The 40-day season of Lent began on February 26 and Bishop Laurie, clergy, and friends of The Iowa Annual Conference have written short devotionals for each day to help us journey through this season together.
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Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, how he had killed all Baal’s prophets with the sword. Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah with this message: “May the gods do whatever they want to me if by this time tomorrow I haven’t made your life like the life of one of them.”
Elijah was terrified. He got up and ran for his life. He arrived at Beer-sheba in Judah and left his assistant there. He himself went farther on into the desert a day’s journey. He finally sat down under a solitary broom bush. He longed for his own death: “It’s more than enough, Lord! Take my life because I’m no better than my ancestors.” He lay down and slept under the solitary broom bush.
Then suddenly a messenger tapped him and said to him, “Get up! Eat something!” Elijah opened his eyes and saw flatbread baked on glowing coals and a jar of water right by his head. He ate and drank, and then went back to sleep. The Lord’s messenger returned a second time and tapped him. “Get up!” the messenger said. “Eat something, because you have a difficult road ahead of you.” Elijah got up, ate and drank, and went refreshed by that food for forty days and nights until he arrived at Horeb, God’s mountain.
—1 Kings 19:1-8 (CEB)
Gracious and loving God, we thank you for your constant presence in our lives, especially when we try to go it alone and find ourselves at the end of our ropes. We thank you for your gift of sabbath rest, for inviting us to find our real rest in you. We confess that we are workaholics who often confuse rest with laziness. Reset our hearts, and give us the wisdom to set apart time for play, for rest, and for re-creation. You are good and you are faithful, and we are ever grateful. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
By: Pastor Melody Webb, Polk City United Methodist Church
The one whose wrongdoing is forgiven,
whose sin is covered over, is truly happy!
The one the Lord doesn’t consider guilty—
in whose spirit there is no dishonesty—
that one is truly happy!
When I kept quiet, my bones wore out;
I was groaning all day long—
every day, every night!—
because your hand was heavy upon me.
My energy was sapped as if in a summer drought. Selah
So I admitted my sin to you;
I didn’t conceal my guilt.
“I’ll confess my sins to the Lord, ” is what I said.
Then you removed the guilt of my sin. Selah
That’s why all the faithful should pray to you during troubled times,
so that a great flood of water won’t reach them.
You are my secret hideout!
You protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of rescue! Selah
I will instruct you and teach you
about the direction you should go.
I’ll advise you and keep my eye on you.
Don’t be like some senseless horse or mule,
whose movement must be controlled
with a bit and a bridle.
Don’t be anything like that!
The pain of the wicked is severe,
but faithful love surrounds the one who trusts the Lord.
You who are righteous, rejoice in the Lord and be glad!
All you whose hearts are right, sing out in joy!
—Psalm 32:1-11 (CEB)
“This Psalm deals with the grace of God and teaches that our justification takes place not for works that we would have done before, but only by the mercy of the Lord our God who warns us. It teaches you that you are a sinner and that even when by faith you have started to do good, you should not take any credit for yourself” (Saint Augustine). The first stanza describes the happiness that the feeling of forgiveness gives (1-2); the second teaches us that this is only achieved by sincere and serious repentance (3-5); in the third, the writer invites us to seek this same blessing (6-11).
The important truth, which is the subject of this Psalm, is stated in these two passages of Scripture: “He who hides his rebellions does not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them, obtains mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13) “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us for them.” (1 John 1:9) Most commentators think that this Psalm relates as well as Psalm 51 to the adultery of David with Bathsebath and the murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 12), but that it was composed a little later than that one at a time when the psalmist had already begun to enjoy by faith the forgiveness he had craved so ardently.
Lent is a downward journey into our souls to find God through repentance. Like David, let us go to God in prayer. God will always forgive us. There is no sin that God cannot forgive.
Dear God, like David, we need your forgiveness. Please forgive us for not being faithful to you. Give us inner peace. Make us one with you and one with each other. Hear us when we call upon you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
By: Rev. Kiboko Kiboko, Superintendent East Central District, Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit (NRSV)
Count yourself lucky—GOD holds nothing against you and you’re holding nothing back from him (The Message)
You bless them by saying, “You told me your sins, without trying to hide them, and now I forgive you.” (CEV)
It’s one of the worst feelings in the world, when we’ve done something wrong, and it continues to haunt us. There’s no relief from the guilt, and everything reminds us of what we’ve done. Other people may pester us to “Let it go!” but it seems stuck to us, like a stain we can’t wash out. See Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, and Psalm 51 for more about washing out stains. Jesus forgives us, even from the cross, and gives us eternal life in heaven.
There is no point in trying to hide our sins, because God already knows them. And today we are reminded that God DOES forgive us. God DOES forgive our sins.
What joy God gives us, to forgive even our worst sins.
Thank you Lord, for forgiveness! Amen.
By: Rev. Dr. Katharine Yarnell, Executive Director Iowa United Methodist Foundation
I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers day and night. When I remember your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with happiness. I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you. Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands. God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.
—2 Timothy 1:3-7 (CEB)
Not long ago I traveled south. My friend took me to a place in a quiet corner of Daytona, Florida. It was the campus of Bethune-Cookman College. This is a historic institution supported by the United Methodist Black College Fund. The college sports a stereotypically southern campus. There was a shady pathway that we walked. It led us to the home of the founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.
We went into the house to hear about the life of this Christian leader. Educated in the north and newly widowed, Mary Bethune opened the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1904. She started with $1.50 in her pocket, five students, and a conviction God had called her to the task. Along with instructing her little charges, Bethune offered classes for women on weekends. She led Sunday Bible study. And to keep ahead of her expenses, every morning she sold sweet potato pies to construction workers.
Over time the school grew and developed. In 1923 Bethune merged with Cookman Institute and affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The college remains a thriving institution. Many affirm the words of Dr. Bethune, who described Bethune-Cookman as “The answered prayer to many dreams.”
The doctor is known for other accomplishments. For instance, in the 1930’s she was a frequent presence in Washington D.C. Mary Bethune was there to direct and advocate with the influential National Council of Negro Women. Then in 1938 she was named director of the Division of Negro Affairs for the National Youth Administration. (She was the first African American woman to lead any federal agency.)
Dr. Mary McLoud Bethune’s autobiography came to mind as I read 2 Timothy 1:3-5 & 7, while pondering the troubles of the day. Paul lifts Christian role models for Timothy. He states, “I am reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you…God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid, but one that is powerful loving and self-controlled.”
In her autobiography, Dr. Bethune writes that working on the national level could be discouraging. At one point, she attended a tea organized by Eleanor Roosevelt in the White house. There she overheard a disparaging comment from a white woman.
Later Bethune wrote in her journal, “I looked around me longingly for other dark faces. In all that great group I felt a sense of being quite alone… Then I thought how vitally important it was that I be here, to help these others get used to seeing us in high places. And so, while I sipped tea in the brilliance of the White house, my heart reached out to the delta land and the bottom land. I knew so well why I must be here, must go to tea at the White house. To remind them always that we belong here. We are part of this America.”
That is just one example of the barriers of resistance she faced. In her spiritual autobiography she wrote, “Love, not hate, has been the foundation of my fullness. When hate has been projected toward me, I have known that the person who extended it lacked spiritual understanding…Faith and love have been my most glorious and victorious weapons of defense in this life, and it has been my privilege to use them.”
May the expression of faith that first lived inside oMary McLeod Bethune live inside of me. Whose faith would you welcome to dwell inside of you?
Sources: https://www.cookman.edu/about_BCU/history/index.html and 50 Women Every Christian Should Know, Chapter 36, (Mary McLeod Bethune) pp255-385 by Michelle DeRusha, Baker Books, copyright 2014.
Precious God, we are mindful of the constant barriers of resistances that keep us from living as you desire—with joy and abundance. There are countless of barriers of resistance. The list includes labels such as color of skin, make-up of family, check book balance, or and address. These barriers should be meaningless, but they are not.
Thank you for bold and faithful Christians who broke down their persistent barriers and how they want to equip us. Among their names are Abraham, Martin, Timothy, Sojourner, Suzanna, and Harvey. They might also be named Grandma and Poppa. May the witness of their lives be our encouragement and a shield of protection. Give us what is needed to overcome these unjust barriers and lift us to your gracious heights. Amen
By: Rev. Carol Kress, Superintendent North Central District of The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity,
overlooking the sin of the few remaining for his inheritance?
He doesn’t hold on to his anger forever;
he delights in faithful love.
He will once again have compassion on us;
he will tread down our iniquities.
You will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea.
You will provide faithfulness to Jacob, faithful love to Abraham,
as you swore to our ancestors a long time ago.
When was the last time you closely studied a stained glass window? The artistry, the selection and placement of colors tell a story? It is a craft done best by those who have mastered the skills and techniques of scoring and cutting glass, working with a soldering iron and knowing how to select which type of join—lead came, copper foil, etc. There is magic in how broken pieces of glass are transformed into stunning works of art. The beauty of a stained glass window is best seen when the light of God shines through it. The beauty of a room is transformed as shades of different colors illuminates the walls, the floors and the faces of people looking at the window.
All of us have or are broken pieces. Some of the pieces come from the hurts we have sustained along life’s journey. Other brokenness comes from the wrongs and hurts we have committed.
At some point in our lives, we acknowledge our brokenness and our need for restoration. We bring our broken pieces and humbly place them at the foot of the Cross.
Our Creator God, through the love and sacrifice of Christ, gathers in our brokenness as we kneel at the foot of the Cross. We are lifted to stand before Him as the power of His love forgives, heals, transforms and restores, making us new. We are like a stained glass window, broken pieces placed in a design of God’s plan. When the love of Christ shines through us, we can transform those whose lives we touch.
Look around you; look at people. See them as stained glass windows, loved and cherished by Jesus the Christ. Christ’s Light shining through our beautifully crafted windows is the light that shines through the darkness and leads to eternity.
Holy God, we stand in awe at the power of your unfailing love. You are faithful even when we are not. Fill us with what we need from you, to live restorative lives that shine with your glory. In Jesus' Holiness we pray, Amen.
By: Pastor Karen Berg Currier, Alta/Peterson United Methodist Church
After Jesus finished presenting all his words among the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion had a servant who was very important to him, but the servant was ill and about to die. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Jesus to ask him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they earnestly pleaded with Jesus. “He deserves to have you do this for him,” they said. “He loves our people and he built our synagogue for us.”
Jesus went with them. He had almost reached the house when the centurion sent friends to say to Jesus, “Lord, don’t be bothered. I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. In fact, I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. I’m also a man appointed under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and the servant does it.”
When Jesus heard these words, he was impressed with the centurion. He turned to the crowd following him and said, “I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.” When the centurion’s friends returned to his house, they found the servant restored to health.
—Luke 7:1-10 (CEB)
One of the great joys of ministry is to introduce someone to Christ who doesn’t feel for some reason they’re deserving.
Jerry had never been baptized, though she raised her children in a church. One of her dear friends had confided in me in private. “She thinks it would look silly for an eighty something-year-old woman to be baptized.” She wanted a private Baptism, but she chose four members of the church, her friend and her family as God’s community to be with her when she was baptized. She would be the third person in their late 80s or 90s to do so with me.
I had learned she was battling cancer and it was progressing rapidly by that time in my ministry. The Baptism and joining the church was followed by celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The short service ended with prayer and a very grateful and spirit-filled woman.
She invited us back to her house for refreshments. Nothing fancy, but a heart given expression of thanks. It was not me the pastor but the Holy Spirit uniting us: the family of blood and family of faith, with the family of God. The centurion reminds me of that friend who had the desire to do what had been left undone, inviting Jesus’ help.
Dear God, hear our prayers and open our eyes and ears to those who would come to You this Lenten season. May the blessing be upon all of us. In Christ, we pray. Amen!”
By: Pastor Bruce Giese, Medora and New Virginia United Methodist Churches
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”
Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?”
Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?”
“Jesus answered, “You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
—John 3:1-17 (CEB)
There is significance here when we read that Nicodemus comes to Jesus “in darkness.”
I got to tell you that not all find the dark as a negative time to find what they need. Just ask the owl how they feel about the night. They love the dark, when you’ve got owl-like sight darkness is a good time for seeking and finding. I have found that the light can be too bright, when all things get washed out by the light and we are blinded by the light. There was a time a few years ago when I was traveling every morning in an easterly direction and the rising sun became a nuisance, if not a danger for me.
There are some churches, I hope not yours or mine, that seem to be able to be with Jesus only in the light, never in the night. You have to know there is nothing worse than that bright, happy church. Some churches are just so happy, so full of praise and celebration, that they make you feel guilty if you happen to come in with a bit of shadow in your soul, a bit of darkness.
I’ve got nothing against meeting Jesus on some bright, beautiful day when everything seems to come together and it is all just right. As an active participant in church that’s when I worship best.
But there are those who come to Jesus by night, stumbling, groping their way in the darkness, only to come face to face with his love and gracious embrace. In the dark they thought they were lost. But it was in the dark that they were found. It is not bad to be like Nicodemus and come to Jesus “by night.”
Loving God, I will look for your shadow in the dark, and ponder your grace day and night. Amen.
By: Rev. Scott Keele Kober, First UMC, Cedar Falls, IA