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Daily Devotions for Lent

 March 19                                           Matthew 20:20-28                                  George Bronner

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able. ‘He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’

When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

Looking back 2000 years ago or so, I can't help but think how foolish we really are. On TV they say that we've come a long way baby! Really? We are still working with the same mistakes we have been making for over 2000 years. I guess we are not fast learners.

Society tells us that we are the most important and it is up to us get what we need in this life. I need to have the most power. I need to have the most money. I need to have the best home, the best car, the best clothes, because I deserve it! So we spend our life beating back the competition, stepping on the hands of those who are climbing the same ladder we are.

Just think for a moment what this world would look like if we lived the way Jesus wants us to, putting other people first, helping each other along life's way. We wouldn't have to worry about the little stuff because we have enough faith to know that the Lord would take care of it. We wouldn't have to worry about the big stuff because we know that the Lord would take care of the big stuff too!

The woman wasn't being selfish, she just wanted the best for her sons! She already had the best for her sons, Jesus! She just didn't realize Jesus is all you need. Jesus knows your needs long before you do, and he will take care of you!

Do you remember that song you learned in Sunday School? “Jesus Loves Me”? It's all true!


March 18                                            Psalm 16                                      Maureen Gensler

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.” As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
    in whom is all my delight.  Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names upon my lips.  The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    I have a goodly heritage.  I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
    my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
    or let your faithful one see the Pit.  You show me the path of life.
    In your presence there is fullness of joy;
    in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

“My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation. I catch the sweet, though far off hymn that hails a new creation. No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?” – Author, Robert Lowry. Words: Public Domain; Music: Public Domain. (CCLI Song#605260) CCLI Lic#1196962. 

This song has been on my mind and is more meaningful than ever before. The world seems to be spiraling out of control—war and conflict, violence, greed, abuse of power.  The daily news is disturbing to say the least. Bad news seems endless. In spite of all that, I believe that God’s love is greater than any evil we can imagine. The One who has the power to create the universe will surely complete His mission to bring the Kingdom of God to earth in all its fullness. There are signs of the Kingdom everywhere—new life springing up, people helping others, advances in medicine, the song of a sparrow. We must not despair but have faith.

God sent His Son into the world to show us how much we are loved, unconditionally loved and forgiven. He died and was raised to new life so that we might live also and follow His ways. We are blessed to be a blessing, called to participate in His Kingdom work, to use our voices, our hands, and our feet to share His love in the world. That’s our job! We have a new identity, Child of God, and our lives have purpose and meaning when we follow Him. 

My faith gives me great joy, peace, and hope. How can I keep from singing?


March 16                                         Matthew 19:27-30                                       Bonnie Gentner

Then Peter said in reply, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

Have you ever asked yourself, “What else is there?” after making so many sacrifices in your life? 

Peter told Jesus that the disciples had sacrificed everything to follow Him, yet they felt like “what else is there?,” as if to ask why they were doing this in the first place. After all, the disciples traveled with and listened to Jesus with wonder, as they tried to understand that being like Jesus points the way to God the Father.

Jesus answered Peter by saying that they will inherit eternal glory once things are renewed – renewal, that is, from Jesus – and from Him alone who can only go to the cross and make the ultimate sacrifice in giving up his life for us.

Jesus doesn’t expect us to give up all things, but he does expect us to abandon all of those things that get in the way of following Him and of being the hands and feet of Christ. There should be nothing so cherished in our lives that keeps us from doing God’s will. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us – we ought to be able to sacrifice ourselves to help others – and ourselves - to see God’s Eternal Glory!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making the ultimate sacrifice for us. Help us, with your guidance, to sacrifice those things in our lives in order to do your will in the world. Amen.


March 15                                           Matthew 19:23-26                                Brenda Mendola

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’

Life is not easy, and it’s ok to let yourself go through the range of emotions but you cannot allow yourself to give up. Grab onto all life’s opportunities. Don’t judge others. Live your life always working on your relationship with God, and share with others. Don’t take things for granted, and work to be the best person you can be, every day. 


March 13                                        Matthew 19:13-15                                    Brian Arcand

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

Many of us have been there before. Just trying to get through a Sunday morning service with our children without incident. Suddenly, your child starts to become rambunctious and antsy. Then comes the noise, the crying, the giggling. You can feel the eyes of the entire congregation. Muffled whispers of people who just want your child to be quiet. Jesus knew just how important the children are. We see Jesus blessing the children, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them. Even though Jesus’ disciples thought that it was rude when people brought their children to be blessed, Jesus made it a point that children are an important part of God’s Kingdom. We continue to see this echo in congregations today that encourage youth involvement, from Children’s Messages to youth-led services. For the children are not only the future of our world, but the future of our faith.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, we entrust our children to Your all-wise and loving care. Enable them to grow up to be sincere, honest, obedient, kind and useful disciples of Jesus. Amen. 


March 12                                       Matthew 18:10-14                                           Melissa Dwyer

‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

The idea that a shepherd would leave 99 sheep in search of 1 is absurd! No shepherd would do such a thing, and they all knew it. It’s absurd, and crazy, and reckless, and Jesus knew it. So, why does he say it?

This passage continues a conversation that starts at the beginning of chapter 18, in which the disciples ask Jesus who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. They’re jockeying for position, and Jesus calls them out and tells them that whoever is humble like the child he has brought among them is the greatest. Ouch! Obviously, they are not being humble, and likely feel the sting of being told to change and be more like this child. Not long after, Jesus asks the question, “What do you think?  If a shepherd has 100 sheep…does he not…?” Surely, they’re all thinking, “No, he does not!” Jesus is turning things upside down: telling the disciples to be more like children, suggesting a shepherd would leave 99 sheep to search for 1. This is what God is like: not of this world, upside down, radical! – loving each one of us so much, so absurdly, so crazily, so recklessly that it’s indescribable. 

Sometimes we are like the disciples, needing a little humble pie - needing to be told to get over ourselves because God loves every single one of His sheep beyond compare, and that would include our selfish “disciple” selves. Sometimes we are like that 1 sheep lost in the wilderness - needing to be found and rescued and loved and celebrated. No matter which state we may find ourselves in today, it seems to me this message that God’s love for us is so incredible that it defies description is a win-win. So, relish God’s reckless love today!

Prayer:Reckless Love” ( by Cory Asbury, Caleb Culver, Ran Jackson. All rights reserved. CCLI License # 1196962)

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn't earn it, and I don't deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God,…

There's no shadow You won't light up
Mountain You won't climb up
Coming after me
There's no wall You won't kick down
Lie You won't tear down
Coming after me… Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God 

Amen. (If you have the chance, listen to the song today!)  Here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sc6SSHuZvQE 


March 11                                             Psalm 32                              Michael & JoAnne Ramsey

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
   whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
   and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 

While I kept silence, my body wasted away
   through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
   my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
 

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
   and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
   and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
 

Therefore, let all who are faithful
   offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
   shall not reach them.
You are a hiding-place for me;
   you preserve me from trouble;
   you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.
 

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
   I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
   whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
   else it will not stay near you. 

Many are the torments of the wicked,
   but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
   and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

I feel what psalm 32 is expressing is that God will forgive us of our sins, but it is up to us to ask Him in our prayers for forgiveness. God is letting us know that if we stay strong in our faith and not be tempted to go down the wrong path, he will always watch over us with unfailing love.

My personal thoughts on this psalm are, you can pray every day for forgiveness of your sins but still feel empty and lost because you feel he has not forgiven you. It is only when you give your total trust and truly believe,” Yes, “ God does love me and feels I am worthy of forgiveness, then and only then will you find peace and joy in your heart!


March 9                                         Matthew 6:25-34                                 Jennifer Schuster

‘Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore, do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed, your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

‘So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

When I read this passage, I am reminded about how much time I spend on worrying…not just about food, clothing, shelter etc. but things that I have absolutely no control over.  I think that our Father is trying to remind us that we need to have faith that we will be taken care of in every aspect of our lives.  When we get all bogged down with worry, we tend to take our eyes off God who really does have our back.   When we worry we forget that our Savior made a promise when he died for our sins.  He died so that we might live.  Worrying takes our minds off that tremendous, selfless gift and makes us focus on our selfish selves instead of the love that is lavished upon us every day by our Creator God!

I am the first one to question “Where are you God” when things are not going to way that I want them to.  When life is hard, and it is for so many of us some of the time, we often forget that God is with us and He will get us through.  We have to lean on Him through prayer, through worship with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and by just being still long enough to feel His presence.  God will never leave our side, even when we are stuck in the wilderness with grief, anger, worry, resentments etc.  He is there for us all the time if we let Him in.  We need to hand this burden of worry to Him and try to find a measure of gratitude in our lives.  

Prayer:  Dear Lord, thank you for never turning your back on me.  Thank you for always managing to show me how you are present in my life when I am consumed by worry.  Thank you for being my provider and taking care of me in all of the seasons of my life.  I am so grateful for all the gifts that you have bestowed upon me.  You are all to me Lord.    


March 8                                            Matthew 6:22-24                                            Pastor Debi

‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

There’s a familiar saying that goes like this: the eye is the window of the soul.  In other words, the eye lets light into the body and allows us to see the core of who the other person is. In Jesus’ time, the common understanding was that the eye is a lamp, an instrument that projects light onto objects so they can be seen. In both understandings, if the eye is clouded, confusion and darkness reign within the person. Jesus uses this metaphor in the context of our attitude toward wealth; if we are unclear about what place money holds in our lives, the darkness of always wanting more can become like poison within us. 

Our culture tells us that we must hoard what we have because resources are scarce and there may not be enough for us to get our share. The darkness that comes from this message is a mindset of scarcity rather than abundance. When we are grasping for more, we cannot see the blessings God has given us, nor will we ever be content. We find ourselves enslaved by our desires, always wanting more, and our call to serve God with everything we have becomes confused with our fear of not having enough. 

It’s a slippery slope when acquiring money and the things it can buy become our central focus. The price we pay is a breakdown of relationship with God and the people we treasure most in life.  At the end of the day or the end of a life, it is the love we have given and received that will be our greatest joy and treasure. Wealth means nothing in the context of a life well lived.  “For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.”

What do you desire more of? Is it a want or a need? Has your desire become the focus of your life? What possessions or wants stand between you and the God you were created to serve? Can you let go of one desire and give that time and energy to Jesus?


 

March 7                                             Matthew 6:7-15                                  Glenn Williams

‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

‘Pray then in this way:  Our Father in heaven,     hallowed be your name.      Your kingdom come.  Your will be done,       on earth as it is in heaven.   Give us this day our daily bread.      And forgive us our debts,       as we also have forgiven our debtors.      And do not bring us to the time of trial,       but rescue us from the evil one. 

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

If I had God on speed dial, what would I say? Would I ask for an Aston Martin DB9? Would I ask him to clear a traffic jam? Would I ask him for peace, hope, & love for everyone? Hard to say … I’d probably get tongue-tied and ask for something dumb like a bigger cookie! Luckily, Jesus gives us The Lord’s Prayer … it gives us a great way to pray. It’s simple & wise. It tells us who we’re praying to and what we should pray for. It also sets priorities (Father, kingdom, daily bread, debts & debtors, & temptation).

When reading verses 7 & 8, I initially think of the “KIS” principle (Keep It Simple). Since God already knows what’s in our hearts & minds, there’s no need to “amp-up” our prayers in his honor … just be honest with Him & yourself. Why use flowery language when, at times, a simple honest dialog or even a tear would do? Does a PHD in the English language say better prayers than a kindergartener? … maybe, but I don’t think so ... both are heart-felt. God listens to everyone … no matter where they are in life.

Beginning in verse 9, Jesus gives us a very simple way to pray to God. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Notice it’s not “My Father in heaven” … it’s “Our”. This tells me we all belong to a community of believers and that this is something that ties us together as brothers & sisters, God’s children in faith. “Father” is a familiar (family) term and identifies God as being with us, above us, a protector, a provider, one who initiated our lives, and … one we can petition in prayer. The phrase “hallowed be your name” to me indicates authority over all and that we understand, respect, & acknowledge our creator. God is God and we are not. God knows this, but he does offer us a way to decompress, evaluate our issues, and sort things out through prayer. 

When we think of God’s kingdom as read in verse 10, what kind of thoughts & images appear? What might God’s kingdom look like? I picture it as the most beautiful place, full of peace, joy, love & well … life. I picture a place (physically, mentally, emotionally, & spiritually) devoid of ugliness, meanness, hate, & death. Is this just a fantasy, or can we actively bring about God’s kingdom here & now? To get to God’s kingdom, I believe we should start in our own backyards. If God’s kingdom is as initially stated, and for a faithful community to do God’s will here on earth, there’s a responsibility for us as God’s children to move toward & bring about His kingdom. We can do this by being God’s hands here on earth & by modelling those attributes that abound in God’s heavenly kingdom.

I don’t believe verse 11 is literally talking about bread, like Wegmans’ or Tops’ bread, although I do believe there’s a sustenance component to this request. God’s people would’ve been very familiar with stories of their people wandering through deserts, eating manna as it appeared daily there. The manna-eating stories the people could relate to, but I believe is to be expanded to include all our needs … physical, mental, emotional, & spiritual. This verse asks God to supply us our needs & to challenge us to experience the fullness of the life he gave us. Notice the “us” & “our” vs “me” & “my” … again, to be asked for & given to the wider community rather than “individually”. I believe this suggests a more spiritual element of “our daily bread”.

Verses 12, 14, & 15 can be quite challenging to unpack. Does this mean we’re not forgiven until we forgive someone or everyone? … in a way … yes! How can we ask God for forgiveness while there’s something weighing on our hearts? I believe forgiveness is a two-way street and we can ask forgiveness only when our hearts are ready. If you’re bitter or hold onto past debts that rent space in your heart, how can you really be free to accept God’s forgiveness? It’s like a balancing act … If you hold onto someone’s debt, then seek to purge your own, it provides an “unbalance”. To truly be freed and forgiven all debts, your own debts as well as others, need to be loosed. Debts may define or “box-in” a relationship … once those are released, the relationship isn’t defined by what has occurred in the past and a new future is initiated … a fresh start.

Verse 13 I have a little difficulty with. Whether it’s “And do not bring us to the time of trial …*.” or “Do not lead us into temptation” … it almost suggests that God actually may “bring” or “lead” us to temptation. Would God actually set us up to fail? I don’t really believe God wants to temp or tease us. This temptation may tie into the “daily bread” section from verse 11 mentioned earlier. If we’re given our daily bread or what we need, but then we long for more, wouldn’t it be easy to be tempted by someone or something, say Satan or a snake in a garden, offering “more”? I think this verse is praying to God that we may be sated or satisfied with what God has already given us and not to long or to be led to things which pulls us away from our relationship with God and with each other. Life by itself can present enough “tests” for us to be tempted to want to quit and not press on with God’s plan. When we pray to not be led into temptation, we’re praying to God to clear the pitfalls that may trap us in sin and to keep focused on Him & His purpose as we pass. When I feel tempted, I know I’ve moved away from God.

God may hold the bar up higher than I can reach, but I get to reach a little higher each time I try. My prayer for all of us is the Lord’s Prayer … May God visit you during your own time of prayer.


March 6                                      Matthew 6:1-6,16-21                                               Tom Wulf

‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

‘So, whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

As I read through these verses, I immediately thought back to a song from back in the day (at least my day anyway).  The song is "Look at Me I'm Wonderful" by The Bonzo Dog Band.  Neither song nor band is exactly Grammy worthy.  As a matter of fact, both are pretty bizarre.  The song portrays a celebrity type who craves attention and loves to be praised and adored.  He imagines himself as "better than the rest".  The song's title kind of says it all.  It seems to me, this is what the Gospel warns us against.  

Growing up, I was blessed with two outstanding examples of how God would have us behave in our lives, dedicated to Him.  The examples, my mom and dad.  They were two of the least showy people who ever walked the planet.  They quietly lived their lives, truly committed to God, family and anyone in need.  Although they often received thanks for things they did, thanks, praise and reward were not their expectation.  They certainly did not crave the spotlight.  They were a true, living definition of humble, joyful servants.  I am beyond thankful for my parents.  Thankful for who they were, how they lived and the quiet legacy they left behind.  I am most thankful for our God, our "audience of one", who offers the only meaningful reward for a life well lived.