Lenten Devotionals

2.18.15, Written by Kathy Smith

I had finished my meeting and was anxious to get home. However, the Stations of the Cross activity the Countryside youth group had assembled intrigued me. It was meant as a personal pilgrimage of sorts where different activities traced the last days of Jesus and challenged the “pilgrim” to reflect on how the life and death of Jesus affected them. I looked at my watch and decided I better come back another day. The activities were set up throughout the building.   Several rooms were lit with candles only and the thought of being by myself in the darkened basement was a little scary. On the other hand, the youth had gone to a lot of trouble setting it up and with so few people around I could take my time at each station. I watched a short video and went in to the first room. At each station there was a scripture, simple activity and personal reflection. It was in a small classroom in the darkened basement that I was finally able to put something to rest that had bothered me for years. I was asked to write down something for which I needed forgiveness and nail it to the cross. The message said to pray for forgiveness believing in God’s love for me. I had felt guilty about something that happened 30 years before that hurt someone I loved very much. I had done all I could to set things right with the person since then. I had prayed for forgiveness, but I was never able to truly accept God’s forgiveness and forgive myself. All alone in that darkened basement classroom, I wrestled with God and myself. Did I truly believe that Jesus died to take away my sin? If I truly believed, it was time to accept God’s forgiveness and forgive myself. Through tears of relief and joy, I nailed my sin to the cross believing in God’s promise of forgiveness. I left a heavy burden behind in the darkened basement classroom and headed home with renewed joy in my heart for a personal Savior, Jesus Christ.

Acts 10:43 “All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”

 

2.19.15, Written by Joan Weiser

“Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

A LETTER TO OUR LORD

Dear Lord Jesus,

I am writing in reference to the cross you carried to your death for our salvation.

I want you to know how very sorry I am for our sins that weighed the cross so heavily. Jesus, you took on the burden of our sins for us so that we could spend eternity with you.

I am grateful Lord. Your love is so meaningful. You suffered for our soul’s salvation.

For everyone who believes in you, you found us worthy of your love due to our faith and we are saved by your crucifixion.

Safe, saved – these are incredible words – meaning a sense of security. Our homes should signify a safe, secure place here on earth. A feel good place when we say “we’re going home.”

The eternal home with you Lord, is what your sacrificial love on Good Friday and your resurrection Easter Sunday gives us a heavenly home. Sounds good to me!!

It comforts me to know that my loved ones who have passed on, are at home with you Lord.

I can’t thank you enough for opening the gates of heaven for us. Your love and sacrifice has provided all of this. How Great Thou Art!

Gratefully yours, Lord

Joan Weiser

 

2.20.15, Written by Jane Hibbs

As I was driving down a street in Topeka the other day, I passed a church and their sign said, “When He was on the cross, I was on His mind.”

Wow! I have known always that Jesus died for me, but I never thought about it in that way. He cared for me just as He did for that thief beside Him on that other cross. He told him that, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I am going to think about that sign during the season of Lent. I hope you will join me in knowing that Jesus knew we would be living our lives in this time and in this place and gave His life that we would worship Him and live abundantly because He died for us. He sacrificed Himself so that we would not be bound by all the laws of the Old Testament and would know that we are saved by grace because of Him.

Let’s spend time today praising God and thanking Him for the gift of His precious Son.

God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will have everlasting life. – John 3:16

 

2.21.15, Written by Dee Romberger

RESURRECTION SUNDAY

We look forward to Resurrection Sunday

When Jesus rose to Heaven above

God’s only Son who was crucified

As the ultimate gift of love.

God sent Jesus as a baby

In human form He became a man

He was the long-awaited Savior

Part of God’s “eternity plan.”

For the people were disobedient

And refused to obey God’s rules

They chose to worship idols

They were nothing more than fools.

But, God in all His mercy

Couldn’t let them die in vain

So he gave them the gift of forgiveness

And let His Son endure the pain.

Jesus died for everyone who lives

That we might live again

If we but believe in God

And ask forgiveness of our sin.

God gave us Jesus

Who died to set us free

By hanging on a cross

So He could rise in victory.

We hear “Happy Easter” greetings

As Lent draws to a close

Rejoicing for the risen Christ

Who saves our sinful souls.

God sent Jesus

To make us aware

We can go to the cross

And leave our sin there.

Jesus suffered and died

In three days He rose above

As we celebrate Resurrection Sunday

Let’s give thanks for God’s amazing love.

 

2.22.15, Written by Pastor Morgan

Years ago in a church I used to serve, a woman walked in to the sanctuary on Easter Sunday and handed me a small baggie of quarters. “What’s this?” I asked. “Every year I give something up for Lent,” she answered, “and then I put a quarter in a jar for every time I cheat. This year I gave up chocolate but I had some leftover Valentine’s Day candy that got the best of me. Those quarters are my Lenten offering to make up for my cheating.” She and I laughed for a moment and I ceremonially added the quarters to the offering plate.

The next year, the same woman walked in to church on Easter Sunday and again handed me a bag of quarters. This year’s bag was significantly heavier. “I gave up curse words this year,” she announced. I glanced down at the bag, a large Ziploc filled with easily $50 worth of quarters. “It was a little bit harder this year,” she said sheepishly. We laughed again and I added them to the offering plate, assuring her of God’s love for her.

The third year I served in that church, the woman walked in on Easter Sunday and came up to me empty handed. “I have no quarters this year,” she said. I smiled at her and opened my mouth to celebrate with her. “It’s not what you think,” she went on. “This year for Lent what I tried to give up was criticizing people. It was hard. By the third or fourth day I already had a bunch of quarters all ready to turn in on Easter. But then I began to realize something. I felt like God was moving in my heart to help me change my whole way of thinking. Instead of just giving up criticism for Lent, I realized God was trying to help me become a more compassionate person. Every time I went to put a quarter in my jar after I criticized someone, I would think about what was going on in that person’s life and realize I might act just the same way if I was in their shoes and dealing with the same things they were. After a week or so, I gave up my quarters and decided I was going to just let God work on transforming me into a new person, all the way through Lent and beyond. So I have no quarters to give you this morning, but I have a new heart I’m giving God every day.”

I looked at this woman, already one of the most compassionate people I knew, and thought about what an incredible lesson she was teaching me in that moment, about humility and love, and God’s grace at work in our lives. I hugged her and we both suddenly had “allergies” causing our eyes to mist.

And then I got up to preach the sermon on Easter morning, and realized the sermon I needed to hear had already been spoken.

 

2.23.15, Written by Don Daniels

Read Mark 8:34b-37

In Marcus Borg and John Crossan’s book “The Last Week”, they suggest that Mark understood that Jesus was quite literal when he said, ““Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus was calling his disciples to walk with him against imperial violence and religious collaboration with the imperialists. This walk would end with their passing through death to resurrection as it did Jesus. Jesus’ invitation is the same for us. What religious collaboration with imperialism are we being called to oppose? “Are ye able,” said the Master, “to be crucified with me?” “Yea,” the sturdy dreamers answered, “to the death we follow thee.” (Hymn 530) Am I able? Are you?

Prayer – Creator God, help us to be true disciples of Jesus no matter what the cost. Amen.

 

2.24.15, Written by Cathy Wrenick

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” – John 14:1-4

On October 23, 2014, Rudy and I lost our very dear niece, Susan, who at 48 had suffered breast cancer for 14 years. Susan went through many stages of the disease. Like Jesus, Susan knew where she was going and that there would be a place for her. The trust and faith that she had in Jesus was extremely strong. Susan and I were in the same weekly Bible study, Bible Study Fellowship. She lived in Dallas and I was here in Topeka, but several times when there were things we didn’t understand we would call each other. Through our wonderful conversations, we would talk our way through it. Her insights and belief helped my faith to grow tremendously.

This fall as Susan’s illness progressed, she was told she would not see 2015. The week before she died we were in Dallas for the funeral of a very close friend who also had great faith, but her mind had been destroyed by dementia. The blessings of that weekend were my visits with Susan. As always, her eyes radiated the light of Christ. Though in great pain, she was so excited she would soon see our Lord that she kept pointing up toward heaven with a big smile. We talked. We prayed. We hugged. I knew she was ready to go. Now when I think of Susan all I can see are her eyes shining the light of Christ and a big smile on her face reflecting the glory of God. Her gift of faith and love are the greatest human gifts one can receive. I feel very fortunate to have had her in my life.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” – John 14:27

With love and peace

Aunt Cathy (Wrenick)

 

2.25.15, Written by Jamie Meyer

Forgiveness….so easy to say, so difficult to do.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32

How many times have you ‘forgiven’ someone just to have the fault or the wrong pop back up in your mind? I would suggest that forgiveness is not a ‘one and done’ act, but a continuous, maybe life-long action. Every time someone else’s sin or wrong toward you is renewed in your mind, I challenge you to take it again to the Lord in prayer and thank Him for His unconditional grace to you.

 

2.26.15, Written by Judy Corbett

I recently read a book that made me think about God. The author had become so concerned about the suffering in the world that he had lost his faith and even now doubts about the existence of God.

There certainly is massive suffering in the world, and we are bewildered at its cause. But God is there to ease the suffering. I’ve had time of crisis when I wondered if there was a God. But at one terrible time I finally called out to God. God answered! I heard and felt God’s comforting presence. Now I know that God is always there, to ease and comfort, to make a hard moment softer.

Jesus in his suffering on the cross sought God’s comfort. We have to know that God eased Jesus’s pain when he needed it most. That’s what God does.

 

2.27.15, Written by Pastor Nancy

“Behold, I am about to do a new thing. Now it springs forth; can you not perceive it?” – Isaiah 43:19

This is probably my favorite Bible verse of all time. The prophet Isaiah is speaking to the Hebrew people in exile in Babylon and offering them encouragement as they wait out a very dark time in their history when they are far away from home, and the future doesn’t look too bright. He reminds them what God did for them when he led them out of slavery in Egypt, guided them through the deep waters of the Red Sea and the perils of the wilderness, until finally they found in the promised land a new home, a new place to begin anew. Now here they are again, through a lack of faithfulness to God, in a foreign place, amidst people and customs they find strange, and no obvious future ahead of them. Now we know that eventually they return to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding their Jewish society and religious state; we know that eventually Jerusalem becomes their home again, but right now, right this moment, they don’t know that, and I think that’s where and how we can relate to what they are feeling.

There have been several times in my life when I have felt like I was in “exile.” That which was familiar to me has been taken away, for example when my husband died suddenly and my son was hurt in the accident. For six weeks, I was “homeless,” a stranger in a strange land, stranded in a hospital room watching my son struggle to live, feeling alone and lost, and wondering what the future would hold for me and my two sons. There have been other times as well when my faith has been tested and I have struggled and prayed, hoping against hope that somehow God, in his infinite wisdom, would see me through this wilderness and exile once again.

And you know what, over and over again, God has responded to my prayers, my cries of anguish and hopelessness. And over and over again, God has offered his grace to me, surprised me with “a new thing” in my life and given me hope for a future once again. Over and over again, the church of Jesus Christ was part of that saving act for me and God’s people helped me walk through the wilderness into the promised land once again. That new thing as I understand it now as a Christian, is the Christ part of God at work in our lives, over and over offering something new, a second chance, restoration, even resurrection. In the depths of our lives, when we are hanging on a cross, when we are feeling “crucified”, God in Christ is there with us, offering us new life, new hope and a new beginning. Praise the Lord!

Prayer

O Gracious and loving God, forgive us when we fail to perceive what you are doing in our lives right in front of us many times. Help us to expect your grace to be at work, to watch for the “new things” that are breaking into our lives and offering us hope for new beginnings. May this expectation of grace be a part of our Lenten discipline this year as we move toward the greatest surprise of all, Easter! Amen.

 

2.28.15, Written Anonymously, Submitted by Mary Haubold

NEVER ALONE

There are threatening valleys we all go through, where dark shadows make it hard to see what’s ahead for us. Finally there’s the valley of the shadow of death where only the Good Shepherd can go with us.

But “I will fear no evil, for you are with me,” Psalm 23 promised. Terry Anderson, who was held captive in Lebanon for seven years, said, “Faith is when you are alone….and find out you’re not.” While the shepherd also has a rod to fend off the wolf and a staff to reach out for us when we wander, that “you are with me” is the reason we don’t fear.

My best friend, when he was dying, insisted God was preparing a feast even in the face of the last enemy. I picture the Lord at the heavenly banquet exclaiming, “Put on another plate, open another bottle; here’s our brother Ralph.”

This goodness and mercy is following you and me, pursuing us “all the days of our lives.” A great chase is on. The miracle is not that we look for God but that our great God, like a good shepherd, is coming after us…”so we can dwell in his house forever.”

Prayer: Lord, grant that the last word I hear will be “Gotcha!”

 

3.1.15, Written by Pastor Rick

“But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” – John 4:23

Forty years ago when I was completing my seminary education and looking forward to my first appointment as a pastor, a professor told the graduating class this: “Well don’t overlook the fact that once you begin ministry as a pastor you will be in worship every Sunday, except for 4 vacation Sundays a year, until you retire.” (What the professor didn’t say was that “your Saturday nights will be busy too preparing yourself for Sunday).

It has been a deep blessing for me to spend Sundays at church, worshipping God, nearly every Sunday for 63 plus years. I am so energized being with God’s people on Sunday mornings. How about you? It’s great to see smiling faces, caring hearts and inquiring minds as we all gather together in Jesus’ name for worship. For me, leading and sharing in worship as a pastor/preacher for 40 plus years has been a great privilege and responsibility entrusted to me that demands my best.

Without a doubt, Sunday morning worship has been and still is the highlight of my week! Jesus affirmed in the verse noted above the opportunity we have to worship, “in spirit and in truth.” When we take the opportunity to worship by lifting our spirits to God and giving our best attention, something amazing happens. We are blessed!! I don’t know about you, but every Sunday as I drive home to Silver Lake after our Sunday worship, I feel more energized, encouraged, renewed and connected in my heart, mind and spirit. How about you?

Thanks, Countryside, for making Sunday morning worship full of spirit and truth!! And take time to worship regularly!!

 

3.2.15, Written by Kathy Smith

We didn’t pay much attention to the unwrapped coat folded in the box of beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts for Christmas Bureau families. The coat was included in the box we delivered to the last person on our list. We knew the coat must have been used because the congregation had been instructed to leave any used gift items unwrapped. We had delivered to several people that day and were happy to be making our last delivery. The apartment of our last gift recipient was nearly bare of furniture or possessions. The woman inside was very grateful for our gifts and said that we had made her Christmas. We wished her a Merry Christmas and headed to our cars. We were busy chatting when we heard a loud and excited cry behind us. We turned to see the middle aged woman practically dancing down the sidewalk toward us. She cried, “Oh look at my beautiful coat.” She beamed as she turned and modeled the coat for us. I’ll never forget her huge smile and the fact that the coat couldn’t have fit her better if she had shopped for it herself. She was tall and thin and the coat looked like it had been made especially for her. We thought that we were blessing the lives of those we served that day, but the look of pure joy on her face blessed us beyond measure. As Christians we often give having faith that our gifts will be received by those who truly need them. We usually do not have the pleasure of seeing the recipients or results of our generosity and yet we give anyway. We know that it is only in giving that we receive God’s richest blessings.

“Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to in the land.” – Deuteronomy 15:10

 

3.3.15, Written by Jamie Meyer

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13

As I was listening to the song Long Way Home by Steven Curtis Chapman this morning, I was struck by a couple of the lines. He sings, “I got some rocks in my shoes, fears I wish I could lose. They make the mountains so hard to climb.” So often when we encounter a problem or difficulty we say, “Yes, I can climb that mountain, Lord!” But how often are we carrying excess baggage or fears that are rocks in our shoes and just make it harder to climb the mountain? Life for me is a constant reminder that I can do nothing by myself (that’s when I’m walking with rocks in my shoes), but I can do all things in Christ when I turn my day over to Him and let Him lead me up the mountain. So dump the rocks today and climb with Christ!

 

3.4.15, Written by Pastor Nancy

“And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” – Matthew 6:25-34

One of the greatest downfalls in my life, I might even call it a sin, is worrying about things too much. I am a person who does not like loose ends floating around in my life, so I often work hard, sometimes to no avail, trying to tie those up. And when I can’t do it as soon as I would like, or can’t see a way to make that happen right here and right now, I resort to fretting about it. I’m sure I’m not alone in this problem, but I don’t like being that way, so I have decided that part of my Lenten discipline this year is going to include “letting go” and “letting God” handle those things for me. Now we have all heard that phrase, “Let go and let God” and I have often thought it sounded pretty naïve and almost trivial at times. But now I have been intentionally trying to do that through the discipline of prayer and scripture and other reading in life this Lent. And you know what? It’s not easy at all! It’s very hard to let go of our control, to truly let go and in faith let God work through those things in my life causing me so much angst, especially when there are other people involved I really want to control! What I have discovered is that God can care for those folks and for those things that are bugging me so much better than I can, and often he has a surprising twist on how things turn out! That “twist” I like to call grace, the grace of Jesus Christ working through the power of his Spirit which constantly surprises me and almost always gives me a new way of looking at things. And I have discovered, I think I am a much nicer person to be around when I can “let go and let God.” How about you?

Prayer

Gracious Lord, you are so much wiser than I am, and so much more ready to take the load off of me, and carry it yourself, just as you did on the cross. I love you, Lord, for doing that. Life is so much better when I spend less time worrying and more time cherishing the moments of my days and the relationships you have blessed me with. Through Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

 

3.5.15, Written by Jamie Meyer

As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. John 9:4

Witnessing about our faith is one of the hardest things some of us will ever do. It is so personal, so much a part of us – we are afraid of being laughed at. Or, we feel like we are not knowledgeable enough, what words should we use? What is the Bible verse that goes with what I am saying? How often do we say, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” or, “There’s time for that next week?” In our scripture today Jesus reminds us that night is coming – we only have a limited amount of time here on earth and none of us knows how long that may be. Today’s challenge is to say one thing, one fact, or one verse to someone about what you believe. Jesus asks us to work for God, and sharing begins today!

 

3.6.15, Written by Barbara Harlan

This poem was given to me by a friend and has been a favorite of mine throughout the years. It is framed and on my bedroom wall.

THE DIFFERENCE

I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day.

I had so much to accomplish that I didn’t take time to pray.

Problems just tumbled about me and heavier came each task.

“Why doesn’t God help me?” I wondered. He said, “You didn’t ask.”

I wanted to see joy and beauty, but the day toiled on, gray and bleak.

I wondered why God didn’t show me. He said, “But you didn’t seek.”

I tried to come to God’s presence; I used all my keys at the lock.

God chided gently, “My child, you didn’t knock.

I woke up early this morning and paused before entering the day.

I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray!

Prayer

Dear God, thank you for the many blessings in my life, and for the opportunity to come to you in prayer. May I be continually aware of your guidance and love as I live each day in your world. Amen.

 

3.7.15, Written by Dee Romberger

“…for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

I have an assortment of house plants, one being a Christmas cactus. Its leaves are “ouchy” looking as my granddaughter says. I hold her tiny hand and help her touch the leaves to show her they are soft and won’t hurt her. Most of the time the plant is just a bunch of green, pointed leaves but once or twice a year it has the most beautiful blooms.

For me this plant represents several things:

  1. People that we judge to be “bad” or “ugly” because of their appearance or actions but we don’t take the time to care about them to make them “bloom” into something beautiful.
  2. The times in my life when I felt shame and fear, then God showed me how much He loves me and how beautiful my life could be because of Him.
  3. The crown of thorns that Jesus wore as He died on the cross to save us all from our sins and give us the hope of eternity with our Father in the beauty of Heaven.

As we reflect on the purpose and meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection may we look for the “beauty” in others the way God sees the “beauty” in each of us.

 

3.8.15, Written by Pastor Morgan

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that winter is not my favorite season. The short, dark, grey days, cold weather, constant battle to keep track of hats and gloves, and the lack of ability to be outside enjoying sunshine all eat at me. I grumble and complain when the ice falls and the snow piles up. I put on more layers and drink hot tea and count down the hours until when the long, hot glorious days of summer will return.

Growing up in Florida, I never really understood the concept of winter. Winter down south consists of a few weeks when you might have to put on a sweatshirt or dig out some close-toed shoes. The weather and landscape remain remarkably unchanged by the seasons the calendar says are changing. Palm trees look like palm trees no matter what month it is on the calendar. It wasn’t until I moved up to Kansas and began to experience the bleakness of winter, however, that I truly began to appreciate spring.

Spring came around as a season when I was growing up, but it looked very similar to all the other seasons. Up here, though, spring is a completely different experience. I find so much joy in the brightening green grass, the first buds on the trees, and the glorious tulips and daffodils poking up from the ground. I walk around in the beauty of vegetable beds filled with tiny baby lettuce plants and soak up the first days when the sun on my face feels warm. The world changes, and the difference is tangible. The degree to which I dislike winter is what allows me to fully enjoy and experience spring.

I often think of my faith life in a similar manner. Sometimes I find it difficult to regularly practice spiritual disciplines or connect with God. I go through periods of time when I go through the motions of faith without really feeling deep grounding with God. When those moments come, however, they pop through my world and bring me great joy, made even more profound by the bleakness of other seasons. God is there, ready to offer joy, if only I remember to seek it out.

Today as you go about your day, consider your sources of joy. Do you allow the difficulties to become the norm, or do you walk through life seeking opportunities for joy to break into your life?

 

3.9.15, Written by Nancy Daniels

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (The Message)

In August 2014, I suddenly found myself in transition. A job that I felt “called to” was no longer mine. Once the initial shock was over and we had gotten on steady ground financially, I realized how many ways I was blessed: I have a 40-year marriage that upholds me. My children and grandchildren are happy and healthy. I have friends who have been through this and helped me see a joy-filled future. I had done my best at Big Brothers Big Sisters and was proud of my legacy there.

My friends helped me realize that in my “Sabbatical from Employment” I had the opportunity to dig deeper into my spiritual life… including and especially periods of meditation and silence. I followed paths to resources that reflected the life I wanted to live: “Conversations with God” by Neale Donald Walsch, “Awakening Joy” by James Baraz and a magazine called “Science of the Mind.” I felt God near. When I felt anxious, I reminded myself that I could not change the past or predict the future but here in the present, my breathing was deep and steady, my heart was strong and my determination intact. In the present, my life is perfect.

As I write, I have not yet found employment, but this long process which should be deflating has been instead an opportunity to find who God wants me to be. I am God’s child and co-creating with Him a life of fullness and happiness, even now… especially now. In fact, NOW is the only time that any of us can create.

Prayer: Creator God, I shift my thoughts from fear to faith, and I grow in spiritual wisdom and understanding. Thank you, God.

 

3.10.15, Written by Pastor Nancy

“Be still and know that I am God.”

I have not perfected well the art of listening. Oh, I try, but I’d rather be talking. Just ask my gradeschool teachers! I got in trouble for talking too much my entire grade school career until I was in 6th grade, when I finally got a report card that didn’t say, “Nancy needs to stop talking so much in class, (out of turn, that is!)” When I finally became a minister, my mother, in great relief, said “Oh, good, now she can put all that talking to good use!” I knew the inside of the principal’s office well, and the outside of my classroom well, because I stood in the hall so much!

But even to this day, I like to talk and I don’t listen very well. Oh, I try, especially when I am in a counseling situation, or in a dialogue when I am teaching, and there has to be some give and take. But the hardest thing for me is to listen when I am praying. Now that may seem like a strange thing to say, because the verb itself, “praying” implies someone talking, and that someone is usually me, talking to God, telling God what I want God to know or to hear or to do for me. Sound familiar? But praying also implies that someone is listening, and it doesn’t have to be God all the time, in fact, if indeed it is a conversation and there is give and take, then shouldn’t it be me at least part of the time, listening to what God has to say to me? Of course it should! I need to learn to simply be still and sit in the presence of God and listen for what God has to say to me. The problem is it is hard to sit still, in silence, and wait for God to make himself known, and as I have already said, I am not good at that. But I am learning, and part of my Lenten discipline is learning how to listen when I pray.

 

3.11.15, Written by Jamie Meyer

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

As I was driving, I heard this quote by Corrie ten Boom on the radio: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Stop for a minute and really think about it. How is your prayer life? Is it intentional or accidental? Is it regular or sporadic? Do you spend time just talking to God and building a relationship, or do you only seek Him when you’re in trouble? Take time today to intentionally be in prayer with God. Tell Him how you’re doing and thank Him for His blessings. Ask Him how He wants to use you today – make Him your steering wheel!

 

3.12.15, Written by Becky Ericson

So many names and images of God exist, but my current favorite is that of God as a parent. As a mother to two elementary-aged children, this is a role in which I can relate! My children have an overwhelming fear of a particular room in our house. It has to do with a vent on the wall that they find scary for whatever reason. Unfortunately, they must pass by this room to get to their own bedrooms and play area. As a result, they refuse to go to their rooms alone. They insist on partnering with each other or pulling mom and dad along until they pass the “monster” vent. This need for help has led to many sibling fights and been the source of making us late on multiple occasions. We’ve tried to logically tell them what the vent does and let them investigate in order to conquer their fear. We have encouraged them to pray and think of God when trying to be brave. Nothing has worked so far. They are stuck in their very real feelings of fear. As a parent, it feels so frustrating to watch my children worry unnecessarily and miss out on fun due to their fear.

One day, it dawned on me. If I’m struggling to watch my children grapple with fear, imagine what God must feel when I let fear and worry paralyze me! I wonder how many of my worries and fears are as unfounded as my children’s fear of the vent? If only I would slow down, breathe, and let God in so I can move past my worries and not miss out on the fun! Imagine how much more God might be able to work through me!

One of my favorite verses in Proverbs reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, CEB). Such a profound truth, but yet a hard one to live out every day. It requires letting go of control and allowing yourself to be vulnerable before God. Yet it is also so freeing! To think that many of my worries are just as silly as my girls’ fear of a vent is comforting in a way, and yet very eye-opening. What about you? Do you have any “monster vents” in your life? In what ways might you “let go and let God?”

 

3.13.15, Written by Vicky Wolf

IT ONLY HURTS WHEN I MOVE

Please read: 2 Corinthians 7-9

I can sympathize with Paul in this situation. It is no secret that I, too, have been suffering from a “thorn in the flesh” (in the form of a bad hip) for the last several years. Unlike Paul, however, I did not bother to consult God about the problem. I have been a single mother for over 24 years, and have built up a mind-set of stubborn independence, so I just chalked the situation up to the ravages of old age and dealt with the pain. When at length the cause of the problem became clearer, I recoiled at the thought of having hip replacement surgery. I am not afraid of the knife, per se, but usually surgery for me had entailed the removal of something in my body that I did not need in order to live a healthy life, such as my tonsils or my gall bladder. In this case, however, the surgery would entail placing something inside my body – something which, according to the commercials I saw frequently on television, might make matters worse for me rather than better, and eventually entitle me to compensation.

I do not care about the money, because to me, the whole point of having surgery was to make my quality of life better, and I was convinced that a hip replacement surgery would not do this. After all, I said, it doesn’t really hurt that much, and I can still get around without a cane, so I don’t need the surgery. Of course, I was totally ignoring the fact that sometimes I could not get up at night to go to the bathroom without suffering leg cramps afterwards. I did not consider the fact that I could not walk for very long periods without becoming stiff and sore. I overlooked the shooting pains down my leg, and the fact that I could not stand up at times without pain, and that I cringed whenever I had to step into the car with my right leg in order to drive to work in the morning, not to mention the fact that I could no longer reach my right foot to put on socks or clip my toenails without the aid of a device.

Finally, my neurologist sent me to an orthopedist for cortisone shot in my hip. The orthopedist, however, decided that since it had been more than a year since the MRI that had diagnosed my condition, he would take an X-Ray first. Based on this, he denied me the shot on the grounds that the risk of infection was greater that the possible benefits. He showed me the X-Ray, and commented that he was actually surprised that I could get around as well as I do. (I did not tell him at the time that in order to do so, I have to take two prescriptions and two over-the-counter pain medications.) What I saw left me in shock. My right hip looked like a disaster area. For the first time, on the way home from the Orthopedist, I actually prayed about the matter to God. Immediately, I felt a sense of peace, as though God was saying that I should go ahead and have the surgery, and that he would take care of me. Now I am no longer afraid, but am actually looking forward to the day when I can skip, sit cross-legged on the floor, and reach my right foot to put on my socks once again, because I know in my heart that God will prevent anything bad from happening.

Prayer: Lord, I admit that I am stubbornly independent, and am more likely to rely on myself than upon You. Forgive my stubbornness, and remind me always that you are with me, no matter what the situation. Sometimes I just need to be reminded that I can always depend upon You, and that I need not ever suffer alone. Amen.

 

3.14.15, Written by Jeff Potter

“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” – Matthew 4:18-22

As I read this passage in December of 2013, it was as if I was reading it for the first time. Somehow a mighty curiosity overtook me that I had never sensed in this reading. What did Simon, Peter, James, and John see in Jesus that allowed them to abandon the life they knew to follow him in that moment? It’s pretty remarkable really, and we’re not given a clear answer here.

At this point in my reading, I didn’t recognize any sort of call on my life, I was simply amazed at what I was reading. As I look back from where I stand today, I certainly recognize the seed that was planted. But now this passage makes me wonder even more. In this scene we don’t see the skies open and the Holy Spirit pour down. We don’t hear trumpets or witness a procession of angels instructing these men to follow Jesus for he is the Son of God. It’s a subtle scene, one I took for granted for years. How many times, and how many ways has Jesus called me in my life? How many opportunities do I get in a single day to follow him now? How many of those do I overlook?

Prayer

Loving God, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to feel. Then help me to recognize you and take a step. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

 

3.15.15, Written by Pastor Rick

“We are here to pray with you,” the couple said to me as we sat in the parsonage living room. “After all, you are always praying for us and we stopped by to pray for you and your father’s upcoming emergency surgery.” Several hours after they left the doorbell rang. It was another member who after I opened the door said, “I’m here to take you to the train station and wait with you as you prepare to head back East for your father’s emergency surgery.”

I will never forget that night that occurred several decades ago. It was a true gift of love from parishioners in the church I was serving. It reminded me that ministry is a two-way street. As a community of faith and the body of Christ, we all give and receive care from one another. We all are ministers! I know first-hand these words of Scripture, how about you?

Prayer

“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you , because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.”

 

3.16.15, Written by Gary Reynolds

“Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

I read a story of a man from Iceland who went into a second-hand shop filled with all kinds of old junk. It was a shop for the poor, where people could get a free cup of coffee and rest in run-down armchairs. They seemed to be living in a timeless zone, free from the hectic life outside. While walking by one of the shelves, he noticed an old cup, a chalice, tarnished and dirty. He bought it for just a few coins and cleaned it up. When he started polishing the cup, shiny silver began to appear. After a while he had a beautiful chalice that could be used for Holy Communion. It was not only worth a lot of money but was also a token of what Jesus did for us when He shed His blood on the cross for our sins. We may not be worth a lot in modern society. We may be as dirty as junk, but we have been cleansed by Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

 

3.17.15, Written by Jamie Meyer

So don’t worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. – Matthew 6:31-33

How often have we heard these words and brushed them aside thinking, “That doesn’t really pertain to me. I don’t spend my time worrying about from where these things will come.”? Yet another phrase that I’ve heard before made me stop, pause and remember this scripture.  “After all, it’s just Monopoly money. It all goes back in the box when the game is over.” How much time and energy do we spend going after those things that are “just Monopoly money?” Those things that will “go back in the box when the game is over?” Are we making the effort to use our resources wisely, or just buying something because it would look nice? Do we make good use of our time and talents, or are we always giving the job to someone “better qualified?” We need to remember that our first job as creations of God and servants of the church is to seek God and His righteousness. God will provide all those things that we need. Besides, when He comes again, it will all go back in the box!

Prayer: Holy Father, fill us with Your Presence and Wisdom. Help us to see the many resources that you have given us and to use them wisely. Help us to remember to seek You, Your Word and Your Will in all that we do.

 

3.18.15, Written by Becky Ericson

Sin. What does that word mean? It’s a bit of a “churchy word.” One of the definitions in Webster’s dictionary fits my childhood perception of the word: breaking religious or moral law. As I grew up, a new definition has taken place: sin is anything that separates us or gets in the way of our relationship with God. Under that definition, sin can look very different for every individual.

When I think about sin in that way, it reminds me of the relationship between my children. I have two girls who are close in age and generally love each other and enjoy playing together. However, like all siblings of the world, they also love to fight with each other. The other day, one of them really wanted to play and spend time with her sister, however her sister was extremely grumpy and did not respond kindly. The happy child was very patient and kept trying to find ways to play with the grumpy child, but nothing would work. Eventually, the happy child gave up and toddled off to play with our dog while the other child sulked in a corner and missed out on a fun afternoon.

If I think about God as the happy child who wants to spend time with me, it hurts my heart to think of all the ways I’ve put up barriers and blocked that relationship. I know God will forgive me, but I sure miss out on a lot of fun and a lot more peace in my life when I let things of this world (including myself) separate me from God. What about you? What things in your life separate you from God? Are there any changes you can make so that you can better experience God’s peace in your life?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. – Deuteronomy 6:5

 

3.19.15, Written by Elaine Shutt

People are like stained glass windows, they sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light within. – Elizabeth Kuhbler-Ross

For though you were once all darkness, now as Christians you are light. Live like men who are at home in daylight, for where light is, there all goodness springs up, all justice and truth. – Ephesians 4:8-9

Prayer: Lord, in quietness and strength, may I trust in You when times are dark and I feel no joy. How thankful I am for Your light. Amen.

 

3.20.15, Written by Jennifer Towle

Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. – James 1:2-3

We had a few beautifully mild days this January. The kind of days that tease our psyche into thinking spring is right around the corner. On one of these days I puttered around the yard, cleaning up winter debris and was taunted by my perennial bed, filled with the tall dead memories of last year’s botanical glory. Fooled by the weather, I started to remove some unwieldy brown stalks and was greeted by a few shoots of green that peeked out from the dead leaves. Yeah!!! Spring is around the corner! Spring means gardening, flowers, new growth, and fresh starts.

My excitement quickly turned bittersweet as I knew exactly how this gardening saga was going to play out. March will arrive, the beds will get cleaned out, weeds removed, mulch applied, and garden art rearranged. It will look beautiful and I will spend evenings sitting back, watching it grow and enjoying the fruits of my Spring labor. Then summer will arrive, bringing with it soggy heat that suffocates all desire to nurture my plantings. Baby trees, dandelions and crab grass take over as I find solace in the comfort and ease of air conditioning. Suddenly it’s August, the flower beds are out of control and I will give up, dooming it to die with the first frost.

Here’s the wonderful part. Even though I fail to attend to my perennials, allowing them to be overtaken by weeds, I know they will come back after their winter dormancy….most of them bigger and stronger than before.

While our religious calendar replays this the cycle of life, death and resurrection every year, the seasons of my spiritual life don’t correspond. I go through years of spiritual dormancy where I am tested…my soul feels dead and the idea of spiritual joy is a joke. But then something happens – a spiritual spring pokes me, I respond, and rejuvenation begins, and all is well… at least for a while. Then I get too content, too lazy and before I know it, my soul is choked by the weeds of life once again. Up, down, up, down. Full, empty. Alive, dead. Here’s the thing. I’m not sad about these valleys of spiritual dormancy. I NEED these temporary ‘deaths’ to struggle, question, contemplate and complain. Through these detested but nourishing times, I’m not hopeless, but hope-full… knowing that eventually I will break through the dirt and spring forth with faith stronger than before. Rediscovering God and his purpose for my life.

So. Will my garden ever be perfectly maintained? Probably not. But hey – at least I have one to enjoy.

 

3.21.15, Written by Mimi Hinshaw

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. – Psalm 139:23-24

I was the “last leg” of the Good Friday to Easter Sunday prayer vigil: One hour of uninterrupted time with God immediately prior to the first Easter Sunday service. It had been an hour of especially close fellowship, including journaling what I felt God was saying to my heart. All was quiet. Movement through the window suddenly caught my eyes as I saw the first parishioners, an elderly couple, approaching the church. My judgmental thoughts of these old fogies were quickly interrupted by God’s loving voice, “Here come My beloved, My faithful ones.” The love and gentleness caught me off-guard and brought me to my knees in repentance and wonder. These were old people who I had felt were stuffy, cold, and outwardly pious. Were they really so beloved by our Creator that I could hear Him rejoice over them as they entered His house? Does God truly love us so much that He delights as we come to worship Him? Is the very act of meeting together precious in His sight? My hour was up too soon. I slipped out of the chapel to gather with my family to join the response, “He is risen indeed.” I felt strangely aglow, still basking in the personal time with God and the newfound appreciation of the depth of His love for all of His people. That love is wider and more intense than I can imagine. It’s the love of a Creator for his creation, a Parent for his child, and a Lover for His beloved.

Prayer: Thank you dear Lord for helping us make time for You. Thank you for the glimpses of Your love that You allow us to experience. May we freely share that love with others, even as You freely love us.

 

3.22.15, Written by Don Daniels

(This meditation is something I came up with as part of my therapy for anxiety attacks in 2005)

I am a child of God.

I am whole and good.

I am worthy and I deserve love, peace, prosperity, and serenity.

I love God and God loves me.

I forgive myself for hurting others.

I forgive those that have hurt me.

I am never alone. I am one with God and the universe.

I am willing to be vulnerable with those I trust.

I will trust in the Lord.

I can do all things through God who loves me, strengthens me, and restores my soul.

The past is history, the future is mystery, today is a wonderful gift from God and I will be glad and rejoice in it.

 

3.23.15, Written by Pastor Nancy

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. – Luke 4: 1-10

I have discovered over many years as a pastor that one of the occupational hazards is theologizing about everything, including movies, TV shows, well, you get the picture. And watching the Oscars was no exception. As we were still near the beginning of Lent, my mind had a mind of its own and jumped to the story in the gospel of Luke when Jesus is experiencing temptations by the devil in the wilderness, temptations for the basics of survival, wealth and power. There is a great lure in the glitz of Hollywood, in the wealth and power that comes with the Oscar and great, if somewhat temporary recognition.

I am the first to admit that I really enjoy many of the movies and the actors who earn the awards as much as the next person and I appreciate some of the messages that they share when they receive the Oscar regarding the issues their movie represent I (e.g. Alzheimers, ALS, racial issues) but somehow I suspect that Jesus would much prefer we put our passions and financial resources into efforts that make this world a better place for those whom Jesus cared about the most, the hungry, the poor, the powerless.

The kingdom with which the devil tried to tempt Jesus was a radically different kingdom than Jesus introduced into our world and yet which kind do you see us as a world still buying into? Who is Jesus calling you to be or to do to make a kingdom of love and compassion and justice your priority for our world, to make a difference?

 

3.24.15, Written by Jeff Potter

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. – Luke 2:15-18

A Christmas reading during Lent? Ok, it’s little unconventional but it will make sense in a minute. So locating an exact starting point for my call to ministry is a little tricky. Did it start when Christine and I felt the desire to get connected to a church and quickly found a loving home here at Countryside? Was it when Rick introduced us to the Wesleyan quadrilateral during newcomer orientation? What about when I read that scripture from Matthew Chapter 4 and had it open up for me in new ways? All of these were certainly steps along the way, things that were preparing me. But how far back does it go?

I’ve come to realize that it involves a lifetime of experiences and God working through those experiences, and the best way then to pinpoint it, is the point that I became aware of it. That was when Morgan was preaching her sermon during Advent 2013 about the “irresponsible” shepherds that left their flocks to visit Jesus on a whim. She cautioned us not to be so “responsible” that we miss out on experiencing what God is doing. During that sermon I felt like she was talking directly to me (and we were still sitting towards the back at that time) and I felt that electrifying presence of the Holy Spirit and understood I was being called into something new, though I still did not understand exactly what yet. Thus began my personal discernment of my past, present, and future that lead me to where I am today.

Prayer

Heavenly Creator, you are with me in all things, at all times. Help me to be aware of your presence and to move forward with you. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

 

3.25.15, Written by Mary Holloway

I used to cry all the time – when singing hymns and Christian songs. I’m a relatively new Christian. In my spiritual life, I’m still a teen! I have fewer crying jags through singing these days but still there are times when a song moves me to tears and I am unable to continue. Some songs I have learned and shared with a congregation, I have had to practice I bet 50 times before I could get through them without crying. Music has always spoken to me. But Christian music speaks to me like nothing else. Once God softened my heart, my eyes read the words of those songs and opened my ears, heart, mind and soul to a never-before-heard message. The words of a song are important to me. I want you to hear what they have to say too. God had to work on me a while. I was a hard heart to crack. It was not a once and done kind of moment either. He had to chip away at my hard shell and I gave little by little, and again and again. Yes, I cry less often now during singing. I don’t think my heart is hardening. I think my heart is maturing. My faith is maturing. My heart is still pretty mushy, as evidenced by a couple brief conversations I’ve had just recently. My heart goes all mushy and it still comes out my eyes! I think that’s evidence that I continue to be molded and God is my potter.

 

3.26.15, Written by Barbara Harlan

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken the wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. We have all seen this when doing math. When I have started a problem the wrong way, the sooner I admit this and go back and start over again, the faster I shall get it. There is nothing progressive about being stubborn and refusing to admit a mistake. If you look at the present state of the world, it is evident that humanity has been making some big mistakes. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on!

Prayer

Lord, please let me know if I am headed in the wrong direction so I am able to turn around the right way. In your name I pray. Amen.

 

3.27.15, Written by Janet Maxwell

And the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth. – John 1: 14

My Grandma Henry was born on March 27, 1883. She would be celebrating her 132nd birthday today. Well, she did live to be 100 years old, and we as the family had a great time giving her a fun 100th birthday party.

When I was a child, Grandma Henry gave me a set of Bible verse cards. They were small, about the size of a business card, and they fit into a bright pink plastic case. Each card had enough room for about one Bible verse. Grandma would sit with me and we would learn the verses. And in doing so, Grandma helped to teach me about Jesus, and gave me her time and love.

Our spiritual journey during Lent is all about learning about Jesus and his life and teachings. In today’s Bible verse we are reminded “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” The theological term for that is “incarnation.” It means “God became flesh.” Another way of saying it is “God with skin on.”

I think Grandma Henry lived the example of “God with skin on.” And I know you can name someone in your life who guided you in your faith journey, who taught you about Jesus, who showed you by their example how to live and love as a follower of Jesus.

Take a moment to remember one of these persons and offer a prayer of gratitude for them. And then ask yourself, “How may I be ‘God with skin on’ today?”

 

3.28.15, Written by Tag Swarz

We read from the Book of Matthew how many times Jesus went to the mountains to pray and teach.

I have lived in Colorado and California, where we have both mountains and the ocean or bodies of water, and I have personally gone to both to get strength from God in my life.
I pray for world peace, for hope, health, family and many things that I’m troubled with or thinking about, but the greatest comfort to me was from the book of Philippians. Our youngest daughter died after a long battle with MS. We watched her slowly struggle knowing we would lose her, and I not only struggled with God, but with myself, and then I read the verse from Philippians 4:13. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Daily I repeated this verse and daily thanked God for the strength and hope not only for our daughter, but her children and our whole family.
Even in the darkest times of life Jesus is with us giving us this strength and if you are going through a difficult time in your life remember, “I CAN DO ALL THIS THROUGH HIM WHO GIVES ME STRENGTH” (Philippians 4:13), and you will get through the darkness. God bless you.

 

3.29.15, Written by Dee Romberger

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Cor: 6-7

I heard a quote recently: “If you were accused of being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

WOW…pretty powerful words!!

What evidence would be needed for a conviction of this magnitude? We can help those in need. We can give of our time, talents and money. We can serve others through our church ministries. We can DO many things for others, but if we don’t do it with a loving, cheerful attitude it means nothing. Jesus showed us the greatest example of being a Christian. EVERYTHING He did was an act of love…love for God and love for each and every one of us.

There are times in my life when I would have been ridiculed for claiming to be a Christian. Thankfully, God loved me enough to send the Holy Spirit as a guide to turn my life around. He also sent Jesus to live and die for my sins.

I say, “Bring on the lawsuit.” I’m ready – Jesus is my attorney. He already fought the battle for me and paid for my wrongdoing. And God is my judge. May I be found guilty and be led away to the place where I will serve me sentence….eternity with Him.

Prayer: Dear Lord, may we be ever mindful of the sacrifice you made for all of us. We are thankful for your mercy and grace. Make us aware of your presence and help us to love and serve others in the name of Your Son, Jesus. Amen.

 

3.30.15, Written by Virginia McClure

The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. – Psalm 23

Oswald Chambers says in his book My Utmost for His Highest, “What makes God so dear to us is not so much His big blessings to us, but the tiny things, because they show His amazing intimacy with us – He knows every detail of each of our individual lives.”

This statement is so true in our lives. God looks after us every moment.

Last fall, I was out in the front yard picking up debris and I stepped into a low spot and lost my balance and fell backwards. I sat there for a moment trying to figure out how to get up. Due to my bad knees, I was unable to turn over to push myself up. About that time, our mailman drove through our driveway and waved at me. I waved back and asked him to help me up. He jumped out of his vehicle and did just that. It was a “coincidence” that he came at that time because he was an hour earlier than usual. God sends his angels at the most unexpected time to help us. God is great!!

Prayer

Thank you, God, for being our Shepherd every day. Help us to recognize that every “coincidence” is a new blessing from You. Amen.

 

3.31.15, Written by Jeff Potter

After a few weeks of my own private discernment in response to the call I had experienced during Pastor Morgan’s shepherd sermon, I realized it was time for me to speak it. To make it real. But that seemed such a hard thing to do. I wasn’t really sure what I was called to do and this certainly wasn’t in our five year plan. But I knew it would go nowhere if I didn’t speak it.

I approached an unsuspecting Christine at the beginning of the New Year 2014. I can’t recall the eloquence of my exact words (note the sarcasm), but it went something like this, “There’s something I’ve been needing to talk to you about, and I don’t know how’ll take it…” As the color drained out of her face and she steadied herself for the inevitable impact of whatever bomb I was about to drop, I rushed over and quickly blurted, “It’s nothing bad, I just think I need to stop working at the bank and do something different with my life.”

The conversation that followed is one that I will treasure my whole life. What a blessing. Christine was not only supportive, she helped me work through what I had been unable to on my own and to reach the conclusion that I was being called into full-time ministry. God so often blesses us through other people. Today I thank God for Christine, a continuous blessing in my life. I invite you to thank God for those who have been a blessing to you as well, and to let them know!

Prayer

Gracious God, thank you for the many blessings in my life. You have called Countryside to be a church of blessing. Help me to share in that. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

 

4.1.15, Written by Elaine Shutt

“In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north. But one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”

This hymn, which I first learned in MYF as a youth, comes to mind for me as I think about an experience in the Holy Land some years ago. In our journey we came to a chapel in Bethany, celebrating the Tomb of Lazarus just as a Catholic service of Holy Eucharist was beginning. As we listened to the service, the Muslim Call to Prayer was being broadcast from a nearby mosque. The differences in our ways of worship were strikingly clear, but each of us in our own way pray to the same God.

We don’t have to travel to the Holy Land to be acutely aware of the differences in culture, beliefs, or values. These differences impact our own everyday lives. Should we not expend at least as much energy in affirming similarities as defining differences?

“Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. – Hebrews 10:24

Prayer: Dear God, please help us celebrate the differences and likenesses as your people together. Amen.

 

4.2.15, Submitted by Nancy Fuqua

(I came across the following message in a daily devotional magazine we read. I thought it was worth sharing with you during this Lenten season.)

“Thought for Today: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10

The season of Lent is intense. As we seek to reach a new dimension along our spiritual journey, we look inward. This introspection inspires us to shed the weights and sins that impede us.

The spring season is making its arrival, and therefore, spring cleaning is likely to be part of our domestic agenda. We look in the closets, drawers, and other dark places to see what has accumulated over the previous months. Some things haven’t been worn this year at all; others are worn out. Some things are broken; others were never appropriate at all. It’s time to get rid of them.

At the same time, let us also use this season to do some spiritual cleaning. This is the day to open the windows of the heart and, through confession, release the toxins that have taken up residency over the winter months. The old adage, “Confession is good for the soul,” is not to be ignored.

Prayer: God of restoration, forgive me, for my sins are many. ‘Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.’ (Psalm 51-12) Amen.”

Debbie Strickling-Bullock

Wilmington, Delaware

 

4.3.15, Written by Becky Ericson

I love books, but I have a special place in my heart for children’s books. Between my years of teaching and having young children, I’m sure you can imagine the collection of children’s books I have collected over the years! A newer addition to our collection, The Sparkle Egg, caught my heart the other night as I was reading it aloud to my youngest child. The story is a lesson on forgiveness. Despite the fact that his parents forgave him, the little boy had a hard time forgiving himself. Sound familiar to anyone? I don’t know about you, but it is usually easier for me to forgive others than myself. It is certainly one area where my faith needs to grow. Both the Old and New Testament are showered with stories of God’s mercy and willingness to forgive, even to the point of sending Jesus to die on the cross. Who am I to question God’s ability to forgive? Yet, when I cling to my own mistakes and failures and refuse to forgive myself, aren’t I doing just that?

As the story concludes, the little boy writes his mistakes on a piece of paper and places it in a sparkly plastic egg. On Easter morning, his message has disappeared! He realizes that God forgives him, therefore he can forgive himself and once again “sparkle” with God’s light. Think about that for a moment. God is willing and ready to forgive you. Can you trust God with your mistakes and failures? Are you ready to move forward and sparkle again?

 

4.4.15, Written by Don Daniels

There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day. At his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. He shouted, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain. Moreover, a great crevasse has been fixed between us and you. Those who wish to cross over from here to you cannot. Neither can anyone cross from there to us.” The rich man said, “Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so that they don’t come to this place of agony.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them.” The rich man said, “No, Father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their hearts and lives.” Abraham said, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.” – Luke 16:19-31

“‘I know, Father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but they’re not listening. If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.’ Abraham replied, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.'”

Pastor Rick in a Lenten sermon said that one message of this story about Lazarus and the rich man is that the man failed to even notice Lazarus. Perhaps the words of Abraham was a prophetic message from Jesus as He knew that the Jewish people would not change their ways after He was resurrected on Easter morning. Certainly that came true for the majority of them. Have we Christians for 2000 years also failed to respond to Jesus’ call to love another and care for the poor?

Prayer Gracious God, forgive us when we do not listen and respond to Your messages. Amen.

 

4.5.15, Written by Pastor Rick

I once played one of my favorite Beatle’s song during Easter Sunday worship – “Here Comes the Sun.” I love its melody and words. It seems so appropriate to me for Easter Sunday worship.

Look at the actual word for today – Easter “Sun”day. Doesn’t the rising of the sun on the first Easter morning correlate with the discovery of the empty tomb and the resurrection! In fact our Christian tradition tells us every Sunday worship is a “little Easter” when we celebrate the power of resurrection and new life –symbolized in the rising of the sun.

So today as you celebrate Easter, remember it is a “Sun”day. A day for us to remember what happened long ago and happens every day – the sun rises to a new day filled with the discovery of new life and Christ’s surprising presence with us!

Happy Easter

 

Additional Devotionals (we ran out of space)

Written by Becky Ericson

One of my absolute favorite parts of my life so far were my first few years out of college. Of course, I was excited to be out on my own for the first time and loved my job. However, my favorite memories involved serving on the young adult leadership team at my church at the time. We were restarting the ministry from scratch and it was so exciting to work as a team and watch the ministry grow! At our peak, we had over 100 young adults joining us for our worship and classes every Tuesday night (at Church of the Resurrection). It was so much fun to watch God at work through that ministry.

That said, it wasn’t always easy. I was called into positions that frequently stretched me in new and different ways. I am an introvert at heart, so the social aspect of leadership has never been easy for me. At times, I would feel very tempted to quit and just join in the crowd. I’m so thankful I didn’t, because I would have missed out on so much.

When I’m tempted to quit or to not even begin, I like to read stories about Jesus and how he called his disciples. Jesus really knew how to issue a challenge! He called people to walk WAY outside of their comfort zones. His disciples were the ones that accepted his challenge (for the most part – the Bible certainly shows that they were human too). Was their life easy? Certainly not. Many of them faced persecution, imprisonment, even death. Was it rewarding and purposeful? You bet! I know how exciting it was to work with my young adult team. Today, I know how much I enjoy working with the staff and the Children’s Ministry Team at Countryside, watching God work through our ministries.

What might God be calling you to do today? It might not be easy…but it will be rewarding!

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. – Philippians 2:1-4

 

Written by Don Daniels

(Written in 1998)

No one pours new wine into old leather wineskins; otherwise, the wine would burst the wineskins and the wine would be lost and the wineskins destroyed. But new wine is for new wineskins. – Mark 2:22

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! – 2 Corinthians 5:17

The Rev. Glenn Matthew told us in our Bible study several years ago that this passage from 2 Corinthians is a key passage in the New Testament. It covers grace, salvation, and a number of other concepts. It is truly Good News! However, some of us make the mistake of thinking this is a one-time deal. It is a life-long process.

Lent is a time to reflect on our faith journeys and inspect our wineskins. Is yours getting a little dry and cracked? Perhaps it has even sprung a leak. If our wineskins aren’t supple enough to accept the new wine offered to us on Easter morning, then we need to find a new one since grace cannot abide where it is either unwanted or is deemed unnecessary.

Prayer: Gracious God, help me to make my wineskin new so that your grace can abide in me and I can take that next step on my faith journey. Amen.

 

Written by Pat Simpson’s Granddaughter

… (I have a plant named) Felix. Felix has a wonderful story. He was given to me in the fall and is my very first plant. As you can imagine, I have been very scared about caring for it and making sure it stays alive and healthy. Ironically after a huge life changing event took place in my life, Felix took a turn for the worse. I spent most of the winter pulling off dead leaves and watching him wither away. I thought about throwing him away but decided to keep trying. I stayed consistent all winter with watering him and yes, occasionally talking to him (anything to help the cause).

Now I come in today, the first day of spring, and not only is Felix beautiful and healthy but has amazing new pink flowers.

I share this because I know we all struggle and at times feel like our lives may be withering away. But please hold on because something beautyufl is surely waiting underneath it all. Today is beautiful. It is not perfect or easy but it is beautiful. Happy spring everyone!

 

Written by Pastor Rick

God created all of us as unique and gifted individuals. And we all have special talents and gifts. I have always believed that in my head, but it has taken time for my heart to catch up with that. You know, to feel in my heart my God given gifts and name them, claim them and put them to work is risky and takes courage. For some time it seemed like I would be bragging or come across with a big ego if I were to publicly name or affirm my gifts. But I have overcome that and it feels so right when I name, claim and put to use my spiritual gifts.

I am grateful for the gifts God has given me for preaching, teaching, coaching and sharing in gentle relationships with others. And I feel so alive when I’m using my spiritual gifts. You have God given spiritual gifts too! Take some time today to name them, claim them and then find ways to use them. You will feel even more alive when you do so!!

 

Written by Dee Romberger

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity… Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord, Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Colossians 3:14, 17

We see wall art, knick-knacks, bumper stickers and signs with these words: Be Kind – Inspire, Believe, Dream – Live, Laugh, Love – Have Faith – Love Yourself – Say I’m Sorry – etc. etc. Do we need visual reminders to be the kind of people that God intended for us to be? Yes we do because we are human and we “all fall short of the glory of the Lord.” Romans 3:23 Jesus was sent to walk the earth as a human being…to interact with others and teach the love of His Father and our Savior. His ultimate gift of love was dying to forgive all of us when we choose not to show love by disobeying God’s commands. We have an excellent visual to help us stay focused on God and how He wants us to love others…It’s the Bible. Make time to study His Word every day. It will change your life. It can make you a walking, talking visual for others.

Prayer: Father God, send the Holy Spirit to show us the importance and need for us to make time to study Your Word that we may learn to love others the way You loved us first.

 

Written by Sharon Christian Aderman

“We just have to step forward with our hearts and act.” – Natalie Goldberg

I went to pot in 1975! Literally. Encouraged by two friends I signed up for a ceramics course at the Community College. Carol, wife of one of the faculty members, thought it would be fun. A chance to get away from it all: the drudgery of housework and toddlers and tired husbands. A chance to turn our talents loose. Or find out if we had any latent talents.

First day of class we arrived and found a table at the back of the room where we could spread out and giggle and converse without disrupting all the classmates. Our class consisted of sweet young artistic students ready to “listen up and take notes” and one very serious sophisticated woman who looked as if she didn’t belong in a classroom.

The professor gave his opening remarks and we were off and potting. We learned how to grab a mound of clay and work it like bread dough to create slab pots. We attacked our first assignment with gusto. We had to design templates and produce identical coil pots. The coils were the easy part. Hadn’t we spent most of our life “making snacks out of play doh?” As for the identical, that was the hard part.

During the semester we learned everything there is to learn about pottery. And we learned a lot about each other.

Usually the first to arrive in the classroom, the three of us chattered about our day, our children and our church. We were all members of a new little Lutheran church built on the outskirts of town. There was more laughing than talking in class. We found that the more we loosened up the more the students loosened up. Even the professor began to smile at our enthusiastic creative efforts.

One evening we came to class “feelin’ good.” Conversation turned to a critique of last Sunday’s sermon. Then we found ourselves laughing out loud. The serious sophisticated woman who always sat alone and preferred it that way, ambled over to our table. We invited her to join us in our jolliness. Before the class was over she turned to us and asked, “What church do you belong to? I think I would like to visit some Sunday.” She told us how impressed she was with our camaraderie; the joy that seemed to just bubble up when we were together. She then said she had moved to Michigan without family, felt lonely, and needed something “more” in her life.

We filled in the details to her questions. Next Sunday morning, she appeared at our church front door. A month later she joined our congregation.

I learned so much the year I went “to pot.” I learned that a+ stands for enthusiasm and effort. I even learned to evangelize. I have always tried to live my religion. But I felt I could never really “sell it.” I was the Girl Scout who had difficulty selling cookies to my relatives for goodness sake! I learned that there is nothing like a change of setting to give one a fresh perspective on life.

But most of all, I learned that my actions sometimes speak louder than my words.

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”