Ashes to Glory A Lenten Journey
Brentwood United Methodist Church
Ashes to Glory A Lenten Journey
Brentwood United Methodist Church
LENT 2011 Dear Friends in Christ, Welcome to the 2011 Lenten Devotional Guide. Once again, Eric and I have prayed and thought and discussed ways in which we might enrich your Lenten experience. The guide, written by church staff and lay leaders, was the result. Our writers were asked to read their selected scripture meditatively, and to write a reflection based on a word or phrase that spoke to them. In doing so, they have opened a window on their own spirituality; whether they are puzzling over, wrestling with or rejoicing in scripture. Rare and holy are the moments in which we glimpse the heart and soul of another person. In return you are invited into that heart and soul place where your own reflections on each day’s scripture can be explored. In many ways the reading of scripture is listening to God. If we take the time to allow it to sink into us, we will hear God speak. “United Methodists share with other Christians the conviction that Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine. Through Scripture the living Christ meets us in the experience of redeeming grace. We are convinced that Jesus Christ is the living Word of God in our midst whom we trust in life and death… As we open our minds and hearts to the Word of God through human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit, faith is born and nourished, our understanding is deepened, and the possibilities for transforming the world become apparent to us. Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience and confirmed by reason. Book of Discipline: United Methodist Church [pp.74-76]” As editors, we are always gratified by the time, thought and prayer that each entry represents. Often the journey to the printed page is ‘the story’. In particular two writers come to mind. Neither person had ever written for such a guide. One responded to my email; “Do you really mean this for me?” So, I replied; “Yes, this is meant for you!” As it is meant for all of us…to hear and share what God places on our hearts. One writer read their scripture and, during a four hour car trip, thought of nothing else. When she returned home, her devotion was written. The second writer launched a research process, reading everything that the internet had to offer on his chosen scripture [after having said; “give me something hard; something no one else wants”]. The excitement in his voice as he told me everything he had learned may or may not be ‘visibly’ present on the page, but I can tell you this person has come alive! No process of gathering material is ever perfect, although the finished product may appear seamless and well organized. I am a knitter by hobby. There is an old German custom in which you leave [at least] one mistake in your knitted work to remind you of humility and that perfection exists only in God. You may end up with a holey garment, but there is often a God-surprise in store…just so in this year’s devotional guide. See if you can find it! And decide for yourself if God has offered a gift indeed! May the Holy Spirit bless the reading of God’s Holy Word,
Judith Bone and Eric Burton-Krieger Adult Discipleship
A RHYTHM FOR EVERY DAY 4 Create space for God: time, place, heart and mindset. 4 Become aware of God’s Presence: breathe deeply, slowly, and intentionally as you open your heart to God. 4 Read the daily Scripture and the accompanying reflection, questions and prayer. 4 Listen for God’s voice. Sense the presence of the Holy Spirit as you reflect on your reading and its connection to your ‘story’. 4 Respond to the reflection questions on each page. 4 Express your gratitude, joys, concerns and requests to God. 4 Dedicate this day to living a better story in your relationships, your life circumstances and in encounters that may seem routine and commonplace.
TRY THESE GREAT RESOURCES 4 http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu 4 http://www.biblegateway.com
Share your Feedback on Facebook Interested in carrying your devotional experience one step further? During Lent many of our authors will be posting the questions following their reflection to Facebook and inviting you to be in conversation with them. It’s a way to share feedback, ask questions and discover what others are hearing from God! To participate you’ll need to log-in to Facebook and then visit the “Brentwood United Methodist Church” page. Be sure to “Like” us if you haven’t already! You can also access this page through www.bumc.net/facebook.
Wednesday | March
ASH WEDNESDAY Psalm 51:1-7
Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word which means “spring”. It is a season of preparation for the celebration of Easter. It is a time for self-examination and repentance. On Ash Wednesday we impose ashes as a sign of mortality and our willingness to repent of our sin so that we might be reconciled to God and neighbor. It is traditional to save the palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday and burn them ahead of time. The ashes are saved for the Ash Wednesday service. Many Christians give up something for Lent. This is not to illustrate some religious superiority. It is a way of reminding ourselves to give up any sin that separates us from God, our neighbors or ourselves. It is a discipline that is intended to prepare us for experiencing Easter. It also is to remind us of the Christ who surrendered his life that we might have life. This act of “giving up” serves to remind us that “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart”. God will look with favor on those whose heart is broken over the sin of the world and also our individual sins. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, called upon the early Methodists to “do no harm”. As the Ashes are imposed let us renew our commitment to do no harm. This begins with repentance and it moves toward the glory of Easter. Where is your spirit broken and your heart contrite? (Read v. 17)
for your Reflection
What act(s) of preparation will you offer to God during the season of Lent?
Prayer Oh God, help us to be repentant during this Holy Season so that we might be prepared for the Resurrection. Amen.
Joe E. Pennel Jr. Interim Senior Pastor
Warning and Encouragement
Thursday | March
This passage begins with a mandate that my life be fit to do the work of Christ in my sphere of influence. I have to be disciplined in adversity and strengthened through it. If I have relaxed hands and stumbling knees; then, I lack preparedness to face adversity and finish my course. If, in a spiritual sense, my joints are not firmly held and my muscles are not properly tense; then, I stand to suffer ‘spiritual dislocation’. The implication for me is that when I have disciplined myself and exercised my gifts to be Christ in the world, paths around me will be leveled so that I am a strong, effective, accessible encourager to all who are in need of Christ’s touch, healing and grace. I am aware that all around me are people who are dealing with issues for which they need guidance and encouragement. My relationship with these friends improves when I understand the nature of adversity. When I demonstrate a willingness to be Christ to my fellow strugglers, I appropriately shine a light on how bad choices lead to chaos and catastrophe, while making good choices leads to a peaceful and harmonious life. Esau serves as the biblical example of the hopelessness brought about by bad choices. By his own choice he became a profane person, or lover of the earthly and sensual, so that he lost both birthright and spiritual sensitivity. He essentially exchanged peace and holiness for immediate and earthly pleasures. The end result was painful regret. During this Lenten season I invite you to join me in discovering all the ways to be better fit for being a God pointer to all who need a warning, and how to be gracious friend to all who need an encourager along the way. Where can you exercise your spiritual gifts such that through you someone might be pointed away from disaster and encouraged in a life of passion and purpose? for your Reflection
Prayer Loving and grace filled God, where I have a need for correction and discipline, help me to turn anew to you. Where others in my sphere of influence have need of the same, please use me to point them in a new direction with all the compassion and grace of Jesus. Amen.
Dr. Shannon Garrett, Jr. Coordinator for Worship and the Arts
Friday | March
“LOVE COVERS A MULTITUDE OF SINS” 1 Peter 4:1-11
Just a few weeks ago, I was putting away our Christmas decorations. One of my favorites is a felt Christmas card holder that belonged to my mother. I have vivid memories of it hanging in my childhood home; its bright red and green squares cheerily spelling out the word ‘Noel’. It’s quite a bit rattier now than it was in the 1960s. The gold rickrack is frayed and tattered. The felt is peeling away from its backing. But I love it. It holds happy memories for me, and no matter how tacky it is I plan to hang it on the door each year during the Christmas holidays. The Japanese have a concept called ‘wabi-sabi’ which refers to the beauty found in imperfection. Just like the tattered but beloved Christmas card holder, many things in life are cherished and loved in spite of their flaws. The cracked and chipped antique pitcher; the lopsided cherry tree covered in a riot of pale pink blossoms; the handmade quilt faded and bleached by the sun. All imperfect. All beautiful. What’s true for Christmas decorations and inanimate objects is also true of relationships. Today’s scripture verse sums it up: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” No human relationship is perfect. We yell at our kids; we forget a date that’s important to our spouses; we let our friends down. But in spite of our flaws, we love each other. Day in and day out. Through hard times and good times. And that constant, persistent, dogged love covers the many sins we commit both knowingly and unknowingly. I am grateful for the love that covers a multitude of sins. I’m grateful for the grace that makes the imperfect beautiful. I’m grateful for God’s love that transforms a flawed human being into a child of God. What relationships in your own life might cause you to claim the promise that ‘love covers a multitude of sins’?
for your Reflection
Prayer Dear Father, thank you for the grace that covers our sins and allows us to be called your children. Help us to extend that same grace to others in all of our relationships.
Carol Bumbalough Director of Communications
DYING TO SELF
Saturday | March
John 12: 20-36
Earlier in Chapter 12 Jesus was celebrated through the streets of Jerusalem. Large crowds of people had shouted praises and waved their palm branches as Jesus road through the streets on a young donkey. A short time later some Greeks arrived in the city and began asking to see Jesus. He, however, responded to Andrew and Phillip, “It is time for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Then, He began to describe to the disciples a mystery…new life is born out of death. Jesus ties this image to His nearing death. Jesus loves His followers and uses this image to urge them to fully respond to Him. If Jesus had not died, much like a grain of wheat getting swallowed up in the ground, He would have left us alone here on earth. In the Gospel of John, however, that was never God’s plan. God in His love planned for Jesus to be the sacrifice, fully dying like a grain of wheat into the ground, yet now flourishing, multiplying disciples in the Word and bearing much fruit. “He who loves his life, shall lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” John 12:25-26 Jesus gives us a direct call to radical discipleship. It is not an easy task! I can only live solely for Christ and give less and less attention to what I want by asking God for clarity in my heart and mind. It is a daily journey of praying, asking the Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts, direct and filter my desires and ask for understanding through it all. If I claim to serve Christ, but don’t follow or obey what He had said in His Word or what the Holy Spirit has prompted in my daily living, then I am not living as a servant under His Lordship in my life. I want to be where the Lord is, and I desperately want the Father to honor me as a faithful servant. “God is most glorified, when we are most satisfied in Him.” -John Piper
for your Reflection
I can honestly say there are situations in my life in which I need to ‘die to pride, jealously, revenge, and unbelief.’ I want the Spirit to awaken my soul, convict and change my heart. Are there desires in your heart that have taken priority over God? How can you realign your spirit so that the Lord is fully in charge and your spirit is in tune to listen and understand?
Prayer Most Precious Lord, thank you for demonstrating Your great love toward me by dying for my sins on the cross. Teach me to walk in Your ways and show me how to live a life that gives honor to You. Enlighten my steps as I choose to live in Your Light. Jill Wright Ministry Systems and Training Coordinator, Equipping Ministries Administrator
Sunday | March
WORSHIP THE LORD, YOUR GOD Matthew 4:1-11
Every time I contemplate this passage of the temptation of Jesus, I hear Jesus say, “For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” My goodness—can I do that? The temptations to worship other things, other people, even ourselves and our own desires are so strong. How did Jesus resist these temptations? How can I, who say I love Jesus, be like him and do the same thing? The nature of humans is to fall out of love with Jesus—to take the credit for what we do and what we accomplish. Like Jesus, we are tempted to be successful, spectacular, and powerful. What I’m seeking to listen to this Lenten Season is where God is calling me to a place of humility. Humility—it doesn’t mean denying yourself and your gifts. It means claiming your gifts because it is God who gave them to us in the first place. And then, in humility, offering these gifts back to God. That’s what Jesus did and why he could resist temptation—He knew whose he was, and most importantly, knew it was God who is to be worshipped. We received the ashes on Ash Wednesday with the message, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” For me, repentance lies in looking at my life and recognizing where I have failed to serve only God. That is the calling of the Gospel to me today. And, as happened to Jesus, I pray that “the devil”—the temptations of the world—will leave me and I will be left to worship only God. Is it possible? Jesus told us it is so. Where as I look at my life am I failing to serve only God? In what ‘areas’ of my life is God calling me to repentance? How Can I offer ‘all’ of me to God? for your Reflection
Prayer Loving God, you sent your Son to show us the way, the truth, and the life. He showed us that all of our lives are to be spent glorifying you, worshipping you alone. I am weak, but you are strong. Empty me this moment of my sin, lead me to resist the temptation to think I did anything all by myself. Return to me the joy of my salvation—by serving only you. In the name of the crucified and risen Christ I pray. Amen.
Rev. Kaye Harvey Pastor, Congregational Care
Monday | March
1 Kings 8:22-30 Solomon prays ‘a big prayer’, as my grandmother would call it…’big’ because it is lengthy and flowery, beautiful really. As I read, I cruised along a little, thinking that this text was certainly appropriate to the occasion, but not sensing where I might connect. For me parts of the Old Testament can be that way …detailed and un-engaging. So, I laughed out loud when the text shocked me…laughed in delight…God often shows up when I am least expecting him. Here is an excerpt from Solomon’s prayer taken from The Message: “O GOD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in the skies above or on the earth below who unswervingly keeps covenant with his servants and relentlessly loves them as they sincerely live in obedience to your way. Pay attention to these my prayers, both intercessory and personal, O GOD, my God. Listen to my prayers, energetic and devout, that I’m setting before you right now. Keep your eyes open to this Temple night and day, this place of which you said, “My Name will be honored there,” and listen to the prayers that I pray at this place. Listen from your home in heaven and when you hear, FORGIVE.” Now I can’t stop reading! Solomon doesn’t say. …when you hear, answer me or give me what I want or make all the difficulties in life go away”. He says ‘forgive.’ Well, for starters, he can forgive my lack of anticipation and expectation when approaching holy text! If you continue to read beyond verse 30, you will find, as I did, that there in plenty in the human condition to forgive. It is God’s forgiveness and our recognition of our ‘humanness’ that is the stuff of which ‘covenant’ is made. What is your ‘approach’ to the reading of scripture? How might you prepare to receive the word or phrase God has for you today in holy text? How will you respond? for your Reflection
Prayer Holy God, I desire to hold your Word sacred. I am reminded of the words of Michael W. Smith’s song: “Holy words long preserved for our walk in this world, they resound with God’s own heart. Oh let the ancient words impart.” Dear Holy, God let me hear and obey your heart. Amen. Judith Bone Director of Adult Discipleship
Tuesday | March
Nehemiah 9 contains a wonderful prayer and a great model that will teach us much in our own prayer life. It begins with a section of praise. First, God is praised as the Creator and Maker of everything. Everything around us reminds us of God and His Glory. Finding God everywhere reminded me of what our children will be doing this summer in Vacation Bible School. We will have over 500 children and adults spending a week at the church learning about God’s Love. One of the activities the children will do is called “God Sightings”. Kids will be encouraged to look for evidence of God in things like a sunset, a rainstorm, a laugh, a kind word, or a tasty snack. We call those things God Sightings, and yes, even preschoolers can make them part of life. No matter our age, we all need to look for God Sightings. Just as the creation showed reason to praise God, so does the history of His dealings with many, especially the descendents of Abraham. The prayer recounts what God had done in the life of His people. It is always good to stop and remember what God has taught you in the past. That is a sure way to preserve the strength that God gives you. God has sustained us moment by moment. He is the One who gives undeserved blessings. He is the keeper of promises. We ought to be grateful for that and never forget that our very breath comes from Him. As we understand God’s attributes, we are better able to know and worship Him. Are our hearts tuned to praise God as the One from whom all blessings flow? Where have you had a God Sighting? for your Reflection
Prayer Dear Lord, sometimes it’s hard to feel or see Your presence in every aspect of our lives, yet we know You are there. Help us to look for You, even when times get tough. Help us to trust You and believe that You are with us every moment of our lives. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Ellen D. Garrett Director of Children’s Ministry
Wednesday | March
When God called Abraham to commit his life to God, Abraham’s response was a resounding YES! And while we can see that response as an act of faithfulness, Abraham’s commitment to God was not without its struggles. Our journey of discipleship is often the same way. While we may hear God’s call on our lives to be disciples of Jesus Christ and offer our YES, we can wake up days later wondering what we’ve gotten ourselves into! Abraham’s journey of faith was full of the same (just take a look at Genesis and you’ll see what I mean). But despite his struggles, he knew that God was present with him and available to him. In this Lenten season, consider your struggles with faithful discipleship. Living out Christ’s message may be difficult, but our righteousness does not depend on that alone! Our faith in Christ makes our righteousness and justification possible. Abraham prayed that he would be able to live out God’s call on his life, trusting in God’s abiding presence even when faced with the greatest trials of his life. The good news was that God’s promises were not made contingent on Abraham’s demonstrated righteousness, but rather were offered freely through God’s unmerited grace (Gen 12:1). Abraham’s righteousness was his acceptance of God’s call and his faithfulness in attempting to embody all that God was asking him to do and say. The good news in our lives is that God continues God’s promise of grace through Jesus Christ and calls us daily to embody the teachings of Christ as we seek to love God, our neighbor, ourselves, and God’s good creation. Abraham prayed that in all he did and said he would give God glory. Let’s us pray, in our preparation for Easter, that we may give God glory by acknowledging God’s promises of the coming Kingdom and by living out the message of Christ so that we might all become righteous. In the midst of my struggles with discipleship, where might I find God’s abiding presence? How might a heightened awareness of this presence impact and shape my discipleship? (Remember, Abraham often prayed and talked with God when he was struggling.) for your Reflection
Prayer Gracious God, You abided with Abraham when he was struggling. I pray that You will be with me and my community as we struggle in our journey of faith. Help us to know Your presence with us, through Your Son Jesus Christ and Your Holy Spirit. Amen. Rachel Peavyhouse-Fay Director of Caring Ministries
Thursday | March
THE PRESENCE OF TEMPTATION James 1:1-15
Over the past few weeks, I have read, thought about, pondered over, and read some more, these words from James. They are difficult words because they remind me of my weakness and my humanness; and difficult because they require complete honesty – with myself, with those with whom I share community and with God. Who wants to face trials, challenges, temptations? And, seriously, who wants to accept the notion that they are necessary in order to produce perseverance? A contemporary theologian and United Methodist bishop, Reuben P. Job, writes about temptation: Even in my seventh decade powerful temptation causes me to turn aside and think, speak and act contrary to what I believe and seek to practice. Why is temptation still with me after all these years of prayer and effort to live a life worthy of my baptism? The simple answer must be that I am tempted because I am alive. Temptation seems to be a part of life, and none of us escapes. Why should I be surprised by the subtle nibbling at my commitment or the outright onslaught on my integrity? Do I think myself better than Jesus? Jesus rises from the water of baptism with God’s affirming voice ringing in his ears. But then immediately he is led into the wilderness (Matt. 4:1). There temptation in its most raw and appealing form confronts Jesus. We identify with each invitation the devil offers. We know our own hungers and we would like to feed the world. Who of us has escaped the desire just once to be noticed as a hero or at least to be able to fly? And many of us have thought if we just had a chance to manage the world, the church, or the community, all problems would be solved. The temptation to have just a little more of the world’s goods, if not all we can see, always lurks close by, ready to pounce on our first interest in what others have accumulated. – From “The Temptation of Jesus” in A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God by Reuben P. Job So, do we seek out temptation intentionally? Probably not. And does God intentionally tempt us? I believe, absolutely not. But when faced with temptation, if we are mindful of God’s presence and God’s love, and ask God for wisdom, we will persevere. How have you been tested in your faith? Can you see where you developed perseverance? Grew in your faith? Learned something new? for your Reflection
Prayer Holy God, as Jesus was temped in the wilderness, I sometimes am tempted and tested by this world. Forgive me when I fall to temptation, and deliver me from evil. Help me to develop perseverance, so that my faith in you may be mature and complete. Amen. Leslie Hotzfeld Director of Discipleship & Administration
SAYING YES TO GOD’S AMAZING ‘YES’
Friday | March
II Corinthians 1:12-22
Every day of my life I stand in need of God’s amazing ‘Yes.’ God does not look at me and say, “Well, you certainly messed up your life. I don’t know about you, because you aren’t the kind of Christian, the kind of employee, the kind of student, or the kind of parent that I expected. No, I don’t know about you. The verdict is still out.” God is not a vacillating God who is indecisive in determining whether or not I can fulfill God’s goal for my life. On the contrary, to a fallen and sinful humanity, God says yes. Even in spite of my sinfulness, God says yes. God says yes to the people that I have not yet met. So when I see the homeless person, or the starving man in Haiti, or a woman dying of AIDS in Uganda, or the child that rummages through the landfill searching for clothes, I may overhear some people say, “Well, they brought those circumstances on themselves.” Perhaps its “If they don’t work, then they don’t eat” or “We can’t justify utilizing so many financial resources for social programs.” While many in the world would say no to these people, God says yes. God says, “These people are also created in my image. They, too, are the crown of my creation, valued and cherished.” God’s answer, clearly and succinctly, is yes. Furthermore, if I receive God’s yes in Jesus Christ, that sacred act inspires me to be able to say yes to my fellow human beings…to say yes as God invites me to embrace the reality of God’s love for all creation…to say yes as God leads me to new horizons that I have not experienced…to say yes as God calls me to be reconciled with strangers, enemies, and adversaries. In those dark moments of life when I feel like damaged goods…when I feel like I am no longer meeting my standards and expectations…when I feel lost, lonely, or rejected…when I ultimately ask the question: “Am I worth the trouble?” I stand on the bedrock of knowing without a doubt that God’s unwavering answer to me is yes. And it is the only answer. Where do you hear God’s amazing ‘yes’ in your life?
for your Reflection
Prayer O good and gracious God, I am trying to follow Christ through this journey of Lent and life. In this great adventure help me to know that I can continually be transformed through affirmation found only through Jesus Christ. Amen. Dr. Gregg Bunn Organist
Saturday | March
Who ‘Ought’ You to Be?
2 Peter 3:5-13
I think this is a passage of scripture where we sometimes, “can’t see the forest for the trees.” I’ve made a start at writing this reflection several times and kept finding myself with this problem – I want to talk about Christ’s return or about how a day for God can be a very different amount of time than we’re used to. Yet, if I’m honest, I think the weight of this passage comes in v. 11, “Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness…” (NRSV) This is our challenge, our question. Let me offer it to you again as the text does – in the hope that God might move us from people who “ought” to act a certain way, to Christians who live this hope and expectation out in the world. What sort of Christians ought we to be – when people come around who mostly indulge themselves and mock your faith, saying where is your God in a world that has known sin, evil and death from the very beginning? What sort of Christians ought we to be – knowing that our God who spoke the heavens’ and earth into existence also acts in judgment, as witnessed in Noah’s day and promised at the end of time? What sort of Christians ought we to be – as we serve a God bigger than time itself, whose first actions towards us are not judgment but grace, so that all might have a restored relationship with God? What sort of Christians ought we to be – knowing that God is patient with us but desires that our lives be such that we help others to walk in the way that leads to life? What sort of Christians ought we to be? What step can you take today towards living out a faith in Christ who has come to us and yet will come again? for your Reflection
Prayer Loving God, help us to see what it is to live faithfully in our own time and place and give us the courage live out our hope in such a way that others take notice. Amen. Eric Burton-Krieger Associate Director of Adult Discipleship
Sunday | March
Psalm 121 is one of fourteen psalms (120-134) entitled Songs of Ascents, sung as the Israelites made their pilgrimage “up to Jerusalem” for an annual feast. I’m scared … My tummy hurts … I can’t go to sleep ... What was it about my childhood bedtime that conjured up fears and worries? Was it the dark? The quiet? The characters and scenes from fairy tales? I remember calling out for Mom and Dad many nights and knowing, without a doubt, they would come to me. Knowing they would tell me they loved me, reassure me they were always nearby, and promise me that nothing would harm me. It’s clear in verse one that the psalmist needs reassurance…don’t we all? Why does he mention mountains? Mountains can be beautiful and awe-inspiring. Our family’s annual vacation to the mountains brings refreshment and renewal and we are reminded of the greatness of God as we soak up the beauty of nature. Yet, mountains can be disconcerting. Their immensity brings awareness of our smallness, our helplessness, within the vastness of creation. Worries and fears can fester as we consider our place in the universe. We, too, may ask, “Where does my help come from?” After his initial question, the psalmist immediately recalls the promises of God. Strong words of assurance… watch over you, keep you from harm, never sleep, now and forevermore ... are comfort food for the soul! We can rest knowing that God, like a parent, guards us and keeps us from harm. How do you feel knowing God never sleeps?
for your Reflection
Prayer O God, help us rest in the assurance of your never-sleeping care. Thank you for watching over us. Amen.
Dr. Susan Young Huckaby Director of Worship and Adult Discipleship Ministries, Trinity Campus.
Monday | March
Genesis 32:22-32 Jacob seems ‘crafty’ once again in sending his family and all his possessions across the river ahead of him…creating a buffer between himself and his brother. What struck me was that in doing so, Jacob is completely alone. He has neither family nor friend nor servant nor ‘possession’ with which to be supported or defended. So, what had been his thought process or his plan in staying behind? When faced with a difficult situation, I am a great proponent of mental and spiritual preparation…I work my way through the reasons, the rationalization, the outcomes that make a bad situation really okay…I work until my heart is naked before God. In a way I am wrestling. I am staying with it, until God blesses me….not with an easy way out, but with a ‘right’ solution. I don’t walk away unchanged…my encounter with God marks me and my name is changed. Consider this verse from the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation”: When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine. Ever had to apologize to someone for something you did, said, or caused? “I know what I said sounded mean, but I was really tired.” “I know I should have called you sooner, but I have been so busy.” We have to wrestle passed the ‘buts’ before God can bless us. The first blessing might be to know that we are imperfect and prone to act in ways that are not God’s ways. And while we are facing some hard truths, God loves us. The second blessing might come in the form of the right words to the right person at the right time in the right place so that relationship can be healed and ‘life’ restored. How have you experienced an opportunity to wrestle with God? In doing so, how have you been blessed, changed and given a new name?
for your Reflection
Prayer My God, refine me each day. Guard my tongue; the truth of my words; my behavior and my heart. Wrestle with me when I need your blessing…Wrestle my sinfulness to the ground and send me forth with a new name…your name. Amen. Judith Bone Director of Adult Discipleship
Tuesday | March
Of all the wonderful stories in the Bible, this is my very favorite because it weaves into the “ordinary stuff” of life an experience of the divine. Moses is going about his daily routine. He might have even been bored, distracted, and/or focused on his tedious task of herding flocks. He was neither expecting, nor perhaps even wanting, God to appear. He was comfortable in the place he had carved out for himself after the troubles in Egypt. Suddenly from out of an ordinary bush, he encounters the presence of the divine and his life is changed forever. God indicates to Moses that the place he is standing is “holy ground.” A few minutes ago it was nothing but dusty, rocky earth. Now it is holy because God shines through the ordinary--unexpected, mysterious, compelling, and unavoidable. I have often wondered how many times God has tried to enter into the “ordinary stuff” of my life. God would probably have to set my desk or computer on fire to get my attention! If so, would I just consider it an electronic malfunction or would I recognize it as opportunity for an encounter with the divine? I hope I would not miss the opportunity, but would seize the moment and recognize that this, too, might be “holy ground.” What about you? Are you looking for God in the ordinary stuff of life? Where is God trying to get your attention? How could there be room for the unexpected voice of God in your daily routine? for your Reflection
Prayer Dear God, may I look today for your voice speaking through the ordinary stuff of my life. May I see every action, occasion, and encounter as potentially being “holy ground”.
Donna Gaither, Deacon Primary appointment: General Board of Discipleship Secondary appointment: Brentwood UMC
Wednesday | March
MAKING TIME FOR GOD Isaiah 55
It is so easy to get caught up in the “human condition” of striving daily for earthly things - possessions, money, financial security or the perfect relationship, etc. God tells us in this chapter that none of these things will ultimately satisfy our souls like His word. If we would take the time to immerse ourselves in studying and following God’s word, we could become the disciples that Jesus showed we could be. We could bear fruit for Christ! Through God’s abundant grace and mercy, we are forgiven for our shortcomings time and time again. How can this be, when we find it so hard to forgive someone one small transgression? We don’t have to understand - it is enough to know that “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways (v.8).” How comforting to know that a being infinitely greater than me is in control! Are you spending time every day studying God’s word? If not, look at the activities to which you have committed time on a daily basis. How can you make adjustments to change this? for your Reflection
Prayer Dear Lord, We thank you for your unconditional love and grace, and for showing us the path that you want us to follow. Thank you for giving us the resources we need to be your disciples. Help us to turn from pursuing the things that don’t satisfy to pursuing the things that do. Amen.
Sue Cleveland Director of Facilities Operations
THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE
Thursday | March
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
When I read this passage in several translations, two words seemed to be jumping off the page — ministry and light. I found myself mentally singing a familiar childhood song: ‘This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.’ As a child, it was a melody that I loved and I sang it with the childlike conviction that I could spread my light as a child of God. Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth gives a much deeper meaning to our light and our ministry. His words were calling for the church to be in ministry and for the community to understand the importance of each individual with an enlightened heart to show the light of Christ to all. Does this not speak the same challenge to us today? My light….your light….our ministry as the body of Christ. During this Lenten season I am called to look deeply at my light and my ministry. I have to ask myself if I am seriously letting my light shine in this world for the glory of God through Jesus Christ. Is my ministry reflecting this light in my every day life, in my service to the church, in relationships, in working with those who are poor, lost, sick, lonely, forgotten hungry, those who grieving? If I am honest and sincere, I think I may discover that my light could and should shine brighter. Light is a word found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. It is mentioned with assurance, hope and knowledge. During this Lenten season, let us look deeply at the importance of our light reflecting the ministry of Christ; Let us take time for introspection and examination. Let us make time for prayer and meditation and find ourselves renewed and refreshed as we come to Easter morn to celebrate the joy and promise of the Resurrection. May our commitment be to let our lights shine brighter than ever before! Can I think of someone whose light has given me strength and hope? How so? What does it mean to me to let my light shine? for your Reflection
Prayer Oh God, thank you for always being a lamp to my feet and light to my path. Hear my prayer for strength and conviction to let my light shine for you as I strive to be in Christ’s ministry in our church and the world. Amen. Wini Grizzle Adult Discipleship Team
Friday | March
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 Most of us know these Bible verses very well from weddings, perhaps even from our own wedding. When rereading the scripture, what struck me was how the verse “… love is patient, love is kind…” was so true about God’s love for us. God’s love for us is patient and unconditional. His love doesn’t grow or “subside” depending on how well we serve him on any given day. It is constant. One of the most loving things that God does for us is to place in our paths ways for us to serve him. He particularly does this by teaching us how to care for his people and then showing us how to do so. God knows how our hearts are filled when we serve others and he wants us to experience this love every day. Where is God placing loving gifts in the form of serving opportunities in your path today? How will you respond?
for your Reflection
Prayer God, please help me to not focus on opportunities that I missed yesterday to serve you. Rather, forgive me and grant me fresh eyes today to look for new opportunities to serve you and your people. Amen.
Jeanetta Fargo Internet Communications Coordinator
Saturday | March
Romans 8:1-17 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death”. When I read this first part of the text, I really had to sit with it for a while. There is no condemnation; you have been set free from sin and death. I think that is a lot to take in. I have been walking with God for quite some time now, and there are days when it is hard for me to believe that I have truly been set free. I know this in my head. I have been taught this, but there is a difference between knowing and believing. I still find myself trying to earn grace when it is a free gift to me. Maybe it is our ‘humanness,’ or desire for control, that makes us feel as if we have to do something in order to earn love and forgiveness. Yet, I know that God simply wants me to sit and allow his grace and mercy to pour over me like a flowing fountain. God does not want me to feel as if I am constantly striving to prove myself or as if I am constantly failing at my relationship with Him. When I allow myself to sit, to let God into my soul, I hear him whisper…you don’t have to prove anything to me. I came to conquer sin so that you don’t have to feel unworthy. You are beautiful and I made you to be in my likeness. I need to allow myself to feel like the beautifully and wonderfully made person whom God created, not the one who can so easily allow myself to feel beat up by the world. It is really all about allowing ourselves to feel God’s love, isn’t it? I am grateful that we have a God that does not require me to earn his love. I am thankful that I have the choice to accept my freedom through Christ. I am thankful that God loved me enough to become human, and sacrificed himself so that I may know what this freedom is. What does it mean to you to know that you have been set free from the law of sin and death? How are you still trying to earn God’s grace? How do we act like heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ? How often do you sit with God and allow him to fill you deep within? What happens when you do? for your Reflection
Prayer God of salvation, in our weakness, hear our prayers. Amen. Allison Fasig Associate Youth Minister, Student Small Groups
Sunday | March
Exhausted. Running tirelessly from one thing to the next. Feeling like I can’t possibly take one more step or juggle one more thing. Spiritually, physically, and emotionally thirsty. And this is by 8 o’clock on most Monday mornings! Am I the only one who ever feels this way? Somehow, I doubt it. The most common conversational exchange in our culture goes something like this: “How’s it going?” (Regardless of the truth) “I’m doing great!” “Staying busy?” “So busy I barely have any time to eat or see my family!” “That’s great, I’m glad to hear it!” Do I take part in this kind of conversation and lifestyle because this is what God expects of me? Or am I only living this way because I’ve bought in to the message of our culture that bigger is better, busy is good, and success is the chief aim of humankind? Unfortunately, what I’m finding is that stuff only leads me to desire more stuff, busyness only leads to frustration about my lack of time for the important things in life, and “success” only leaves me feeling like there must be something more to life than this. The more I have, the more I do, the more I accomplish, the more I drink of the lifestyle our culture offers, the thirstier I become. So, if drinking of the lifestyle of our culture only leads to a deeper thirst for more, we must ask ourselves this question: why do we spend so much of our time doing things that will only make us thirstier when what Jesus offers us is the chance to never thirst again? The water Jesus offers, a gift of God, refreshes, overflows, and fulfills. What leaves you feeling thirsty? What keeps you from drinking the living water Jesus offers? for your Reflection
Prayer Everlasting and life-giving God, I am thirsty. Give me the courage to exchange the stagnant water I am too often tempted to drink and to, instead, drink deeply of the living water that is only offered by your Son, Jesus Christ. Fill me to overflowing with the presence and power of your Holy Spirit. Amen. Rev. Travis Garner Pastor of Student Ministries
SEARCHING FOR GOD
Monday | March
Luke 19: 1-10
Although I can’t say I’ve ever climbed a tree in hopes of finding God, I have definitely found myself in search of God in other ways. Whether it has been wondering where He is amongst the hurting or feeling a sense of longing for something more; just like Zacchaeus, God has never been as far away as I’ve made Him. And the search has just prolonged the surrender. When I really let God in, it is nearly impossible for me not to see Him. Yet when I think I’ve gone as far as I can go, or done as much as I can do, God has told me to “come down immediately”. And that’s when I remember why I’m here: to serve, to lean, and to rely - all on God. And if I position myself to find Him, I’ve only made it harder to see. I’ve boxed the creator of all things out of all things. Zaccheaus put himself (into what he thought) was the perfect position to see Jesus; yet Jesus told him to come down to be with Him, to invite Him into his home. It’s easy to distance myself, to find a barrier, something more comfortable, or to put myself “in a tree” where I can see who God is, but never actually let Him in. God saw Zacchaeus and knew his needs immediately. Zacchaeus never truly experienced life until he invited Jesus in. It was then that Zacchaeus realized nothing else mattered, and gave it all away. And, just like Zacchaeus, I’ve found life is better with God than up in a tree or up on a pedestal. What “tree” have I put myself in, that’s hard to get out of? How has this distanced me from God? for your Reflection
Prayer May I look to you, not for you; as your will comes before mine. And for the times that it doesn’t, may I fall in your hands. Amen.
Anne Porter Student Ministry Trips & Events Coordinator
Tuesday | March
ONE LOST SHEEP Matthew 18:10-14
This passage is part of a longer narrative in which Jesus answers a simple question posed to him by his disciples: “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” He had been living with the disciples, teaching them constantly through word and deed, and still they wanted to know who would be superior in God’s Kingdom. They just didn’t get it! Jesus responded by saying that the spiritual humility of a child is needed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, don’t bring all of your baggage and preconceived notions with you. He went on to emphasize that all disciples are to minimize the sin in their lives by any means necessary. What follows is our reading for today, this beautiful, yet enigmatic parable of the lost sheep. I don’t know about you, but when I think about the practical aspects of this parable, I don’t understand it. Why would the shepherd leave 99 sheep completely unprotected just to look for 1 that was lost? Wouldn’t some of these 99 sheep wander off while he was gone or even be attacked and killed by wild animals? This is simply not a practical solution to the problem. It seems to be a bad business decision. But, then, I take some time, and start to let the word sink in. Ultimately, I don’t think this is intended as a practical solution to a worldly problem at all. Maybe instead, it’s a description of the radical love that abounds in the Kingdom of Heaven. Maybe my God loves me with such a reckless, abandon that He will ignore practicality in order to find me and bring me home no matter what! That’s an astounding kind of love that I can only begin to comprehend. As a disciple of the Christ who has an incomprehensible love for me; a God who will find me and bring me home by any means necessary, how must I respond in love to help bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth? for your Reflection
Prayer Lord God, I can’t fully understand your radical, unmerited love for me, I can only kneel in thankful awe and humility. Help me to be as a little child in your presence, and grant me the faith to be a disciple that fully loves you in word and deed.
Doug Ralls Chair, BUMC Church Council
A NEW HEART
Wednesday | March
I tend to spend all my time in the New Testament; probably because it’s often easier to understand and I find it more relatable; but the joy of researching these OT passages was, in itself, a process that brought me much closer to God. I highly recommend it. It led me to consider what God did for the Israelites. For His sake (not theirs), He did wonderful things to show His glory in the world. God says He’ll give us a heart that seeks Him. And, as a Christian, I know enough to know I don’t know enough to succeed in meeting God’s expectations. Later in the NT, Paul says something similar in his letter to the Ephesians – we are saved by grace, through faith; not by works. However, it’s not a free pass. It actually raises the bar. We, as Christians, are to be the light of Christ in the world. Our best efforts to live the example of Christ, to be the hands and feet of Christ – doing our best – is how we glorify God’s name in the world today. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, is often credited with passing on “Three Simple Rules.” These are (1) Do no harm, (2) Do good, and (3) Stay in love with God. Wesley’s “simple” rules (ironically the hardest rules to actually follow) came to mind as I read these passages from Ezekiel. What sounds simple is anything but! I constantly fall short of God’s expectations, but He sanctifies me with His grace. Still, He gives me a heart that wants to do my best to live a life that glorifies Him. And I seem to do that best when I am living in close relationship with Him. We each have our own ways of getting closer to God. Some read. Some pray. Some putter in the garden. Worship and Holy Communion are structured opportunities to be close to God. For me, volunteering has always been a key way to stay in close relationship with God. The story in Ezekiel is about the Israelites falling out of relationship with God. God can set things right, and gave us this sort of self-healing mechanism – a heart that seeks Him out. Whenever we fall away, our hearts instinctively know they need to go back. What do you do to keep yourself in close relationship with God? Do you know someone whose heart knows it needs to go back to God and can’t seem to find its way? Can you be a light to that person? If you’re that person, can I be a light to you? for your Reflection
Prayer Lord, give me a heart to do all the good I can, by all the means I can, in all the ways I can, in all the places I can, at all the times I can, to all the people I can, as long as ever I can. Amen. Steven Ludwig BUMC Adult Discipleship & Equipping
Thursday | March
WRITE THIS DOWN! Jeremiah 30: 1-10
This passage is a reminder to me of how short our memories are. Jeremiah, one of God’s prophets to the people in a time of upheaval, speaks to them on behalf of the Lord. After that introduction, his first words are to ‘write this down – you’re going to forget it.’ Really, write it down? You’d think people could remember words of hope - especially when the words come at a time of deep grief, fear and pain! Yet, if you’ve spent any time in ‘quiet and ease’, peace or prosperity, you know how quickly we forget the trials of the past. This forgetting is dangerous however, it allows us to fool ourselves and to think that we’re really self-sufficient and in control of our lives on our own. Sometimes in despair and suffering we forget as well – we forget the hope and assurance of God that our present situation is not the end either. God seems worried we’ll forget; perhaps he knows more about us than we think. I know that I am guilty of such forgetting and so Lent comes each year as a time to remember. It is a time to reflect on our God in Christ who knows what it is to suffer and who meets us in our suffering to offer hope. It is a time to prepare to receive again the hope of true life that is not found within us but on Easter morning. Why write this down? Because we forget that discipleship is about remembering. It is about remembering that to follow God is to hear the cries of suffering and offer hope, to remember that peace is not something we achieve on our own. May it be so for us. What parts of the Christian life do you often forget? What might it mean to think about discipleship as ‘actions built around remembering’? for your Reflection
Prayer Lord God, help us this day to remember your presence with those who suffer and those who know peace. May we remember your example and do likewise. Amen.
Eric Burton-Krieger Associate Director of Adult Discipleship
ATTENDING TO THE WORD
Friday | April
Often in reading scripture I need help. I can read the words over and over again without gaining any real understanding. So, I read the text, I read my Bible’s study notes and I read the introduction to the book of Hebrews. I read with my head. Perhaps reading with the Spirit would bring the text into focus for me. In her book, Soul Feast, Marjorie Thompson describes “the art of spiritual reading as a reflective assimilation of God’s Word” reaching back to Jewish tradition. Spiritual reading is referred to by its Latin title, Lectio Divina.” Try this with me. My responses and self-talk are in located in parentheses. 1. Silencio: Prepare for hearing the word of God. Breathe deeply to relax your mind and to slow your thoughts. [Weather channel off; hot cup of coffee in hand; dog still sleeping] 2. Lectio: Read the Scripture ‘reflectively, at a gentle pace and one bite at a time’. Read aloud, if possible. [This is a letter about several important matters. Don’t ‘gobble’ the text.] 3. Meditatio: In Jewish and Christian practice this involves an active mind. In the early church it meant finding “a word” and carrying this word throughout the course of the day. Read through the passage of Scripture again. Listen and feel for the word or passage which seems to call you or demand your attention. [Ah, here is the spiritual invitation for me! We are brothers and sisters of Christ, children of God. We are the church; the inheritors of God’s mercy and grace. We are not an institution; we are a family.] 4. Oratio: Literally, pray your “first response”, the prayer that flows naturally out of your meditation and out of having heard yourself addressed directly by God and his Word. [Lord, thank you for the community in which you have placed me.] 5. Comtemplatio: Move beyond thoughts and images to a Sabbath time: “A place of rest with no expectations, no demands, no need to know, no desire, but to be in the Divine Presence, receptive to whatever God desires of you”. [What an extraordinary blessing…to sit and breathe with an open heart.] 6. Incarnatio: Consider how to take the awareness you have gained into the world with you in both thought and action. [I want to love and serve my church family as intentionally and faithfully as I love and serve my biological family.]***Adapted from Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, Marjorie J. Thompson, pp. 22-25 Try this process with today’s scripture. Where is God calling you to pay attention?
for your Reflection
Prayer Lord, Slow me down so that I can hear the Word you have for me today! Amen.
Judith Bone Director of Adult Discipleship
Saturday | April
REASON TO HOPE Romans 5:1-11
I want to paint a picture for you. It will be hard because nothing in our world compares to this. Imagine you are 17 yrs old. You are in love with sports and show immeasurable promise in soccer and basketball. You’ve been offered the opportunity to play at the professional level! When you were 8 yrs. old, your father died leaving your mother to raise four children and put them through school. When you are not at school or at church, you sell vegetables in the market place to lessen her load. So far, you can put yourself in this person’s shoes, right? Imagine one day your city is attacked by brutal rebel forces. You live in fear as you watch your neighbors, friends, family members savagely murdered before your eyes. You live in fear that any day someone will invade your home and force you to fight as a child soldier. A gun could be placed in your hand as you are forced to fight for the rebel “Cause.” Many forms of atrocity are running rampant throughout your entire country. Can you imagine living in this chaos and fear? One day, as you are walking along the road, you are interrogated for being a part of a rebel cause by a man you know has murdered hundreds of people. You are only 17. You try to convince him you are not a part of this “Cause.” This man ties you and your childhood friend to a chair. You will die. Can you imagine closing your eyes and deciding it’s okay if you die and praising God for the life you’ve had? Imagine opening your eyes as that same man sets you free and says…you can go. You run as fast as you can to your community where your friends and family are stunned because they knew you were surely dead. The 17 year old is Quami, the Director at The Raining Season, a non profit organization in Sierra Leone, West Africa. He and the caretakers at the center described these experiences to our missionary team in January. What stunned me is that Quami faced death in the most brutal sense, but still saw beauty in the life he had lived. He saw Jesus on the cross dying for his sins and knew that through Christ Jesus, he was justified and had a reason to pray. He had a reason to hope. And to this day, despite these trials, he stands tall with the brightest smile I have ever seen. It’s not just a smile of joy…but of strength. Although there is now peace in Sierra Leone, they still do not have to imagine a world where people go hungry, commonly die of diseases before age 5, where mothers die in childbirth every day, where children are prostituted out by their mothers, exploited…they don’t have to imagine it because they coexist with this world…they are products of it. This is the world they know.
for your Reflection
Where around you are people suffering in a way that cuts deeply. What ‘suffering’ are you experiencing? Because Christ died for us we receive the joy and peace of knowing we are never alone.
Prayer Lord, guide me through the struggles of life. “While I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me and through whatever struggles I may face the most high God stands by me urging me to persevere.” Amen. Regina Rigney Youth Middle School Program
THE SHEPHERD AND THE CHILD
Sunday | April
The study notes in my Bible state that the 23rd Psalm is “a profession of joyful trust in the Lord as the Good Shepherd-King.” People who are contemplating adoption must find great comfort in this scripture. I have not adopted a child, but I was adopted by my step-father at age 4. He promised to love me as his own, and he fulfilled that promise until the day he died. Adoption is a life changing decision, and a life long journey with unanticipated twists and turns along the way. I have been blessed to meet and hear the stories of many adoptive families who have chosen Miriam’s Promise as the agency to assist them in their efforts to find and adopt a child. The child may be a newborn, an infant, toddler or teen. They may be from this country, or a foreign country, but regardless they need parents who will love them, care for them and give them the security a family provides. People who adopt must overcome the frustration and fear of uncertainty in loving someone else’s child. Questions arise: Will the child love me? Will the birth parents contest the adoption some day? Will our extended family love the child? Will I be a good parent? Yet, even with all the uncertainty, these adoptive parents find the courage and the love to take that step, to pay the fees, endure the background checks and scrutiny, and wait and wait and wait. Then the day comes when the child arrives, and it is time to bring them home. With all the children in the world needing parents, it is a miracle for the ones who are chosen to be adopted. For the people who want a child to love, it is a miracle when that child is given to them. For siblings who want to stay together, it is a miracle when a couple is found who will take all the siblings. At Miriam’s Promise, these miracles happen on a regular basis. The day that the adoption ceremony is held, the light of Christ is there too, shining on this new family and blessing them with the promise that God’s love will be with them as they begin this journey together. Have you contemplated adoption? Is Christ calling you to love another’s child?
for your Reflection
Prayer Heavenly Father, Thank you for the gift of family and the unconditional love of a child. Amen. Chuckles Collins Chair, Adult Discipleship Team
Monday | April
FOR YOU AND FOR ME John 17:1-19
One of the most encouraging experiences I have ever had is to be prayed for by someone else – and not only prayed for, but prayed with. When someone prays for you in your presence, something special happens in your heart: you feel warmed and encouraged. There’s a sense of intimacy, both between you and the other person and between you and God. It’s like you’re knocking on heaven’s doors together. It is one thing for us to pray for and with one another – to bring our brothers and sisters in Christ before the Lord in prayer – but it is quite another to realize that in Jesus we have someone interceding on our behalf. Do you know that Jesus prays for you? Do you know that he goes to the God on your behalf and on our behalf? Listen to these words from Hebrews 7: 25: “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Romans 8: 34 says something very similar: “It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” Robert McCheyne said, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.” I invite you now to imagine Jesus doing exactly that. I want you to close your eyes and to picture yourself sitting with Jesus. I want you to picture him saying to you, “What can I pray for you today?” Now, answer his question and watch him praying for you. And remember what you are imagining in your mind is reality in truth. Jesus is praying for you! What is your response to knowing that Jesus is praying for you? What are you thinking & feeling? for your Reflection
Prayer O Jesus, how incredible it is that you pray for us. For me. THANK YOU for being the bridge not only of my salvation, but the bridge to my everyday relationship with God. Amen.
Rev. J. Mack Strange Pastor, Campus Ministries – Trinity Church
Two Views: AMAZING & WONDERFUL DIFFERENCES
Tuesday | April
Romans 6: 1-14
Because we are unified with Christ through his death and resurrection, we are no longer enslaved to sin. But I do feel the pull of sin frequently! Why does my life often feel different from what Paul describes? Well, it is easy to lose focus, to simply forget about who resides in me as I go about the busyness of my life. We are called to be instruments of righteousness; to serve God by doing what is just and good. The ‘Christ in me’ urges me to act as he would act, speak as he would speak, think as he would think. It is not easy to constantly focus on what God would have me do. It is far easier to go about my day acting under my own power. This is especially true if God wants me do is something outside of my comfort zone. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I do want to be more like Christ, but effort and perseverance are hard! It will be a life-long process for me to grow in faith, and to mold my life into Christ’s likeness. I have found that frequent, overt contact with God through prayer, music and scripture are essential in helping me refocus and rededicate my efforts. I can’t do these things without my community of faith in worship and my small group to encourage and hold me accountable. I know this is why God created his church– For to be on this journey alone would be difficult indeed! What can you do today to remind yourself that Jesus resides in you? How will your thoughts and actions change? for your Reflection
Prayer Oh Lord, help me be aware of your presence in my heart, mind and soul, so that I may resist the temptation of sin and be your instrument in this world. Merrily Jones, Adult Discipleship Team Through baptism I have declared my allegiance to Christ. I have died, been buried, and raised again with him. Now I am in Christ and Christ is in me, I became one with him. It is the end of my old life and the beginning of a new one. I am dead, so far as sin is concerned, and alive to God. I surrender my whole being to Christ Jesus, to be used for righteous purposes. My eyes, my ears, my tongue, my hands, my feet, are dedicated to Christ’s service. My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in me, which I have from God. My responsibility is to honor God with my Body – to use every part of my body to give glory back to God, because he owns it. Being saved is of primary importance, but the use of my body is important too. Worship and service. Where do I put the emphasis? How do I maintain the proper balance? Holiness of heart and life is my commitment to Christ. And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. (Romans 12:1). God take my hands, take my feet, take my lips, take my eyes, take my ears, take my heart, ‘take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord to thee’. Alejandro Hinojosa, Pastor, Hispanic Ministries
Wednesday | April
KNOWING GOD’S VOICE John 10:22-30
Doubt. Anxiety. Worry. All three are simply part of life as we experience it in our flawed human form. For Christians, these words resonate deeply, evoking concerns beyond our trivial day-to-day activities. Although I’ve heard countless sermons and have read much on the topic of grace, I still find myself wondering, “Am I doing enough? Is this the transformed life He wants for me? Have I become so de-sensitized by our culture that I’m justifying an existence in contrast to the life I should be living?” I, personally, love The Message translation because the phrasing is in step with what we hear in daily conversation. It’s familiar and easy to follow. Today’s scripture highlights something I find all too easy to forget. In this particular passage, Jesus is being cornered by certain groups of Jews who wish to confuse his followers and to entrap Him in the political and religious debate common to this culture, struggling with their existence in a Roman-occupied territory. As he rebukes them for their unbelief, He says “My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them real and eternal life. They are protected from the Destroyer for good. No one can steal them from out of my hand. The Father who put them under my care is so much greater than the Destroyer and Thief. No one could ever get them away from Him.” Like a small child who needs to be affirmed and reminded that she is loved unconditionally, this excerpt reminds me that I am His and He will take care of me. Wow! How comforting in a world where so much is uncertain! I feel so blessed to have received this scripture to share. I needed these words today. Where do the words of this scripture speak to you? How will you respond?
for your Reflection
Prayer Lord, help me to know that in all the circumstances of life, you are present and will ‘take care of me’. Deltina Storey Executive Assistant for Human Resources
MY KINGDOM OR YOURS?
Thursday | April
Matthew 16: 21- 28
Up to this point, Jesus’ teachings to his disciples had been pretty straightforward, the basics of love, forgiveness and acceptance. He now needed his disciples to “man up” for what would be the most important lesson of his teachings; and to understand that he was the Messiah and that his ministry would result in his death. Not a royal respectful death, but a shameful, humiliating one. I have been in Peter’s shoes. I had a dear friend whose number-one mission in life was to make disciples of others. We called it his “Cause for Christ”. When he told me that he had been suffering from a long-term illness and was going to die, my first response was questioning God’s Will. How could God take away this person who has changed so many lives and made such a difference? Now, don’t misunderstand. I’m certainly not comparing my friend to Jesus, but he had devoted his life to God and, it seemed to me, his work here on earth wasn’t finished. When he challenged me to take up the cross and be a part of continuing God’s cause rather than be a stumbling block, I thought of Jesus and his disciples. In addition to the sadness of losing a cherished friend, imagine how much fear they must have felt to be given this responsibility. As a mortal, I tend to decide questions of religious responsibility from the human standpoint rather than from the divine. How is this going to affect ME? Maybe Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ news was more out of fear than out of disrespect; the fear of losing their leader and having to carry the cross without him. Imagine that you are a disciple hearing this ‘news’ from Jesus. What are your concerns and fears? What is your response? for your Reflection
Prayer Heavenly Father – In my everyday decisions, please help me look to You and focus on Your Will. Let me not become a stumbling block, but to keep in mind the things of Your Kingdom and not of man’s. Julie Morgan Assistant to Music for Youth and Children
Friday | April
TWO MIRACLES Luke 8: 40-56
I see two miracles taking place for two very different people under very different circumstances. Although they are different, they become intertwined. You think initially that the miracle you are going to read about involves the daughter of a synagogue ruler, Jairus. Jairus falls at Jesus’ feet pleading for him to come to his house and save his daughter who is very ill. Jesus agrees and begins his journey in the midst of a large crowd. While Jesus is walking, a woman who is unclean fights through the crowd and lays her hands upon his robe. She is instantly healed and fades back into the crowd hoping to go unnoticed. Jesus stops and asks who has touched him. The woman finally comes forward and Jesus says “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in Peace.” I think Jesus does not want this woman to go away feeling unworthy of her healing or as if she has stolen her healing from him. Jesus recieves the woman kneeling in front of him and tells her that faith is why she is healed. She believed in Jesus’ almighty power. Soon after this first miracle, a messenger from Jairus’ house approaches with the news that the young girl has died. Jesus quickly says “don’t be afraid, just believe, and she will be healed.” He goes to the house and enters with only a few others. Inside all are mourning and he tells them she is not dead, just asleep. Jesus takes the young girl’s hand and commands her to arise. She stands up and walks and her parents are surprised and delighted. You see, Jesus’ miracles are acts that cannot be performed by normal human effort or contact. Jesus wants all who witness his wonderful miracles to believe in Him. Jesus calls us all to believe when there is doubt or confusion about the possibility of a miracle or even whether we are worthy enough to recieve one. We must always trust in his grace and mercy. He will not lead us astray. What do the woman and the Synagogue ruler have in common? Are there times when you doubt whether you are worthy of Jesus’ grace and mercy? How do you overcome your feelings of not being worthy? for your Reflection
Prayer Dear God, Help us all to know that you love us and made all of us in your own image. Because of this we are all worthy of your grace and mercy. Help us to always believe even in those times when we have doubt. Amen. Rosanne Schenck Administrative Assistant, Student Ministry
LIVING OUR BELIEFS
Saturday | April
The Amplified Bible: 44But Jesus loudly declared, The one who believes in Me does not [only] believe in and trust in and rely on Me, but [in believing in Me he believes] in Him Who sent Me. 45And whoever sees Me sees Him Who sent Me. 46I have come as a Light into the world, so that whoever believes in Me [whoever cleaves to and trusts in and relies on Me] may not continue to live in darkness. www.Biblegateway.com is a wonderful ‘spot’ on the internet. There are many translations of the bible available; I especially like the Amplified Bible because additional words and other possible translated meanings of the words are included. For example, the amplified description of believing is ‘cleaving to and trusting in and relying on’. These words invite me beyond the intellectual profession of belief; they ask if I am clinging to Jesus as the source of my life; they ask if I am grounding myself and shaping my thoughts and actions using his teachings; they ask if I am counting on the promises of God. A few extra words take me well beyond my time of study, reflection and meditation into the world of everyday life. Knowing about something and living out of that something are linked only if we intentionally bring our beliefs to every interaction and relationship. John Wesley on How to Read the Scripture suggested;… “To set apart a little time, if you can, every morning and evening for that purpose; to read this with a single eye, to know the whole will of God, and a fixt resolution to do it. Serious and earnest prayer should be constantly used…seeing that “scripture can only be understood thro’ the same Spirit whereby it was given.” Our reading should likewise be closed with prayer, that what we read may be written on our hearts. It might also be of use, if while we read, we were frequently to pause, and examine ourselves by what we read, both with regard to our hearts, and lives. This would furnish us with matter of praise, where we found God had enabled us to conform to his blessed will, and matter of humiliation and prayer, where we were conscious of having fallen short. And whatever light you then receive, should be used to the uttermost, and that immediately. Let there be no delay. Whatever you resolve, begin to execute the first moment you can. So shall you find this word to be indeed the power of God unto present and eternal salvation.” How can I rely on the teachings of Jesus to answer ‘daily living’ questions? How, in any given situation, am I called by God to act? What is the best disciple I can be at work, at home, in the world? for your Reflection
Prayer Lord God, I desire to walk in the light brought by Christ. Keep me ‘immersed’, baptized in your Word. Amen. Judith Bone Director of Adult Discipleship
Sunday | April
The text for today is a long one. It tells the full story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. For most church folk, it is a very familiar story, but for folk outside the church it is a really weird story, one that is difficult to swallow. Why is that I wonder? Well, perhaps the best answer can be found in the 40th verse. There, Jesus says to Martha, “did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” There is the rub. In our culture we want to see first before we go out on the limb to believe. We want proof first before we accept something as real. We want test results before we embrace something as fact. It is just good common sense, isn’t it? I mean, without solid logic, just imagine where we could be or what we might believe. As it is, we are suckers for almost every “new and improved” thing that comes down the pike; the latest diet pill, the newest age defying cream, even a car that parks itself! Jesus, on the other hand, turns our way of working upside down and inside out. Jesus tells us that when it comes to the kingdom stuff, don’t count on it being anything like the worldly ways we create. Jesus reminds us that God created the Kingdom and our ways and His ways are not the same ways. So, why should it surprise us that Jesus says, if first you believe, then you will see the glory of God? Why should it surprise us that God asks something of us before He displays His wares? Why should it surprise us that God might choose not to continually prove Himself over and over again to those whom He created in the first place? for your Reflection
But, most importantly, why do we think we have the right to demand proof or require glory of God to believe? Hasn’t He done enough through Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection?
Prayer “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Rev. Dr. Jeffrey D.Wilson Pastor, Connectional Ministries
Monday | April
Several questions come to mind after reading this passage. 1) How do Paul and Barnabas continue their preaching in the face of local opposition and banishments? 2) Why does Paul survive (or was revived from) the stoning ( a stoning always ends in death – doesn’t?) 3) Should you always “Pray with fasting?” Paul and Barnabas show ‘extreme Faith’ by going to these cities over and over, “strengthening the souls of the disciples,” while encountering resistance and unbelief. Paul pushes so far while in the city of Lystra, the Jews decide to stone him to death. What strikes me most is Paul’s miraculous survival. A Jewish stoning was no small matter. A 14-foot tower was built. The victim’s hands were tied and he was placed on his back. One person would ascend the platform and drop a large stone on the chest of the victim, hoping to crush the ribs and collapse the lungs. Then, those standing near could pelt the victim with as many stones as they wished on any part of the body they chose. Paul was dragged to the edge of town in Lystra. He was stoned and left for dead. Suddenly, someone had an idea. “Let’s pray for Paul.” As they began to intercede, something remarkable occurred. ‘Something happened’ when the church prayed. Paul got up when he wasn’t supposed to. Paul was so healed from the stoning that he arose from the rock pile, stood up, and the following day headed out for his next evangelistic crusade! Paul’s immediate recovery was nothing less than a miracle of God. He got up because people cared enough to surround him when he was down and out. They prayed that this was not the end of Paul’s ministry. You have a choice to leave a person lying in the dust and write them off because they have failed, or you can be a faithful friend and began to pray that what the devil meant for evil God will turn for His good! Who do you know that has recently been “knocked down” spiritually, physically or both? As a Christian, what can you do now for that person? for your Reflection
Prayer Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you so much for the many blessings in my life. There are many at this moment who feel “stoned and left for dead!” Please hear my prayers for these people. Give them encouragement, knowing what can happen through Faith in You! Chris Yoakum I/T Systems Administrator
Tuesday | April
1 Peter 2:21-25
In 1 Peter the Apostle Peter is writing to several cities, and this particular section draws our attention to the suffering nature and servant hood of Jesus Christ. Peter’s words are recalling those of Isaiah 53 in the Old Testament. The imminent suffering of Jesus Christ is not news here. In I Peter 2 we are given a full example of how we are meant to model our lives after the example of Christ, a path for “follow[ing] in his steps” (vs. 21). As Christ suffered, we must know that we, too, will suffer when we follow in his footsteps. But through the death and resurrection of Christ, we “have been healed” (vs. 24). There are so many different images that come to mind when I picture Jesus: the baby in the manger, the carpenter, the healer, the miracle worker, the preacher, the friend to the forgotten, on the cross, and the list continues. Jesus on the cross provides imagery that many of us can picture, but often prefer not to. These verses, particularly verse 23, remind us that while Jesus suffered on the cross, He was also incredibly humble, strong, and patient. These are not exactly the words that come to mind when I think about the times in which I have suffered. The passage concludes with verse 25 reminding us of our place in God’s family, “for you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Regardless of our mistakes or the ways in which we have wandered, like sheep, from the example of Christ, we are offered grace that reunites us into God’s flock. How have you responded during times of suffering, sufferings both big and small? How have you relied on the example of Christ during your times of suffering? If not, what would that look like for you? for your Reflection
Prayer Jesus, I thank you for the atonement that I receive through your life and suffering. You bore the sins of humanity that I might live a forgiven and redeemed life. Help me to actually live the forgiven and redeemed life that you offer, the full life. Amen.
Lindsay Brooks Associate Director of Student Ministries
Wednesday | April
1 Corinthians 1:3-11 Lent for me is a time about remembering. For 40 days we remember that Christ suffered so that we might have life abundant. We remember that glory does not come without sacrifice and in a word of hope, that death has met its match in the resurrection. It’s into this space of remembering that the introduction to 1 Corinthians is thrust. The church is faced with divisions and quarrels and word reaches Paul to this effect. His response is to invite the people in that community of faith on a journey of remembering; and I think his invitation still holds true for us. In the March 31 devotion I shared that for me this remembering often comes in two forms. One is the little things that bring me joy and in doing so, help me to slow down and see God. Spending a day hiking, for example, or perhaps sitting outside in the sun with a journal. The second kind of remembering can be sparked by the first , but happens on a deeper level. It’s the remembering that Paul talks about – that I am the recipient of God’s grace and love through Christ and that my actions are to be a response to this love I know. This remembering is hard because it means that I have to be honest about how often this is not the case, where my insecurities prevent me from living this kind of love into the world. Remembering may not eliminate all of our quarrels within the church, but it does hold the power to remind us of our true identity. May you ‘remember’ this during this season and in some way be set free. In the midst of what life has given you what is it that you have ‘forgotten’ ? What might you need to ‘remember’? What could help you do this during Lent? for your Reflection
Prayer Lord God, we are forgetful people, who often turn inward rather that display for others the extravagant love we have received. Help us to ‘remember’ your claim on our lives and live in response to it. Amen.
Eric Burton-Krieger Associate Director of Adult Discipleship
Thursday | April
This passage makes me uncomfortable. As I read the first few verses, I understand that the character Isaiah is describing is nothing special to look at, nor is he of any seeming importance to society. He’s despised and rejected. He knows what it is like be weak, to suffer. I am reminded of those times in my life when I’ve felt rejection or when I’ve suffered. I’m also reminded of all of those people of whom I have made fun, looked down on, or ignored. And that makes me uncomfortable. As I read on, I discover that the character described in this passage did not deserve to be despised and rejected. He didn’t deserve to suffer. “But the fact is,” as Eugene Peterson translates this passage in The Message , “it was our pains he carried—our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him.” And I thought I was uncomfortable before! My actions, my sins—together with the sins of others—have contributed to his suffering. As a Christian, I see Jesus in this passage. And because it makes me uncomfortable, I’m tempted to skip over this part and jump right to Easter morning—the happy ending after all of his suffering. But something tells me to wait—to linger over this passage a little longer, despite feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s because I know that through Jesus’ experience of suffering, he is able to come alongside all of us in our own moments of pain or rejection. Or perhaps it’s because I know, deep down, that God can use this uncomfortable feeling as a call to action. What areas of your life might God be calling you to examine in light of today’s passage? for your Reflection
Prayer Good Shepherd, lead me beside still waters and in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Amen.
Rev. Erin Racine Associate Director of Congregational Care
IT’S THEIR FAULT!
Friday | April
When I was in my 20’s, someone spoke an untruth about me. I remember hearing the gossip and feeling hurt. Actually, I was so mad I wanted to fight back and tell everyone that a lie had been told. I just wanted to set the record straight! My dad, who was one of the wisest people I have ever known, asked me why I felt I had to justify myself and set the lie straight. I remember in ‘not the calmest of voice’ saying…”because dad, it is a lie, a downright lie!!” And then my precious dad said, “And I bet you are feeling misunderstood, maybe even afraid that others might believe this lie, am I right?” You bet I did!! You know, it occurs to me that Jesus felt misunderstood as well. Can you imagine how Jesus felt as people were shouting lies about him? Don’t you think he felt misunderstood? And we are told, he stayed silent! Can you imagine the strength it took to stay silent? As Jesus was being led to the cross, he stayed silent. With the weight of our sins on him, he stayed silent. He was sacrificed for us. With all of our sins weighing him down, he stayed silent. Jesus, who was sinless, was mocked, tried, and murdered. And he stayed silent. The sacrifice was great. And He did all of that for each of us. For me, the cross is all about perspective. Am I going to not only understand the sacrifice, but will I respond to this world and Our Father as He has already done for me?
for your Reflection
Prayer Holy God, May I carry with me each day the heartfelt knowledge of your sacrifice on my behalf. May I offer grace to those around me. May I remain silent rather than blame and complain. May I seek to love and to serve. Amen.
Shebbie Shields Director of Singles Ministry
Saturday | April
Isaiah 53:10-12 These verses in Isaiah are lifted out of the last of the four Suffering Servant Songs. They are the final words offered by the author filled with both power and presence. To be best understood in their fullest context, we really need to begin our reading today at 52:13 and end at 53:12. In this song we see the suffering servant as one is stands with us in complete solidarity, but also as one who has the ability to distance himself from what is taking place so that the greater good might be accomplished. Of real importance in this song is the tone, the feel and the style of the author. It is heavy, it is somber and it is dark. It comes across almost like a eulogy at a funeral. As a matter of fact, some 46 words are used there that are otherwise absent from Isaiah. The intent is clear. We are being invited, no, dragged into our own seeing of the suffering servant. We are not asked to do anything, but rather asked to just take a long deep look at the servant, the servant we know to be Jesus Christ. So on the morning when Jesus lies in his tomb, the morning after the whippings, the beatings, the nailing and the bludgeoning, I am asking you to just sit quietly and see what He has done for us. On the morning after He has forgiven us for standing by while it all happened and standing by while it still happens today, I am asking you to sit quietly and see the hope that is seeded in His blood and promise in His dying breath. Write your experience of these passages.
for your Reflection
Prayer Lord, when I let the death of Jesus become little more than a story; forgive me and my hard heart. Help me to see Christ through new eyes and as one who knows joy because of His pain, who claims life because of His death. Amen. â€ƒ
Rev. Dr. Jeffrey D. Wilson Pastor, Connectional Ministries
Palm/Passion Sunday | April
These verses draw a word picture of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As he entered the city, the people shouted; “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest heaven.” When the crucifixion took place a few days later, these same people were nowhere to be found. It was one thing to join a singing crowd, but it took courage to stand by the crucified one. When Jesus was put to death on the Cross it appeared that the opposition had won. It seemed that evil had nailed good to the tree. It gave some evidence that the “Herods” had silenced what God was doing in Jesus by making him the victim. However, for Christians, the crucifixion is not the end of the story. Three days later God raised Jesus from the dead. In so doing, God said that the sacrificial love that was in Jesus could not be defeated by the power of evil. In raising Jesus, God said that love is stronger than death and that good would always triumph over evil. In a word, the victim had become the victor. We gather on Good Friday to remember the power of love. On Sunday we will worship as an Easter people. We will come together as people who believe that Christ lives and has not been defeated. Deep in our heats we know that love will someday win. That is the glory of it all. We have now moved from “Ashes to Glory”. Thanks be to God. Prayer May this Holy Week be holy so that our hearts might be open to a new experience of the Resurrection. Amen.
Joe E. Pennel Jr. Interim Senior Pastor Bishop of The United Methodist Church (retired)
Reflections and Notes
United Methodist Church 309 Franklin Road Brentwood, TN 37027 615-373-3663 www.bumc.net