Lent Devotional: Trap

When have you felt trapped?

Sometimes there are stories that we tell ourselves that entrap us. We get stuck in untrue stories we say about ourselves: I’m not good enough. I can’t. I am not capable. This is the way it always has been. This is just how I am expected to be. I am not strong enough. Things can’t change.

These false stories cage us, limiting our abilities to create full lives for the glory of God.

Jesus tells a story about an unnamed woman who feels trapped:

“And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he returned to the temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and taught them. The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery.In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” They said this to test him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger.

They continued to question him, so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” Bending down again, he wrote on the ground. Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”

She said, “No one, sir.”

Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.

John 8:1-11 (Common English Bible via BibleGateway)

 

The people around her are also trapped in continuing the same old storylines. Jesus does what Jesus does best – he disrupts the storyline. He allow space for a new story to be told – one of the new choices, one of freedom, one of dignity.

What are the stories you have chosen to believe? How can you begin a new chapter of your life?

Prayer:

Author of life,

Like a caged bird, I have too often let lies, doubt and even my own sins trap me and hold me back. I ask you to give me the courage to re-write my story. Let my life be a story of freedom, peace, and the joy found in you alone. Amen.

Lent Devotional: Complaint

“The Psalms are, in a sense, God’s way of holding space for us. They invite us to rejoice, wrestle, cry, complain, offer thanks, and shout obscenities before our Maker without self-consciousness and without fear.”

Rachel Held Evans
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

There’s a common misconception that to be “a good Christian” means to always be nice and happy, careful to not make waves. It’s okay to be fully human, including feeling all of our emotions. I believe we are also called to speak out against injustice and to make a difference.

The Psalms model for us that we are called to lament about our pain and cry out in the face of injustices. God is big enough to handle our cries of pain, anger and doubt. God is big enough to stand with us when we speak up to help the oppressed. God is big enough to handle our complaints about God’s very self. See Psalm 13 for an example:

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

   How long will you hide your face from me?

 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.

    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”

    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;

    my heart rejoices in your salvation.

 I will sing the Lord’s praise,

    for he has been good to me.”

Psalm 13 NIV (via Biblegateway)

Prayer:

God, you know the pains, doubts, anger and fear in my life. You know the world’s deepest suffering. I lament the suffering in the world! I trust in your unfailing love and ask for your guidance to make a difference. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Reflection Questions: What does it mean to you that God can handle all of your emotions, even your complaints? Who “holds space” for you, giving you a time and place to be genuine? How can you hold space for others?

Lent Devotional: Plans

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.”

Proverbs 16:3

I am a planner. Few things make me happier than getting a new calendar and filling in all of the important dates and activities. I like to make “to do” lists and schedules, and I love to cross things off the list.

Life, however, does not always go neatly according to plan. Schedules abruptly change. Events get cancelled. Something comes up that keeps me from checking off the lists.

I have learned to write my plans in erasable ink or using pencils, because things may change unexpectedly. Sometimes I find the changes hard and stressful. I don’t like setbacks or delays.

What I have learned is that God often uses the “setbacks and delays” as opportunities for me to be in ministry, to build relationships and to help in ways I would not have scheduled. Something gets canceled and that means I have the time to reach out to a friend or to just sit still and be. It can be a blessing in disguise.

I think this is what it means to commit your plans to the Lord. It might not go according to my plan, but God’s work is accomplished for God’s glory.

Prayer: May your plans be a glory to God this week, and may your life be filled with opportunities to praise God. Amen.

Reflection questions:

When has something you planned been disrupted, but God used the interrupted time to make good things happen? How can changing your mind about expectations and accomplishment help you glorify God?

Lent Devotional: Protector

I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
God won’t let your foot slip.
Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job.
No! Israel’s protector never sleeps or rests!
The Lord is your protector;
The Lord is your shade right beside you.
The sun won’t strike you during the day;
neither the moon at night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
God will protect your very life.
The Lord will protect you on your journeys –
whether going or coming –
from now until forever from now.

Psalm 121 Common English Bible

Our dog, Mig, is a wonderful dog but a relatively unreliable protector. In the face of harmless things like an Amazon package delivery, garbage trucks strolling by, or the neighbor across the street opening her garage door, she will faithfully break into a full-blown, barking attack mode. If we get excited about something, or if we are having too much fun, she will often bark at us until we settle down.

However, if someone else actually enters our home (thankfully it has not ever been an intruder), we are lucky if she lifts her head up from her nap or notices at all.

At least she looks intimidating, right?

We live in a culture in which we are inundated with scary news about anything from microscopic germs to worldwide destruction. It’s a natural instinct to want protection from our fears, real or imagined, and countless industries use our fear to manipulate us into buying protection in some form.

While a healthy amount of fear keeps us safe in the face of genuine danger, an exaggerated sense of fear can paralyze us. As people of faith, we are challenged to serve God, love others and do good even if we are feeling afraid. We are not to let fear stop us from our call to ministry.

Today’s Psalm reading is a pilgrimage song, believed to be speaking about God’s protecting the faithful as they were on a religious journey. It is my prayer that we can continue to remember that God is faithful to protect us.

Prayer:
Holy God, thank you for your faithful protection. Help us to discern when our fears are keeping us from loving your children. Lead us to love in the face of our fears and doubts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Reflection Questions:
1. Where do you find security and protection?
2. When have fears about people kept you from loving them well?
3. What fears can you lift up to God?

Lent Devotional: Remember

Can you remember when God carried you through something very difficult?

Every week, members of New World United Methodist Church come around a table at a local family shelter for an evening of fellowship, prayer and creating art. Residents in the shelter are there for many different reasons – job losses, deaths in the family, fleeing domestic violence, unexpected illnesses or other expenses.

Art brings people together. The act of creating art has a powerful way of bringing about calm, healing and empowerment. We choose to create art with residents of a local shelter because many of the families are in desperate need of space for calm, connection, dignity and love.

Each week we have a different project and a different theme. In the picture, we are creating very special prayer beads, “ebenezer beads.” You might recognize the word “ebenezer” from the hymn “Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing.” My favorite verse goes like this:

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy help I come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home

What in the world is an ebenezer, you ask, and why are we raising one? The Hebrew word literally means “stone of help.” The song is a reference to the book of 1 Samuel:

Samuel took a stone and set it up . . . and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”  1 Samuel 7:12

In the story, Samuel is raising a special monument in gratitude for God’s faithfulness as the Israelites defeated the powerful Philistines. Samuel wants to make sure that all who come to this place remember what God has done for God’s people. We are called to remember.

In our prayer bead project, each participant was invited to include a few handmade beads made the week before. As they pray with their beads, these special beads serve as a reminder that God will faithfully bring each family through life’s difficult times of transition.

May we all remember that God is faithful.

Prayer: Dear God, we remember the times in our life when you brought us through difficult circumstances and we thank you. We pray for people in our community who are experiencing homelessness. Lead us to be messengers of your mercy, love and grace. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Suggested Scripture:

I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers day and night. When I remember your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with happiness.I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you.Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands.God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled. 

2 Timothy 1:3-7

Reflection Questions:

Remember a time you went through something difficult. How did God bring you through that? How can you thank God for God’s faithfulness?

 

 

Lent Devotional: Tension

I handed the 5×5 Rubik’s Cube pictured here to my spouse and said, “Here, want to solve this real quick for me?”

He chuckled and replied, “No, that’s not how those things work.”

I know there are specific steps to follow, but I have not yet solved a Rubik’s Cube. While I’m not sure where to begin, my teenager whips through them.

There’s a tension in the unresolved things of life, isn’t there?

I can’t bear a puzzle with one piece missing.

Or a checklist with just one box left undone.

Is there anything worse than a song that is cut silent before the chord meant to resolve it?

A cliffhanger on your favorite TV Series keeps you suspended in tension.

Today is an Election Day and our country’s political system – comprised of imperfect people – will always be unresolved. Tension is part of our daily life, part of what it means to be in community.

And yet, we can have a sense of peace in the midst of the tension. No matter what struggles we face now, people of faith live with the blessed assurance that all things will work together for good. As we live in the tension between the “already and not-yet” in the kingdom of God, we can have peace in knowing we are never abandoned.

Prayer:

Thank you, God, for being with us through all of life’s tensions. Create in us a clean heart, ready to share your complete peace with others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Reflection questions:

1. What causes tension in your life today? How can you release it?

2. When do you feel God’s peace?

Suggested Reading: Genesis 4:1-16:

The man Adam knew his wife Eve intimately. She became pregnant and gave birth to Cain, and said, “I have given life to a man with the Lord’s help.” She gave birth a second time to Cain’s brother Abel. Abel cared for the flocks, and Cain farmed the fertile land.

Some time later, Cain presented an offering to the Lord from the land’s crops while Abel presented his flock’s oldest offspring with their fat. The Lord looked favorably on Abel and his sacrifice but didn’t look favorably on Cain and his sacrifice. Cain became very angry and looked resentful. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why do you look so resentful? If you do the right thing, won’t you be accepted? But if you don’t do the right thing, sin will be waiting at the door ready to strike! It will entice you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

The Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

Cain said, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s guardian?”

The Lord said, “What did you do? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. You are now cursed from the ground that opened its mouth to take your brother’s blood from your hand. When you farm the fertile land, it will no longer grow anything for you, and you will become a roving nomad on the earth.”

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Now that you’ve driven me away from the fertile land and I am hidden from your presence, I’m about to become a roving nomad on the earth, and anyone who finds me will kill me.”

The Lord said to him, “It won’t happen; anyone who kills Cain will be paid back seven times.” The Lord put a sign on Cain so that no one who found him would assault him. Cain left the Lord’s presence, and he settled down in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (Scripture source: Biblegateway)