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Posts from the ‘Food for Thought’ Category

Lenten Devotional – Day 33 – Jesus’ Arrest

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’”  – John 18:4

Bonus Reading:  John 18:1-12

Jesus has led His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. Out of the darkness we see lanterns and torches winding their way across the Mount of Olives toward the Garden. Judas leads Roman soldiers and Jewish officers. Jesus knows what is about to happen. But He doesn’t cower in the corner; He goes out to them and asks whom they are seeking. They reply, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Jesus answers with three short words, “I am He,” and the power of His words knock Judas, the soldiers and the officers backward. Firmly in control of the situation, Jesus orders the guards to let His disciples go. The soldiers obey, and they flee away into the dark.

Not only did Jesus protect His disciples, He also made one last attempt to reach Judas. In the dark hour to come, when Judas would be overwhelmed with guilt, Jesus wanted him to remember this moment. Jesus was not a helpless victim swept away by Judas’ kiss. Jesus was in complete control. He permitted Himself to be arrested, tried, condemned and crucified. He could have stopped it at any time. But because of His love for the Father and for each of us, He will not end it but carry it through to its completion—and our ultimate salvation.

Because He loves us so much when those powers of darkness were trying their worst, so He also loves us when those powers of darkness come after you in your life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for stepping forward to suffer death for our sins, even death by crucifixion. Give us courage and confidence in the dark hours of our lives to remember that You are still completely in control. Amen.



Lenten Devotional – Day 32 – The High Priestly Prayer

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: “When Jesus had spoken these words, He lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You.’” John 17:1

Bonus Reading:  John 17

Jesus has finished His Last Supper and offers a special prayer before leading His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. We call it the High Priestly Prayer because Jesus our great High Priest offers prayers for Himself, His apostles, and all who believe in Him.

Jesus first prays that God the Father would glorify Himself through Jesus’ coming death. The Roman cross was never connected with glory; it was a symbol of shame and dishonor. St. Paul would call it a “stumbling block to the Jews” and “foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22). The Jews stumbled over the idea that God would let His own Son suffer and die on a cross, rather than sit in glory on a throne. The Gentiles thought it foolishness that you could receive salvation through someone else’s execution.

Jesus prays to His Father to keep His eleven disciples in His Name. He is about to leave this world, so He asks the Father to keep them in faith, that believing they may share the one true Gospel, which brings salvation by God’s grace through faith for Jesus’ sake.

The final part of Jesus’ prayer touches us, and all who have heard and believed the words of the apostles. May we glorify Him by trusting in Jesus as our only Savior from our sin and death, and tell others of His great and incomparable love.

Prayer: Lord God, as You glorified Your Son Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection, keep us in Your Name through this true faith, and bless us to share it with all those around us. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.



Lenten Devotional – Day 31 – The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:  (Jesus said) “… ‘You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.’”  – John 16:20b

Bonus Reading:  John 16:16-24

The disciples’ heads are spinning at everything Jesus has said to them at His Last Supper. Now He tells them, “A little while, and you will see Me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” They want to know what He means, but are afraid to ask; maybe they’re more afraid to hear the answer He would give.

But it shouldn’t be a mystery. For months Jesus has told them what will happen in Jerusalem. He warned them He would be handed over, beaten, scourged and crucified. He told them He would die and on the third day rise again. Now all His predictions are about to come true. They will be sorrowful, but their sorrow will turn to joy.

The disciples aren’t all that different from us. All of us would prefer to see joy and happiness all through our earthly lives, and none of us is too happy when sorrow, grief, weeping and lamenting come around. We try so hard to deny those things will happen to us, that we miss the tremendous comfort in Jesus’ promise of the resurrection.

Jesus has died and risen again. He promises to come again to restore this fallen creation, and to change our mortal bodies so they will be glorious, immortal and eternally perfect. That fact of Jesus’ resurrection coupled with His promise to give us new eternal life at His return can give us a lasting joy that no one can take away— no matter what sorrow and loss we suffer in this our earthly life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Your victory over our sin, death and hell. Thank You for the promise Your resurrection brings—eternal life with You. Amen.


Lenten Devotional – Day 30 – Troubled Hearts

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:  (Jesus said) “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in Me.” John 14:1

Bonus Reading:  John 13:36-14:7

What a confusing, depressing night! Their Lord and Master washes their feet like a slave; He tells them the unthinkable that one of them will betray Him. Then Jesus tells Peter, the boldest of the Twelve, that this very night, before the rooster crows at sunrise, Peter will deny knowing Him. What a confusing, depressing night! Looking around at His disciples, Jesus knows just how troubled and shaken they are.

He knows how we get shaken up too. He knows the circumstances that crush us, problems that confound us, and the pressures that weigh on us. Yet through it all He is always at our side. Jesus tells us to turn our eyes away from our problems and focus our attention on Him. Believe in God the Father and believe also in Jesus. He assures us that we will not always live in this world of hurt, pain and sorrow, but He is preparing a safe, joyous and wonderful place for us to live with Him forever.

We know where we are going because Jesus is the Way to heaven. He came to this earth not to be our example to guide us to heaven by our good living, but to earn heaven for us by His perfect life, innocent death and glorious resurrection. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Perhaps these devotions find you or someone you love drawing near to death. In the midst of our sorrows, fears and anxieties when we focus on Jesus His mighty word calms our fears and stills our hearts.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, bring peace to my troubled heart and mind, and give me the Spirit that I may believe in You always. Amen.


UMC Holy Week Quiz

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Lenten Devotional – Day 29 – The Betrayer

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:  (Jesus said) “… ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.’” John 13:21b

Bonus Reading:  John 13:21-30

“One of you will betray Me.” Judas must be totally shocked by Jesus’ words. One by one the disciples ask a question that floats around the table. With rising suspense Judas watches the question work its way around the table to him—and he even joins his voice to theirs: “Is it I, Lord?”

If Judas’ voice didn’t give him away, what Jesus does next will make it crystal clear. He dips the morsel of bread and hands it directly to Judas.

Have you ever stopped to think about how Jesus turned the tables on Judas?

At this moment the betrayer is at the mercy of the One he was going to betray. Jesus holds Judas in the palm of His hand. With a word Jesus can betray Judas to the other disciples, who are armed with several swords. Jesus is in complete control; He can betray Judas. Instead, our Lord sends His betrayer on his way: “What you are going to do, do quickly.” As Judas rushes out from the danger, the other disciples have no idea what Jesus means.

Which one of us hasn’t betrayed another—gossiping secrets that should never have been shared or exposing another’s shame just to flatter our own self-righteous pride? How often have we in effect handed Jesus’ over to His enemies by our sinful actions or our silence?

Judas walked out into the darkness. But in this same darkness Jesus will still reach out to him one last time when Judas leads the soldiers into the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Him. Jesus still reaches out to you and me with hands that bear the mark of the nails.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your steadfast love is amazing to me. Keep reaching out to bring me back from my sins. Amen.


Lenten Devotional – The Fifth Sunday in Lent – Washing an Unclean Disciple

Lent 1Key Bible Verse:  “… (Jesus said) ‘You are clean, but not every one of you.’ …”   –John 13:10b

Bonus Reading:  John 13:1-20

Jesus has preached His last message to the crowds. Now He spends one final night before His suffering and death with His disciples in the upper room, preparing them for what is about to happen.

In the middle of supper Jesus does something totally unexpected. Taking off His outer garments He goes around the table washing the disciples’ feet one by one, the way the lowliest slave in the household would. It is a demonstration of His absolute humility, love and care—a demonstration He will repeat for the whole world the next day on the cross.

For Peter it is too much. He objects and receives a firm correction from Jesus: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” Then Peter goes to the other extreme asking Jesus to wash all of him. Jesus points out that the one who has had a bath does not need to bathe again, only to wash the part of him that is unclean.

Jesus is pointing to Judas, the one who has abandoned his Lord and become unclean and is even now awaiting the chance to betray Him. The other eleven are forgiven, cleansed of their sins because they still walk in the light by faith; Judas has rejected that light and walks in darkness. Very gently Jesus reaches out to His lost disciple in an unforgettable demonstration of His love, forgiveness and acceptance. It’s a demonstration He wants Judas to remember when he is gripped by guilt and remorse for what he is about to do.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive my wandering heart. Help me to see Your great love for me and remember what You have done to save me. Amen.



Lenten Devotional – Day 28 – How Can the Christ Be Lifted Up?

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself. ” John 12:32

Bonus Reading:  John 12:33-50

The crowds are confused. Jesus has told them He will be “lifted up,” and they know exactly what He means. Being “lifted up from the earth” was a familiar phrase describing death on a cross. But they all know the Christ remains forever, so how can Jesus be the Christ if He will die on a cross?

It’s easy for us to share that confusion too. God’s light doesn’t always make sense to our sin-darkened minds. Jesus simply tells them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.” Satan is always trying to overtake us, trying to snatch away the light from us.

One of the tools he uses is the confusing things that happen in this life, things that don’t always make sense to us. Often our search for answers leads us to question God and doubt His love. Jesus just encourages us to walk in Him. He invites us to lay those questions at the foot of His cross, to focus instead on the extent of His love for us. It’s a love that moved Him to lay down His life in terrible suffering that we might be forgiven.

We don’t understand every reason for everything that happens to us. And we won’t always find all the answers to all our questions,
but we don’t have to. We only need to walk in Christ’s light and keep looking to Him. At the right time He will make everything clear.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I don’t always understand the things I see around me. Help me to come to Your Son’s cross, that there I may know Your love and receive Your strength. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.



Lenten Devotional – Day 27 – My Soul is Troubled

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:  (Jesus said) “‘Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say?  ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.’”   – John 12:27

Bonus Reading:  John 12:27-33

Jesus has just told His disciples why He has come to Jerusalem: He is to suffer and die for the world. But the thought is not easy for Jesus to face. He says, “Now is My soul troubled.” We see that turmoil again when He falls on His face in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane
(see Luke 22).

Here He prays, “Father, glorify Your Name.” He doesn’t ask the Father to save Him from the cross but to use His suffering and death on the cross to glorify His Name. He wants people to look at the cross and believe that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” In Gethsemane God will send an angel to strengthen His Son, but here He speaks to Jesus. “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

We all come face to face with overwhelming situations and struggles in life—heartbreak and loss, grief beyond telling, the shadow of death—whether our own or that of a loved one.

Jesus has come to this hour in His life to be the answer to the overwhelming situations in each of our lives. He will be raised up to draw all men to Himself.

This was done so that in Jesus Christ each of us might find the answer to our problems, the courage for the trials we face and the victory over Satan who brought all these situations upon us through his temptation.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You glorified Your Name in the sufferings of Your beloved Son Jesus Christ. Glorify Your Name through me as You give me strength and courage to face the difficult times in my life. I pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.



Lenten Devotional – Day 26 – Keep This Life or Lose It?

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: “And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’” John 12:23-24

Bonus Reading:  John 12:20-26

Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph. The disciples were convinced He was about to establish His throne in Jerusalem, so Jesus had to teach them a tough lesson.

Christ Jesus stood alone, the only man whose life on this earth was perfect and worthy of earning heaven. But unless He died on the cross in our place He would remain alone, and we would all perish eternally in hell. By dying in our place, taking our sins on Himself and paying the full price God’s justice demanded, Jesus would save us all, and open wide the gates of heaven.

Our earthly life is similar in many ways. If we wish to selfishly save our earthly life, we will lose it. But if we hate our earthly life in comparison, longing for that better, heavenly life, we will keep it for eternity. Thankfully, Jesus leads the way for us. He did not love His earthly life so much that He was not willing to lay it down on the cross. No, He was looking forward to a better, eternal life with us—a life made possible only through His suffering, death and resurrection.

It’s a good time for us as individuals to stop and examine our attitudes toward our lives, as well as our willingness to leave them all behind for Jesus and the eternal life He gives.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for offering us eternal life through Your Son Jesus Christ. Help us all to hate this life in this dark, sinful world that we may keep our lives eternally in Your light. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.



Lenten Devotional – Day 25 – Out of Control

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after Him.’”   – John 12:19

Bonus Reading:  John 12:12-19

The great Festival of Passover is near. Huge crowds make their way across the countryside toward Jerusalem, and our Lord Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph, riding on a donkey.

The Pharisees throw up their hands in fear and frustration. They say to each other “You see that you are gaining nothing.” The situation is totally out of control. But again they will not stop to consider Jesus’ claims. They only react in frustration and fear of what Jesus might do with the huge Passover crowds gathering around Him in Jerusalem.

It is fascinating to compare their reaction to that of the crowds. The crowds cry out to Jesus, “Hosanna,” which means “help” or “save.” And they are right. The Lord Jesus is the mighty Son of God, who has come to battle Satan, sin, death and hell. He alone can save us from our bitter enemies.

As we begin this week of Jesus’ suffering and death for our sins, we notice He is completely in control. We will notice He is in control through this entire week—clear up to and including His arrest, trials and crucifixion.

That’s important to remember when we look at our own lives. Often we are as fearful and frustrated as the Pharisees, realizing situations in our lives are totally out of control. We can throw up our hands like the Pharisees, or call upon Jesus as the crowds do, remembering that Jesus is still in control, sitting at the right hand of the Father and guiding all things for our good.

Prayer: Lord, please help and save us, especially when circumstances are at their worst and totally out of our control. Remind us that they are never beyond Your control. Amen.



Lenten Devotional – Day 24 – Anointed for Burial

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:  “Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me.’” John 12:7-8

Bonus Reading:  John 12:1-8

Mary is very grateful to Jesus. She has heard His wonderful words and received her brother Lazarus back from death. As her family gathers around the table with Jesus and His disciples for dinner, she pours an expensive ointment over Jesus’ feet and wipes it with her hair.

Her generosity should be an inspiration for Jesus’ disciples. But it only stirs the darkness in Judas. He complains how the ointment was worth nearly a year’s wages and that the money should have gone to the poor instead. But Jesus stands up in her defense. He boldly commands Judas to leave her alone. She has done this to honor Him, and the scent of that perfume will linger on His body throughout His trials, crucifixion and burial in the coming days.

Do we have Mary’s tremendous sense of gratitude and love for our Lord? Do we really appreciate what He has done for us, what He has given to us, and the promise of a glorious future because of Him?

How striking to compare Mary’s devotion with that of Judas—who has replaced his devotion to Jesus with a love for money. For, as John tells us, Judas had no intention of helping the poor with that money. He only wanted to get his hands on it—as he had stolen money from the disciples’ moneybag many times before. Sadly, in the next few days he will do far worse for a much smaller amount of money.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, stir up in my heart true love, gratitude and appreciation for all Jesus has done for me. I pray in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 23 – One Man Must Die

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:   “But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’ … So from that day on they made plans to put Him to death.”  – John 11:49-50, 53

Bonus Reading:  John 11:45-57

In Lazarus’ resurrection on the fourth day, Jesus performed an undeniable miracle greater and more widely known than healing a man born blind. Since this miracle took place near Jerusalem word spread quickly, which the Jewish leaders found to be particularly troubling. But they never stopped to ask if they might be wrong, if Jesus might possibly be the Christ.

They only knew many people were seeing Lazarus and believing in Jesus. Gathering their Council together, they searched for some kind of answer—something they could do to stop the madness.

Finally, the high priest broke through it all. He alone seemed to realize there was only one solution: Jesus must die. If Jesus continued living, the entire nation would be destroyed. And from that moment on, the Jewish leaders sought Jesus’ death.

But God had long ago reached that same decision. In fact, John tells us that Caiaphas did not say this on his own, but the Holy Spirit inspired him to say it. It was the truth. If Jesus would not die on the cross for the sins of the world, then the entire Jewish nation would be destroyed, and with it you and me and all people. If this one man died, then all of us could live.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, what amazing humility You showed in being willing to be put to death to save me and all people. Give Your Church true faith and gratitude that we may tell Your story to all people. Amen.



Lenten Devotional – Fourth Sunday in Lent – Our Resurrection and Life

Lent 1Key Bible Verse:  “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’”  – John 11:25-26

Bonus Reading:  John 11:1-44

Jesus is about to do one of His greatest miraculous signs. He receives a frantic message to come to Lazarus who is gravely ill. But Jesus remains where He is. His disciples think Jesus is avoiding Jerusalem where the crowds had tried to stone Him a short time ago. But Jesus waits two days before finally heading out for Bethany, a small village near Jerusalem. Thomas tells his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

Jesus finally arrives after Lazarus has been dead four days. Martha says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” But Jesus had a reason for His delay. Jewish rabbis believed a person’s soul hovered over the body for three days, and then finally departed when decomposition set in. By waiting for the fourth day, Jesus would be performing a miracle none of the Jewish leaders could deny.

Sometimes we get confused by the struggles in our life. Like Martha we plead with the Lord to help, but when we need Him most He seems to delay, or not to hear. But Jesus has a purpose and a plan for everything He does for us.

Jesus told Martha “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus proved that by raising Lazarus from the dead—and by His own resurrection on the third day. When we are discouraged, beaten down and depressed, we can look to Jesus and know our future is secure.

Prayer: Lord, give me confidence in Your victory during the dark days when I need You the most. Amen.



Lenten Devotional – Day 22 – Don’t Call Me a Sheep!

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:   (Jesus said) “I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me.” … “and I lay down My life for the sheep.” John 10:14, 15b

Bonus Reading:  John 10:11-39

In today’s reading Jesus identifies Himself as our Good Shepherd. This, of course, means that we are like sheep. That automatically says two things about us: we are helpless creatures, and we have powerful enemies against which we are defenseless. But are the crowds willing to admit this—that they need Jesus to be their shepherd?

Jesus tells them He will freely lay down His life to save them from their enemies. He will lay it down on Good Friday when He is nailed to the cross and gives up His life for the sins of the world. But He will take it up again on the third day when He rises in glorious victory.

The crowds hear this great news, and find themselves divided yet again! Some say He has a demon, or He is insane. But others, thinking how Jesus healed the man born blind, ask, “Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

Jesus made some very bold statements about Himself and the work He came to do. Few are as powerful or as comforting as these words. Jesus Christ has been pleased to take us as His very own sheep, and will guard us, protect us, lead us to good pasture, care for us in body and soul and finally lead us through death to life everlasting.

Jesus stretches out His hand to you today. If you are His sheep, listen to His voice, He will protect you from all enemies and guide you safely home to paradise. He promises that nothing can snatch you out of His hands.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for offering to hold me firmly and safely in Your hands. Let me never wander away in unbelief. Amen.



Lenten Devotional – Day 21 – Am I Blind?

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’” John 9:39

Bonus Reading:  John 9:24-41

Over and over again Jesus’ light shone over the people around Him through His words and His countless miracles. But the Jewish leaders refused to see. Despite a thorough investigation into Jesus’ healing of the man born blind, they can find no way to disprove the miracle. Still, they refuse to believe the evidence right before them.

But Jesus isn’t ready to give up on them yet. If they won’t accept the evidence, maybe they will listen to the man who had been healed. In eloquent testimony the man told them, “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” But again, they stubbornly refuse to see the light and answer, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” Then they threw out the man born blind.

Hearing that he had been thrown out, Jesus found him and revealed Himself to him. Jesus told those around Him that He came to give sight to the blind, and blindness to those who see. Some Pharisees heard Him say this and asked if they were blind. Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”

That is a terrifying thought. These Jewish leaders had seen overwhelming evidence time and again that Jesus is the promised Savior, God’s Son, yet they refused to believe.

How much evidence have we seen? How many Bible readings have we heard in services? How many times have we received Holy Communion? Do we believe?

Prayer: Lord, You know the darkness within each of us, take away my blindness and help me see Jesus clearly through the eyes of faith. Amen.


Lenten Devotional – Day 20

Lent 3In John 8 we read,

“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.  So what do you say?’”

The whole scene was a plot to trick Jesus.  Once again, Jesus perplexes me.  He simply squats down and starts playing in the dirt.

Then I read Numbers 5:11-31 and I think Jesus was having a silent conversation with the Pharisees.

Go ahead and read the passage.  See if you catch it.

To my North American eyes, the passage is outrageous.  What does barley flour, holy water and dust from the tabernacle floor have to do with sexual sin?

During a trial for sexual sin, the priest mixed water and dust from the tabernacle floor.  If the accused could drink it and not get sick, the person was innocent.  If the accused got sick, a curse would be on them.

In John 8, the woman brought before Jesus had already been caught in the act.  Her guilt was sure: she knew it, the Pharisees knew it.

After reading Numbers 5, it appears that Jesus touching the dirt was a nod to the law and its demands for guilt.  Yet Jesus put the leaders on trial, expecting them to take inventory of their hearts.

Like the adulteress and the Pharisees, our guilt before God is sure.  If we were required to drink the cup of bitter water that God’s justice requires, we would surely die.

In the coming days, Jesus would pay for their guilt and mine, drinking the cup we all deserved, carrying our curse.

On days like today, it is good for me to see a glimpse of what my sin cost Jesus by remembering the law.  It was, after all, initiated by God so that I might experience God’s holiness and see more fully my need.
It increases my gratitude for Him.
It fills in my understanding of His unrelenting love for me.
It causes my heart to soften toward Him in worship.

How does a deeper understanding of the law affect you today?

Lenten Devotional – Day 19 – Divided

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:  “Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such things?’ And there was a division among them.”  – John 9:16

Bonus Reading:  John 9:1-16

Leaving the temple grounds Jesus passes through Jerusalem. Along the way His disciples point out a man born blind. They ask if his blindness is a result of his parents’ sin or his own. Jesus rejects both claims, and says this man was born blind so the works of God may be displayed in him. Then Jesus gave the man sight.

When word reaches the Pharisees there is a sharp division among them. Some immediately reject Jesus because He healed on the Sabbath day. Blinded by their tradition they are unable to see God’s great purpose for the Sabbath—to let people rest from their labors and let God work in their lives. Others realize the magnitude of the work Jesus has done. Like Nicodemus before (see John 3), they know no sinful man could perform such a mighty miracle. So a division arises among the Pharisees.

Jesus continues to divide people today. Some listen to His words, consider His miracles and are led by the Holy Spirit to the certain faith that He is God’s Son, the Savior of the world. Others ignore the plain truth and take issue with the way Jesus taught and the demands they think He makes on their lives. They doubt His relevance and prefer to live their lives their own way.

God grant us His Holy Spirit to know Jesus as God’s Son, our only Savior and Lord, and to follow Him through all.

Prayer:  Spirit of God, strengthen my faith in Jesus Christ my Lord, and give me firm confidence when others are divided over Him. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.


By grace we are forgiven: Justifying grace

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Many United Methodists know John Newton’s words so well that we can sing more than one verse of this great hymn from memory. We may be a little fuzzy, however, on the concept of grace.

“Amazing Grace” was first published in Olney Hymns (1779).

United Methodists often sing about God’s justifying grace using the words of John Newton’s “Amazing Grace.” Photo is hosted at the U.S. Library of Congress, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Newton’s lyrics echo those of scripture, like Ephesians 2:8, “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift.” Both the Apostle Paul and the hymn writer teach us that our salvation is not something we earn or deserve. It comes to us because of God’s great love for us.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, preached and wrote often about the amazing grace of God that leads us into renewed relationship with God.

The gift of God

The Rev. Matt O’Reilly, pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church, Mobile, Alabama, wants United Methodists to know that when we speak of the grace of God, we are not talking about a substance. It is instead a description of God at work in our lives.

“Grace is primarily about how God relates to us,” O’Reilly teaches, “not based on our merit, but based on God’s resolve and love for creatures made in God’s image.”

“Human effort does not play any role,” shares the Rev. Nday Bondo Mwanabute, professor of theology at Africa University, Mutare, Zimbabwe. “All that is required from human beings is to avail themselves to receive everything from God by faith.”

Wesley taught that our entire spiritual lives are an act of God’s grace. He names at least three periods in our spiritual development and the ways God’s grace is at work during those times—prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace. It may sound like he is talking about three different graces, but that is not the case.

“The issue is timing,” O’Reilly explains, “not so much different stuff.”

Justifying grace: God making things right

The grace with which we are most familiar is what Wesley called justifying grace.

The Bible tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). Try as we might, we cannot be good enough. We need God to make things right between us, to justify us.

“Justification is another word for pardon,” John Wesley writes in a sermon called The Scripture Way of Salvation. “It is the forgiveness of all our sins; and, what is necessarily implied therein, our acceptance with God.”

The Rev. Gary Henderson of United Methodist Communications uses an illustration from our word processors to help us understand what it means to be justified.

“I’m typing and the words and the lines are all over the page… and it looks like a mess,” Henderson begins. “With a keystroke or two, I can bring it all together and order it and align it. They call it justifying to the left, to the right, or to the center… Sometimes it seems as though our lives are in pieces. We need a sense of order.”

When we are justified, we are made right with God. Our sins are forgiven and God begins the process of lining our lives up to God’s original design for us.

We are created in God’s image, but that image is distorted by sin. By God’s grace, through faith, we receive forgiveness. All of this is God’s gift to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Aldersgate monument in London

A monument on Aldersgate Street, London, remembers John Wesley’s words, “He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” Photo by Joe Iovino, United Methodist Communications.

“Justifying faith implies, not only a divine evidence or conviction that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself,’” Wesley writes in another sermon, Justification by Faith, “but a sure trust and confidence that Christ died for ‘my’ sins, that he loved ‘me,’ and gave himself for ‘me.’ And at what time soever a sinner thus believes…God justifieth that ungodly one.”

Those familiar with Wesley’s recounting of his Aldersgate experience in his journal, may hear echoes of similar themes in this description of justifying faith.

A door

In a pamphlet titled The Principles of a Methodist Farther Explained, Wesley likens this moment in our spiritual development to a door. At the moment of justification, we cross the threshold from unbelief to belief. This, however, is not of our own doing.

As Ephesians 2:8 reminds us, salvation is a gift offered to us by our gracious (i.e. grace-filled) God. We do not earn it. Not one of us is worthy of it. We simply receive it in faith.

Getting to the door and growing on the other side of it, are also by God’s grace. We will look at these dimensions of grace in the coming weeks.

Look for upcoming posts about prevenient grace and sanctifying grace.

*Joe Iovino works for at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.



Lenten Devotional – Day 18 – Whose Children Are We?

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:  “So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” John 8:59

Bonus Reading:  John 8:45-59

Now the crowd could prove whether they were truly children of God as they claimed, or children of the devil as Jesus had said. Would they come running to the Savior for forgiveness and life, or cling to the dark lies of Satan? John tells us their grim decision: “they picked up stones to throw at Him.”

You and I go to church and in Baptism God made us His very own children. But how often do we live as if we weren’t? How attentive are we when we hear or read Jesus’ words? How closely do we follow Him in our words and actions? Are we willing to pray “Your will be done?” or do we only want to accept Jesus on our own terms?  Are we as quick to turn on Him as the crowds were?

Jesus miraculously hides Himself and leaves the temple grounds. The time for His death is drawing near, but He will not die at the hands of an angry mob under a pile of rocks at the temple. He will be dragged outside of the city at the hands of the Roman soldiers and nailed to a cross.

Even today Jesus’ words often bring a violent reaction. If we are walking in darkness we are not always excited to hear the truth. But Christ promises to wash away our sins and restore us in faith. He will guard and protect us and finally bring us to our eternal home where we will always walk in His light.

Prayer: Lord, give courage to all Your faithful people who bring Your light into our dark world. Empower me to turn from the darkness and share my faith as You guide and protect me. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Chuck Knows Church: Grace

Said at the dinner table, it also has deep theological meaning for United Methodists.

Chuck explains prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace.


Lenten Devotional – Day 17 – Tightening the Screws

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:   (Jesus said) “‘You are of your father the devil.’ …”  – John 8:44a

Bonus Reading: John 8:31-45

Jesus stands firm. But His enemies are standing firm too. The only way He can save them is by bringing them out of their darkness into His light. So Jesus first offers a promise, then He tightens the screws.

He begins with the promise, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But in pride and arrogance they claim they are already free.

So Jesus explains their true condition, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” They just aren’t getting it. So, slowly, Jesus knocks each prop of self-righteousness out from under them.

They claim to be Abraham’s children, but they are not because Abraham would have welcomed Him, not seek to kill Him as they are.

They claim God is their father, but if they were God’s children they would love Him and receive Him as God’s Son.

There is only one reason why they cannot stomach what Jesus is saying: their father isn’t God; their father is the devil!

Just as he murdered Adam and Eve by his lies, and brought darkness and death on all God’s good creation, so are they now seeking to murder Jesus— God’s only begotten Son.

How could Jesus have been any more clear and to the point?  Their thoughts and desires, their words and their deeds were making that very clear.

And what about us?  Jesus asks you and me to examine our thoughts, attitudes, words and actions. Do they look more like God or like Satan?

Who is your father?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I was born a child of Satan through my sinful nature, but You gave me new birth as Your child in Baptism. By Your Spirit empower me to live as Your child and love what You command. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.


Lenten Devotional – Third Sunday of Lent – Die in Your Sins

Lent 1Key Bible Verse:   “Again Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the Light of the world.’ …”   – John 8:12a

Bonus Reading:  John 8:12-30

Jesus’ enemies want Him dead. Has He pressed too hard? Is it time to lighten up or compromise to find common ground? No! Jesus knows there is only one way for them to be saved. So He presses even harder. He declares, “I am the Light of the world.”

Instead of backing down Jesus draws a line in the sand and says, “Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” But to those who reject Him, He says, “I am going away, and you will seek Me, and you will die in your sin.”

Their hearts should be stirred, but instead they stubbornly refuse to listen. In idle curiosity they ask each other if Jesus’ talk of “going away” means He will kill Himself. Jesus answers, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, you will know that I am He.”

When they lift Him up and nail Him to the cross, they will know who He is. The miraculous signs at His death: the darkness, the earthquake, the torn curtain in the temple and His glorious resurrection will make it clear to them that Jesus is the mighty Son of God, the promised Messiah.

Which side of the line are you walking on? Are you truly walking in the light of Christ or the darkness of this unbelieving world?

Jesus warns all of us that our time is short. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Today is the day to live in Christ through faith, rather than die in your sins.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, bring me out of the darkness of my sin to the light of Your Son Jesus Christ. I pray in His Name. Amen.



Lenten Devotional – Day 16 – Caught in the Act

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:  “… ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?’” John 8:4b-5

Bonus Reading: John 8:1-11

Unable to arrest Jesus in front of the crowds, His enemies look for a chance to turn those crowds against Him. They bring a woman caught in adultery and set their trap, “Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” Certainly the crowd is ready for a stoning. Jesus will lose popularity if He stands in the way.

Jesus answers them. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He was the only one qualified to be her Judge, the only one who has the right to throw that first stone. One by one they drop their stones and walk away.

Jesus tells her, “Go and from now on sin no more.” She can walk away unpunished because He has taken her guilt and sin upon Himself, along with the punishment she deserves from God for that sin. She goes away free while He prepares to suffer in her place on the cross.

We don’t like to admit it, but each of us is a sinner like that woman. God catches us in every single one of our sins, and we deserve something far worse than being stoned to death. We deserve the fires of hell under the wrath of God.

But Jesus Christ steps forward to take our condemnation on Himself and pay the full price for our sins as He suffers and dies on the cross. On Judgment Day we will walk away free. He will not condemn us either.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You set me free by being condemned in my place. Help me show true gratitude by forgiving others and sharing Your salvation with them. Amen.


Lenten Devotional – Day 15

Lent 3If given the chance to have dinner with either Simon or the “sinful” woman, I would chose her.

While broken, this woman is both authentic and humble and I like that.  Plus I know what it means to wrestle with sinful patterns in my own strength, only to come up short.  I think she and I could have an honest conversation about sin, suffering and our need for hope.

I’ve made some assumptions about the woman that draw me toward her story.  I bet she didn’t go looking for a bad reputation.  I assume the sins that lead her into a scandalous reputation started just like mine do – with a single, seemingly insignificant, choice.

Maybe it was a lie she did not rebuke.  Maybe it was a hurt she couldn’t forgive.  Maybe it was a bait-and-switch situation where someone promised her the world, used her, and then left her to figure out what to do next.

Whatever it was, the woman in Luke 7:35-50 gave in and embraced the reputation that her sin awarded her. It was probably easier that way – that’s one of the enemy’s great selling points.

But I do that:

I give in to ‘little’ sins that redirect my heart bit-by-bit.

I accept my sharp tongue by justifying, “They know I’m kidding.”

I spend money as if this world is where my hope lies.

When there is tension in a relationship I distance myself, opting for ambiguity rather than authenticity.

I lose sleep feeling like the weight of the world is on my shoulders.

The bottom line is, I must stop living in the past and start living in light of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. He offers me freedom when I am His.

The weeping woman recognized her only hope in this life was to convert her sin into repentance at the feet of Jesus.  Causing a scene in a Pharisee’s home was the least of this woman’s cares.  Living with a clean slate was worth everything to her.

And I bet she wasn’t expecting to hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Where would you love to hear God say “You are forgiven?”  What are you willing to do to get to His feet?

Lenten Devotional – Day 15 – Can’t Take a Hint

Lent 3Key Bible Verse:  “They (the Pharisees) replied, ‘Are You from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.’” John 7:52

Bonus Reading: John 7:32,45-52

The Jewish leaders hear the crowds wondering if Jesus might be the Messiah. They decide it’s time to act. So they send the temple guards to arrest Him. But it isn’t Jesus’ time yet. Impressed by the authority of Jesus’ words the guards return empty handed. The Light will keep shining a little while longer in the darkness.

Jesus is trying to break through the darkness of the Jewish authorities through their temple guard. If these men are willing to listen to Jesus, perhaps the chief priests and Pharisees will follow their example. But the leaders harden their hearts and accuse the guard of being deceived like the crowds who must be under a curse.

If they won’t listen to the guards, perhaps they will listen to one of their own. Nicodemus speaks up.

He suggests they give Jesus a fair hearing rather than blindly condemning Him. Instead, they turn on him with two exaggerations. First, they claim none of the authorities believe in Him—though at least Nicodemus does. Second, they claim no prophet ever came from Galilee, but they overlook Jonah who was from Galilee. They attempt to close ranks against Jesus through intimidation and lies.

We often plant our heels in the sand and refuse to budge no matter what anyone might say, no matter what the church might say, no matter what God’s Word might say. But Jesus suffered and died for our stubbornness just as He did for all our other sins.

God continues to work through His Word and Sacrament to break through our persistent unbelief and move us to understand and accept the truth.

Prayer: Lord, forgive my stubborn pride, and move me to true, sincere faith. Amen.



Lenten Devotional – Day 14 – Time is Running Out

Lent 3Key Bible Verse: “Jesus said, ‘I will be with you a little longer. …’”  – John 7:33a

Bonus Reading: John 7:33-44

People are divided over Jesus. Some believe in Him. Others don’t. Many are undecided.

Jesus warns them to make up their mind: “I will be with you a little longer.”

I learned that lesson the hard way when I was 19. One Friday afternoon my boss handed me my paycheck on the way home. A couple hours later he collapsed at his bowling alley and died.  My chance to talk to him, learn from him, and reach out to him was gone forever.

Soon Jesus will be gone. He will die on a cross and be buried. After three days He will rise again, but the vast majority will never see Him again—only a few select believers God will choose to be witnesses of His resurrection to the world.

The clock is ticking for us too. Each of us has only a limited amount of time before we die and our chance to find salvation through faith in Jesus Christ ends forever. But often we are content with the way life is going. Or we think it doesn’t matter what you believe, God will be satisfied if you just try to live a good life.

But that is a false hope and a false comfort.

God has provided only one way to save us, and that is through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus satisfied God’s holiness and justice by taking our sins on Himself and suffering and dying in our place on the cross. No one else could do it.

Now is the time to come to Him and walk in His light.

Prayer: Lord, draw me to You while there is still time. Shine in my life that others may turn to the Light of the world, while they still have time. Amen.

In Memoriam: Bill Graham

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

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

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

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




Lenten Devotional – Day 13 – A Little Knowledge

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

Bonus Reading:  John 7:25-32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lenten Devotional – Day 12 – Judging by Appearance

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

Bonus Reading: John 7:14-24

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

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

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

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

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

Stop a moment and reconsider Jesus Christ.

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

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


Lenten Devotional – Day 11 – Silent Fear

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

Bonus Reading: John 7:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

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



Lenten Devotional – The Second Sunday in Lent – Hidden Darkness

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

Bonus Reading: John 6:66-71

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lenten Devotional – Day 10

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

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

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

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

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

Lenten Devotional – Day 6 – Darkness or Light?

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

Bonus Reading: John 3:19-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lenten Devotional – Day 9 – Short Sighted

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

Bonus Reading:  John 6:22-27

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

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

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

We can be just as near-sighted as they.

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

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

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

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

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

Lenten Devotional – Day 8 – Just Asking for a Fight

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

Bonus Reading: John 5:1-24

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

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

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

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

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

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



Christian Persecution: World Watch List 2018

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

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

1 North Korea

2 Afghanistan

3 Somalia

4 Sudan

5 Pakistan

6 Eritrea

7 Libya

8 Iraq

9 Yemen

10 Iran

11 India

12 Saudi Arabia

13 Maldives

14 Nigeria

15 Syria

16 Uzbekistan

17 Egypt

18 Vietnam

19 Turkmenistan

20 Laos

21 Jordan

22 Tajikistan

23 Malaysia

24 Myanmar

25 Nepal

26 Brunei

27 Qatar

28 Kazakhstan

29 Ethiopia

30 Tunisia

31 Turkey

32 Kenya

33 Bhutan

34 Kuwait

35 Central African Republic

36 Palestinian Territories

37 Mali

38 Indonesia

39 Mexico

40 United Arab Emirates

41 Bangladesh

42 Algeria

43 China

44 Sri Lanka

45 Azerbaijan

46 Oman

47 Mauritania

48 Bahrain

49 Colombia

50 Djibouti




The United Methodist Lent Quiz

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

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

Lenten Devotional – Day 5 – Lifted to Save

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

Bonus Reading: John 3:9-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Bonus Reading:  John 3:1-8

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

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

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

You and I might find it difficult also.

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

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

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

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

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


Lenten Devotional – Day 4 – The Light Blazes in Fury

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

Bonus Reading:  John 2:13-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Prayer Following Florida School Shootings

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

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

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

Dear Lord,

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

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

When loneliness seems overwhelming,

Make your presence known.

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

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





Lenten Devotional – Day 3 – The Darkness of Rash Judgment

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

Bonus Reading:  John 1:43-51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Reading: John 1:19-34

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Bonus Reading:  John 1:1-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Fat Tuesday”

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

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

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

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

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

Preparation for Lent – A Mardi Gras Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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


What Does the Bible Really Say About Immigration?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is the overarching command of Scripture.

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

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

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

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

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

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


What is Lent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent 2Anything worth doing is worth preparing for.

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

If we want it, we will choose it.

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

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

Our Focus:  On what God wants to give us.

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

Not starting from a dead stop.

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

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

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

Lent is not something I need to do alone.

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

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

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

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

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

And, it doesn’t take much time.

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

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

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

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

May our Lord bless us all on this journey ahead.