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Posts from the ‘Food for Thought’ Category

Loosen Your Grip – Found Wanting

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

Bonus Reading:  Job 31:24-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Mark Geil in Georgia

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

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

 

Loosen Your Grip – Lend Your Stuff

Overcoming SelfishnessWho Said It…Tim Stafford

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

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

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

What He Said…Lend Your Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adapted from Never Mind the Joneses (InterVarsity, 2004)

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

 

Lenten Devotional – Easter Sunday – A Happy Ending

Scripture: Psalm 30:11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  – Marylane Wade Koch – Byhalia, Mississippi

 

 

This is Why We Celebrate Easter

Holidays are often marked with family tradition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Easter from Central Church!

 

Wht is Holy Saturday?

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

Holy, Holy, Holy

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

What is Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

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

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

Other Traditions of Holy Saturday

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 40 – Holy Saturday – Humility

Scripture: Matthew 13:3–5

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

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

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

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

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

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

  – Doris Hedrick – Natural Bridge, Virginia

 

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

Scripture: John 16:22

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

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

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

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

  – Anne Ownbey – Black Mountain, North Carolina

 

 

 

 

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

Scripture: Isaiah 43:18–19

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Chris Suerdieck – Emmitsburg, Maryland

Lenten Devotional – Day 37 – The Pontiff’s Hat

Scripture: Psalm 30: 2–5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  – Gayle Fiser – Little Rock, Arkansas

 

 

 

 

 

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:55

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  – Norman Tippens – Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina

Lenten Devotional – Day 36 – Sitting with Suffering

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:55

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  – Norman Tippens – Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina

Lenten Devotional – Day 35 – From Sorrow to Gladness

Scripture: John 16:20

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

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

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

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

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

  – Tracy Porter – Pasadena, California

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

Scripture: John 16:22

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

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

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

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

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

  – Alvin Jenkins – Lenoir City, Tennessee

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 34 – The Unintended Detour of Divorce

Scripture: Psalm 139:1–3

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  – Anonymous – Henrico County, Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

What is Palm Sunday?

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

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

When is Palm Sunday?

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

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

Why is it observed?

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

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

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

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

How is it observed?

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

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

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

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 33 – Rainbows

Scripture: Psalm 30:4–5; 11–12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Carolyn P. Maness – Lynchburg, Virginia

Lenten Devotional – Day 32 – Why?

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

The Lord Saves Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Sam Ramirez – Lakeland, Florida

 

 

 

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

Scripture: Psalm 34:4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  – Youtha Hardman–Cromwell – Washington, DC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 30 – Witnessing Through the Ages

Scripture: Hebrews 12:1–2

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

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

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

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

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

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

  – Bob Brooks – Fredericksburg, Virginia

Lenten Devotional – Day 29 – Yesterdays

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1–5

A Time for Everything

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

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

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

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

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

  – Regina K. Carson – Chesterfield, Virginia

 

 

Lenten Devotional – The Fifth Sunday in Lent – Asking Why

Scripture: Isaiah 43:1–2

Israel’s Only Savior

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

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

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

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

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

– Andi Lehman – Hernando, Mississippi

 

 

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

Scripture: Romans 15:13

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

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

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

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

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

  – Deb Broadwater – Moneta, Virginia

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 27 – Tribulation’s Joy

Scripture: Hebrews 12:2

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

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

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

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

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

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

– H. O. Tom Thomas – Forest, Virginia

Lenten Devotional – Day 26 – From Heartache to Happiness

Scripture: Jeremiah 31:13

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

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

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

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

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

– Julie Erickson – Olathe, Kansas

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 25 – The Perspective of Foolishness

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:18

Christ Crucified Is God’s Power and Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

– Marc Brown – Amherst, Virginia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 24 – Happy Birthday?

Scripture: John 10:10

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

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

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

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

Life is good!

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

– Susie Brack – South Hill, Virginia

Lenten Devotional – Day 23 – Afterward

Scripture: 2 Kings 4:8–37

The Shunammite’s Son Restored to Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s all right,” she said.

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

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

“Everything is all right,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jacob Sahms – Midlothian, Virginia

 

Lenten Devotional – The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Joy

Scripture: Luke 23:43

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

I had a friend who was, for a second time, diagnosed with cancer. She took the information hard, but having beat cancer before, she had a determined mind to do it again. As she took each chemo treatment, she prayed and visualized Jesus holding the medicine as it was delivered into her body. She used alternative methods as well, by asking me to give her healing touch treatments. After each treatment she felt more relaxed and hopeful.

As time passed it grew clear to her that this time she was not going to win against the cancer. She told me at one of the last treatments, “I don’t want you to feel you have failed me.” I gave her a hug and wondered why she was concerned about me, when she was the one who was dying.

Seeing her for the last time in her bed, I thought how beautiful she appeared. I felt a peaceful joy come over me that I believe she gave me.
Years later, I read this quote from Willem ten Boom, “Of course we should be happy… A child of God is a citizen of heaven and the attitude of a Christian must be one of praise when someone has died. Our grief…would just be one of selfishness on our part, of grieving for the sake of ourselves.”

Prayer: Dear Father, help us remember who we are. That as your children, we have your promise of life with you in paradise.

– Kris Bertsch – Wanatah, Indiana

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 22 – The Journey of Life

Scripture: John 10:10

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

I really like Lent. I know it’s weird. I really like to dig deep into the journey of Christ leading up to Easter morning. It helps reveal my own “junk.” Lent helps me remember that life is a journey and this is a period of time where it’s okay to feel the pain and the hurt. It’s a time to not just let it all go, but to dig a little deeper and sit with the pain, hurt, and sorrow.

For the past several years I have been taking a photography journal during Lent. A photo a day with a one word focus. Every day is a different word, except every Sunday is “celebrate.” I love looking for the people, places, flowers, landscapes, sunsets, signs, or buildings that express the word of the day.

It helps me to remember it is Lent. And it moves me from digging into the deeper parts of pain and helps raise me up to find the abundance. For when I am seeking the word “refuge” I can see both the pain and the joy, not only in the word I’m pondering for the day but also in the picture that usually jumps out at me.

Lent is of both pain and of abundance. Where do you find yourself this Lent and how do you journey through?

Prayer: God of both pain and abundance, hold us close as we journey.

– Dawn Barnes – Indianapolis, Indiana

 

 

What the Bible Says About Gender, Marriage, Fornication, Adultery, Rape, Incest, Homosexuality, Bestiality, and Prostitution

Here is a rather comprehensive overview by Mark Driscoll concerning what the Bible says about a number of sexual topics and practices.

While such a broad and frank discussion may make some of us uncomfortable, it is important to realize that, despite recent events, what God has prescribed, and proscribed, in sexual matters is not limited or modified by our society’s changing fashions of what is acceptable practice.

Rather than attempting to rationalize our preferred practice as acceptable, our task as Christians is to follow God’s requirements, as outlined in His Word.


Positive Sexuality in the Old Testament

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Despite all the sexual sin, there are positive images of sexual love in the OT. “The most explicit affirmations of sexual pleasure are found in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. Several of the Proverbs, for example, are devoted to the theme of finding true sexual pleasure.

This theme is expressed both through warnings against seeking sexual fulfillment outside of marriage and through assertions concerning the delight that the married person should find in one’s spouse.

Above all, however, the Song of Songs is significant in this regard. . . . The book is best seen as an extended description of the celebrative dimension of sexuality. This literature is erotic in the positive sense of the term. It celebrates sexual pleasure and eros, the attractiveness that the lover finds in the beloved.”[31]

Throughout the most erotic book in the Bible, the Song of Songs, children are never mentioned, as the entire focus of the book is simply marital passion and pleasure. Pleasures in the Song of Songs include kissing (1:2), oral/fellatio—her initiative (2:3), manual stimulation—her invitation (2:6), erotic massage—his initiative (4:5), oral/cunnilingus—his initiative (4:12–5:1), striptease (6:13–7:9), and new places and positions, including outdoors—her initiative (7:11–13).

Traditionally, Christians have derived their marriage and sexuality teaching from the words of Christ and the apostles, but it should be recognized that these New Testament teachings are built on the teachings of the Old Testament.

Sex In the Teachings of Jesus and the New Testament

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In the New Testament, we find that the design of God in creation for human sexuality is simply assumed, as is what constitutes a violation of God’s design. “Jesus understood the stories about the creation of humans in Gen. 1-2 not merely as descriptive but also as texts that supplied a prescriptive model for subsequent human sexual behavior (Mark 10:6-9; Matt. 19:4-6, 8b).

This is clear from his remark ‘From the beginning of creation it was not so’ (cf. Mark 10:6; Matt. 19:8). It is also clear from his back-to-back citations of Gen. 1:27 (‘The Creator “made them male and female”’) and 2:24 (NRSV: ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined [attached, glued] to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’).

Jesus did not emphasize the openness of creation to change but rather a binding standard that critiqued all postcreation compromises. Malachi (2:15-16) may be making a similar normative allusion to Gen. 2:24, though there are difficult translation issues: ‘Did he [God] not make [you/them] one? . . . Do not act faithlessly against the wife of your youth. If one hates and divorces . . . , he covers his garment with violence.’”[32]

Ultimately, Jesus intensifies sexual ethics. Contrary to the Jewish context of easy-divorce in his day, Jesus warns that illegitimate divorce and remarriage is adultery (Matt 5:32). This would also preclude polygyny (several wives). “The underlying principle is that having two wives rather than one constitutes adultery.

If this applies even when the husband thinks he has dissolved the prior union, then it certainly applies to a union not yet dissolved in the husband’s eyes.”[33] Jesus also included lust as adultery of the heart (Matt 5:28). “Jesus expands the reach of God’s will, from regulating outward behavior to interiorizing the demand as well.”[34]

Other issues such as homosexuality (Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9, 1 Tim 1:10; Jude 1:7) and prostitution (1 Cor 6:15-16) are mentioned in the NT as well. The intent for all those in Christ is purity and redemption from sexual sin (1 Cor 6:9-11; Eph 5:3; 1 Pet 4:1-4).

Jesus’ Forgives and Heals Sexual Sin

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Jesus brings grace and healing for the sexual brokenness of humanity. In a fallen world, no one perfectly fits the creational design for human sexuality.

Virtually all have some measure of sexual brokenness. Because of the work of Christ on the cross, all sexual sin is forgiven for those who are in Christ. Further, Jesus’ resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit offer hope even now to grow and become more sexually whole in Christ.

In the New Testament we also learn that human sexuality paints one of the most poignant pictures of God’s relationship with his people. In the Old Testament, Israel is repeatedly portrayed as a wayward lover of God, who had redeemed her.

In the New Testament, the church is referred to as Christ’s bride (e.g., Rev 19:7), and Paul explains that the one-flesh union of man and woman mentioned in Genesis is a picture of Christ and his church (Eph 5:31).

In the Bible we find a divinely created pattern for marriage and sex, but we also find it violated repeatedly throughout human history. God does not leave things broken, however, and is always at work redeeming the sin, wounds, and brokenness involved in human sexuality.

By way of summary, one scholar offers the following six points for a biblical approach to sex:

  • Those functions founded in the unfallen created order that God proclaimed good (Gen. 1:31) may be seen as normative for matters touching theological ethics.
  • Sin came as a result of the fall, introducing a distortion of the created order and fostering enmity and alienation where none had previously existed.
  • That distortion brought with it not only alienation from God, but also alienation from other human beings (Gen. 4:10-14) and from one’s self (Rom. 7:15-24).
  • Sin has also introduced a distortion into all social relationships, including those between men and women (Gen. 3:16).
  • Redemption attempts to remove or rectify the alienation introduced by the fall, restoring humankind to fellowship with God (Rom. 5:12-21; Eph. 2:1-22) and with itself (Isa. 2:1-5; Mic. 4:1-7).
  • The community of the redeemed is charged with modeling in itself the fruits of redemption and with laboring to bring about the redemption of the world.[35]

God Can Cleanse What Sex Has Stained

People-man-praise

As I pastor, I have met with people guilty of every sexual sin mentioned in this chapter. It breaks people, ruins families, affects generations, and is heartbreakingly serious for anyone who loves people. You as well are likely guilty of some of the sins you’ve just read about, and perhaps feel dirty as a result.

Throughout the Bible, some dozen words are used to speak of sin in terms of staining our soul, defiling us, and causing us to be filthy or unclean.[36]

The effect of sin, particularly sins committed against us, is that we feel dirty. This explains why rape victims often take a shower after their assault, as both their body and soul long for cleansing.

Perhaps the most common cause of defilement in Scripture is sexual sin. Genesis 34:5 speaks of a young woman named Dinah who was raped and thus “defiled.” First Chronicles 5:1 speaks of incest between a stepmother and her adult stepson and that “he [Reuben] defiled his father’s [Jacob’s] couch.”

Referring to adultery, Numbers 5:27 says, ”she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband.” Speaking of prostitution, which includes stripping and exchanging sexual favors for gifts, Leviticus 21:14 names such women among the “defiled.”

As a Christian, our identity must only be marked by what Jesus Christ has done for us; it is no longer marked by what has been done by or to us.

To explain this, the Bible uses concepts such as atonement, cleansing, and a purifying fountain:

  • “For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins.”[37]
  • “I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.”[38]
  • “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.”[39]

On the cross, Jesus dealt with the sin that has stained our soul. Jesus both forgave our sins at the cross, and cleanses us from all of the sins that we have committed, and all of the sins that have been committed against us. In Christ we are new, clean, and able to live new, clean lives. God loves you and is always there to help you.

Footnotes

[1] Gen. 1:28.

[2] Robert A. J. Gagnon, “Sexuality,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 739.

[3] Gen. 2:24.

[4] Mark 10:6–8.

[5] Eph. 5:31.

[6] Tikva Frymer-Kensky, “Sex and Sexuality,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1144.

[7] Stanley Grenz, Sexual Ethics: A Biblical Perspective (Dallas: Word, 1990), 82.

[8] Gen. 2:18-25.

[9] Gen. 2:18-25.

[10] Gen. 24:1–67.

[11] Gen. 24:67.

[12] Gen. 29:20.

[13] Gen. 4:18-24.

[14] Gen. 29:14–29.

[15] Gen. 16:1-16.

[16] Gen. 29:31–30:24.

[17] Gen. 6:1–2.

[18] Gen. 26:34–35.

[19] Gen. 29:31.

[20] Gen. 21:8–14.

[21] Gen. 23:1–2 and 25:1.

[22] Frymer-Kensky, “Sex,” 1144.

[23] Frymer-Kensky, “Sex,” 1145.

[24] Martin Noth, Leviticus, rev. ed., Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977), 136.

[25] Williams, “Sexuality,” 731.

[26] Gen. 16:3.

[27] Gen. 2:18; Matt. 19:4-6.

[28] Gen. 4:19–24.

[29] Gen. 25:28, 27:1–45, 35:22, 38:18–28; 2 Sam. 3:2–5, 13:1–29, 15:1–18:33; I Kings 11:1–4.

[30] 1 Tim. 3:2, 12.

[31] Grenz, Sexual Ethics, 70–71.

[32] Gagnon, “Sexuality,” 740.

[33] Ibid., 741.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Williams, “Sexuality,” 727.

[36] Psalm 106:39; Prov. 30:11–12; Mark 7:20.

[37] Lev. 16:30.

[38] Jer. 33:8.

[39] Zech. 13:1.

 

Don’t compare apples and oranges

Here is a short article by Rebekah Simon-Peter describing what did, and didn’t, happen at our UMC’s recent special General Conference.


Satan offered Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world. Tempting indeed for a person who was here to proclaim the Kingdom. Yet what Jesus meant by “kingdom” and what Satan meant were two entirely different things. Jesus had to have understood the difference. Otherwise, he would have succumbed to a soul-killing temptation.

Just as Jesus had to be clear about meaning, and to not project his understanding of Kingdom onto Satan’s, so we have to be clear about the meaning we ascribe to words. And to not project our personal definitions onto someone else’s words. Otherwise it’s like comparing apples and oranges and finding oranges wanting because they are lousy apples.

The Traditional Plan and the One Church Plan had different meanings for different General Conference constituents. From what I gather, many delegates who voted for the Traditional Plan were not voting against gays. Rather, they were voting for something else. Likewise, many delegates who voted for the One Church Plan weren’t voting against biblical authority. Rather, they were voting for something else.

Some people are saying, “The United Methodist Church now rejects gays.” But is that what happened at General Conference? That depends on who you ask.

I have to admit that as a One Church Plan proponent, I didn’t get why people would vote for the Traditional Plan since the OCP seemed to allow space and grace for theological differences.

So, I asked around amongst my friends and colleagues who supported the Traditional Plan. This is what I found:

  • One friend and colleague believes that the church moves forward only when it is countercultural. John Wesley challenged the culture of his time. Martin Luther challenged the culture of his time. Thus, my friend believes that we must challenge the culture of our time.
  • Another friend supports the Traditional Plan because she feels it supports a deep reverence for God and the Scriptures.
  • A third colleague believes that God alone wills human sexuality and that the will of God is delineated through the creation, and union, of Adam and Eve, which was male and female, and thus heterosexual.

When I polled One Church Plan proponents, here is what I found:

  • One friend supported the One Church Plan because her interpretation of the Bible prioritizes Jesus’ first and second commandments (to love God with our whole being, and our neighbor as ourselves) above any passages related to sexuality.
  • Another colleague supported it because of his understanding that our United Methodist baptismal covenant welcomes all people — regardless of sexual orientation — into the fullness of the life of Christ, and the fullness of the life of the church.
  • A third friend and colleague supported the One Church Plan because it would allow United Methodists the freedom to follow their conscience as they minister with the love of Christ in their various settings.

It is tempting to use either Traditional Plan or One Church Plan rationales as justifications to bolster your arguments for why supporters of the plan you didn’t support are wrong. I get it. I’m quite capable of falling prey to the same temptation.

Here’s the thing, though. Making them wrong victimizes both you and them. Because it’s an “against” position. In the law of emotional triangles, what goes around comes around. Victimizing others because you feel victimized simply reinforces victimization. Jesus put it this way: Judge not lest you be judged. This is a spiritual temptation that will not get us where we want to go, assuming that where we want to go is Christlike love.

A few caveats:

  • First, to be sure, some folks did vote against gays and some folks did vote against biblical authority.
  • Second, regardless of why people voted the way they did, votes have unintended consequences which can do great harm.
  • Third, I am not urging anyone to leave the denomination or to stay. That choice is between you and God. What I am doing is encouraging us to expand our powers of emotional intelligence as we traverse this Lenten journey.

Want to act instead of react? Step out of the emotional triangle and self-differentiate. Have the courage and clarity to say what you are for instead of simply reacting against what you oppose. In other words, lead with vision and not from reaction.

Self-differentiation is a key ingredient of emotional intelligence. Jesus shows us how it’s done. Notice that Jesus didn’t fight Satan in the desert, or even quarrel with him. Instead, Jesus simply articulated his own vision again and again. It’s what allowed him to emerge unscathed from his 40-day journey through the desert.

How will your 40-day journey go?

Dear Liturgical Churches: Please Pay Your Musicians Fairly

Here is an interesting article by Jonathan Aigner, who takes time to outline his thoughts concerning what a full-time Church Organist should be paid.

We are always quick to recognize that the appropriate salary for a part-time organist in a smaller local Church, with fewer job requirements and responsibilities, would logically be less, depending on what those duties actually are.

The article is helpful in quantifying what the position is worth, if only to realize how much of a “gift” the musician is actually, if not wholly voluntarily, making to the Church, week after week.

  • What about your local Church? 

What proportion of the article’s job requirements and responsibilities do you require?

How much do you pay your organist in relation to what Aigner outlines?   Half?  A quarter?  Less?

If thinking about your local Church’s situation makes you uncomfortable, perhaps you should have a word with your Finance Committee!


I’m a member of a few Facebook groups for professional musicians, and every once in a while someone will share a job posting for a choir director or an organist or a church music director.

Obviously, I would think this is a good thing. I’m glad there are still opportunities for people like me in churches that value good liturgical music over the jesusy pop fluff that has taken over many churches.

There was a troubling detail hidden in this post, though, and that’s why I bring this up. My goal isn’t to embarrass anyone, so I won’t reveal this particular congregation, but it was a relatively large mainline Protestant church in a major US city with an above-average cost of living index of 113.4 for this year. By the way, in this major metropolitan area, according to salary.com, the average salary for an Administrative Assistant is $40,663.

Just keep that in mind while you read about this particular position.

Responsibilities include:

  • Conduct and administer the training choir for the Community Choristers program.
  • Assist the DOM in rehearsing the RSCM choristers.  (7 rehearsals per week.)
  • Substitute for the DOM or ADOM in rehearsals and services when away.
  • Recruit, maintain, and direct the handbell choir seasonally.
  • Oversee maintenance of bells and equipment, and handbell music library.
  • Staff singer in all choirs.
  • Assist in administering a large-scale chorister program, both Day School and after school, including: recruitment, collection of yearly fees, rehearsal logs, rosters, communication with parents of choristers, maintain attendance and calendar, vestment & folder maintenance, holding auditions, training etc.
  • Assist at all choral rehearsals including choristers and adults as needed.
  • Collect payments, coordinate lesson registrations, and scheduling for church music school.
  • Maintain music portions of church and school websites.
  • Copyright and recordings manager (shared with DOM).
  • Record keeper for finances, attendance, staff payroll.
  • Proofreader for bulletins and communications (shared).
  • Maintain choir library (assisted by volunteers).
  • Assist in preparing and maintaining contracts for staff and guest musicians.
  • Organist for the 7:30 a.m. liturgy on Sundays.
  • Substitute organist on Saturdays & Sundays as needed.
  • Substitute organist for funerals and weddings.

Required skills:

  • At least a bachelor’s degree in Music, preferably choral or organ music.
  • Experienced choral ensemble singer.
  • Strong Experience working with youth choirs.
  • Experience working with choirs of all ages.
  • Well-organized and task-oriented administration skills.
  • Computer desktop publishing skills.
  • Ability to lead hymns from the organ.

Preferred skills:

  • Master’s degree in Music, choral or organ.
  • Strong keyboard skills as an organist.
  • Experience working with youth in an RSCM-style choral program.
  • Experience with music administration.

Not only is this list more than one person could reasonably handle, it gets worse.The salary range is $40 to $45K per year.

So let me get this straight. You want an educated and experienced professional, an organist and choral director who is capable of accompanying services, directing choirs, doing admin busy work, who will constantly practice to maintain their skills, and who will work every weekend and on all Christian holidays, and you want to pay him or her like a secretary?

If this is all the budget space you can manage, you really should be looking for more volunteers.

There are mountainous regions of the country where this salary range might be adequate. Or maybe if there was a housing allowance in addition to the salary. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. This is a city in which the cost of living is well above average.

Now, there may be some of you who are thinking this really isn’t a big deal. They’re going into church work, so money really shouldn’t be much of a priority. Heck, there are some folks that don’t think we should be paid at all.

But these are people who have invested at least tens of thousands of their own dollars in learning their craft, and likely more than that. They likely started training for their vocation since their early childhood, and continue doing so throughout their professional lives. They are people who need a safe place to call home, healthy meals, and reliable transportation. Like you, many have spouses, children for whom they nurture dreams.  They hope to be able to put some away for the other end of our lives, as well.

And they’re people who have dedicated their lives to service in the church.

Listen, none of us expect to get rich. We’re not asking for a huge payday. We simply need to be paid fairly, with the opportunity to take care of ourselves and our families.

And, churches, if you don’t pay your musicians fairly, the day will come when you’re going to run out of qualified candidates. It’s already happening. Organ and choral music tracks are disappearing from music schools. The number of MSM programs in the US is in the single digits. Before you know it, they may disappear completely. The pool of qualified candidates will run dry. No longer will children grow up learning the tradition of sacred music, and none of them will arise to use their gifts in the service of the liturgy.

Then you’ll be forced to hire some guy with skinny jeans and a six-string Ovation who thinks he’ll be the next Chris Tomlin. You’ll pay him like it’s a gig. With no one able to direct them, your choirs will disband. The organs will fall silent, collecting dust until they’re scrapped altogether. Your liturgy will become a mini rock concert by the house cover band. Your congregation will go from participants in liturgy to casual observers of knock-off entertainment.

And then you’ll be really sorry.

Lenten Devotional – Day 21 – All She Could Do Was Sing

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:55 –

“Where, O death, is your victory?
  Where, O death, is your sting?”

One evening at choir practice a woman told the other members about her sister in New England who had suffered a stroke. She had just returned from visiting her sister in the hospital.

The woman had been told by a nurse that the part of the brain that controls speech had been damaged, but not the part that controls the ability to sing. She had learned that her sister would probably not be able to speak plainly again. But, she would be able to sing.

The choir members’ concern for our member’s sister suddenly turned from sorrow to hope and joy when they learned that whenever the sister needed anything she just had to sing out.

Easter is the song that triumphs over death’s inability to silence the love and grace of God.

Prayer: God of grace, whose son died for our sins, may we like he triumph over the darkness of this world that seeks in vain to silence us. Amen.

  – Norman Tippens – Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina

Lenten Devotional – Day 20 – Breaking Away

Scripture:  Ecclesiastes 3:1

A Time for Everything

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

Reflecting on more my than 30 years of ordained ministry, there always is some sorrow as one ministry concludes and another begins.  Following the leading of God’s Spirit, I gradually grew a parachurch ministry which became known to a small circle of followers as “BreakAway.” I sought support and funding from various sources.

In 2013, my ministry partners and I launched “BreakAway Ministry” fulltime and were renting storefront space in downtown Valparaiso, Indiana. By 2016 the season for this unique downtown ministry had come to a close. God’s still-speaking voice had called me onward to a new form of ministry in rural Indiana.

Moving out of our rental space, shutting down a Facebook page, obtaining a new email address, dis-assembling our webpage, printing hard copies of a three year weekly inspirational blog, thanking our donors, and saying “good-bye” to those who had shared a BreakAway journey with us… carried some sorrow.

BreakAway lived for three years and sustained countless people on a spiritual journey who may never find their way back into the organized church again. As I recall… Jesus ministered for just three years. And then he died… and rose again … and the gift of the Holy Spirit continues to touch lives  long after just those three years. Our memories of a three-year ministry are always tinged with joy and gladness as we reflect on them now.

Prayer: Oh God, you are the one who enables us to break away from whatever holds us back. Amen.

  – Victoria S. Ubben – Wanatah, Indiana

Lenten Devotional – Day 19 – Tomorrow is Another Day…

Scripture:  Isaiah 41:10

10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Several years ago, my employer was unexpectedly diagnosed with leukemia.  Having no family history of cancer, and given his outstanding good health, this came as a shock. As his personal assistant, I had become very close to him and his family. Our staff watched him struggle through chemo and radiation, only to succumb to the disease in less than nine months.

We were devastated when he died – we had lost a true friend, not to mention the uncertainty of our jobs and how this loss would affect our families. While still in the throes of grieving, his replacement moved in to take over the reins. As it happened, he invigorated us, keeping us on and raising our spirits.  He helped us help him into his new role, breathing new life into the office. After the downcast mood from previous months, we were renewed and inspired to get back to work.

In the midst of our sadness, we found hope, encouragement, and satisfaction.  Things were not the same; we were working harder than ever, but it was what we, or at least I – needed to get through the bad times. We were given a new lease on our work lives and given new meaning for what we were trying to accomplish.

Prayer: Almighty God – give strength and hope to those coping with loss.  Help us remember that you sent your son to live among us and that you are ever present to guide us through dark times to brighter days. Amen.

  – Kathi Wise – McLean, Virginia

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 18 – Beautiful Feet

Scripture:  Romans 10:14–15

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Do you have beautiful feet?

Like the Devil in the musical “Damn Yankees”, I always wear shoes and avoid open sandals because I have a corn on one foot and an ugly nail on the other. But recently I discovered that I have beautiful feet.

This spring my wife and I attended a funeral service of a former parishioner.  There were many family members and friends gathered by the grave but I
didn’t see our current pastor. Instead, Ellen’s sister led the service. When she invited others to witness, I hesitated but felt led to share how much Ellen had meant to us at church, her kindness to me and my wife, her two nieces, and the little children on her school bus. Her sister then said something that I did not hear clearly.

Later my wife told me that she had said, “He’s the preacher who led Ellen to Christ.”  In over 40 years of ordained ministry and as an adjunct seminary
professor who has taught dozens of men and women who now preach the Gospel, I have been blessed and honored in many ways. But I had never heard anyone say that about me – that I had led them to Christ.

You don’t have to be a preacher to share the Good News of God’s love in Christ.  You too can have beautiful feet.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to be beautiful messengers of your grace and mercy. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

  – William Nash “Bill” Wade | Strasburg, Virginia

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 17 – There is Always Hope

Scripture:  Ecclesiastes 3:1–8

A Time for Everything

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

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

There were so many moments of loneliness as I served Jesus for eight years in Eastern Europe. There were days and nights when I said to myself, “What am I doing here?” “Am I really making a difference?” Now I say, “Why did I fret? Why did I worry? Why was I ever concerned about being alone as I grew older and wondered if I would die alone someday?

Today, the man of my dreams proposed to me on the top of a mountain in Northern Maine. He put his arm around me as his drone captured the scene and said, “So, what’s the chance you’ll marry me?” I was so mesmerized by the beauty of the ring that I was speechless. Yes, I have been blessed by the Lord with the man of my dreams. At the ripe old age of 55, I will finally marry.

The older we get, the more we realize how life brings emotional seasons of feasting and of famine, times of sorrow and times of joy. (Ecclesiastes 3:1–8)  Through it all, however, we will keep our eyes on the Lord and focus on the hope that we have in him.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for being my Creator and Sustainer. The future is unknown and so uncertain. Only you can see it. When tough times return, may I always remember you. Yes, “even then your powerful arm will guide and protect me.” (Psalm 139:10)

– Cindy B. – North Brookfield, Massachusetts

Lenten Devotional – The Third Sunday in Lent – Discipline Through Love and a Stroke…

Scripture: John 16:33

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Nearly three years ago, at age 39, I had a stroke. One morning I didn’t wake up and “slept” for three days. In three short days, God turned my life completely upside down. I had to give up my position as a full-time office manager and take a less demanding part-time position. This meant that my pay was cut more than half. My husband and I were worried about taking care of our family. When I look back on that year, it was full of pain and frustration. I cried to God almost every day.

Through all of this, God was gently but forcefully trying to get me to a place where he could use me. Looking back, I see that he was trying to pull me along a little faster than I was going at the time. He LOVED me so much, that he was willing to work with me.

In the years since the stroke, I have grown so much closer to him. I have “matured” more in those years than I had in the previous 39! I look back now
and realize that it was not anything but pure love that brought me through that tough time, and it was from God. Knowing that God’s love and grace was with me even in my desperate times has changed my view of my life with him – it is now a life of joy!

Prayer: Lord, please help me to see all of my trials and misfortunes as temporary, knowing you have overcome them all. Amen.

  – Jana Sperandio – Connellsville, Pennsylvania

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 16 – Unexpected Joy

Scripture:  Matthew 5:4

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

Our granddaughter was born, and then, just weeks later her father, our son, was diagnosed with cancer.  As medical testing progressed, we learned that it was a very serious lymphoma which might not ultimately be treatable.

At the same time, it was becoming clear that my wife and I needed to leave our comfortable church home of 30 years. To top it all off, a person absolutely central to my hunger ministry was making my work life very difficult.

It was a true “dark night of the soul” time. I don’t think God visited all these ills upon me. In fact I drew nearer to God in the midst of these trials.  God’s good graces in the form of family, friends, prayer, medical technology, and spiritual direction saw us through.

And when the season of suffering had passed, with my son’s health restored, and a vibrant new church home, I even found new vigor for my work life. Now I know joy and gladness in ways I could not before. Each and every day is a gift.

Prayer: Faithful God, thank you for bearing us up in times of suffering. Be with us and see us through into a season of gladness.  Amen.

  – Dave Miner – Indianapolis, Indiana

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 15 – Desert to Garden

Scripture:  Psalm 119:50

50 My comfort in my suffering is this:
    Your promise preserves my life.

“One morning you’ll wake up and realize you haven’t thought of your father in an entire day and feel incredibly guilty,” my friends said. “And that’s okay.”  We were having dinner after my father passed away, many years ago. I was a bit past 30 at the time and hadn’t experienced much grief – my own or others’. My father was the first person I’d ever really lost and I was sick with grief. This group of friends each had lost a parent at younger ages, and they told me I was part of their club now. Not the happiest club to join, obviously, but the friendship and their counsel helped.

They were right. At first, grief washed over me in waves, when driving, singing a hymn, or shopping.  Gradually I went longer periods without feeling grief. I could more often think of my father (a very smart  and funny man) and remember his silly jokes, his gardening wisdom, and his ability to bring birds to his feeders. The loss was still there, but the overwhelming sadness faded. One morning I did wake up and feel incredible guilt for not grieving constantly. And then I went about my day.

Now, my vegetable and flower gardens filled with flowers, birds, and butterflies are a tribute to my father. He’s still with me. Out of sadness, peace can follow.

Prayer: Faithful God, keep me ever mindful that even in the dry, dark periods, new life is born.

  – Jean Blish Siers – Charlotte, North Carolina

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 14 – Joy in the Mourning

Scripture:  Psalm 30

A psalm. A song for the dedication of the temple of David.

I will exalt you, Lord,
    for you lifted me out of the depths
    and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
Lord my God, I called to you for help,
    and you healed me.
You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
    you spared me from going down to the pit.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.

When I felt secure, I said,
    “I will never be shaken.”
Lord, when you favored me,
    you made my royal mountain[c] stand firm;
but when you hid your face,
    I was dismayed.

To you, Lord, I called;
    to the Lord I cried for mercy:
“What is gained if I am silenced,
    if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
    Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
    Lord, be my help.”

11 You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

On a beautiful October Saturday, 31 years ago, my lovely bride Carol and I were joined in holy matrimony in Marsh Chapel at her alma mater, Boston University. The day before, my father died. If you think that sentence was abrupt, try living through it…yikes! While there were some very difficult moments, God’s presence, through Carol, brought me much joy, not unlike how Rebekah comforted Isaac after his mother’s death (Genesis 24:67).

It was, however, a full ten years before I could get through that time of year without a bout of sadness for the loss of both parents (mom died six years before dad, when I was 19). Once again, God worked through my lovely bride, gently shifting my focus from the time I lost, to the time I had with  them. This view has helped me find joy every autumn since.

Even today, bad things happen. As I write this, I’m still recovering from the horrific abuse I suffered at the hands of an organization I worked with a
few years ago. But the memories of times when God brought me joy, combined with Carol’s continued loving presence, are slowly helping me find a new perspective. And even if it takes another ten years, I have faith that joy will come in the morning.

Prayer: Gracious Jesus, of whom the church is your bride, may the memories of times you helped us be a source of sustenance and healing in present
difficulties. Amen!

  – Charlie Stribula – Woodbridge, Virginia

Lenten Devotional – Day 13 – A Bedtime Story

Scripture:  Psalm 63:5–7

I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
    with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.

Christian tradition assigns 40 days to the season of Lent. But for some, Lent with its somber tones, spans a much longer length of time that doesn’t rest on any calendar. Life’s unexpected losses, unrelenting griefs, unanticipated despair, and unacceptable hardships all conspire to delete any glimmer of joy.

When I was appointed to serve churches 200-plus miles from where my husband and then teenaged son lived, I entered a personal Lent which began the moment they left for home that first time. Many a night I cried, but only God heard me. Then one evening while lying in bed, I looked up and saw that the ceiling fan which had four blades resembled a cross. Immediately I realized the ceiling fan/cross over me signaled Christ’s gracious presence with me always.  And in that very moment, resurrection joy began to feed my weary heart, mind, and spirit.

Lent may be for a season, and as I learned, anyone can be in their own time of Lent. Yet as surely as God moves in mysterious ways, may it be that when any of us meditates in the watches of the night, our soul will be satisfied—and sustained.

Prayer: Gracious One, help us to trust that you are always with us in the presence of Christ Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit during this Lent and at any other time of Lent in our lives. Amen.

– Chris Suerdieck – Emmitsburg, Maryland

Lenten Devotional – Day 12 – I’ll Meet You in the Morning

Scripture:  1 Thessalonians 4:13

Believers Who Have Died

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

Laughter, music, praise, and testimony; we were having a wonderful time at church that day. We were also in the process of saying “Good bye” to my dad and laying him to rest.

Some people may not have understood what was going on – after all, they had come to a funeral. So I tried to explain: “I’ve shared this passage from First Thessalonians so many times at other funerals I’ve presided over; some people understood, though many did not. But, if my words to them are to hold true, more importantly, if my faith in God and his word is real, then I cannot grieve like those who have no hope.

My dad lived a life of loving service. He passed his faith onto his children and made sure we were living our faith – not just riding on his coattails. I miss
him every day. Yet, our Lord’s death and resurrection gives me the assured hope that I will see my dad again one day.

If you had come to my dad’s memorial service, you might have thought you had come to a church celebration. You would have been right.

Prayer: Loving Father, remind us again that, if this season means anything, we have the hope-filled promise of new life through the death and resurrection of your son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

  – Joe Phipps – Fairfield, Iowa

Lenten Devotional – Day 11 – Joy in the Midst of Sorrow

Scripture:  Psalm 30:4–5, 11–12

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.

11 You turned my wailing into dancing;
    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

When we married on a beautiful day in May 1986, the service was joyful, filled with music, scripture, and Holy Communion, as well as sacred promises and hope-filled vows. Harold’s dad was best man and my oldest sister was honor attendant. Harold’s children and my younger brother and sister were in our wedding party along with childhood friends, college and seminary classmates, and ministry colleagues. We were surrounded in the filled sanctuary by extended family, friends, colleagues, and church members from all the seasons of our lives.

But shadows also fell across that day, Harold’s mother had died of her husband, children, and grandchildren. In April, my father was diagnosed with a terminal metastasized cancer that would take his life three months later and had already robbed him of most mobility. We contemplated different scenarios from postponing the ceremony, to changing the location to my hometown, but in the end my parents wanted us to go ahead as we had planned, though neither he nor my mother were able to be with us that day.

I remember talking with my parents that morning on the phone.  Afterward I stood weeping in the embrace of friends. And then, with a glad heart, gathering everything I needed, I went to the church.

Prayer: Loving, holy God, we thank you that Christ can transform our tears of dark grief into a dawning joy. Amen.

  – Kathleen Overby Webster – Roanoke, Virginia

 

Lenten Devotional – The Second Sunday in Lent – Crushed

Scripture: Psalm 34:18

18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Lent for me is a time of reflection and learning. As I look back, I can see the periods of light and dark – like shadows and sunlight in a forest. One of the darkest stretches I ever faced was the sudden loss of a job that I dearly loved.

The end was swift and incredibly cruel in its delivery. To say that I was crushed in spirit would be quite the understatement. During that time, I penned these words on my blog: the situation created a massive breakdown in the way that I valued myself. It caused a tremendous wave of self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness. And it didn’t matter how often friends around me said “God has something better in store for you”.

I felt like a horrible and failed person.  And that took me to some very dark places in my mind.  Several times I thought about ending my pain in a very permanent way.

But the Lord was near – even when I couldn’t recognize it. He saved the crushed in spirit.

Circumstances led me to new jobs that were actually more aligned with my desire to help people. And just like stepping into the sunlight from shade – I moved into a new season. And I know the Lord is near in this season too.

Prayer: Lord, be ever near. Even when I am too broken to feel your presence – help me know you are here.

  – Chris Howell – Lynchburg, Virginia

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 10 – Season of Joy and Gladness

Scripture:  Luke 10:27

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Are you kidding?  After a death?  After divorce?  After failure?

We all experience misery of some kind, even a conversation with a friend gone sour. Sadness and special kinds of raw pain occur during life’s difficult events. It most likely robs our energy and can even feel like falling deeper and deeper into despair!

So what’s the plan? Do something? Yes! Face the pain and listen for the healing. I think it sneaks up on us:

…the sun comes up so we can choose to take a walk…

…we call a friend and a conversation allows us to share what’s in our heart,

…new insight comes into our thoughts and spirit

Despite our despair, the love of Jesus carries us even further and the healing can begin! That “truth and peace” IS Jesus…as Zachariah speaks in apocalyptic terms…to rebuild the Temple…It is (or can become!) the “Day of the Lord” and gladness pushes in!

“Fasting” (not just with food) in the scripture can lead us into a “time out” from a routine that is now full of sadness…but ever so slowly we move into that new “season of Joy”…even though it is never easy.

Prayer: Dear God, you know our feelings and you provide joy! Help us to embrace the joy and allow you to deal with our suffering. We love you. Take our suffering and turn it into “truth and peace.” Amen.

  – Lesley Green Huffaker – Coronado, California

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 9 – Service Brings Joy

Scripture: James 2:14–17

Faith and Deeds

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

When I got divorced and left my job and home, I went through a long period of darkness. I kept to myself, doing what I needed to do to get by and do the best I could for my young daughter.

I knew I was starting to feel better the day I signed up to do the Scholastic reading program for her daycare. I know it’s a little thing, but helping her school was, well, helping! In my case, I served when I had enough strength to give back. But it also gave me more strength to keep on. Because service gives us life.

I’m guessing you’ve done some kind of service project before in your life. I’m guessing you even enjoyed it! I mean, your back may have hurt the next day, but it feels good to do something for someone else. It feels good to do a tangible thing that you know will help someone who needs it.

God made it to work that way. God designed us to find joy, to find LIFE in giving to each other, sharing with each other, caring for each other. Because, remember, God made us in God’s own image. And God enjoys giving to us, sharing with us, caring for us, and so gave us a bit of that same trait when mixing our human ingredients together.

Prayer: God who delights in giving, we are grateful for opportunities to serve you and your children. Thank you for creating us to feel joy when we do. Amen.

  – Jeannie Hunter – Nashville, Tennessee

Lenten Devotional – Day 8 – A Time to Laugh

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:4 and Zechariah 8:19

Ecclesiastes 3:4
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

Zechariah 8:19
19 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.”

It was a hard few years. My father abandoned us. My mother, sister, and I were doing all we could to put a roof over our head and food on the table. My mom, now a single mom with two teen-aged children, worked a full-time day job, a part-time night job, and a weekend job. I worked at a restaurant after school, for a janitorial service at night, and pumped gas on weekends (this was a while back!)

My sister babysat children and animals every chance she could. All the money went to make the house payments, utilities, and food. Clothes and other things came from the Salvation Army thrift store. Thank God for them!

In the midst of it all, we always made time to eat supper together. My mother would tell us, “This won’t last forever.” And it didn’t.

Several years later we were stable. Mom was working just one job, I was in college, and my sister was babysitting for “fun money.” We still had supper
together. One night my mom invited some friends who were like us—a single mom with two kids. We had pizza, games, and laughed all night. When they left, my mom said, “This was what I was living for. This is good.”

Prayer: Dear God, thanks for getting us through hard times so we may be able to celebrate with others. Amen.

  – Michael Henderson – Florence, South Carolina

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 7 – Rescued

Scripture: Psalm 16:1–2 – 

A miktam[a] of David.

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.”

 

When we were in our early 30’s, my husband Fred decided to go to college. I was a college graduate, and I was enthusiastic about the idea. I was, at the time, teaching kindergarten in a public school and Fred continued to work as many hours as possible.

Fred studied diligently, determined to do four years of college in three. Our occasions for “together time” were rare. As time passed, I began to feel overburdened by it all. I lost my appetite, became extremely anti-social, and very nervous, all of which was very embarrassing. One day I “hit a wall” and had to leave school early. I confided in the school principal, who was very helpful, understanding, and supportive.

I prayed a lot. Psalm 16, as well as other passages of scripture, were very helpful to me. Fred was understanding, in spite of his heavy personal load. Somehow, with God’s help, we made it through to college graduation! Once the pressure was off, I gradually regained my composure.

Since that time, I have lived joyfully, with thanksgiving to our God for his help and guidance. I have served the church in many capacities, having learned by experience how helpful God is in our everyday lives.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your ever-present help. I have no good apart from you. Amen.

  – Dodie Fauber | -ynchburg, Virginia

The Most Sinful States in America?

Here is a strange but interesting article by Gene Veith that is sure to provoke some conversation.


Researchers have attempted to quantify the sinfulness of the various states in the union.  Yes, this is absurd, as if one could measure the depravity of the human heart.  But the methodology, the findings, and the rankings are interesting nonetheless.

The researchers measured “Anger & Hatred” by looking at the violent crime rate, bullying statistics, child abuse cases, and “Share of Internet Comments that are Hostile” (!), among other factors.

Jealousy” was measured by the number of thefts per capita, the frequency of identity theft, and incidents of fraud.

Excesses & Vices” looked at the obesity rate, number of smokers, amount of alcohol drinking, amount of drug abuse, and even the amount of coffee drinking!  (How is that a vice?  Do I detect a Mormon influence?)

Greed“:  number of casinos per capita; share of gambling disorders; number of people convicted of embezzlement; rate of charitable giving.

Lust“:  use of online pornography; teen birth rate; number of arrests for prostitution.

Vanity“:  beauty salons per capita; plastic surgeries; money spent on personal care products.

Laziness“:  exercise rate; hours spent working; volunteer rate; hours watching TV; youth who are neither going to school nor working.

Here is the ranking, from Wallethub [go to the link to see how each state scored on each of the “sins”]:

1          Nevada

2          Florida

3          California

4          Texas

5          Tennessee

6          Louisiana

7          Georgia

8          Illinois

9          Michigan

10        Arizona

11        New Mexico

12        Oklahoma

13        Pennsylvania

14        Ohio

15        Alabama

16        Missouri

17        New Jersey

18        Arkansas

19        South Carolina

20        Washington

21        Virginia

22        Maryland

23        Delaware

24        New York

25        Mississippi

26        Colorado

27        North Carolina

28        Kentucky

29        West Virginia

30        Alaska

31        Indiana

32        Oregon

33        Massachusetts34        Montana

35        Kansas

36        Hawaii

37        Rhode Island

38        Connecticut

39        Minnesota

40        Wisconsin

41        South Dakota

42        New Hampshire

43        Utah

44        Wyoming

45        Iowa

46        Idaho

47        Nebraska

48        North Dakota

49        Maine

50        Vermont

Numbers 1-3, no surprises.  But who knew that the great state of Texas was so wicked?

What does it mean that so many “Bible belt” states rank so high on the iniquity scale?  It shouldn’t be too surprising to find much Christianity where there is much sin.  After all, as Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

What does it mean that so many predominantly Lutheran states rank towards the bottom of the sin scale?  Can it be that those who put the most emphasis on the role of good works in salvation produce the fewest of them, and that those who minimize the role of good works in salvation produce more of them?  Is this evidence that faith really does produce the fruit of virtue?

I would say that we should NOT draw too many theological conclusions from this research.  If we did, the predominantly secularist New Englanders–though perhaps upholding the moralism of their Puritan ancestors while trying to do without their faith–would appear to be the most righteous of all.

The point, though, is that this study is primarily about culture, economics, class, homogeneity, and regional histories.  It deals with external crimes and vices.  But it doesn’t get at what the Bible means by sin:  the condition of the human heart.  Our internal sinfulness can manifest itself in these external sins.  But it need not.

Thus, even upright, law-abiding, skinny citizens from Vermont who do not use personal care products are still sinners.

 

Illustration from WalletHub, who invited websites to embed the graphic, which shows the degree of “sin” by the darkness of the color.

Lenten Devotional – Day 6 – As Called, Equipped

Scripture: Matthew 6:33 – 

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Our first two years of adjustment to married life had been exciting, I’d say, comfortably eventful. We had experienced no trauma or crisis in our lives. We were satisfied and felt secure. My wife and I are both conservative and try to live within our means and budget. Now a problem began to show up. Try as we may, for some reason, we could no longer live within our means.

On my job, at that time, there would be no more money. What to do? After much praying and consultation, we were led to the fact that the only way for me to make more money was to better prepare myself and develop more skills.

At the age of 32, with very little money and no formal higher education, God was calling me to become an elementary educator. Now you know I wasn’t going to get rich there! However, my wife and I both are rich in friendships and lovely people. What a joy this experience has been, and continues to bring us both rich rewards for our efforts.

I received my degree in Elementary Education, my Masters in School Administration, and my Education Specialist Degree (EDS). When I retired, it was with 32.5 years of experience. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Thank you, God, that as you call us, you equip us. Amen.

  – Fred Fauber – Lynchburg, Virginia