Lenten Devotions Archives » Page 4 of 26 | Devotions | Goshen College
Human beings often have to check for themselves to see if something is true instead of taking someone’s word at face value. I remember standing outside the classroom door in high school many times waiting for the teacher to arrive. To make sure we weren’t standing outside the room for no reason, I would ask if the door was locked. Even if someone said it was, I would check the knob to be sure it was, in fact, locked. I didn’t trust their word.
Unlike those locked classroom doors, Abram has no way of double-checking to see if God’s word is true. He just has to wait and trust that he will be fruitful. It is easy to see why Abram is astonished, both he and Sarai are both nonagenarians and it would be a miracle for them to conceive a child of their own. Even so, Abram must trust that God will come through and that Sarai will be able to bear an heir.
Although Abram is not actually able to “check if the door is locked” like in my simple high school example, he still has to trust God’s promise. God gives a sign that validates God’s proposition. God changes Abram’s name (meaning ancestor) to Abraham (ancestor of many or a multitude). Sarai’s name is also changed to Sarah. Having a name change is significant because a name is something an individual carries with her or him everywhere on a daily basis. What reminders can we implement to remind us to trust in God everywhere and at all times?
God’s promise to the 100-year-old Abraham, to make him exceedingly fruitful, came as a surprise—even more so since his 90-year-old wife was to be his partner in fruitfulness.
A promise for fruitfulness can sound equally implausible in Northern Indiana at the end of February. Just when you’ve had it with snow gusts and sub-zero windchill, the Lenten season arrives—and you face another six weeks of winter, accompanied by a call to renunciation.
Yet somewhere under all that snow, the seeds of summer wildflowers are preparing with a deep chill to bloom in the spring. And somewhere, in another climate zone, oranges are ripening. A chosen Lenten practice can create space for listening to God’s presence in our lives—if we can only trust the promise enough to pause in our daily routine to connect with God’s abundance.
The other night I was driving through snow, hearing the wind whistling around my car, to pick up pizza for the editorial board of Red Cents, the literary arts magazine published by the English Department. I was thinking about the paradox of fruitfulness in winter. And then I discovered it in the situation itself. My students were giving freely of their dinner time to harvest the abundance of student creativity. When I arrived at Newcomer Center—a long, cold walk away from their cozy dorm rooms—with the warm pizza, the students were gathered in a circle, each reading a selection of other students’ writing, giving it their full attention.
Each of the writers had paused in their daily lives to channel a creative impulse. Each of the readers had paused to connect with the writing that impulse produced. If we pause to experience the presence of God in our lives, we can connect with the source of fruitfulness in any season.
Last Saturday morning I filled my husband’s weekly pill dispenser with the 15 different kinds of medicine he needs to take because of his heart transplant in 2011. A stab of panic struck when I found only two pills left in one of his two most important medicines. He must take this medicine every day for the rest of his life to stave off rejection of the transplanted heart.
Because the prescription had no refills left, we had requested a new one two weeks ago, but I now realized that we hadn’t received the pills in the mail as expected. What went wrong? It was a weekend. Could we really get more medicine by Monday?
You would think that after four years of exercising my “trust muscle” while dealing with my husband’s rare heart ailment, trust in God would come easily to me. But too often my first impulse in a crisis is still panic rather than trust.
Psalm 25 begins with the very words I needed: “To you, O LORD I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust.” These are the words we all need as we begin each day.
God is worthy of our trust because “all the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness.” Steadfast love and faithfulness are the hallmarks of the character of God, and God cultivates those virtues in us as we seek God’s paths.
With five phone calls last Saturday morning, the medicine we needed was waiting at our local pharmacy. And my “trust muscle” grew a little stronger.
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
Floods, snowstorms, earthquakes and other natural disasters are no respecter of persons, flora or fauna. The innocent and guilty, young and old, saint and sinner, wild boar and pet dog, all and without distinction, get swept up in the floods of life. And yet, we all know that almost always there are the “lucky ones” who escape with life and limb. For the survivors, life begins anew.
The Bible’s flood story invites us to consider both sides of natural disasters, or, as they are sometimes called, “acts of God.” What does it mean when we happen to be among those protected in the ark? Or among those who, indiscriminately, perish? The biblical writer, at first, argues that the flood was due to the fact that “the wickedness of humans was great on the earth and the inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Later, the writer, using identical language, argues that the survivors after the flood were, in the end, just as corrupt as those annihilated by the flood (8:21). In an upside down and inside out sort of way, the survivor most changed by the flood seems to be God. In a beautiful spirit of divine contrition, God promises never to resort to such an all-consuming act of punishment ever again (9:11). God decides to make a new covenant with Noah and his family, with all creatures great and small, and with all future generations, too (9:12). Thousands of generations later, St. Peter suggests that God remained consistent with God’s forgiving, expansive, all-encompassing covenant with Noah and all creatures of the earth by offering an even more sweeping covenant through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (1 Pet. 3:18-22).
The rainbow rising from the flood, then or now, sky-writes a sign of permanent warning that to blame victims of natural disasters as somehow deserving of their fate slanders “the everlasting covenant” made by God with “every living creature of all flesh” to never again make that judgment, ever. The rainbow rising from Lenten floods also proclaims that God, whose love is revealed in Christ, notices every wild sparrow that falls, grieves the loss of every family pet, abides with us through every heartache and defeat, and promises an Easter morning at the end of every rainbow.
Welcome to Goshen College’s online devotionals for the 2015 Lent season! Our theme this year, taken from the Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada worship resources found in Leader magazine, is “Upside Down and Inside Out.” Every Monday an author will introduce the sub-theme, and on the following weekdays authors will reflect on a specific Scripture passage. The theme for this week, Lent 1, is “You are the God of my salvation.”
In the early centuries, Lent was primarily a time for Christian converts to make their final, intensive preparation for baptism. It is still a season of renewal through reflection on the life of Jesus, and then especially during Holy Week on his suffering and sacrifice. The 40 days of Lent remind us of Jesus’s time in the wilderness. Matthew and Luke indicate that Jesus was “led” by the Spirit, whereas Mark uses the dramatic verb “drove.” Matthew and Luke say that Jesus was “famished” after not eating anything during that time; Mark is silent about this. All three Gospels indicate that the devil or Satan tempted Jesus.
I do not know what it is like to fast from food for 40 days. A mentor of mine engaged in a series of 14 to 30-plus day fasts over a period of years in response to God’s healing in his life. The best that I did was several three to five day fasts. Though the hunger pangs subsided and I was a bit “light-headed” at times, I was not “famished.” I have, however, been “emotionally wiped out,” and recognize when I am more prone to temptation or falling short of my ideals. I wonder what it was like for Jesus to be hungry, alone in the wilderness (except for the wild beasts), and then face temptation? How would I have responded in that situation?
But one part of this story that I find most interesting is that Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit. Mark says it more forcefully that the Spirit drove Jesus there! Somehow I missed the whole “being driven into the wilderness” as one of the fruits of the Spirit that Paul addresses in Galatians. I wonder what that was all about. Nevertheless, am I able to confess that God is my salvation when I find myself in those famished moments? When I have been led where I otherwise would not want to be? As I set out on these forty days of Lent, may I be reminded every day that God indeed is my salvation, even when I feel upside down and inside out.
God of my salvation, guide me in the paths of what you require, granting me mercy and patience when I feel famished from life’s realities. Amen.
It’s again the time of the year that Goshen College offers an online resource to help believers make time and space in their hearts and minds to reflect during the season of Lent.
Beginning Feb. 18 (Ash Wednesday) and culminating on April 5 (Easter), Goshen College students, faculty and staff will provide weekday reflections based on the upcoming Sunday’s lectionary Scripture passages, available online at www.goshen.edu/devotions, by daily email or via an RSS feed. Many writers will reflect on the theme: “Upside Down and Inside Out,” taken from Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada worship resources.
The devotions will reflect honestly on the Scriptures and offer words of assurances of faith. The spiritual offerings will include poetry, personal stories, reflections and prayers, all intended to more closely examine the call to change and follow Christ.
Since 2001, Goshen College annually celebrates special seasons of the church calendar, particularly Advent and Lent, with online devotions.
“Life is like Easter: a hard and hopeful time.” – Obed Dashan, Jos, Nigeria
The notification beeped on my computer and I was pleased to see that my friend and former seminary classmate from Nigeria was checking in. He currently serves as the General Secretary for the Church of Christ in Nigeria/Nations headquartered in Jos, Nigeria. When I casually asked him how he was doing, he responded, “Life is like Easter: a hard and hopeful time.” He went on to report that in churches throughout Nigeria violence against Christians and those accused of promoting “westernized education” is rampant. Bomb blasts, the abduction of 200 school girls, the killing of people of faith – all of this in the past week – Holy Week. Obed is convinced that if those committing the atrocities would encounter the risen Christ, they, like Paul on the road to Damascus, would turn from their violent ways and become agents of positive change. As followers of the way of Jesus they would “influence the world with the gospel of peace.” So he prays for his enemies and consistently encourages Christians throughout Nigeria and beyond to live as people of peace in the face of horrific violence. “What gives you hope?” I asked. And he reminded me of names of his three children, all of whom were born around the time we studied together: Fwangmun: The Spirit Sustains, Nanshelmun: God walks with us and Pankyes: In God we find peace.
Sometimes amidst the eggs and the lilies and the baby chicks we turn away from the pain and violence that is the context for the resurrection. This year, I will make a commitment to not turn away. I will still sing the Easter songs with gusto. I will still relish the time with family and the faith community, even more so realizing how often I take them for granted. But I will also stand with my brothers and sisters around the world as they cling to the power of Love made known in the resurrection of Jesus Christ – and boldly and hope-fully proclaim: the violence and the hatred will not win! Christ has risen! Hallelujah!
Thank you for journeying with us through reflections and stories during this season of Lent. We will be back online with Advent reflections beginning in late November 2014. Until then, live in hope. The power of Love WILL prevail.
Today’s powerful scripture epitomizes our Lenten Devotion theme of “Encountering God: What Have We Witnessed?” and the Easter Sunday sub-theme of “Go and Tell.” In just 208 words, and without embellishment, the Gospel writer conveys the essence of Christianity – that Jesus Christ died, was buried and rose again and that his life-sustaining gift is available to all who control their fears and believe.
The men in Matthew 28: 1-10 guarding the tomb in Jerusalem did not believe; when the angel of the Lord appeared and there was a great earthquake, the guards “shook and became like dead men.” Living in Peru for the past nine months (and growing up in California), I’ve felt many earthquakes and know they can paralyze people with fear.
The women who were visiting the tomb were frightened by the quake and angel, but the two Marys were courageous believers, so they also felt “great joy” when told that Jesus had risen from the dead. They were rushing to tell the disciples about the resurrection when they saw Jesus. They immediately “took hold of his feet and worshipped him.” Because of their unshakable faith, the women believed and went to “go and tell” what they had witnessed – a physical encounter with God.
Today’s scripture resonates with me because of the many Marys – or Marias – I have met and seen since my spouse, Judy Weaver, and I arrived in Peru to help Goshen College students learn and serve. Like the Marys who knew Jesus, many of Peru’s Marias are the “least of these” – afraid, oppressed and abused, but they also are faithful, brave and often joyful. I have seen many women working long hours as maids, selling goods in chaotic markets or dangerous streets, raising children alone and carrying huge bundles that would stagger strong men. Yet they persevere, serve, and crowd churches to offer prayers of thanksgiving.
Since arriving in Peru, Judy and I have witnessed the good – great hospitality, tasty cuisine, an immense coastal city (Lima), soaring mountains, lush jungles and ancient civilizations. We have witnessed the bad – horrible traffic, pollution, poverty, sickness, neglect, injustice, crime and corruption. Still, what I will remember most about Peru are compassionate people – Jorge, Eduardo, Nestor, Miriam, Townsend, Maria, Benjamin, Livia, Gregoria, Eloy, John, Cindy, Elizabeth, Raquel, Patricia, Henry, Romulo and Gustavo – who are advancing God’s hope, healing and social justice among the poorest of the poor. Their work is rooted in unshakable faith – the Easter spirit of overcoming fear and serving others with joy and love. And that is the gift of the risen Lord. Alleluia!
On this day of Good Friday, I invite you to reflect on Christ’s humanity, on the “earthly things” as well as the “things above.” In order to understand our purpose and value as human beings, and to understand Jesus’ work in the world, we must remember that Jesus was also human (as the church has affirmed throughout its history), and that he died a very real, human death. I picture Jesus’ disciples aghast with grief after his crucifixion, not knowing that Jesus would rise again, but only understanding the realness of his death. By setting our sights only on things above, we miss out on the human experience that we should cherish on Earth. During Easter, we often focus, and rightly so, on Christ’s resurrection. But Good Friday was a day of grief, sadness, and hopelessness for those who surrounded Jesus in his life.
The context of Colossians 3 fixates on separating the human existence on Earth from above with strong implications of God’s wrath. But 3:12-14 provides a loving counter: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” The relationships and experiences we have on Earth are a reminder of this very human love and forgiveness. So I challenge us all, as Christian believers, to focus not on the separation of body and spirit, Earth and Heaven, but instead to see those as inseparable, unique parts of the human existence.
The heading above this passage in my Bible reads “A song of victory.” Indeed, when I read this passage at least two songs come to mind whose words are based on the text of this psalm. These are words of joy, triumph and praise – they are practically crying out to be sung aloud! It is unclear what “punishment” the psalmist has just been through: perhaps a period of darkness in his or her life, a time of struggle or depression, a close encounter with death. Maybe instead of the gate of righteousness, the psalmist had found him or herself facing other gates, and just narrowly missed entering and having the door close behind. Maybe, like the stone rejected by the builders, the writer has experienced feeling worthless and cast-off. Or perhaps the psalmist had simply wandered far from God’s presence. Whatever the case, the saving power of God’s steadfast love is enough to make the psalmist want to tell the world about this victory!
Our theme for this week is “Go and tell.” In this psalm, we are reminded that an essential part of encountering God is sharing that encounter with everyone who will listen. This passage is a song, and the psalmist is inviting us to sing along. Not only does he or she proclaim the everlasting love of the Lord, the psalmist also exhorts Israel to do the same. After experiencing near defeat, the psalmist is ecstatic that he or she is going to live – and will fully embrace that life by “recounting the deeds of the Lord” that have led to it. This and every day are gifts to us from our God of love, and how do we respond? Rejoice! Sing! Go and tell about it!
his steadfast love endures for ever!
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
he has become my salvation.
‘The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.’
I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death.
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
the righteous shall enter through it.
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.