so wasn’t necessary. I asked him if being baptized would bring him peace, and he answered ‘yes’ further conveying, that by doing so, his commitment to Christ would be complete.

I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to baptize the patient immediately. After praying thanksgiving over the water held in the glass pitcher and with his wife and son serving as witnesses, I baptized him at the kitchen sink in the name

of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen! During our next visit, I presented him with his baptismal certificate which he tearfully accepted.

Prayer: Lord thank you for being the Living Water that quenches our every thirst, brings us peace and makes us whole. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

  – Tracy Porter | Pasadena, California

A Hymn of Hope and Comfort: “Children of the Heavenly Father”

Today’s hymn is played and sung by the musicians and congregation of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Worcester, MA.

 

Children of the heav’nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given.

God His own doth tend and nourish;
In His holy courts they flourish;
From all evil things He spares them;
In His mighty arms He bears them.

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever;
Unto them His grace He showeth,
And their sorrows all He knoweth.

Praise the Lord in joyful numbers:
Your Protector never slumbers;
At the will of your Defender
Ever foeman must surrender.

Though He giveth or He taketh,

God His children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy.

Lenten Devotional – Day 25 – The Power of Water

Scripture:  Isaiah 44:3

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.

Water is central to life, and we can always remember good times and bad times that involve water. I had just moved to Glasgow, Virginia in 1969 when the two rivers that met near that town, the Maury and the James, overflowed causing devastating flooding. Many homes and businesses were underwater. People call it the 100-year flood.

This water disaster brought people together though. Neighbors who barely waved at each other were banding together to find places to sleep and food to eat. Everybody needed the same things. Jesus said to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ and there were many examples of this being played out. Gifts of food, clothing and furniture came pouring in and many needs were met.

Water is also the symbol of joy when we are baptized. Joy in becoming a member of the family of God. I was baptized when I was 12, an amazing experience! Now, when I witness a baptism, I visualize the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and filling the hearts of those being baptized. Living Water is a gift from God that quenches thirst and sustains lives on this earth, and through baptism, it is the promise of becoming a part of God’s new creation.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the Living Water that reminds us that we have a living, loving God, who is always providing for our every need. Amen.

  – Doris Hedrick | Natural Bridge, VA

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 24 – Behind Me

Scripture:  Isaiah 43:18-19

18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

I seem like a nice guy. I go to church, volunteer, tithe, read my bible, and treat my wife with respect. On the outside, I check all the boxes for a good, Christian guy; but on the inside, I never let go of my past mistakes, some I considered unforgiveable.

For the past three years, I have been surrounded by Christian coworkers who occasionally say, “Andy, you’re such a nice guy. I could never see you doing something like that!” Each time they say it, I chuckle, but inside I think ‘if only you knew the real me.’ Then, in a conversation about this scripture, God spoke to me. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

God’s words opened my eyes to the truth. He had been speaking to me for years through my friends and coworkers. It wasn’t their words that I was doubting; I was doubting God’s words. I let doubt weigh me down, but I needed to accept my identity in Christ. In one verse, God’s words renewed my heart and reminded me that I am a new person in Christ.

Recently, I was baptized to declare this truth over my life. My sins are not me; my sins are behind me. I am not defined by my past but made new in Christ.

Prayer: Merciful Father, I thank you for your unconditional love and forgiveness. Amen.

  – Andy Lemmon | Brandon, MS

A Hymn of Hope and Comfort: “Abide with Me, Fast Falls the Eventide”

Today’s hymn is sung and played by the St. Olaf Cantorei, their audience, and organist James Bobb.

In light and in darkness, in sickness and in health, in life and in death, we belong to God.

Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see.
O Thou, who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless:
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies:
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

A Hymn of Hope and Comfort: “My Faith Looks up to Thee”

Today’s hymn is a gem from the pen of Ray Palmer, American clergyman and hymnwriter.

It is played and sung by the musicians, clergy, and congregation of the First United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas.

The huge Aeolian-Skinner organ with John Gearhart at the console is a highlight. Lowell Mason’s OLIVET is the stately tune.

My faith looks up to thee,
thou Lamb of Calvary,
Savior divine:
now hear me while I pray,
take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day
be wholly thine.

May thy rich grace impart
strength to my fainting heart,
my zeal inspire;
as thou hast died for me,
O may my love to thee
pure, warm, and changeless be,
a living fire.

While life’s dark maze I tread,
and griefs around me spread,
be thou my guide;
bid darkness turn to day,
wipe sorrow’s tears away,
nor let me ever stray
from thee aside.

When ends life’s transient dream,
when death’s cold, sullen stream
shall o’er me roll,
blest Savior, then, in love,
fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above,
a ransomed soul.

  – Ray Palmer, 1830

Lenten Devotional – Day 23 – Riptides

Scripture:  Isaiah 43:2

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.

As a kid, I played a game with my friends at the pool. We would all take a big breath of air and then plunge underwater, trying to see who could hold their breath the longest. I remember fighting to keep my head below the surface for just one more second, ignoring my lungs that were screaming for oxygen and striving to outlast my competitors. The game was fun because I knew I could kick my legs and come up gasping for air within seconds.

A pool is very different from a river or an ocean. I have another childhood memory of being knocked over by a wave at the beach. Instantly, I felt myself tossed by the strong current, air knocked out of my lungs, flailing, unsure which way would lead me toward the surface. Until I felt my mother’s arm, pulling me out of the churning sea.

Prayer: God who is with us in both still and turbulent waters, make your presence known in times when we find ourselves gasping for air, unsure of where to find safety in a world that feels as chaotic as a riptide. When waters are calm give us the courage to seek you in farther depths knowing that the security of your presence is never far away. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

  – Abi Warmack | Durham, NC

 

A Hymn of Hope and Comfort: “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”

Today’s hymn comes to us from the great and prolific hymnwriter, clergyman, theologian, and logician, Isaac Watts. Often described as the “Father of English Hymnody,” many of his hymns were Psalm paraphrases. This one is no different, based on Psalm 90, which begins like this:

 

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations,
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.
You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

      – Psalm 90:1-6 (NRSV)

 

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home;

Under the shadow of thy throne
thy saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defence is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received her frame,
from everlasting thou art God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in thy sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
bears all its sons away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
be thou our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home.

Central Church’s Congregation welcomes you!

 

Lenten Devotional – The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Oh, This is Bad…

Scripture:  Hebrews 10:22 and James 5:13-16

Hebrews 10:22

22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

James 5:13-16

The Prayer of Faith

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

My daughter-in-law called…my son had bacterial meningitis. With my heart in my throat and a fear so intense it brought me to my knees, I realized…I could lose my son!

My first instinct was to rush to the hospital, be there with him, just do something, and make it “all better”. His wife and children were sent to a children’s hospital under quarantine. He was all alone…but a voice inside of me was insisting that I wait.

Hebrews 10:22   let us approach with a true heart in full assurance  of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

How as a mother could I “wait” five hours away, knowing my son had been moved from the intensive care unit to the critical care unit in just a few short hours? We were preparing for the worst… he could die! Yet the Holy Spirit still told me to wait, and I obeyed.

As I waited, I was not idle…I prayed! I called family, friends, co-workers, and sent emails to prayer partners. I had everyone I knew, and thousands I didn’t know, praying. As quickly as the meningitis was consuming my son, the power of prayer began washing over him, healing his body.

Just like that tiny organism weakened my son, sin that has gained access to our hearts can separate us from the presence of God and destroy our lives. If we ask, and believe in the power of prayer, our heavenly Father will cleanse our soul and renew us with the Living Water.

Prayer: Father, as we enter the season of preparing for the sacrifice of Your Son, help us to remain obedient in our thoughts, actions and prayers, just as Jesus was obedient to your will when he died a horrible death on the cross for us. In Your name I pray.

  – Barbara Lipford | Bedford, VA

 

 

 

A Hymn of Hope and Comfort: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Today’s hymn is the most famous to come out of the Protestant Reformation.

This recording is from the National Day of Mourning service on September 14, 2001 at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
does seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name,
from age to age the same;
and he must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

That Word above all earthly powers
no thanks to them abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours
through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever!

  -Martin Luther, 1529, trans. Frederick H. Hedge, 1852

 

 

Coronavirus Humor

Just sayin’

A Hymn of Hope and Comfort: “Be Still, My Soul”

On the eve of our first Sunday without gathering for worship at Central Church due to the coronavirus, may you take comfort in this hymn, courtesy of First-Plymouth Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The organist is Tom Trenney, who is brilliant artist, adept at expressing the poetry of a hymn with his instrument.

The tune, FINLANDIA, was originally an excerpt from a longer composition by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, who later edited it into a single work.

 

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

– Kathrina von Schlegel, c. 18th century; trans. Jane Borthwick

Coronavirus 2020 Outbreak: Latest Updates

News about the coronavirus outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, is changing rapidly.

The respiratory infection, named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO), is closely related to SARS and MERS. The majority of cases are no longer in China, and the disease has been diagnosed in more than 100 other countries, including the United States. We’ll provide the latest updates on cases, deaths, travel restrictions, and more here.

What is the latest news?

More States Tighten Restrictions as Coronavirus Rages

New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, California and Illinois have issued  “shelter-in-place” orders that ask residents to stay home and request that non-essential businesses close.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy issued a “stay-at-home” order Saturday.

“We know the virus spreads through person-to person contact, and the best way to prevent further exposure is to limit our public interactions to only the most essential purposes. This is a time for us all to come together in one mission to ‘flatten the curve’ and slow – and eventually halt – the spread of coronavirus,” Murphy said in a statement.

In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont asked that all non-essential businesses close starting Monday at 8 p.m. and he urged residents to stay home and work from home is possible. The order does not include services such as health care and law enforcement.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s order  will require all Illinois residents to remain at home except to go the grocery story, visit a health care professional, take walks and go to the drug store. Illinois has nearly 600 cases and five deaths.

New York’s order will go into effect Sunday night. In addition to banning non-essential services, it also bans any type of gathering for any reason, among other restrictions. New York has more than 8,500 cases and more than 50 deaths.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who issued a statewide stay at home order effective at midnight March 19, that will remain in place until further notice. Essential services such as groceries, banks, laundromats, car repair and restaurant take-out will be open. Essential state and local government functions will continue. Residents are asked to stay home except to get food, care for a relative or friend, get necessary health care or get to an essential job.
 
Newsom projected that up to 56% of California’s residents, or about 25.5 million people, could be infected with COVID-19 in the next 8 weeks if strong measures are not taken. President Donald Trump says he doesn’t see a need yet for a national “lockdown” to curb the spread of the new coronavirus and supports states making their own decisions.

20 Prayers to Pray During This Pandemic

As COVID-19 sends the globe into crisis, it also sends us to our knees.

In recent days, as COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic and countries have taken urgent measures to stem the spread of infection, we wish that we could say that our first impulse has been to pray.  It’s probably more honest to say that we’ve obsessively watched the news for the latest updates.

The crisis is urgent, and we feel powerless.  But perhaps feeling small is our best reminder to pray.

Prayer is how we actively practice believing, so simply, so confidently, that God has the whole world in his hands. It’s where we “let petitions and praises shape our worries into prayers, letting God know our concerns” (Phil. 4:6–7, The Message).

Prayer is never the last resort of God’s people.  It is our first point of action.

  • With that in mind, here is a suggested list of 20 prayers that you might pray during this pandemic. Each one addresses the specific needs of a specific community.

This list isn’t comprehensive, of course, but it’s a good place to start.  Our hope is that it can provide words for us as we pray collectively (if also virtually!) as a church body.

We believe there is a God who bends his ear to listen, and so we pray:

1. For the sick and infected:  God, heal and help. Sustain bodies and spirits.  Contain the spread of infection.

2. For our vulnerable populations: God, protect our elderly and those suffering from chronic disease. Provide for the poor, especially the uninsured.

3. For the young and the strong: God, give them the necessary caution to keep them from unwittingly spreading this disease. Inspire them to help.

4. For our local, state, and federal governments: God, help our elected officials as they allocate the necessary resources for combatting this pandemic. Help them to provide more tests.

5. For our scientific community, leading the charge to understand the disease and communicate its gravity: God, give them knowledge, wisdom, and a persuasive voice.

6. For the media, committed to providing up-to-date information: God, help them to communicate with appropriate seriousness without causing panic.

7. For consumers of media, looking to be well-informed:  God, help us find the most helpful local information to equip us to be good neighbors.  Keep us from anxiety and panic, and enable us to implement the recommended strategies, even at a cost to ourselves.

8. For those with mental health challenges who feel isolated, anxious, and helpless:  God, provide them every necessary support.

9. For the homeless, unable to practice the protocols of social distancing in the shelter system: Protect them from disease, and provide isolation shelters in every city.

10. For international travelers stuck in foreign countries: God, help them return home safely and quickly.

11. For Christian missionaries throughout the world, especially in areas with high rates of infection:  God, provide them with words of hope, and equip them to love and serve those around them.

12. For workers in a variety of industries facing layoffs and financial hardship: God, keep them from panic, and inspire your church to generously support them.

13. For families with young children at home for the foreseeable future: God, help mothers and fathers to partner together creatively for the care and flourishing of their children. For single mothers and fathers, grow their networks of support.

14. For parents who cannot stay home from work but must find care for their children: God, present them with creative solutions.

15. For those in need of regular therapies and treatments that must now be postponed: God, help them to stay patient and positive.

16. For business leaders making difficult decisions that affect the lives of their employees: God, give these women and men wisdom, and help them to lead self-sacrificially.

17. For pastors and church leaders faced with the challenges of social distancing: God, help them to creatively imagine how to pastor their congregants and love their cities well.

18. For college and university students, whose courses of study are changing, whose placements are cancelled, whose graduation is uncertain: God, show them that while life is uncertain, their trust is in you.

19. For Christians in every neighborhood, community, and city: May your Holy Spirit inspire us to pray, to give, to love, to serve, and to proclaim the gospel, that the name of Jesus Christ might be glorified around the world.

20. For front-line health care workers, we thank you for their vocational call to serve us. We also pray:

    • God, keep them safe and healthy. Keep their families safe and healthy.
    • God, help them to be knowledgeable about the diagnosis and treatment of this disease, as well as the changing protocols.
    • God, help them to stay clear-minded in the midst of the surrounding panic.
    • God, deliver them from anxiety for their own loved ones (aging parents, children, spouses, roommates).
    • God, give them compassion for every patient in their care.
    • God, provide for them financially, especially if they fall ill and are unable to work.
    • God, help Christians in health care to exhibit extraordinary peace, so that that many would ask about the reason for their hope. Give them opportunities to proclaim the gospel.

God, we trust that you are good and do good.  Teach us to be your faithful people in this time of global crisis.

Help us to follow in the footsteps of our faithful shepherd, Jesus, who laid down his life for the sake of love.

Glorify his name as you equip us with everything needed for doing your will.  Amen.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 22 – From Flat to Full

Scripture:  Psalm 103: 1-6

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

I was drained this past summer. Having given so much of myself to others out of obligation, my personal well was dry. I realized that I needed nourishment and attended a women’s spiritual retreat.

Arriving Friday afternoon, I felt uneasy. One of my friends noticed my flat expression over dinner. I told her I vowed to be “in the moment” at the retreat yet doubted my ability. Realizing that I was surrounded by 16 godly women, the tension drifted. I felt my body and spirit lighten over the next two days. Tears were shed; true feelings were shared. After each song and testimony, I sensed the Living Water filling me up.

To cap off the retreat, we had a baptism. As a sister in Christ confessed her sins and immersed in a blow-up pool, we all watched with wonder. At the end, the woman slipped! The memory of her dressed in a white robe, hands together in prayer, sitting in the pool-soaking wet, and smiling with pure joy will be etched into my memory for years to come!

We often believe spiritual renewal happens when we experience a single extraordinary event. Yet, don’t we need to be fed consistently? This Lenten season take the opportunity to drink the Living Water multiple times every day through the experience of amazing, God-led encounters.

Prayer: Everlasting God, make us aware of your presence each day. Fill us with your love so we can share it with others. In Jesus’ Name, we pray. Amen.

  – Kelly Desclos-Estes | South Boston, VA

Spiritual Life without Corporate Worship this Week

This Sunday, Central Church, like many, will be practicing social distancing out of love.

Social distancing is a protocol for disease prevention. Our world is currently experiencing a pandemic. The COVID-19 illness is spreading around the globe at an unprecedented rate. It is more lethal than influenza. It is caused by the novel coronavirus to which humanity has no immunity. There is currently no vaccine. There is a scarcity of tests, of hospital beds, and of protective and therapeutic equipment.

For some, the illness comes and goes after a fever and aches, but for a terrifyingly high percentage of individuals of all ages, especially the elderly and those with underlying health issues, the disease attacks the lungs leading to fibrosis and lethal pneumonia.

Social distancing is proven statistical tactic to slow the spread of this and other contagious diseases, to buy precious time, and to relieve pressures on overwhelmed healthcare systems.

Evidence suggests that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts adults over age 50. Fifty-four percent of UMC membership in the USA is over 50, and the age of the friends and members of Central Church (or most churches) is not significantly different. I

During this time of separation, with God’s help, let us withdraw socially but reach out spiritually.  Let us keep this discipline for the love and well-being of our neighbors.

In the remaining three weeks of Lent, let us continue our spiritual discipline by reading and meditating over each of the daily Lenten devotionals that appear on Central Church’s website.  Hopefully, our staying apart for a short season will reap a bountiful harvest of lives spared from suffering and death by the coronavirus, and we can soon resume meeting together for worship as a Church family.

Central Church’s Congregation welcomes you!

Lenten Devotional – Day 21 – Waterfalls of Living Water

Scripture:  John 7:38

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

I’ve always enjoyed looking at waterfalls. Feelings of awe and wonder especially accompany gazing at tall, majestic cascades flowing down into a stream or brook below, whether watching these great parts of nature on a movie or television show, looking at pictures in a book, or when having the opportunity to witness them in person.

One particular summer while vacationing with my family in Rocky Mountain National Park, I had an extraordinary experience while viewing one of my favorite waterfalls there. As I sat on a nearby boulder, I watched the water thunder down the side of the bluff into an awaiting stream. I envisioned the mighty healing powers of Jesus within the roaring water. Then, I looked at the stream below as the water calmed and peacefully continued its journey through the park. A feeling of spiritual renewal filtered through me.

I could feel the peace that only Jesus can give to us filling me up once  again as I visualized his power flowing down the cascade into the stream. It was a wonderful time of revitalization and rejuvenation. Now, whenever I see a waterfall, I think of the Living Water of Jesus, and the feeling of renewal always comes with it too.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the beauty and majesty of the world in which we live. Thank you for the renewal that enjoying nature can provide, and most especially for the Living Water of Jesus to regenerate and sustain our souls. Amen.

– Julie Erickson | Olathe, Kansas

Lenten Devotional – Day 20 – Wellspring of Life

Scripture:  John 4:10-13 & Revelation 7:17

John 4:10-13

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,

Revelation 7:17

For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

I was fortunate to grow up at time and in an area where regular youth revivals and retreats were held. I have fond memories of these events. Some were very emotional, but all the events led me to stop and question how I should lead my life, and what I should do with it.

As I grew into adulthood, there were occasional church services and retreats that provided time to step back from the world and be renewed. However, these seemed to get fewer and fewer.

Several years ago, I was able to attend a retreat that turned out to be special for me. I can remember thinking and feeling that the retreat community interacted, supported, and loved each other much like I imagined heaven to  be. There was time to interact as a whole, in small groups, and for individual

reflection. The highlight for me was the communion service. Two clowns led the service without saying a word. However, the message was very clear. It concluded with the opportunity to step forward and drive a nail into the cross as a symbol of laying my burdens at the foot of the cross. Just the memory of that weekend can renew my spirit.

While we work for God, we still need rest from ‘doing’ and time just ‘being’ with Christ.

Prayer: Ever loving God, please help me to find time to stop and just spend time with you. Renew my spirit and help me do and say the things that please you. Amen.

  – Alvin Jenkins  |  Lenoir City, TN

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 19 – Mystifying Moments of Some Magnitude

Lent 3Scripture: Isaiah 43:19

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

In a foreign country, how do you cope with day to day living…how to eat, travel, act, and most of all, be messengers of God’s love in a ‘wilderness’ when you stand out like a sore thumb? God provided in abundance when Nancy and I moved to Sierra Leone as UMC missionaries. God sent us a devout Muslim, Musa, to help with the maintenance of our oversized home.

Our daily custom was to have devotions, study the scriptures and pray. No pressure for Musa to renounce Islam, no disrespect for his long-held beliefs, only a daily time was set aside for a devotional time together. On his own accord, Musa went with us to church every Sunday, and his Muslim faith was solid, so we thought.

During one fateful Sunday morning worship service, Musa stood up and announced “I am Musa Sundai. I am a Muslim, but I want to become a Christian and know more about Jesus Christ!” Muslim Musa became a Christian!

How did all this happen? We were not forcing him to change; yet God was acting through us, and we didn’t know it. Living Waters flowed through what we thought was wilderness. Funny how God works sometimes.

Prayer: Papa God, thank you for the Living Waters of our lives in places and ways that we don’t even know. Use us in the way that makes a wilderness fruitful and in all the ways that build up your kingdom. Amen.

  – Kip Robinson  |  Henrico County, VA

Lenten Devotional – Day 18 – My Hero – My Mother

Lent 3Scripture:  John 7:37-39

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”[a] 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

It took me years to realize that I am who I am because of my mother.

Though I will never hold a candle to her, she is the voice in my head and in my heart. When I find myself in trouble, I wonder – what would she do? I rarely call to share my predicaments, as I know she would never get into the position in which I found myself. Whenever I have been in deep despair, I am lifted up and renewed by her faith, determination and love of life. She helps me see that nothing is insurmountable – there is always hope and a way to get through it.

My childhood memories are warm and loving with the sound of her singing hymns throughout the house. She defines the phrase ‘bloom where you are planted’ and quickly turned each place we moved into our home. I believe her priority was to make sure her family was safe and happy.

To this day, she constantly changes and improves her surroundings, encouraging things to grow; outsmarting garden invaders. Any request from her family, church or

community is quickly met. She is indefatigable and lives life to the fullest every single day. If I had a tenth of her spirit, I would consider myself blessed.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us learn from the many lessons given us every day from those we love and who love us. Help us to be renewed by the Living Water poured out for us from each other. Amen.

  – Kathi Wise | McLean, VA

Lenten Devotional – Day 17 – Molecular Theology

Lent 3Scripture:  Revelation 22:2

down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Many biblical writers used the phrase “Living Waters” to describe Yahweh’s sustaining presence for creation and the life of the people. That literary model spans even to Revelation where the tree with leaves for the healing of the nations is planted by the river of life. Their phrase holds true even when we look at water at its molecular level.

Most children learn at some point in their school science class that the chemical formula of water is H2O where two atoms of hydrogen bond with one oxygen atom. Pure hydrogen fuels rockets. Its combination with chloride and fluoride creates acids that can burn skin. Combustion cannot occur without oxygen and breathing pure oxygen for long durations can be toxic at certain pressures. Nevertheless, these elements combined with carbon, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus form nearly every biomolecule on the planet. These elements make not only water but also sugars, proteins, fats, and nucleic acids that compose 99% of each living cell.

Lent is the time where we examine the elements that compose our being.

Our traits, habits, and talents can appear caustic and debilitating when isolated. Allowing one part of our self to override our relationships can indeed prove as explosive as pure hydrogen and oxygen. When we let the Creator fuse all our elements into wholeness, our lives gush with Living Water.

Prayer: O God, who ordered the elements to form stars and my own body, transform the seemingly explosive elements of my life into the molecules of Living Water that your joy may be complete in me. Amen.

  – Adam Graham | Atlanta, GA

Lenten Devotional – Third Sunday of Lent – Where is Our Oasis?

Lent 1Scripture:  John 4: 10-15

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

In the early 70s, I found myself far from home in my first year of college at Duke University. I marveled at the beauty of the campus and relished staying up all night playing cards, listening to music and enjoying life with few rules  or restrictions. There were parties, fun athletic events, classes, homework and stimulating intellectual challenges.

However, over the course of several months I began to feel profoundly lonely. I was not fitting in with my roommates and their lifestyle and found it difficult to find my niche. I was in a beautiful setting, surrounded by diverse fellow students, yet thirsty for connection and meaningfulness.

One fall Sunday, feeling emotionally down and spiritually adrift, I attended worship services at the Chapel. I had visited before but neglected to make it part of my college experience. I suppose not going was a bit of rebellion. Now, in keeping with my new found freedom, I was choosing to go and searching for an oasis.

As the service began, I felt my neck tingle as the magnificent choir processed in, bringing forth the cross, the light of Christ and a familiar hymn echoing with a thousand

voices joining as one. I don’t recall the sermon, but I do remember feeling safe in Christ’s arms, unconditionally loved, and no longer alone. Christ’s Living Water quenched my thirst and renewed my weary soul.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord for reminding us to seek your Living Water when we find ourselves in the desert places of our lives. Amen.

  – Bob Brooks | Fredericksburg, VA

Lenten Devotional – Day 14 – Forever New!

Lent 3Scripture: Philippians 3:20-21

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Although I am blessed with many new wonders of contemporary medicine that were science fiction when I was a boy, I am struck by the fact that human nature has not basically changed since biblical times. In our daily lives, even as Christians, we still struggle with our old sinful brokenness and alienation from God and each other. As we prepare to celebrate Easter, we must remember that in fact God has indeed done an astounding NEW THING in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus which is Good News for the present and the future.

Recently taking my “adopted” grandson, Trey, out to lunch, I was amazed at his boundless energy as he bounced from seat to seat, all the while gulping down his food. Suddenly, I realized that I was tired just looking at him. Having survived open heart surgery, I know that my body will never equal his in this world.

Thankfully, I look forward to Christ’s ultimate victory when He will make all things new. My lowly body will be changed to be like His glorious body as St. Paul promised. Yes! In the New Jerusalem, I will be changed from old Reverend Bill to new Bouncing Billy as I leap for joy in God’s forever new life.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, when we are tired and feel old, even worn out, renew us to serve you. Help us to trust your promise of new life, which we will know even more fully in your eternal kingdom. Amen.

  – William Nash Wade | Strasburg, VA

 

A Prayer for a Pandemic

May we who are merely inconvenienced –

Remember those whose lives are at stake.

May we who have no risk factors –

Remember those who are most vulnerable.

May we who have the luxury of working from home –

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

May we who have to cancel our trips –

Remember those that have no safe place to go.

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

Remember those who have no margin at all.

May we who settle in for a quarantine at home –

Remember those who have no home.

As fear grips our country,

Let us choose love.

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

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

Amen.


During these uncertain times, we also ask for your prayers in support of our continuing free community feeding ministry outreach here at Central Church.

Working with our dedicated partners and friends, selfless volunteers are continuing to prepare and provide warm, nutritious meals to many in our community who include the least, the lost, and the lonely.

Currently, our friends and neighbors can find warm food and fellowship at Central Church:

  • Every Monday for dinner from 4-5 pm;

  • Every Tuesday for lunch from 12 Noon-1 pm;

  • Every Thursday for dinner from 4-5 pm;

  • Every Friday for dinner from 4-5 pm; and

  • Saturday breakfast from 9-10:30 am on the first two Saturdays of each month.

Since many of the souls who come to us depend upon these important meals to make it through each week, we are striving in the face of ever-increasing closures and curtailments  to continue providing this valuable outreach for as long as we are able in light of future coronavirus developments.

We ask your support by holding Central Church and all of our partners and friends up in prayer as we continue to lean on God in the face of the unknown.

Central Church’s Congregation welcomes you!

Lenten Devotional – Day 15 – Room for Living Water

Lent 3Scripture:  Jeremiah 2:13

My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

I had a seminary student who resisted learning about the course topic. The course objective was to explore human sexual identities, so that the students would truly be able to minister to all of God’s children. I did everything I knew to try to connect and provide a pathway for the student to benefit from the course. No response. What was in that earthen vessel?

As the course concluded that student wrote that I was going straight to hell, without that student having done the work for the class, participating in the course sessions, or meeting with me to discuss concerns. I expressed my regret that the student had not experienced a successful outcome and suggested that the student discuss concerns with the dean.

I was sad that the water that might have helped the student prepare and wrestle with understandings and readiness to help parishioners in their sexual lives found no place in that vessel.

Years later at the end of a chapel service, that student came, embraced me, and apologized for prior behaviors. Later, the student took another course with me, exhibiting the truth that the earthen vessel was newly ready for Living Water that the student had had no place for before. Had seminary opened up room for Living Waters?

Prayer: Lord, empty each of us of anything that hinders your Living Water from filling our earthen vessels. Amen.

  – Youtha Hardman-Cromwell  |  Washington, D.C.

Lenten Devotional – Day 14 – Simply Stated

Lent 3Scripture:  John 4:13-15

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Recently, I was on a mountain retreat. Like other retreats, the time had come to leave that idyllic setting and ‘spiritual high’ to return to the dry-faith spells that were sure to follow. Afterwards, one image stayed with me, a rock garden focal point with a stream flowing through it.

The rocks were gray plastic bags; the stream was draped blue fabric dotted by twinkling white lights. Yet, they served to remind me that I live between the Garden of Eden and the promised River of Life described in Revelation 22. Impressive, but that wasn’t all. Behind the rocks and stream was a very large wooden cr Seeing it, I remembered that Christ Jesus is with me every moment regardless of what any day brings.

God, through Isaiah proclaimed, “I am about to do a new thing . . . do you not perceive it?” Jesus, in his conversation with the Samaritan woman, assured her that through him she can have water that will quench her thirst into eternal life. The Living Water of Christ Jesus is the ‘new thing’ God was and is doing.

If God can use plastic bags, fabric and a simple wooden cross to speak to me, then surely God isn’t limited to retreats to renew us whether we are on the mountain, down in the valley or somewhere in-between.

Prayer: Holy One, help us to seek and to find the Living Water of Christ wherever we may be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

  – Chris Suerdieck | Emmitsburg, MD

Lenten Devotional – Day 13 – Relationship not Religion

Lent 3Scripture:  John 4:7-15

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

After twenty-two years of marriage spent as a corporate wife and stay-at- home-mom, I found myself divorced with no finances except child support and twenty-two year old job skills. In my depression, God made two things very clear to me.

First, He would take care of my children and me. Second, I was to enroll in college as a full-time student and become a teacher. If I did the work, he would provide the tuition and funding necessary. My family and friends said what I really needed was not four difficult years of study and sacrifice but a few courses to prepare me for an immediate job and an income.

As a Christian, I realized during this stressful time that what I had was religion and not a relationship. I needed a renewal and a personal relationship with God meaning that I would trust him completely and have faith in his guidance. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, I was offered Living Water, and like her, I gratefully accepted this gift.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your offer of Living Water and a richer and more fulfilling life with you at the center. Amen.

  – Carolyn Lee Purdy | Harrisonburg, VA

Lenten Devotional – Day 12 – Streams of Living Waters

Lent 3Scripture:  Revelation 7:17

For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Florida may be known as the Sunshine State surrounded by water, but throughout the state, there are swamps with standing, stagnant water! A fresh moving stream, a river or a lake are welcome sights. So it is in our lives. During some phase of our lives, we may feel like we are living in a swamp.

Several years back, I felt like I was living in a swamp. In April that year,  my sister passed away the evening after I had spoken to her over the telephone. She lived in Milwaukee, and I was not able to be with the family because I  was caring for my sick wife. The following year in October, my mother-in-law passed away in New Mexico. Again I was not able to be with the family due to my obligations at home. A month later our daughter passed away in Georgia.

Again, I was not able to be with the family due to caring for my sick wife. A year later my dear wife of 59 years passed away.

Had it not been for Christian friends, my church family, and my faith in God, I would have felt alone and sinking in a swamp. Instead, I was surrounded by streams of Living Waters. I was refreshed, encouraged and strengthened knowing that God through Jesus Christ was with me, sustaining me, refreshing me as I was led into streams of Living Waters.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for being the provider of all streams of Living Waters through your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  – Sam Ramirez | Lakeland, FL

Lenten Devotional – Day 11 – Refresh My Soul

Lent 3Scripture: Hosea 6:3

Let us acknowledge the Lord;
    let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
    he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
    like the spring rains that water the earth.

It’s been a good day, but I’m finding it hard to praise the Lord.  Why is this?  I should long to praise him, and if it is hard on the good days, what about the really tough ones? I need to press on to know the Lord more and more. He is faithful and will come to us just as the showers refresh the earth.

Sometimes the drought seems too extreme to conquer, but God can do it. My fleshly feelings don’t need to dictate if I am close to the Lord. I need to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Through his Holy Spirit that is living and active in me, I can truly, wholeheartedly worship him. I need the Lord to send those spring rains that refresh my soul and cause me to exude praise for Him for what He has done.

Prayer: Lord, help me to press on and press into your amazing love and truth even on the days when I am not feeling close to you. Help me to bask in your goodness, trust in your provision, and take comfort in your ways. It will be a new way, but I just need open eyes to perceive it and a willing heart to experience it. Amen.

  – Amy Williams | Skopje, Macedonia

 

Lenten Devotional – The Second Sunday in Lent – Water, Water Everywhere

Lent 1Scripture: Psalm 23: 2-3

    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

On the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, there was water everywhere, but none deemed safe to drink. We often take the availability of safe drinking water for granted. When that availability is interrupted, it becomes a priority of survival to seek out distribution points for water shipped here to then be rationed to us. As our physical survival instincts take control, the need for both physical water and spiritual water become more apparent to us.

Sure, a bottle of water in the miserably hot and humid post-Katrina recovery effort gave temporary relief needed to continue on, but more importantly, we experienced the restoration of the mind, body, and spirit gained from the love shared by the many brothers and sisters in Christ who used both their God  given talents and spiritual gifts to bring us that Living Water of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In the 23rd Psalm we read, “…He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.”

As many fellow Christians came to help, they shared the calm of the ‘still waters’ through their love, a love that helped restore my soul and the minds, bodies, and souls of the many left suffering after the storm.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for being the Living Water we need to quench our spiritual thirst in both the good times and the bad times. We pray this in your precious name. Amen.

  – Denny Engle  | Gautier, MS

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 10 – Lost and Found

Lent 3Scripture:  Isaiah 43:19

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Our world is just too heavy to carry around sometimes. Separated families at our southern border, troubling global issues and family trauma erode my sense of well-being, leaving me barren and dry. I lamented to my husband that I had lost my sense of joy and couldn’t find my way out of the despair that I felt.

Grudgingly, I dragged myself, grumbling the whole way, to a destination family reunion off the coast of British Columbia where the mere sight of the ocean cut through my despair and the words ‘I’ve found my joy’ tumbled from my lips. The Spirit welled up in me as I drew in deep breaths of salty air. The majesty of the water, rocky cliffs and soaring eagles spoke clearly, reminding me that I believe in the Living Water of Christ’s power over despair. I soaked the magnificence in as if I had been dying of thirst, and I was.

Prayer: God, thank you for your steadfast love! Thank you for embracing us exactly where we are and reminding us that all who believe in you have access to flowing rivers of endurance and strength in our deserts of despair. Amen.

  – Deborah Moseley | Indianapolis, IN

Lenten Devotional – Day 9 – Well of Sharing

Lent 3Scripture: John 7:38

38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

I have often been accused of being addicted to computer games. I can understand the accusation, as I do have a strong fondness for them. They challenge my mind and present endless puzzles to solve. Anytime you see me sitting idle, I will have my cell phone in my hand working a puzzle or coloring a picture. I have even demonstrated how my coloring on my phone can significantly reduce my blood pressure.

I recently took three days off from the world. I took time off from my job and my family to travel to a respected place to be with 150 other women on retreat. This was a time of prayer, of laughter, of singing, of sharing meals and swapping stories. During that time, I found little need to search for and play a bunch of games or solve puzzles. I had the mystery of life in front of me which is infinitely more stimulating. As I drank from the well of sharing our stories, I knew that I was drinking from Living Water.

Prayer: Holy and Gracious Water Giver, in this time of fasting and reflection, remind me that doing without is only a portal into something bigger and better. As I look forward to Easter, showing me ways to let go of some of my worldly feasts that I may invest my energies in your service. Amen.

  – Susan Keith  |  Rutherfordton, NC

 

 

Is It Faithful to Flee an Epidemic? What Martin Luther Teaches Us About Coronavirus

The German reformer’s pastoral reflection on the plague can guide both medical students like me and Christians in China—and everywhere the Wuhan virus has spread.

Image: Betsy Joles / Stringer / Getty Images

From its epicenter in Wuhan, China, the current coronavirus outbreak is stoking fear and disrupting travel and business across the globe.  As of March 1, more than 2,800 people have died in China, and more than 87,000 have been infected across 60 countries.

Citizens in Wuhan, a major central city comparable to Chicago, are under lockdown by the government and public activities have come to a standstill, including annual celebrations for Chinese New Year (which began on January 25). Chinese Christians, in Wuhan and China at large, have faced difficult decisions about whether to join the millions of Chinese who return home to visit family (as is customary during the lunar holiday season), to flee from the mainland, or even to gather for regular Sunday services.

But are followers of Jesus right to flee an epidemic when people are suffering and dying?

In the 16th century, German Christians asked theologian Martin Luther for a response to this very question.

In 1527, less than 200 years after the Black Death killed about half the population of Europe, the plague re-emerged in Luther’s own town of Wittenberg and neighboring cities. In his letter “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague,” the famous reformer weighs the responsibilities of ordinary citizens during contagion. His advice serves as a practical guide for Christians confronting infectious disease outbreaks today.

  • First, Luther argued that anyone who stands in a relationship of service to another has a vocational commitment not to flee. Those in ministry, he wrote, “must remain steadfast before the peril of death.” The sick and dying need a good shepherd who will strengthen and comfort them and administer the sacraments—lest they be denied the Eucharist before their passing. Public officials, including mayors and judges, are to stay and maintain civic order. Public servants, including city-sponsored physicians and police officers, must continue their professional duties. Even parents and guardians have vocational duties toward their children.

Luther did not limit tending the sick to health care professionals. In a time when Wuhan faces a shortage of hospital beds and personnel, his counsel is especially relevant. The city, one of China’s largest with a population of about 11 million, is in the process of rapidly constructing two new hospitals to accommodate growing crowds of coronavirus patients. Lay citizens, without any medical training, may find themselves in a position of providing care to the sick. Luther challenges Christians to see opportunities to tend to the sick as tending to Christ himself (Matt. 25:41–46). Out of love for God emerges the practice of love for neighbor.

  • But Luther does not encourage his readers to expose themselves recklessly to danger. His letter constantly straddles two competing goods: honoring the sanctity of one’s own life, and honoring the sanctity of those in need. Luther makes it clear that God gives humans a tendency toward self-protection and trusts that they will take care of their bodies (Eph. 5:29; 1 Cor. 12:21–26). “All of us,” he says, “have the responsibility of warding off this poison to the best of our ability because God has commanded us to care for the body.” He defends public health measures such as quarantines and seeking medical attention when available. In fact, Luther proposes that not to do so is to act recklessly. Just as God has gifted humans with their bodies, so too he has gifted the medicines of the earth.

What if a Christian still desires to flee? Luther affirms that this may, in fact, be the believer’s faithful response, provided that their neighbor is not in immediate danger and that they arrange substitutes who will “take care of the sick in their stead and nurse them.”

Notably, Luther also reminds readers that salvation is independent of these good works. He ultimately tasks “devout Christians … to come to their own decision and conclusion” whether to flee or to stay during plagues, trusting that they will arrive at a faithful decision through prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. Participation in aiding the sick arises out of grace, not obligation.

Lenten Devotional – Day 7 – A Different Kind of Baptism

Lent 3Scripture:  Titus 3: 4-5

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,

During my junior year, I studied abroad in St. Andrews, Scotland, a delightful town right on the North Sea. Early on, my friend Jocelyn and I found ourselves wanting to settle into a routine.

On our first Sunday morning, we suited up and began the mile-long walk to church in frigid January air. Scotland is a rainy place, so we thought nothing of it when we walked outside to find a storm. We felt prepared with our umbrellas and rain jackets. We were going to church come hell, or perhaps more likely, high water.

Scotland is rainy, but that morning was different. Our umbrellas flipped inside out ten times because of the wind and soon became entirely useless  against the heavy rain. Eventually, we noticed we hadn’t seen anybody else out for a morning stroll. Nonetheless, we carried on!

Upon arrival, we discovered a sign on the door informing us that the church’s meeting had been moved to the afternoon. I don’t remember if we laughed or cried, but I do remember that I was so drenched that I looked like I had jumped into a swimming pool!

It was baptism by torrential downpour. Grace came in the form of laughing at our misfortune, receiving the kindness of a fellow misinformed churchgoer who drove us home, calling it quits, slipping back into our pajamas and promising to try again next week.

Prayer: Loving God, your kindness washes over us in all kinds of ways; please open our eyes to receive your gifts in their many forms. Amen.

  – Kelsey Miller | Nashville, TN

Coronavirus: What to know, how to help

Coronavirus as viewed under an electron microscope.
Coronavirus as viewed under an electron microscope.

With new cases being diagnosed seemingly every hour, the question of “How concerned should I be about Coronavirus?” is being asked by many around the world.

The first cases of Coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, were diagnosed in China in December 2019. Since then, the illness with pneumonia-type symptoms, has spread to 37 nations to-date, including countries where United Methodists reside and attend church.

While places where people gather in close proximity, such as worship services, may be vulnerable, there are simple steps to take to limit risks, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Above all, anyone feeling unwell should stay home and seek medical care.

Other tips include:

  1. Wash your hands frequently. Use soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  2. Maintain social distancing. Keep 3 feet or 1 meter between yourself and anyone who is sneezing and coughing.
  3. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. Viruses can live on surfaces, where your hands may touch. Once on your hands, the virus may enter your body.
  4. Practice respiratory hygiene. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Dispose of used tissue immediately.
  5. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early. Call ahead for an appointment to limit your exposure to others.
  6. Stay informed and follow advice given by your healthcare provider. Stay up-to-date on Coronavirus by checking reliable sources, such as the WHO, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, and Global Health Tracker.

Staying healthy is in our DNA

Discussing health in the church dates back to John Wesley, who wrote extensively about staying physically healthy, as well as spiritually healthy. Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, in a recent blog post, reminds United Methodists that holding spiritual and social holiness together is a “mark of Methodist distinction.”

Particularly as we move through the Lenten season, Stanovsky encourages all United Methodists to practice reasonable precautions to stay virus-free.

Staying calm tops of the list of how to respond to Coronavirus, writes Bishop David Bard. The Michigan bishop has asked the Conference Disaster Response Coordinators and the Conference Committee on Finance and Administration to consider how congregations can best respond to the global health crisis.

“There is no need for immediate action,” Bard writes. “But now is a good time to calmly assess the possible impact on our local churches if an outbreak occurs in Michigan.”

How to help

The United Methodist Church, through UMCOR, has been helping with the crisis in China since early February when the United Methodist agency issued an emergency grant to an organization working to limit the spread of Coronavirus in China.

Funding for all continued assistance is being provided through UMCOR’s Global Health fund. Learn more, including how to give to Advance #3021770, at Advance.umcor.org.

Information compiled from various sources by United Methodist Communications.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 6 – A Free Gift

Lent 3Scripture:  Revelation 21:6

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.

In Revelation, John writes these words of Jesus, “I am the Alpha and Omega

…. all who are thirsty will be given the Living Water of life to drink.”

I know of this thirst and have experienced this Living Water. As a young mother with a toddler and a baby, I was part of a small group of mothers at my church. We were thankful for a time of fellowship and the free child care that was provided.

In our several years together, I came to know Jesus in a more personal way.  I found the God of the universe to be a loving God, sending his Son to earth to show me how to love others and understand that I was worthy of his love. I felt Jesus’s forgiveness and was filled with a renewed peace. I knew that Jesus would always be with me and with my family – until the end of time. We named our group Omega because it fit.

Years have passed, and my children are grown. My thirst to know God continues. My experiences in this little group began to equip me to face the uncertainties of the world and a desire to teach and tell others of this Living Water.

Prayer: God of the universe, thank you for your saving Living Water, a free gift of your love and grace. I know this gift will last until the end of time, and for that, I am grateful. Amen.

  – Deb Broadwater | Moneta, VA

 

Barna Study: This Is How Americans Feel About Going to Church

A new Barna study highlights the current attitudes Americans have toward attending church services.

Notable trends found by Barna Group’s “State of the Church” project include that church hopping is increasing, church membership is declining among younger attendees, and people’s mixed perceptions of the church are calling its relevance into question.

Among the study’s encouraging findings were that there are multiple spiritual benefits of church membership and that many churchgoers said they enjoyed attending church.

The Barna study is the “first of its kind” for the company and the “most comprehensive look” at the church that the organization has conducted in its 35-year history.  The project divided American churchgoers into two categories, “practicing Christians” and “churched adults.”

The first group of 63.5 million is comprised of people who are the most committed to their faith. As defined by Barna, practicing Christians attend church a minimum of once per month and say their faith is “very important” to them. This group is a subset of the broader category of churched adults, who number 124.4 million and have attended church at least once in the past six months.

Church Hopping and Church Membership

The first trend Barna highlighted from its research is that church hopping is becoming more normal. Most churchgoers (63 percent of churched adults and 72 percent of practicing Christians) still attend one church.

In conrtrast, a “sizable minority” attends a different church “at least occasionally” (38 percent of churched adults and 27 percent of practicing Christians).  However, just because they select from a handful of different churches to attend doesn’t make them any less likely to actually attend church on any given weekend.

Another trend Barna found was that it is becoming less common for younger people to be members of a church, even though church membership in general is “still a common practice.”

Younger church attendees were much more likely to see church membership as irrelevant. However, church membership is still “highly relevant” because of the positive outcomes researchers found associated with it.

Being a member of a church correlated with it being more likely for attendees to feel they had connected with God at church services, as well as more likely that they would feel that worship services had challenged them to change something in their lives.

Membership also made it more likely that people would attend church, feel encouraged by the service, and read their Bibles because they enjoyed doing so.

The Emotions of Church Attendance

Another trend the Barna study highlighted pertained to how people perceive church. The company described its findings on this topic as “paradoxical.”

While a majority of churchgoers said that enjoying church was a motivation for them to attend (65 percent of churched adults and 82 percent of practicing Christians), around half (57 percent of churched adults and 45 percent of practicing Christians) said people they know are tired of the typical church experience.

Christians, Non-Christians, and the Church

The final trend the Barna study singled out was the different perceptions that American Christians and non-Christians, respectively, have of the church.

Practicing Christians have a much more positive view of church than the general non-Christian population. Sixty-six percent of practicing Christians said the church has a “very positive” impact on their communities, but only 27 percent of non-Christians agreed.

Lenten Devotional – Day 5 – Greener Grass

Lent 3Scripture:  Psalm 23:1-3

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

It was 2012. I had been married less than a year. I wasn’t satisfied with what I had and wanted more. I was never satisfied with where

we were, what we had, or what we were doing. I always wanted something more. This thirst for “more” created constant conflict with my wife since she could tell I was never satisfied with our life together.

I attempted to quench my thirst with things of this world, and they always left me wanting more.

I ended up in a spiritual and relational desert. My

marriage was dry and struggling. My “bucket” was empty and dry. I wasn’t drinking from the right source, and I had nothing to give. This caused the buckets of my wife, and our marriage, to be empty as well.

Then I saw someone I love go through a divorce. God revealed how earthly pursuits had left their marriage dry and broken. Then, I realized what could happen to us. I hit my knees and asked God to fill my bucket with enough to fill my wife’s bucket as well. He did with abundance!

Now, I regularly drink from the spring of Living Water. He fills me up, and it overflows into my marriage. He gave us renewal, eight incredible years of marriage and many more to go!

Prayer: Father, like sheep, we often wander astray. Forgive us of our foolishness and remind us today that the grass is greenest where you water it. Amen.

  – Andy Lemmon | Brandon, Mississippi

 

 

Lenten Devotional – The First Sunday in Lent – Birds of a Feather?

Scripture: John 7: 37-38

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

My husband and I love to care for and watch our backyard birds. We’ve placed feeders filled with various seed, suet cages, and hummingbird nectar all around our yard. We even have two birdbaths attached to the railing of our deck. These have given us close up views of some of our little friends as they come to drink and bathe.

John 7:37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,

One hot morning as I was preparing to go onto the deck to rinse and fill the birdbaths, I noticed a young squirrel had climbed up and was thirstily gulping water. Oh no, I thought, now those pesky squirrels have found out where the water is, we’ll never get rid of them! And then it hit me— the squirrels needed water as much as the birds did.

Sometimes we may feel hesitant to share our faith with those who seem different from us. A foreign accent, a different skin tone, a different political affiliation, all of these and more may stop us. But as Jesus said in John 7:37, “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.” It is not for us to choose who receives the life giving water. Our job is to love and share the good news.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for sharing your life giving spirit with me. Please help me not to judge, but to have the courage to spread the news of your love and saving grace to all I meet. Amen.

  – Regina K. Carson | Chesterfield, VA

Lenten Devotional – Day 4 – There’s a Fountain Free*

Scripture: Revelation 21:5-7

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

Do you have a pet who needs loving care and attention? My wife is diligent about pouring fresh water into the bowl for our cat, Miranda, every day.

Miranda carefully jiggles the bowl with her paw to stir up the water, healthy, fresh and clean.

Water from the faucet will not do because of the sulfur taste and smell in our well water that came with a new housing development nearby. Bottled water has become a necessity for us and the cat. Having grown up in Memphis with  its famed artesian well water, I never thought that I would buy bottled water.

Belatedly, I have come to realize that clean healthy water is not a given in most of our world.

Today, I went to the store to buy more water and considered the multitude of brands. Some claim to be from mountain streams and others merely purified. I was especially struck by one with the name Eternal. I didn’t expect such bold theological claims in a grocery store!

During this Lenten season let us remember the role of water throughout scripture from Genesis to Revelation and give thanks for our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. The Fountain of the Waters of Life without price is God’s gift to his faithful children!

Prayer: Father, we thirst for your love. May we find streams of mercy, never ceasing, at your throne of grace. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

*Mary B. C. Slade, 1876, Hymn Lyrics

  – Bill Nash Wade | Strasburg, VA

Lenten Devotional – Day 3 – A Spring of Water

Scripture: John 4:14

14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Our families, congregations, and communities all know a few things about parched land. Metaphorically speaking, we could include under-employment, high medical costs, broken promises, under-funded ministries, overwhelming needs…the list seems unending.

While our human efforts to address these earthly concerns fall short, Jesus promises Living Water to the Samaritan woman at the well, and to us. We all yearn for something more than the world has to offer; we thirst for the spring of water.

I confess that I have missed scores of opportunities to point people to Christ’s Living Water. Did I not believe that the God of creation was capable of carving a path where there was none or capable of reviving what seemed lifeless?

Maybe it is the confidence born of seeing God’s faithfulness, but I finally am becoming bolder in using words such as Jesus, bless, and hope with the people

I meet. Maybe the Holy Spirit finally can trust me with the hearts of weary souls because I know it’s not my wisdom or wit that generates springs of water or quenches deep thirst. It is the transforming love of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, our Savior.

Prayer: God of salvation, thank you for sending your Son to earth to show us your abundant mercy. Help us as we wander in the desert of sin and

brokenness to recognize the gift you wish to give to us. Grant us a glimpse of your kingdom as we turn to the cross. Help us share your Living Water. Amen.

  – Katy Yates Brungraber | Chambersburg, PA

Lenten Devotional – Day 2 – Where You Least Expect It

Scripture: Matthew 5:4

Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

I think most of us would not expect to find the Living Water of our Lord, Jesus Christ at funerals. As I reflect back on this year, just a day after presiding for the eighth time over a Celebration of Life and Resurrection, I am certain that Christ, the Living Water, is in the midst of the bleakest of times.

In June, I remember a funeral that I presided over where the Spirit was palpable among more than a hundred mourners who gathered that day. I knew the deceased was a kind, gentle person with a quick smile and always friendly tone as she delivered her wisdom to any that might care to listen. I hoped one or two people would be willing to step up and give a warm testimony to her life.

I was pleasantly surprised as a queue of people began to line up to speak,  and they kept coming. At five, I thought this was most remarkable. At ten, I was concerned that soon people would become restless as the service was now past the one hour mark. They kept coming. A total of seventeen people came forward to give witness to the blessing of this life upon their own lives.

Prayer: Lord, we give you thanks for your presence in the Spirit, even in our darkest moments of grief. You have promised to comfort those who mourn, and you have indeed comforted us. Amen.

  – Andy Brock  |  Winchester, VA

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 1 – Ash Wednesday – Even the Cows are Thirsty!

Scripture: Isaiah 43:19

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

I carry my water bottle with me all the time. Literally, it’s been around the world and is a constant reminder of the amazing gift of life that water is. It’s also a reminder that this gift has not been given so generously to all. Two years ago, I spent several days in Swaziland. In almost every conversation, there was reference to drought. With no rain for weeks, rivers and wells ran dry; land was parched and trees were dying. People worried and prayed for rain continuously.

The day I left, rain came. Droplets fell fast and hard. Lightning and thunder rumbled through the mountain ranges. While driving, we passed 2 cows lying dead on the roadside. Months before, the government had advised people to slaughter their cattle because the drought was inevitable. How can you slaughter what you hold precious and your food for months to come?

Never will I be comfortable with what I viewed from my car, my car with a full tank of gas, water bottle and bag of snacks. I will never get used to the fact that we live in a world that is parched, where people do not have water, food or a sense of security.

Driving further down the road, the rain slowed, and cows rushed to the edge of the road to drink from the small rain puddles. Biblical stories about water and hope flooded my mind, that God provided puddles for cows to drink, and provides a way through the parched desert with constant hope in times of trial.

Prayer: Lord, may our Lenten journey guide us with steadfast hope to the Living Water. Amen.

  – Dawn Barnes | Indianapolis, IN

 

The Slippery Slope of Families Attending Church Less

As a follow-up to two recent articles addressing folks who no longer attend church regularly, here are some suggestions from Dale Hudson for those of us who are active about how to reach out to our inactive brothers and sisters.


They are sending a message that says learning God’s Word is not a priority.

They are raising children who will be Biblically illiterate.

They are raising children who will have a very shallow faith that cannot stand under pressure.

So what can we who attend church on a regular basis do?

How can we help parents bring their children to church faithfully?

How can we help parents invest in their children during the week?

How can we encourage parents to make Jesus the center of their schedule?

Speak into their life early on.  You may or may not be able to change the priorities of parents who have elementary kids.  But you can speak into the lives of young parents who have nursery and preschool children.  You can plant spiritual truth into their life through a Parent & Child Dedication class, a parenting class, social media posts, YouTube videos and more.  Here’s a great resource for Parent & Child Dedication class that has seen great fruit among parents. 

Young parents are looking for guidance, insight and resources for this new role they find themselves in.  Influence them early on and you can help them make Sunday a priority.

Make church irresistible for kids.  Pester Power is a real influence on parents.  When a kid decides he or she wants to go somewhere or do something, they will pester their parents until they get what they want.

I made the mistake one time of not getting batteries ahead of time for a gift I bought for my son at Christmas.  He was about 5 years old at the time.  When he found out we needed batteries, he begin asking me over and over and over and over, when we would get the batteries.  He kept pestering me until I went and found a store that was open on Christmas day and bought him some batteries.

If you will make church the place to be on Sunday mornings, kids will drag their parents with them to church.  Remember, “a child shall lead them.”

Show parents how important it is to make Jesus the center of their life.

Jesus doesn’t just want to rent a room in our life.  He wants to move in and do a total makeover.

The Bible says in Matthew 6:33 that if we will seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

What does that look like when it comes to attending church?  It means Sunday morning at church is not something we do if there’s nothing else on the schedule.  Rather, it’s at the top of the list.  No questions asked.  Sunday morning belongs to God and His house.

Encourage parents to walk the talk.  We must help them remember that…

“Our kids may not always do what we say, but they never fail to emulate what we do.”

We must realize that if we make church a second or third option on Sunday, our kids are going to grow up rarely or never attending church.

When we don’t model this, we are placing the next generation on a slippery slope.  Forsaking God’s house when we are commanded to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together” is sending a message to the next generation that coming together for worship is not necessary to have a growing, strong relationship with Jesus.

Let’s leave them a legacy of loving God, putting Him first, walking with Jesus and making church a top priority.

Central Church’s Congregation welcomes you!

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 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.