Thursday, February 28, 2013

February 28, 2013

John 7:35
The Jews said to one another, "Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him?"

The great storyteller, Luke, in the Gospel that carries his name, chapter 2, verses 41 and following, tells the story of the lost boy, Jesus.  Mary and Joseph mounted a search to find Him and eventually did.  The Pharisees, here in John 7, begin to wonder where Jesus intends to go that they cannot go and find Him.  They have no intention of being a follower of Jesus and His Way, but would like to keep Him under some kind of surveillance.  Kinship with the Pharisees can be traced in many of the family trees of folks today, inside and outside the church.

More than one person has related to me:  "I believe in Jesus.  I am just not ready to include Him in my life.  I have too much else to do.  As long as I know where to find Him when I need Him, I will be alright."  While that is the mindset of a vast number of people, others are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to find Jesus.  They have looked in some churches, Christian organizations and agencies, but have not found Jesus.  They have ventured into the area of "prayer" and come away lacking in a "feeling" that their prayers go any higher than the ceiling.  Some have taken to watching Christian friends to see if they find Jesus in their lives.  So, the search goes on . . .

Lent is a time of self-soul searching.  A time to look deep into the theologies which drive our Christian ways.  Are they in line with those of Jesus?  Are we walking in His footsteps?  Are His teachings, commands and precepts visible in all that we do?  The answers to those questions are very personal ones.  For me, as a pastor, or any other to make that judgment call is not correct behavior on our part.  Whether it is right or not, there are those who are searching for Jesus who will look at our lives and make a judgment as to the visibility of Jesus.  If they judge that He is not in all that we do, or at least in an appreciable amount, they will go elsewhere.

Begin today, early in this Lenten season, to begin to ask the questions that are already being asked.  Make those adjustments so those who are looking for Jesus in you will find Him and follow after Him.

Let us pray ~
God of grace, You made yourself visible to our world in the life of Jesus.  Make Jesus visible in our world through us.  In His Name.  Amen

~Wallace Wheeles
Senior Pastor

Jeremiah 4:9-10, 19-28
Psalms 71 or 74
Romans 2:12-24
John 5:19-29

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February 27, 2013

Psalm 119:89-90
The Lord exists forever;
your word is firmly fixed in heaven.
Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.

As a child, I learned that Lent is a time of "giving up" something.  It had to be something I really liked, for example, a favorite food or activity.  The idea was to make a personal sacrifice so I would be reminded of the sacrifice Jesus made when He died on the cross for me.  As an adult, I learned that the forty days of Lent, and the fasting associated with it, represents Jesus' forty days in the wilderness where He faced and overcame temptation.

In prior Lenten seasons, I gave up things such as particular foods, television programs, and fasted for one meal each week.  Though I was mostly faithful for the forty days, when the time was done, so was I.  Sometime, someplace, I began looking at Lent as being about relationship - my relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It was a gradual change; maybe, it started the first Lent when I decided to take time from worldly matters and spend time with God instead.  When that season was over, I did not give up that time to return to the busyness of the world, but kept it because the time intentionally spent with God became very important to me and to Him.

As I have journeyed through many Lenten seasons, I have come to the realization that Lent is also about "building up."  I have a corner in my bedroom where I spend time in daily devotions, and it is the place where I go to spend quiet time visiting with God.  I know God is with me all the time no matter what, but in my corner, He has my undivided attention and you know what?  I feel like I have His undivided attention, too! Because of that one Lenten season, I believe my relationship with my Father has deepened and grown.  But, quiet time alone is not the only element I have found for building up this relationship.  For me, quiet, still times, listening to and talking to God, is begun by journeying into God's Word.  Lent may mean different things to different people, but for me, it is about reflecting upon and growing my relationship with God.

For me, God does not exist in a vacuum.  God is here right now, patiently waiting for the present generations and those who actively seek Him.  God is faithful to us, His children.  Won't you join Him this Lent, find a quiet corner, and enjoy some time together growing your relationship, just you and God?

Let us pray ~
Dear Holy Father, Your Word, faithfulness and love are life-giving blessings in our lives.  Thank You for Your patience with us whether we are trying to "give up" something or "build up" our relationship, especially when we are slow to respond to Your presence.  Please let us feel Your presence with us as we make the time to be still and know that You are God.  Help us to build a relationship with You that honors You and shows Your light and hope to the world.  We pray in Your name:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

~Sandi Falstreau

Jeremiah 3:6-18
Psalms 71 or 119:73-96
Romans 1:28-2:11
John 5:1-18

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

February 26, 2013

Psalm 62:5
Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.

As a college student, I always wish for more sleep, more rest.  But, don't we all at times?  It seems like our whole lives are structured by this thing called 'time.'  We've all heard people say, "I don't have enough time for that!"  This is because time is a scarce resource which we need to manage; if we don't, stress and worry usually follow.

I like having plans.  But, when they don't go the way I want, I worry.  Sometimes, it feels like my life is in a constant state of anxiety about having enough time to get things done.  When do I even have time to rest?  What does rest even mean anymore? Do I have too much on my plate?  As a society, we spread ourselves too thin, so thin that we sometimes push God out of the picture.

Psalm 62 speaks about finding rest in God; he is the greatest Comforter.  Don't you wish every day God would show up and give you the biggest hug?  Maybe that hug can come from a pastor, a friend or a family member.  I know that I can find a few moments of rest in a hug.  Rest, for me, are those times when love overtakes that worry and stress and calms my soul.

Sadly, sometimes I don't trust God enough to provide me with this calmness.  I choose to ignore Him and keep thinking about the next subject I need to study.  God gave us free will for a reason; He wants us to choose to trust Him in everything.  I know I don't always give Him this trust.  Sure, I feel that calm and that rest when worshiping Him at Revive or The Rise, but once the service is over, I'm once again thinking of other things.

I know I have my priorities mixed up.  I know I put school and grades before God sometimes, and that's precisely what causes my stress and worrying.  However, once I pray or sing, my soul is calm.  As I am writing this devotional, I am at peace in His presence.

What are you placing ahead of God?  Have you prayed about it?  What are you doing to change it?

"Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love . . ." (Psalm 62:11-12)  This control I think I have over my life really belongs to God.  This stress and worry is because of the control I imagine I have.  The control belongs to God.  And, once I give Him the control, once I give Him the trust, I will find rest and calm and peace.

May you find time to trust in God today and find your rest in Him.

~Taylor NeSmith

Jeremiah 2:1-13
Psalms 61, 62 or 68
Romans 1:16-25
John 4:43-54

Monday, February 25, 2013

February 25, 2013

Psalm 56:10-13
In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise -
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can man do to me?
I am under vows to you, my God;
I will present my thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.

As we move through the days of Lent, I think about what they lead up to.  Then, as the days grow closer to Christ's final week, my emotions fluctuate when I think how the Lord went from entering Jerusalem with praises and palm branches, to sharing the Last Supper with His disciples, to being judged and crucified for our sins, and three days later, rising from the tomb.

Our God sent His only Son to live on earth among us so that we may know Him in human form.  He then gave us the ultimate gift so that we may have everlasting life.  How much more could He have given?  Psalm 56 resounds with praise and thankfulness for God's deliverance.  Praise and thankfulness for allowing us to walk in His light.  In His presence.

Lent is a season of thankfulness for me.  I give thanks to God for sending Christ into the world, for the lessons He taught us, and for His ultimate sacrifice.  I am so grateful for what God has done for us all, and how He works in my life each day.

The song, "My Tribute," by Andrae Crouch, speaks of praise and gratitude.  You can listen to it on YouTube here and follow along with the lyrics provided below.

My Tribute

How can I say thanks for the things
You have done for me?
Things so undeserved yet you gave
To prove your love for me.
The voices of a million angels
Could not express my gratitude.
All that I am, and ever hope to be
I owe it all to thee.

To God, be the glory, to God be the glory,
To God be the glory for the things he has done.
With his blood he has saved me,
With his power he has raised me,
To God be the glory for the things he has done.

Just let me live my life and
Let it be pleasing, Lord, to thee;
And if I gain any praise, let it go to Calvary.
With his blood he has saved me,
With his power he has raised me.
To God be the glory for the things he has done.

I hope this season of Lent touches your heart so that you know He is always there for you.  "To God be the Glory for the things He has done!"

~Lin Cason
Minister of Children and Families

Jeremiah 1:11-19
Psalms 56, 57 or 64, 65
Romans 1:1-15
John 4:27-42

Sunday, February 24, 2013

February 24, 2013

Mark 4:2-3
He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them, "Listen!  A sower went out to sow seeds."

In the first several verses of Mark 4, Jesus tells the parable of the sower.  A farmer is sowing his seed.  Some falls on the path, and is eaten by birds.  Some seed falls on rocky soil where it grows quickly, but scorches because it does not have strong roots.  Some falls among thorns and is choked out.  However, some falls on good soil and grows tall and strong, bearing good fruit.

Today, we are so busy.  There are so many things the world says we are supposed to do to be perfect parents, perfect citizens, even perfect Christians.  Children are shuffled from one activity to another, play dates are scheduled, and extra learning is planned.  Adults are exhausted by life, work, home, and family, not to mention all those meals which should be made from scratch with only natural and organic ingredients.  Your life is perfect on Facebook; you can do anything and everything you have pinned on Pinterest.  We are so tied down to these expectations, these things that give us the illusion of perfection, but do they help us cultivate good soil for the seeds God has for us?

We hop from event to event in our lives, going through the motions.  We do this at work, at home, and even at church.  This is busyness, not acts of intention.  We forget that these distractions are not our true purpose here, that God has a plan for us, the seeds for a wonderful life and a relationship with Him if only we cultivate the soil.

Have you ever wondered what God would pin on Pinterest?  What His board for your life would look like?  I bet He would give you peace and contentment!  It's time to stop, get into His Word, let it soak into your soil and your soul.

Play outside with your children.  Teach them about God's world, and not to worry about the world wants or expects them, or you, to do.  Make God the first priority!

If we do not cultivate the good soil for His seed to fall upon, we are just like the seed which falls on the path, in the rocky places, and in the thorns.  We bear no fruit and we die.  We spend our days consumed by the busyness, the expectations of the world, instead of the amazing plans God has for us.

This Lent, I challenge you to let this be a season of intention.  Stop and listen.  Join a Bible study or prayer group.  Unplug.  Cultivate your good soil for those wonderful seeds God has for you!

~Kristin Davis

Jeremiah 1:1-10
Psalms 24, 29 or 8, 84
1 Corinthians 3:11-23
Mark 3:31-4:9

Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 23, 2013

Deuteronomy 11:18-26
"Today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse . . ."

What would be your initial response be if you came across this sign while heading toward a destination?  I think we would all agree that a deliberate veer to the left would be the obvious choice.  It's a good thing that we have free will so that we can make the choice of "blessings" in our lives!

Unfortunately, the signs in life aren't always this clear, and we steer the wrong way and drive a long time in the wrong direction.  If we are fortunate, the road sign appears again at a crossroads, and we can only hope and pray that it is crystal clear this time around.  If we turn to the left, there are higher expectations and the drive can be challenging, but the destination is worth it.

In today's scripture, Moses is speaking to the Hebrews at a time of great expectation and concern as they prepared to veer left to the promised land.  It is a chat about the rules of the road.  He says that if you must, tie a string on your finger, but don't forget what I am telling you.  You are about to enter into a relationship with The One, Yahweh.  As we would tell our kids as they leave to drive across town, Moses says, "Be careful!"  If we stay on this path with Yahweh, the God of angel armies will always be by our side.

Maybe, this Lenten season is a time to look for that crossroads in your life, a time to tie a string around your finger so that you don't forget your choice and your promise.  I know clearly, I saw this sign on October 3, 1999; it was presented to me by a missionary.  I veered left and never looked back.

It is and has been a fantastic ride!  It hasn't always been smooth and there have been some obstacles, but I have always managed, with God's help, to stay on the road.

May God bless you with a road sign which leads you to Him.

~Danny Orlando

Deuteronomy 11:18-28
Psalms 55 or 138, 139
Hebrews 5:1-10
John 4:1-26

Friday, February 22, 2013

February 22, 2013

Psalm 54:4
Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Today, I will share with you a devotional from Psalm 54 which I believe will hit close to home for many.  Surely, God is my help.  Sometimes in our lives, we may encounter people who wish us to fall/fail so they can rejoice in our failure which, in turn, makes them feel better about themselves or brings them joy.  These people want to cause us to become depressed, or discouraged in the goals we are trying to accomplish.  They want to bring us to a place where we feel defeated and want to give up.

We can also be suffering from internal struggles where we need God's help.  Are you or a loved one grieving a broken marriage?  Ilness?  The loss of a job?  The loss of a friend or family member?  Are you considering a career change?  Going back to school?  Awaiting military deployment for yourself or a loved one?  Or, are you stressed out because your everyday, too busy life is wearing you down?

In all of our struggles, it is crucial to draw our strength from God and keep on going.  When the battle rages, when we feel we cannot take one more step, we can take refuge in the Lord who, as our text for today says, will help us and strengthen and sustain us.

On February 4, my husband began his deployment to Afghanistan.  I cannot think of a better place to turn than to God.  Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.  When the stress and burdens of life seem overwhelming, I often pray the Lord's Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 - Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name . . . I know when I put God on the front lines of my prayers, I can feel closer to Him and know that I am His beloved child.

Today, and all the days when you pray for God's help and guidance, ask Him to help you maintain a positive outlook during your hard times, and help you bring Him the glory both in good times and bad.

~Jennifer McIntosh

Deuteronomy 10:12-22
Psalms 40, 54 or 51
Hebrews 4:11-16
John 3:22-36

Thursday, February 21, 2013

February 21, 2013

Psalm 19:1
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.

I am just as guilty as anyone of sometimes living my faith by rote.  I am sure at times we all recite things we believe:  The Lord's Prayer; Apostles' Creed; the Doxology; National Anthem, and the Pledge of Allegiance.  We sing our hymns and, perhaps, even celebrate the Sacraments without dwelling on the meaning of the words.  Each time we do so, we lose an opportunity to reinforce our beliefs and bury them deeper into our hearts so we can be ready to witness as we talk the talk and walk the walk.

I was reminded of this as I read Psalm 19 where King David is reflecting upon his beliefs.  As he meditated, he thought about what he believed beginning with Creation and moving onto God's Word, his own sinfulness, and his need for salvation.  David wrote about how God's handiwork in nature cannot be ignored, and how great a reward there is for living in accord with God's will.  But, although the natural world is evidence of God's existence, we should remember that only the Bible tells us how we can have salvation here and now.

So, let us all make this our routine during the Lenten season - thinking about and reviewing our beliefs, and making adjustments if needed so we can walk just that much closer with Christ each and every day.

Here's an exercise, paraphrasing The Lord's Prayer, which just might help you find deeper meaning in and understanding of the words:

Our Father - Creator of all
Who art in Heaven - You reign over all from on high.
Hallowed be thy name - You are the one and only holy one.  May your name be glorified.
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven - May your reign be established and your will be done now on earth.
Give us this day our daily bread - Provide us what we need so our faith may be strengthened.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us - If we forgive those who sin against us, our sins will be forgiven.  Help us to love our neighbors as we do ourselves.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil - Help us to live in accord with your will, and deliver us from the evil one.
For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.  Amen - Your Kingdom rules now and forever.  Amen.

Psalm 19:14
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
~Fred Wilhelm

Deuteronomy 9:23-10:5
Psalms 50 or 19, 46
Hebrews 4:1-10
John 3:16-21

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February 20, 2013

John 3:7
"Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.'"

Lately, my days have been filled with relocating my mother-in-law to a nursing home and cleaning out the apartment she has lived in for almost twenty years.  It has been a sad and frustrating job.  Fiercely independent, stubborn, and increasingly forgetful, she has clung to the familiarity and security of her apartment even when it was no longer safe or reasonable for her to continue living there.

As I throw away, give away, and pack away the belongings of a lifetime, I am struck repeatedly by the stages of our lives and the unwillingness to embrace the progression and necessary changes.  Her closet is filled with clothes that are yellow and dusty with age.  There are boxes and bags of fabric and sewing accessories from her career as a seamstress that she left more than twenty years ago.  There are drawers and drawers packed full of old bills and cancelled checks that she was afraid to throw away.  Unable to adequately clean, her furniture and belongings are covered with layers of dust and dirt, yet she resisted any help and fired the home health aides and nurses I employed for her, insisting that she was managing fine.  Easy as it is to judge the overwhelming clutter of her life, I must admit that I often become equally attached to my own belongings.  Sorting through my mother-in-law's collection of a lifetime, I am struck by the burden of material things as well as the traditions and routines which I cling to even when they are no longer useful.

In John 3:1-20, the Pharisee, Nicodemus, comes to Jesus under the cover of night to question his miraculous signs and revolutionary message.  Eager to learn from the master, Nicodemus was confused by Jesus' insistence that he must be born again in order to know God.  What was wrong with the way he was living his life now?  Why should he change his familiar beliefs or his comfortable behavior?  What was wrong with the tradition and the laws that he currently followed?  Because the teachings of Jesus are now traditions, it is hard for us to understand the dilemma that Nicodemus faced.  As a Pharisee, he was a Jewish leader and scholar.  Changing his beliefs meant changing everything he held dear.  It was not only threatening to his livelihood, but also to his very life and his acceptance among his peers.  What Jesus was asking was truly akin to being reborn again.

In a similar way, Jesus' message of rebirth is as relevant for us today as it was for Nicodemus 2,000 years ago.  We may not be Jewish scholars, but we can become equally entrenched in stale and stagnant traditions.  We can refuse to consider new ideas and ways of doing things.  We can create a small world of sameness and comfortable familiarity while we refuse to recognize the diversity all around us.  We can relegate our relationship with God to comfortably familiar verses and traditions which have become meaningless and rote.  

Being reborn is more than leaving behind the old.  It is embracing the new and moving forward within the framework of God's plan.  Like Nicodemus, Jesus calls us to be bold in becoming a new creation even when it is both uncomfortable and challenging. Lent is a time for Christians to be born again.  It is a time for soul-searching, reflection, and turning away from previous behaviors and beliefs that are holding us back from the life of light and joy that God desires for us.  However, it is not just a time of giving up bad habits and unproductive behaviors.  It is a time of renewal and rebirth.

Like Nicodemus, we are called to be reborn into a new relationship with Christ.  We are called to be new creations which shine the light of God's truth and mercy.  We are called not only to be different, but also to make a difference in the world.

~Lynne Watts

Deuteronomy 9:13-21
Psalms 119:49-72 or 49
Hebrews 3:12-19
John 2:23-3:15

Lynne's websites:,,

Lynne's blogs:,

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

February 19, 2013

Deuteronomy 9:12
Then the Lord said to me, "Get up, go down quickly from here, for your people whom you have brought from Egypt have acted corruptly.  They have been quick to turn from the way that I commanded them; they have cast an image for themselves."

Obedience.  I struggle with obedience.  Deep down inside, there's this little rebel that's itching to carve her own way out.  She just knows what everyone else should be doing, and, of course, she has a plan for everything.  I struggle against the reality of my life, and what I think should actually be happening.

I am fortunate my struggle is with a patient God.

Most of the time, the only reason I comply is just so I don't look bad, or stand out in some way where others could judge me.  Not because I want to obey.  But, mostly due to my innate fear of being found lacking.  Not enough.  Less than worthy.

He says I'm His.  I'm redeemed.  I'm worthy.  And, I'm wonderfully made.

But, my fears say otherwise, and sometimes, I find it easier to believe them.  Because, I know myself.  I see the reflection in the mirror.  I hear my thoughts.

Incredibly, despite my stubbornness and my refusal to obey, which require a belief and acceptance of His Truths, His patience with me goes on.

And, on.

And, on . . .

Until I am perfected and redeemed through Him.

Until I receive my birthright, promised to me as His child.

Until His light shines so brightly through my brokenness, you can't see the scars or chips in me.

Until obedience is no longer an act of contrition or pride, but a conviction of my soul, a gift to my Maker.

I don't have to control my world to make me look better or to be accepted.  There's no need for me to fear rejection.  Because, He who matter most adores me.

Just.  As.  I.  Am.

I can unclench my hands, drop my worries, and obey a plan that only wants the very, very best for me.  A plan that ends with me being accepted, protected, and embraced.

Today, I offer my obedience back to the patient One.  I will listen deeper, and believe His truths a little more.  And, not only will I be thankful for His mercy, but also I will honor the authority He holds over my heart.

~Renee Smith

Deuteronomy 9:4-12
Psalms 45 or 47, 48
Hebrews 3:1-11
John 2:13-22

Monday, February 18, 2013

February 18, 2013

Deuteronomy 8:18
But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth, so that he might confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors as he is doing today.

Life was rolling along well.  I seemed to have found my purpose and my niche.  I was content; happy even.  I knew what I was supposed to be doing and enjoying it.  Smooth sailing!

But, with any smooth road, one tends to not pay close attention to it.  Then comes the unexpected curve.  You're hurtling right for it!  Your focus restored, the curve survived, all you can think is, "Oh, God!"  Just as you regain your composure, you come around the bend to find a boulder in the middle of the road!  You slam the on the brakes, barely averting another accident.

"What's next?"  you think.  What's gone wrong?  How did this happen?  Life was good . . .

A portion of Deuteronomy 8:18 states:  It is God who gives you the power to . . .  This reminded me of a line from Griefshare which has played over and over in my mind as I've faced various life challenges recently.  In the "Top Twenty Lessons in Grief," Number 19 is entitled "Life Was Always Out of Control."  I hear it as God saying to me, "You never were in control anyway."

A couple of months ago, my husband's company announced that his job was being relocated to another city.  This was news we neither wanted to hear nor expected.  We had been able to avoid a move for a few years as various opportunities arose.  We would weigh them, but always decided to stay put.  But this time, we had less of an option for staying and more of an incentive to go.  Even knowing this, the decision was still difficult.  

Many people's first response to me was, "I guess you are meant to go to Texas."  But, I had a hard time with that idea.  I felt there were so many things God had me doing right now that should keep me here.  So, I gave some pause to the idea of where God is leading me.  Truthfully, I received no clear answer.  But, what I did know from previous experience and from the Israelites' experience was this:  God will go with me wherever I go and He will have a plan for me any place that I am.  Now, I also know from past experience that, if it is something I'm not supposed to do, God will put up a road block or two to let me know I'm going the wrong way.  I can take great comfort in this passage from Deuteronomy: " God . . . who led you through the great and terrible wilderness."

But, wait!  It says a great and terrible wilderness!  I don't want to go there!  Can't I stay here?  Well, Texas may not be a wilderness, much less a terrible wilderness, but still, I don't want to leave.  

Ah!  But, read carefully - "God who led you . . ."  Okay, I need to let God lead.  Because, we can trust that He knows where we are to go even when we don't.  And, though I might not understand why I am going, or even if a 'why' exists, I can trust that God will lead me; I just need to focus on Him.  Follow Him.  Trust in Him.

Trust is the key element to faith.  You can't really know the trust until you step out in faith, so that step must come first.  Fortunately, we don't have to do this blindly.  The Israelites provide us with many examples of God's faithfulness to His people until we can learn and experience this trust for ourselves.  One day you wake up and realize that God was with you even when you didn't think He was.  The trust becomes easier as you step forward in faith.  There is nothing like the feeling of God catching you as you stumble along in the great unknown, feeling His mighty, steadying hand on yours.

There has been another unexpected benefit in this struggle of "here" versus "there."  The whole mess has opened doors for me to boldly share my faith.  The opportunity is present for others to see how I handle this and other challenges in my life.  To see if I really believe what I say I believe.  Can I live up to the test?

I find that most people believe there is a God.  However, the real challenge comes in convincing them there is a personal God who truly cares about their day to day lives.  A God who desires a personal, loving relationship.  A God they can trust and follow even when they don't understand.  When nothing makes sense.  And, this relationship is not limited to a chosen few.  It is for each and every one of us.

In light of my recent turmoil which I've detailed here, another idea from Griefshare hit me:  God can take anything in your life, no matter how ugly it is, put it on His anvil of grace, and shape it (beat it if necessary) into something beautiful.  This move thing is only a little bit ugly, but it is ugly to us at this time.  However, because God took all the ugliness of a childhood filled with grief that culminated with my mother's death when I was 22, and turned it into something beautiful once I gave it to Him fully, I know that he can make something beautiful out of this move, too.

In that horrible journey through the wilderness, God proved his faithfulness to the Israelites, releasing them from slavery, saving them from dangers, and providing for their needs.  Were they always grateful?  In a word, no.  However, in time, they did learn and understand God's faithfulness.  They recounted this relationship from one generation to the next.  And, we have these stories in our Bible so that, through His word, we, too, can be assured of God's faithfulness.

I leave you with one more thought from Griefshare to ponder:  Life can be awful, but God is always good.

~Becky Black

Deuteronomy 8:11-20
Psalms 41, 52 or 44
Hebrews 2:11-18
John 2:1-12

Sunday, February 17, 2013

February 17, 2013

Psalm 63:1
You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you . . .

As soon as I read the first four lines of Psalm 63, they reeled me in.  I knew immediately that this was the scripture I needed to focus on for today's devotion.

My heart was created to praise and worship my King, my Father.  I was the worship coordinator at Camp Glisson over the summer, and I currently lead worship at The Rise, Kennesaw United Methodist's youth service on Sunday mornings.  Worship is a big part of who I am.  I defines me.  It's not surprising, then, that I would naturally gravitate to the verse above.

As I've been writing this, I've been listening to some Enter the Worship Circle albums.  They are one of my favorite groups.  But to get to the point, as I read this scripture for the first time, the song, "I Cannot Hide My Love" was playing.  To me, it personifies Psalm 63.  At its core, it is a song about God's love for me, and mine in return.  I cannot hide my love and passion when praising God.  It is uncontrollable!

Over the summer, I was able to help campers plan the worship for each service.  In ten weeks, I coordinated 100+ worship services.  It was the most stressful period I've ever endured.  On top of those services and planning them, I worked the challenge course for at least two hours per day, usually more.  Every day, I experienced a new tired, a new sore, and a new obstacle.  But, I loved every second of it!  I saw over 3,000 campers and counselors sing and dance and praise the God who created us.  I sang and praised like never before.  We could not hide our love!

My soul thirsts for God.  I can't even express the yearning that is in me to praise Him.  I have seen so many lives, my own included, transformed by God's love and grace.  I worship because of God's great love for me.  He satisfies my soul, and that is a feeling for which I have no words . . .

~Trent Watson

Deuteronomy 8:1-10
Psalms 63, 98 or 103
1 Corinthians 1:17-31
Mark 2:18-22

Saturday, February 16, 2013

February 16, 2013

Psalm 32:7
You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

As Christians, we have a hiding place in God who will preserve us from trouble.  His great mercy surrounds the righteous.  We can live each day confidently knowing our mighty God is with us and will one day take us home to live with Him forever.  We will not face the eternal troubles that will befall the ungodly.

What a blessing this is!  So, too, is the blessing of forgiveness which God, through His Son, Jesus, so graciously gives to us.  Because, there is not one of us who is blameless.

All have sinned.

All have missed the mark.

All are in need of our loving, awesome, and amazing Lord!

And, when we seek God as our refuge and strength, our hiding place, He is faithful to deliver us.  Forgive us.  Instructing and guiding us along our life's journey in His ways and His will.

So, let us reflect on these things today:

  • God is a forgiving God who takes away our sins.
  • He shelters us from evil.
  • He teaches, guides and counsels us through His Word.
  • He leads us in the paths for His righteousness sake.
  • He loves us more than we could ever imagine.
May this Lenten season bring you into a closer walk with the Lord.

~Lange Duby

Deuteronomy 7:17-26
Psalms 30, 32 or 42, 43
Titus 3:1-15
John 1:43-51

Friday, February 15, 2013

February 15, 2013

Psalm 31:19
How great is your goodness which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you.

During this season of Lent, the first thing that comes to my mind is the joy of the upcoming Easter.  As a child, Easter was a fun, family celebration filled with a wonderful Easter dinner, Easter egg hunts, and Easter baskets.  In those early years, attending church was just a part of the process.

Now, with more knowledge and understanding, Easter has a different connotation for me, though it remains a time of joy.  Today, I cherish the true significance of Easter:  Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins and was resurrected just as God had promised.  This resurrection confirms the power of God and the promise of forgiveness.  Who wouldn't be joyful about that?  However, the days leading up to Easter were anything but joyful for our Lord; it was a time of suffering, persecution, and betrayal.

Psalm 31 reminds me that, even when we are suffering trials and tribulations, we are still led and protected by God.  Lent is a good time to reflect upon our shortcomings, our enemies (be they people, possessions or ourselves), and our sorrows.  Once we recognize what these are, we can turn to the Lord and find comfort in his deliverance.  He sees our afflictions.  He knows the anguish gripping our very souls.  God has the power to redeem us for "the Lord preserves the faithful . . ."

Let us use this Lenten season to meditate upon our weaknesses and sorrows, those things which cause us suffering.  Let us ask God to ". . . deliver me in your righteousness . . . be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me." Let us make these forty days a time to recommit and strengthen our devotion to God, repenting of our sins.  Giving thanks for the price Jesus paid for them so that we might be forgiven.

Can you list those things in your life which bring you suffering and sorrow?  During the Lenten season, will you read your Bible daily, letting the Scriptures remind you of Jesus' sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins?  Can you spend time in daily prayer, thanking God for his love and deliverance?

Eternal God, thank you for the guidance, refuge, mercy, and deliverance you have provided for me.  Help me to be your faithful servant and to always be mindful of your presence and love.  In Christ's name, I pray.  Amen.

~Ann Baker

Deuteronomy 7:12-16
Psalm 31 or 35
Titus 2:1-15
John 1:35-42 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 14, 2013

Deuteronomy 7:6-11
 . . . The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession . . . because the Lord loved you . . . Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

Psalm 37:1-18
Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong . . . Trust in the Lord and do good . . . Commit your way to the Lord . . . Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.

The feeling of being loved is the best feeling of all.  Just reading the words of Deuteronomy can make you feel incredibly special; knowing you are God's treasured possession.  It also tells us how to always know and feel his love - by keeping his commands.  Psalm 37 shares ways in which we can follow God and know that he is ever faithful.

Lent lasts for forty days.  It is a time of repentance, fasting, and preparation for the coming of Easter.  The forty days of Lent represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptations of Satan.  During that time, our Lord found the strength to resist them all.  It was after this when he began his ministry.

When reading Psalm 37, I thought of the wilderness in which we live - our world.  Temptation and evil are everywhere and, at times, it seems that the evildoers get more of the "spotlight" than those who are doing good deeds.  When this happens, people have a tendency to gravitate toward the bad instead of focusing on what is good.  Giving into temptation is easier than choosing the good and righteous way.

How then can we use these forty days to strengthen ourselves and, like Jesus, overcome temptation?  In Psalm 37, three verses stood out to me as things we can think about and reflect upon in our own lives.  Challenges we can take.

  • Trust in the Lord and do good - We must trust that God is our faithful God.  He loves us and will provide for us.  We can do good by taking this time to reach out and help others.  Volunteering, sending words of encouragement to someone, or donating to Christian charities are all opportunities to do good and share God's love.
  • Commit your way to the Lord - During this season, commit, or re-commit, everything to God.  When we trust God with our lives (e.g. family, marriage, job), we begin to look at life differently.  We can have peace knowing that God is in control and loves us more than we can possibly imagine.
  • Be still before the Lord - For me, this is all about making time to be with him with no distractions.  Take time each day to talk with God, but also remember to be still and listen.  If it is only the sounds of nature you hear, they, too, are signs that God is with you.
Each day of Lent, remind yourself of the immeasurable love God has for you.  Take time to examine how you are living your life and begin to make changes where they are needed.  At the end of the season, you will be on your way to beginning your own ministry of sharing God's love, just like Jesus did.

~Michele Benedetto

Deuteronomy 7:6-11
Psalms 37:1-18 or 37:19-42
Titus 1:1-16
John 1:29-34

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday - February 13, 2013

Matthew 6:19-21
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

As a person who grew up in an non-traditional church in a traditional denomination, I came to expect the unexpected from my pastor when it came to the observance and celebration of Christian "holidays."  I remember his challenging words on an Easter Sunday, directed at those who hadn't attended since the last Easter or, maybe, Christmas Eve, and thinking, "Did he really just say that?"

It's been ten years since I moved from Pittsburgh, but I still remember many of the sermons Pastor Frank delivered.  He challenged me in many ways, and the man and leader I am today reflects his great influence.  One of his challenges which remains fresh in my mind today was given on Ash Wednesday, the day we observe today, and ties in particularly well with our reading from the Gospel of Matthew.  Before you read any further, you may want to stop and read Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-21.

Today's lesson occurs right in the middle of Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5-7; Luke 6:17-49), the longest recorded excerpt of teaching from Jesus in the New Testament.  I've heard many theologians remark that Jesus said more in these verses to encourage, strengthen, and challenge us than many pastors say in a 25 minute sermon!  Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out the way we are supposed to live in relation to God and others.  In today's section, he takes a stab at the usual suspects, the Pharisees, and warns us to beware when it comes to practicing our acts of faith and discipleship.  He specifically addresses our giving (vs. 1-4), praying (vs. 5,6), and fasting (16-18), concluding that these acts are an issue of the heart (vs. 19-21).

Jesus challenges us throughout this section to not be "showy" when it comes to our acts of discipleship.  He doesn't discount the ideas of giving, praying, and fasting; in fact, when compared to the rest of his and other Biblical teachings, one finds that these acts are important ones which should be included in the faith journey of all believers.  And, this is why verses 19-21 are so crucial - Jesus tells us to store up treasures in heaven, not here on earth.  The things we possess and the praises we receive from men are earthly things which, without a doubt, will fade and rust as surely as my old, beat-up Jeep did after experiencing just one too many northern winters.

All this takes me back to my opening story and that challenge Pastor Frank gave our congregation many years ago and one I give to you.  Instead of giving up something for Lent this year, why don't you consider taking on something?  It could be choosing to spend more time in God's Word, serving in one of the outreach ministries in your community, or spending more quality time with your spouse and children.

The reasoning behind taking on rather than giving up is too often the latter becomes something which is "all about us" instead of being "all about God."  While cutting out things like red meat, sweets, and alcohol from our diets during Lent is fine, we, sadly, often find ourselves telling family and friends that we cannot eat or drink these things because "we've given it up for Lent."    Isn't this seeking attention from men?  Their affirmations, not God's?  Is it just me, or does this mentality go against everything we've read today and what we know about Jesus?

I may be going out on a limb here, but I would be willing to bet (if Methodist were allowed to bet!) that Jesus would rather us not "give up" something, aka "fast", if it leads to our own glory or fulfills our own self-righteousness despite our claim to be doing so in His name.

So, I'm laying down the gauntlet!  I encourage you to take up something this year for Lent which will not only lead you to growing closer to God and others, but will also place the focus and the glory on Him, helping you to lay up your treasures in Heaven.  Joining us on this Lenten devotional journey is a good way to start.  I look forward to hearing about what you choose to take up this season in the comments section.

~Paul Scheeser
Minister of Youth

Joel 2:102; 12-17
Psalm 51:1-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21