Lent 2020 Daily Devotions: 3/30 - 4/5

Lent 2020 Daily Devotions: 3/30 - 4/5

March 30, 2020

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. 

If you would like to receive these daily in an email, subscribe here. They will also be published in the News and will be included in our Weekly 360 e-news each Friday during Lent. 

Monday, March 30, 2020


On the first day of the week, as we gathered together for a meal, Paul was holding a discussion with them. Since he was leaving the next day, he continued talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we had gathered. A young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window. He was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell from the third floor and died. Paul went down, fell on him and embraced him, then said, “Don’t be alarmed. He’s alive!” Then Paul went back upstairs and ate. He talked for a long time—right up until daybreak—then he left. They took the young man away alive, and they were greatly comforted.

—Acts 20:7-12   (CEB)


Paul and his friends are obviously practicing the discipline of Christian conferencing.  

Paul is in deep conversation, or maybe he was in lecture mode and Eutychus (whose name literally means lucky or fortunate one) makes the mistake of falling asleep and falls out of the window while Paul “talked on and on.” Our friend Paul is hardly distracted, he checks on the young man, grabs a bite to eat and then continues talking for a long time. He talked until dawn and only then did he hit the road. The writer of Acts then throws us one final verse in this passage, “They took the young man away alive, and they were greatly comforted.”

This story comes as Paul is finishing up and ready to move on from Greece. Luke has portrayed the acts of the apostles in a pretty triumphant manner and we the reader think that things are going well for the followers of Jesus. They have recovered from the low point of being a follower, when Judas failed Jesus in an upper room… Then we are introduced to this story. Just as we may think the early followers were immune to goofing up, we see Eutychus drift away and experience the consequences. 

To my ears this is a strange story, but it would have offered guidance to the original reader. It would have offered a warning. To followers of Jesus, it says, “Beware of separating from the genuine worshipping community.” It urges readers to learn from Eutychus’s mistake. It reminds those who follow Jesus that spiritual carelessness must be avoided. My hope is that this unique story at this point of Lent will remind us that while the season seems to go on and on, there are always things to be learned from our practices and disciplines.


Gracious God, As we go through this season, help us to draw closer to you. Guide us as we journey, give us strength and help us to better love as you have first loved us. In Jesus name, Amen.

By: Rev. Ronald Carlson, Northwest District Superintendent for The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church

Tuesday, March 31, 2020


At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.

However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

—Ephesians 2:1-10

High Hopes

In the years1959 and 1961, Frank Sinatra recorded a song entitled "High Hopes”;  an uplifting song for troubled times. The lyrics brought forth visions of the impossible being made possible through faith. Tiny ants accomplished impossible tasks like moving rubber tree plants. Rams punched holes in million kilowatt dams. Impossible?

In the Gospel of Matthew after drying up a fig tree with just a word, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." So, why aren’t the skies darkened by clouds of flying mountains and trees, making their way to the ocean?

Well, because, we are those Jesus addressed as, “Ye of little faith.” Our faith doesn’t measure up to a mustard seed and yet, it is the one thing in the world, the only thing in the world whereby we may be saved. If you ever wonder about your salvation; if you ever wonder about your eternal destination; if you ever wonder if your faith is great enough to get you into heaven; read Ephesians 2:8. There you will find the assurance of that for which you have hoped. By the grace of God, you are saved through faith. Take note Paul didn’t say, you’re saved by great faith, or perfect faith.  He said, you are saved by God’s grace through faith. So, even though your faith is no more than that of a toddler in the Kingdom of God or the size of a mustard seed, you still are saved.  You still belong to God and nothing, NOTHING, neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation; will ever be able to separate you from the love of God.  (Romans 8:38-39)  And the Apostle Paul would remind us, that it’s not our goodness, it’s not the maturity of our faith, it’s not how many rubber trees plants we move, it’s not our doing.  It is the gift of God. 

Now you talk about “High Hopes”. By grace through faith we have the highest hope, because our hope is in Jesus Christ


“Many, Lord my God, are the things you planned for us and the wonders  You have done.  None can compare with You; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.” (Psalm 40.5) But of all the wonders, deeds and gifts we have received from You, the one we value and love most is the gift of your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. May You, O God, together with your Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit, be praised, honored and glorified now and forever.  Amen

By: Rev. Duane Skidmore, Retired, Colfax First United Methodist Church

Wednesday, April 1, 2020


Jeremiah received the Lord’s word in the tenth year of Judah’s King Zedekiah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule. At that time, the army of the Babylonian king had surrounded Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined to the prison quarters in the palace of Judah’s king. Judah’s King Zedekiah had Jeremiah sent there after questioning him: “Why do you prophesy, ‘This is what the Lord says: I’m handing this city over to the king of Babylon, and he will occupy it; and Judah’s King Zedekiah will be captured and handed over to the king of Babylon; he will speak to the king of Babylon personally and see him with his very own eyes. And Zedekiah will be carried off to Babylon to live out his days until I punish him, declares the Lord. If you make war against the Babylonians, you will fail.’”

Jeremiah said, The Lord’s word came to me: Your cousin Hanamel, Shallum’s son, is on his way to see you; and when he arrives, he will tell you: “Buy my field in Anathoth, for by law you are next in line to purchase it.” And just as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel showed up at the prison quarters and told me, “Buy my field in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for you are next in line and have a family obligation to purchase it.” Then I was sure this was the Lord’s doing.

So I bought the field in Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver.

—Ezekiel 37:1-14 (CEB)

Selfish Fools or God's Fools

This is All Fools' Day, and the question before us is "Whose fools are we?"  I grew up inspired by the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,  In his book Where Do We Go From Here? he shared his vision of a World House.  

He wrote these words: "Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions.  But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake,  to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.  The large house we live in demands that we transform this world wide neighborhood brotherhood. Together we must  learn to live as brothers (and sisters) or together we will be forced to perish as fools.

There are more than 7 billion humans inhabiting this earth.  We are connected by transportation and communication which makes us neighbors.  We are susceptible to Climate Change which affects us all. Diseases can no longer contained to one nation. International Trade reminds us that we are bound together.  We do not and can not live alone. 

Jeremiah recognized the truth that the God who creates and sustains us in eternal. We are fools if we only think of our nation, or our own decade.  We are fools to build walls to keep refugees out; or ignore Climate Change. When Jerusalem was being destroyed, Jeremiah bought land for the future when God restore all.  

To be God’s fools, we must learn to see all human beings as children of God, our brothers and sisters.

We must stay awake to the changes which are bringing us together.  Love one another.  Love your enemies.  Love the poor.  Loving only those who are like you is the selfish love, which leads to perishing as fools.


All wise Creator God, keep us open to the truth of your guidance. Open our minds and heart to your truth which sees the change which is coming to our nation and world as the power to live together as your children. Keep us from the foolishness of selfishness which destroys us.  Amen

By: Rev. Brian Carter, Retired, Aldersgate Urbandale United Methodist Church

Thursday, April 2, 2020


But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

—1 Samuel 16: 7b-13 (NRSV)

God Vision

Upon hearing from a woman who had been molested by a pastor, I shook my fist at God and asked, "God, how could you let this happen?! It's not right!" God spoke to me, "That's why I need your hands, Jane."

What? Surely not me! I struggled with the call for some time. My excuses: I was old — nearly 50. I had been divorced. A recovering alcoholic. I was too sinful, and I was a woman.

God directed me to this passage, beginning at verse 7b. "The Lord does not see as mortals see. For they look on the outside appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

You are not too old, too young (David), too sinful, or the wrong gender, for the work to which God has appointed you. How wonderful that God equips the called, instead of calling the equipped!


Holy One, thank you for seeing us differently than the world sees us.  Teach us to have "God vision" too, that we may see others as you see them.  Amen.

By: Rev. Jane Shepherd, Retired, Panora United Methodist Church

Friday, April 3, 2020


Because for me, living serves Christ and dying is even better. If I continue to live in this world, I get results from my work. But I don’t know what I prefer. I’m torn between the two because I want to leave this life and be with Christ, which is far better. However, it’s more important for me to stay in this world for your sake. I’m sure of this: I will stay alive and remain with all of you to help your progress and the joy of your faith, and to increase your pride in Christ Jesus through my presence when I visit you again.

Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel. That way, you won’t be afraid of anything your enemies do. Your faithfulness and courage are a sign of their coming destruction and your salvation, which is from God. God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. You are having the same struggle that you saw me face and now hear that I’m still facing.

—Philippians 1:21-30 (CEB)

In Between

My wife, Gayle, likes to tell the story of her dog, Goldie, a blond Cocker Spaniel she loved and grew up with in Waterloo, Iowa. Goldie was never happier than when she was nestled under the feet of her gathered family at the dinner table or around the TV.  But while on vacation at a lake house, two of her family were sitting on the back porch while the other two were down by the lake. Goldie took her position halfway between the lake and porch and just watched and whined. (Oh may I be half the person my dog thinks I am!!)  Such love and such a sincere desire to be two places at once!

So the Apostle Paul struggles with the desire to be in two different worlds: "..I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you."  (1:23) 

I don't know about you, but as the years go by, I have found heaven to be an increasingly friendly place! As more of my family and friends wait for me there and as this world moves faster and becomes less familiar, I do understand Paul's dilemma. And yet, it is precisely those loved ones who wait for me above who also passed along the gift of faith, hope, and love to me below. Their example calls me to invest deeply in this time and place even as Jesus left comfort and communion above to welcome me to grace.  

Sam Shoemaker's old poem comes to mind:
I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out.
The door is the most important door in the world -
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There is no use my going way inside and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where the door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it.
So I stand by the door.


We love you, Lord, because you first loved us. Out of that joy, comfort and strength, make us equal to the calling to be your hands and feet in this world where your love is passed on by human touch. Amen.

By: Rev. Paul Wilcox, Superintendent, Northwest District of The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church

Saturday, April 4, 2020


They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.  “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

—Mark 10: 32-34 (NIV)

Denial Ain’t Just a River In Egypt

One of the puzzling details of Jesus' passion and resurrection is how unprepared and surprised the Twelve are at the events of Holy Week.  Three times Jesus takes them aside and tells them in no uncertain terms that he is about to be handed over to the authorities in Jerusalem, tortured and killed in disgrace, but on the third day he will rise. Of course, Jesus does say this about the "Son of Man," referring to Himself in the third-person, but I don't think that's the source of the Disciples' "not getting it."
Sometimes my wife walks out on movies. I tell her, "wait, maybe it will get better...."
Most movies are about redemption. They start badly and then something happens and the situation is transformed. So most movies start out with a pretty rotten situation. But if the situation is too rotten, my wife walks out. She doesn't want to wallow in the "rottenness!"  She's got better things to do! Sometimes she is right. Some movies are just plain rotten with no real redemption to it. But sometimes the redemption is so powerfully bright precisely because the story begins in such darkness.

My hunch is that the disciples did not want to watch the story Jesus was telling: the darkness was too dark, the evil powers, too powerful. And so they walked out on Good Friday and missed Easter. We, of course, do that too. High worship attendance on Palm Sunday and Easter is not matched on Thursday and Friday of Holy Week.  We draw back from rottenness—even 2000 years later—and miss the unfathomable love, broken, desecrated, and brilliantly triumphant over the very darkness we fear most. So don't walk out on this old, old story. It will get better.

And its ending will have little meaning without its beginning. Sometimes the depth of love is measured in tears.

Even today, mighty God, we are afraid to visit the gathering darkness that turns our dreams to dust and our hope to despair. Walk with us through the Valley of the shadow of death that we might know the power of darkness and the triumph of your Light.

We love you, Lord, because you first loved us. Out of that joy, comfort and strength, make us equal to the calling to be your hands and feet in this world where your love is passed on by human touch. Amen.

By: Rev. Paul Wilcox, Superintendent, Northwest District of The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church

Sunday, April 5, 2020


As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

—Matthew 21: 1-11 (NIV)

Denial Ain’t Just a River In Egypt

I was baptized at age 15 months, on Palm Sunday, 1944, at Epworth Methodist Church in Fallon, Nevada. I have wondered from time to time what my parents were thinking on that day at a time when war circled the globe. I never heard much from my mother about the ceremony except there were palm leaves. How does one think of baptism and a family dinner when death and destruction are rampant? Though we think we enter the observance the same way every year, we really don't—it is a different time and maybe a different place.

The Bible is the most important book ever written, an eyewitness account of history of such magnitude that it has literally shaped the world in which we live. Jesus knew what his history would be and told the disciples, but they didn't seem to recognize the historical event to come. What if they had taken the event to come more seriously than they did? How would history been changed? We can only speculate and have interesting discussions. Our Christian faith could very well been different, with only December 25 to celebrate?

Jesus tells us the start of every Lent/Easter what will happen and we observe it a little differently every time. Meaning doesn't change in the ultimate book , only time and place do, so "Read it again for the first time."


(From Psalm 118)

Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

By: Pastor Tom Berryman, Island United Methodist Church, Muscatine