Week 5 REMEMBRANCE and MEDITATION By Merry Tillman
Lent always reminds me of growing up in Trinity Lutheran Church in Port Arthur, Texas. I remember Wednesday evening services which were mercifully short, the smell of the aged wood of the old sanctuary and the sound of doleful hymns played on a massive, magnificent organ that was surely crafted for all things allegro.
On a personal level, I remember that we were led in church to confess the six weeks of Lent leading up to Easter. I also vividly remember my best friend, Brandie’s navy taffeta dress with white dots that always made her look like a doll. Maybe the best memory of those Wednesday evening services was the Reddings ice cream we would get after the service.
Now as an adult I look at Lent in a completely different light. Over the last several years, Lent has become a reflective time for me. A time to reflect on what Jesus’ pain, suffering, and crucifixion won for me. He allowed His body to be beaten beyond recognition so that I may claim a whole body washed clean by Jesus. He allowed His head to be crowned with thorns so that I may wear a crown of righteousness. He became the ultimate sacrifice so that I could become a daughter of The Most-High God. Now, as I journey through the week of Lent leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection, I see myself standing in a pure white robe, cleansed by His blood shed for me and for all, forever forgiven. I count down to celebrating His blessed resurrection. Praise God! What a SAVIOR!
Over the years, my observance of Lent has moved from ritual to meditation. This Lent, I’m challenging myself to meditate on the events leading to the cross. I will cherish my moments alone in God’s presence where I can hear God’s still small voice telling me everything that Jesus purchased for me at the cross. It’s mine to take by faith. Won’t you join me in studying, meditating and relishing all that His grace has provided?
PRAYER Dear Father God, Fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may continually reflect and meditate on Jesus’ suffering, and what He purchased for me at Calvary. I am so very humbled and overwhelmed with Your love and grace. I am so very thankful for Your resurrection power. Still my mind in times of anxiety, doubt, and stress and point me back to the empty tomb. All I will ever need I find in You: peace, forgiveness, health, prosperity and love. Keep me forever focused on You, Almighty God. In Jesus’ mighty name I pray, Amen.
Week 4: TAKING ON GOOD CHOICES by Kathryn Johnson
Growing up in a Methodist Church I do not remember celebrating Lent. I do remember Catholic friends who would come to school with ashes on their forehead because they had gone to mass that morning. I also remember them talking about giving things up for Lent, but it was often something they didn’t like anyways so it did not make a lot of sense to me.
As an adult, I belonged to a United Methodist congregation that introduced me to a Lenten experience. We had Ash Wednesday service with the imposition of ashes. On Good Friday we had a rough looking cross where we would reflect and write our failings or sins on flash paper. Those pieces of paper were then nailed to the cross and then set on fire. The flash paper would vanish and would leave no trace just like our sins being forgiven.
In addition to the Good Friday service, we were each challenged to “take on” something rather than “give up” something. I tried to reach out to someone each day showing God’s love through your action: call someone, visit a person, mail a card, send an email, write a text, take a meal, invite someone to lunch, things like that. In fact, for several Lenten seasons I tried to take on those things and I failed each time. The business of life with my husband, our two children, work, and commitments already established just took me off course. I allowed myself to go astray. That was not a favorable experience, I had made a bad choice.
On the other hand, one year, I decided to add leading our adult Sunday School class during the chosen Lenten study. Being an educator, I frequently taught our class, but had never led an entire eight week series. That was a good choice and I was successful. I spent more time reading the Bible, studying the lesson, praying and communicating with God. This brought others a strong Lenten lesson. Drawing closer to God through study brought me more understanding and appreciation of Jesus’ choice, as He said “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised again on the third day.” Matt 17:22b - 23.
What choice have you made to make the Lenten experience personal for you this year? Certainly, you have chosen to read this devotion. Why not try reaching out this week in some way to “take on” an act showing God’s love. Choose something you feel is doable but is still a stretch for you. I pray that you find joy in your actions.
PRAYER You shower me with blessings every day. I am grateful and recognize your goodness. Thank you for helping me through this week in particular. (Take some prayer time to reflect on how God has helped you with things this week.) Thank you for continuing to support me through situations I am going through. I need additional help. (Take some prayer time to reflect on the things that you want God to help you with this coming wee.) I want to kneel before You as a child: clean, pure, eager, a sponge ready to soak up Your instructions. (Take some prayer time to listen for what God might speak to you.) I feel Your arms surrounding me: warmth, support, love. I needed that touch from You. O gracious God, forgive me for the mistakes I have made and help me to forgive those who have wronged me. (Take some prayer time to ask God for forgiveness and praying for those who have wronged you.) I wish to be complete. Let me know Your desire for me to be able to draw closer to You. (Take some prayer time to listen for the desires of God put on your heart.) In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.
Week 3: DECIDING ON HAPPINESS By Hannah Lovel
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV) Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
These verses are some of my favorites and ones I reread quite often. In honor of the first day of spring, a brand new season, I feel like it’s important to think and pray about second chances and fresh beginnings.
I strongly believe that life is all about choices. From the little daily choices like choosing to brush your teeth to the bigger choices like choosing who to spend the rest of your life with.
There was a moment in my life about a year and a half ago where I realized that I was suffering the consequences of poor choices. I was at work discussing some of my marital struggles with a close coworker. She introduced me to this verse from 2 Corinthians. She shared with me that God loves me and God didn’t create me to feel miserable every day because of someone else’s words and actions, which are completely out of my control. She told me to let God into my heart, and the rest will “resolve itself.”
During that conversation with my coworker, I felt an emotional pull that I couldn’t quite describe. At that moment, I made a choice, my first of a series of better choices. I chose to attend church for the first time in my life that Sunday. After a couple weeks, I started looking forward to Sundays at Hutto Discovery United Methodist Church. I felt a swarm of support, kindness, and love from people who had no idea what I was struggling with at home. As my relationship with God slowly developed, I started to make better life choices. I chose to increase my understanding of God by joining a women’s bible study. I chose to put effort into my appearance and physical health by exercising daily. I chose to leave a horribly toxic marriage. But mostly, I chose happiness and joy.
I believe God was sitting with us in that visitation room at work listening to my conversation with my coworker that day. I feel like God pulled me into His warm embrace when I felt broken. God internally renewed me every day until things got better. This verse renews my faith when things seem difficult and gives me hope knowing that God has everything under control and has the bigger picture in mind.
So today, if you are hurting, full of worry, or struggling in some other way, know that God loves you and your troubles are momentary. Always remember that you are just one choice away from a completely different life. Make that choice to develop a closer relationship with God; give yourself that second chance and fresh beginning. I am confident that when God waters your life, you will bloom just as flowers bloom in the spring.
PRAYER Dear God, Thank you for always being there for me when I need you and listening to me through my struggles. Please bless me with the strength, knowledge, and bravery needed to make more righteous choices. Please watch me and guide me as I grow into the person you designed me to be. Amen.
Week 2: THE POWER OF PRAYER By David Estes
Sometimes when I am frustrated, I cry out "Help Me, God". This is actually a very simple prayer. Like any good habit, deliberately setting aside time each day for prayer can strengthen our prayer life. There is no one "correct" way to prayer, no special words that must be used.
My prayer life becomes more intentional when I am faced with difficulty whatever that difficulty might be. My prayer life in times of difficulty leads to a deeper faith, not to an expectation that my prayers will be answered in the way I want.
The fact of prayer is that I can talk to God any time I want. I don't have to schedule an appointment; I just have to take the time to include God and prayer in my life. No matter how I feel, I can always pray to God. Happy and joyful feelings become prayers of praise and thanksgiving. If I am distressed, my feelings become the core of a prayer of supplication where I ask God for something. If I feel sad because things aren't going well for me, I can pray for God to comfort me. If I have made a mistake, I can pray asking God for forgiveness.
Not only can I pray for God to forgive the mistakes I recognize, I can pray for God's forgiveness because my thoughts, words or deeds that might have unknowingly hurt someone else. I can even ask God to help me be truly repentant. If I feel lost or unable to make an important decision, I pray for God's guidance on what I should do. Another wonderful prayer intention is to pray that God grants me wisdom and understanding. I can apply that to my everyday life, not just when I read the Bible. Of course, my prayer life is not only about me. I know I should also pray for others. Prayers for others such family, friends, my church and pastor, local and national leaders extends my prayers outwards. Prayers for others in need; like victims of disasters, those who are ill, and those in humanitarian crises. During this Lenten season, I challenge you to join with me in praying for others.
PRAYER Dear God, Thank you for always being there to listen to our prayers. Help our prayer habits to be surrounded by listening to You and your will for us. Help us never feel a prayer is too small to bring to You. In addition to bringing you our needs and desires, help remind us to look outward within our prayer time. Help us to remember those who need prayers, those within our family, our community. Help our prayers be felt with those who need the support and comfort only YOu can bring. Help us to remember those that need prayers that we may never meet face to face, but need to be reminded of your presence. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Week 1: AN EYE FOR AN EYE, RESPECT FOR RESPECT By Dane Valdez
Matthew 5:38-42 You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Far too often in today’s culture, when we are faced with challenging circumstances, we tend to retreat to the antiquated “eye for an eye” mentality. Whenever one demonstrates disrespect to us, we insist on reciprocating the same contempt. For instance, as a high schooler, I commonly hear thrown around phrases such as “this teacher doesn’t respect me, so I shouldn’t have to respect her...” However, this fallacious reasoning strays us from the words that Jesus taught us..
While this logic may seem perfectly just to us, it acts divergently to the practices that the Bible endorses. Jesus was faced with immense mockery and disdain from nearly all of his counterparts, yet he continued to practice love and grace towards all, even those who express greed, hate, and pride. Take, for instance, in Matthew 7, when Jesus offers healing towards a Roman centurion. The centurion at first refused Jesus’ proposal, as he understood the immoral crimes that he had committed. Nonetheless, Jesus neglected his resistance and forgave the soldier regardless.
Though this habit is often difficult and countercultural in both modern and Biblical times, it is imperative to forgive and pray over those who have shown defiance and ridicule, for this is what Jesus has commanded us to do “[...] you must not oppose those who want to hurt you”. Do not compile resentment, but offer them the same love that Jesus offered us. Generously distribute words of encouragement, compliments, and prayers.
As we progress through Lent, remember that Jesus extended his grace to all, not exclusively to the ones that respected or agreed with him. Even more notably, he gave his grace to all who mocked him, ridiculed him, and betrayed him. Although we innately feel inclined to seek revenge on those who wrong us, it is instrumental to resist this sinful concept of retaliation.
Be reminded that no joy can be secured by meeting conflict with more conflict. On the contrary, you will be surprised with the sense of relief and equanimity awarded to those who resolve their conflict with others. Carry this graceful mentality as you surrender any “eye for an eye” grudges that you hold, and replace that indignation with forgiveness and love. Take some time this week to pray for someone who you are in conflict with or that you find hard to love.
PRAYER Dear God, We know that oftentimes we desire the world to work in ways that are contrary to Your ways. Please help us to see your desires within situations that cause us to look to the world for solutions. We thank you for the example of Jesus to help live a life full of service and selflessness. Help us to follow this example of servanthood. Help us to go the extra mile, even when it isn’t convenient. In Your son’s name we pray, Amen.
Ash Wednesday, February 26 DUST TO ASHES by Katie Lamoureux
Ash Wednesday is a time for Christians to go to church and mark the start of Lent. Today many Christian denominations use the mark of ashes in the form of a cross on Ash Wednesday to remind the individual of their mortality and to repent of their sins. As a child, it was a way for me to mark who went to church on Ash Wednesday and who did not.
Why are ashes used on Ash Wednesday? Why not salt as Jesus tells his followers to be the salt of the earth in Matthew 5? Why don’t we use mud like when Jesus healed the blind man’s sight in John 9? All of those seem like perfectly reasonable substances to use to remember Jesus, his ministry and his death and resurrection.
Ashes are remnants of what is left after something is burned. There is no restoration of ashes into the thing it was before. There is no going back. Therefore ash is an excellent symbol for mortality. We only have one life to live. Ashes were looked at as a symbol for dust just as God created Adam out of dust.
The use of ashes goes back all the way to ancient itmes. Job in his time of great trial and suffering wore sackcloth and sprinkled his head with ashes. In the early part of the Christian Church ashes were used as a mark of separation. Those who were marked with ashes were separated from the church because of some sinful act and were working towards reconciliation in the eyes of the church and God.
So today, on Ash Wednesday, the first day in our journey of Lent, we separate ourselves. Today we mark ourselves as ones who know Christ and as ones who know the power of Jesus’ resurrection. As those who are marked apart, it is our job to invite all who we come in contact with to join us in this knowledge of the love of Christ.
As Lent begins, I challenge you to take this Lenten journey individually and together as a church. Read through Matthew, take time to read the devotionals within this book and use Lent as a way to keep yourself disciplined. As you read, be mindful of the face to face encounters Jesus has with people. What does Jesus do when he meets different people? How does Jesus talk and act when encountering a person, face to face? What do these things tell us about Jesus?
PRAYER Dear Lord, As we start our Lenten journey today, help us to stay focused on you. Help this journey toward Easter bring our lives closer to God. Speak to us through the scriptures we are guided through and devotional stories of those around us. Help our ears to be open to listening; listening to your word, Lord, and listening to the needs and cries of those around us. Help our eyes to be open to to the Spirit moving in this world. Gives us eyes that notice your spirit despite the business we get caught in. Help our actions to be used to show your love with all whom we come in contact, especially during this season of Lent. In your name we pray, Amen.
Sundays, through April 5 (Palm Sunday): Sermon Series, "Encountering Jesus" Holy Thursday, April 9 (7pm) Good Friday, April 10 (7pm) Easter Sunday, April 12 (7, 9, 11am)
WEEK 5 Monday March 30, Matthew 22:15-46 Tuesday March 31, Matthew 23:1-39 Wednesday April 1, Matthew 24:1-35 Thursday April 2, Matthew 24:36-25:13 Friday April 3, Matthew 25:14-46 WEEK 4 Monday March 23, Matthew 18:1-35 Tuesday March 24, Matthew 19:1-30 Wednesday March 25, Matthew 20:1-34 Thursday March 26, Matthew 21:1-27 Friday March 27, Matthew 21:28-22:14 WEEK 3 Monday March 16, Matthew 13:24-58 Tuesday March 17, Matthew 14:1-36 Wednesday March 18, Matthew 15:1-39 Thursday March 19, Matthew 16:1-28 Friday March 20, Matthew 17:1-27
WEEK 2 Monday March 9,Matthew 9:1-38 Tuesday March 10,Matthew 10:1-42 Wednesday March 11,Matthew 11:1-30 Thursday March 12,Matthew 12:1-45 Friday March 13,Matthew 12:46-13:23
WEEK 1 Monday, March 2,Matthew 4:12-5:20 Tuesday, March 3,Matthew 5:21-48 Wednesday, March 4,Matthew 6:1-34 Thursday, March 5,Matthew 7:1-29 Friday, March 6, Matthew 8:1-34
BEGINNING OF LENT Ash Wednesday, Feb 26 Matthew 1:1-15 Thursday, February 27 Matthew 2:1-23 Friday, February 28 Matthew 3:1-4:11