Lenten Devotions Archives » Page 5 of 26 | Devotions | Goshen College
Does life sometimes feel like a wilderness, devoid of joy and comfort? What are the things that hold you in captivity? And where is God when life hurts?
In today’s passage, the prophet Jeremiah is speaking to the people of Judah who were taken captive by the Babylonians. He brings the weary exiles the words of the Lord. The words offer assurance that they are the people of God who has not forsaken them, but who is with them and loves them with an everlasting love. The words are ripe with expectant promise that the captives will be restored to their homeland and will once again enjoy the work of their hands and the fruit of their labors. And yes, the words leap with songs of joyful celebration and noisy merrymaking! For the day will come when those in captivity will hear the call to go up to Zion, to the Lord their God, and live in peace and freedom.
Not only have the captives survived the sword and been promised restoration, but the grace in the Babylonian wilderness is this: it is the assurance, comfort, promise and joy that God loves them and is with them, even here, even now, even in this captivity.
I’ve known the wilderness times. I’ve been captive to fear and discouragement, hopelessness and doubt. My natural desire is to get through, get out, get away as quickly as possible from the wilderness in which I’m held captive. But sometimes in my haste, I miss the grace of the wilderness times. I forget that God loves me with an everlasting love, that God is with me there – especially there. As sure as the promise that God will restore me is the assurance that God loves me even when life hurts. Perhaps it is this realization that is a greater grace than the speed at which I move on to freedom.
Indeed today, this is the grace to be found in your wilderness too. May it be so.
Thus says the Lord:
The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
‘Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.’
God shows no partiality, no favoritism. What a powerful statement.
These nine verses in Acts proclaim God’s “good news,” God’s “salvation” to all. In just a few verses Peter proclaims Jesus as Lord of all, as God’s anointed who died on a cross and was raised from the dead. It wasn’t enough for select witnesses to personally see the resurrected Jesus, but God commanded them to testify and preach to all, as the prophets many years earlier testified of this Lord.
God’s grace across history had come full circle, an ever-widening circle, from Jews and Gentiles alike. What does that mean for us today?
As was the case then, God’s grace is not only for us to claim as our own. It’s for us to proclaim to others.
How am I doing on that front, on the front of proclaiming God’s grace to others? Am I selective in terms of whom I proclaim to? Do I consider my understanding of God’s grace unique, better informed? Do I proclaim it with certain expectations, with select “strings attached?”
I can imagine it was difficult for those select witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection to openly share God’s love without some sense of privilege, recipients of a special dispensation. And yet, we read ahead of this passage of the angels coming to Cornelius, a centurion in the Italian regiment, a righteous and God-fearing man who God acknowledges for his prayers and gifts to the poor. And following, we read of the Holy Spirit being poured out on the Gentiles just as it was poured out on Peter and his fellow Apostles. God’s grace is God’s to dispense, and it is for all.
Many years ago I was introduced to the phrase “circles of influence.” It was in the context of institutional marketing as a part of my work here at Goshen College. Allow me to offer a bit more depth to the phrase. As a follower of Jesus and recipient of God’s grace, I need to be aware of, and intentional in broadening my circles of influence, circles beyond my comfort zone. Circles extending up, down, to the left and to the right. And may it be in those circles that God chooses to use me to proclaim and extend God’s grace, freely.
I rewrote this devotion twice because I just couldn’t seem to get to the heart of what I thought about it. I have a lot of issues with the ethic, which I see around me concerning how to “tell” people what we think. Opinions are rampant, avenues for message dissemination are plentiful, and the emphasis on the value of face-to-face conversation seems to be as invisible as sunshine has been this past winter. Why meet over a meal when signing a letter takes so much less time?
When I look deeper at this theme of “Go and tell,” it becomes apparent to me that it is more than simply a call to speak. It is an invitation to community and relationship. Around me I hear the cacophonous chorus of the entire world all talking at once and no one stopping to listen. This Lenten theme is not meant for us to add to the senseless drivel. Rather, to “Go and tell” is a call to intentionally orient our lives around that which truly matters.
One way to do this is to analyze how we act. I’ve appreciated the faith community I’ve grown up in for “stepping to their own beat,” instead of just taking cues from the outside world. As many around us seem to be more concerned with what they themselves are saying than what those around them are saying, I’m left with this observation: When we learn to listen to those we care for, we tell far more to them than if we are simply speaking. Perhaps faithfully stepping to our own collective beat in this day and age will require less focus on what we are saying or not saying, and more focus on whether we are listening or not listening.
Generally speaking, Matthew 27 is a particularly upsetting part of the Bible. Granted, we all know the story, we all know that Jesus does come
back, but 27 is just intensely painful, which made me wonder how I could connect such a painful story to the overarching theme of “blessed.”
What I have come to realize is that this passage, more than anything else, is about the power of integrity and peace. When Jesus gives up his spirit, the rocks crack, the sky darkens and the dead are raised. This is a tremendous exposition of power.
Yet, we see Jesus walk willingly to it, he does not resist when he is before Pilate, when the crowds call for his blood, when the soldiers mock him and when the criminals mock him. This treatment is in extreme contrast with Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem just days ago. The fact is, Jesus had just as much power riding in on a donkey and being welcomed as he did on the walk to Golgotha.
The significance of this passage is that it highlights that Jesus’ concern was not for himself and not effected by what happened around him, it was for the duty he had to God and therefore to humanity. We are blessed by Matthew 27, in that our God knows suffering, knows pain and knows compassion. The deity we aspire to follow does not turn to violence, instead we are called to walk a path where we can be mocked and harassed and hurt, and to do so bravely.
Parenting has taught me just as much about my relationship with God as it has about my relationship with my son, Garrett. I feel sadness and pain when I see him struggle with making wise choices and ultimately choosing something other than what I wanted for him. I am struck with the notion, “Is this how God feels about me when I make unwise choices?” But I also feel an incredible surge of euphoria when Garrett offers me genuine thankfulness or praise about something I have done. And again I think, “Does God’s heart swell when I offer up a thankful heart?”
The Psalmist provides prayer in the form of thanksgiving and praise, recognizing God’s mercy and restoration in our lives by jubilantly sharing “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!” both at the beginning and the end of the Psalm. My desire to create a similar attitude of thankfulness in Garrett calls on me to identify with him the many blessings we’ve been given and to demonstrate a thankful heart. We often pray at bedtime: “God, thank you for our house. Thank you for a bed to sleep in. Thank you for plenty of food to eat and clothes to wear. Amen.”
I am challenged though, to help Garrett, and ultimately help myself, acknowledge that our prayers of thanksgiving and praise can and should seep in to our everyday lives and not be limited by our routines, but become routine. Despite our circumstances, there is much to be thankful for and God deserves that pause whenever we are presented with a blessing.
his steadfast love endures for ever!
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
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.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
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, I will extol you.
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
If you had all the money, all the power and all the fame in the world, how would you live your life? Would you be driving a Lamborghini or a Ferrari? Would you own the latest Louis Vuitton bag? Would you change your closet every time there’s a new fashion trend?
In today’s society, the “I” appears to be more important than “them.” If social systems value “I” more than “them,” how can we, as individuals, value “them” more than “I?” It may seem like a challenging task, but it IS possible with God’s help.
When Jesus came to this earth, he could have had all the riches, luxury and fame, but he didn’t. He could have lived in a palace and ruled as a king, but he didn’t. He could have hired all the servants to clean his house, make his food and do his hair, but he didn’t. Instead, Jesus chose to be born in a dirty, stinky stable, Jesus chose to be raised in a poor carpenter’s home, Jesus chose to be the servant and to serve others. Even though he was ridiculed, rejected, despised and humiliated by his own people, Jesus persisted for our sake, to save us. Jesus willingly humbled himself, and he even went so low that he offered himself to die for our sins. Jesus didn’t die just any death. He died the most horrible, degrading and agonizing death, the crucifixion. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus, the all-powerful and all-knowing God, is also the all-humble God? Even though Jesus has all the reasons to be proud, he was humble.
So often, we get carried away with the “I” phrases: “I am…I want…I need… ME, MYSELF and I,” and we forget about “them.” All the “I” builds is pride, and pride doesn’t lead us anywhere but sin. Humility, on the other hand, will be rewarded, blessed and exalted by God. Humility means forgiving, loving and caring for others, not just yourself. Humility also means letting God take charge of your life, and whatever we can’t do, He will. In order to be honored you must first humble yourself, in order to be loved you must first give love, in order to be forgiven you must first forgive, and in order to be blessed you must first bless.
So, today, will you make it your goal to be served or to be a servant?
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Confidence. We know it when we feel it. We know it when we see it in others. But where does confidence come from? For the writer of Isaiah 50, his confidence comes from knowing the Lord, from serving the Lord. It’s really an amazing recital, bordering on boastful. Who among us could say anything quite like it? The prophet is confident in his gifts and vocation, confident that he is listening to God, confident that he is following the Lord, steely in the face of persecution and abuse, dauntless in his belief that God will help and sustain him. But the passage goes far deeper than mere confidence. The prophet’s confidence is buttressed and buoyed by the following attributes:
Mission. Confidence without mission is aimless. The prophet’s determination grows out of knowing that God has something important for him to do. Who among us would endure persecution and danger for no particular reason?
Righteousness. The prophet is confident in his righteousness. His persecution is not deserved. On the contrary, he wears it as a badge of honor, evidence of his persistence in the face of opposition and suffering.
Determination. The prophet is a rock. He has ‘set his face like flint.’ You can feel his grit and determination oozing from every line of this passage. He’s going to get the job done or quite literally die trying.
Spiritual sensitivity. According to the prophet, every day God wakens his ear “to listen like one being instructed.” My first impulse when writing this devotion was to focus on the first four attributes. Imagine a world where all of God’s people were suffused with confidence, mission, righteousness and determination. We would be an unstoppable force and so much good would be accomplished! But much damage might also be inflicted by God’s people in the absence of the spiritual sensitivity that comes from listening to God daily, continuously.
God, this Lenten season, like the prophet, we pray that we might be equipped with the confidence, righteousness, determination and mission to do your work in the world. But we also pray for the spiritual sensitivity to do it with the grace, wisdom and compassion that comes from listening to you daily. Amen.
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backwards.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
All of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
For many people, Lent is a time of fasting from something. From social media to meat, people choose to “give up” all sorts of things. However, it can also be life-giving to add a positive practice to your life. When I was in high school, my church youth group held a “Lenten Challenge,” with a new idea or practice added each week of Lent. Though I do not remember what each challenge was, there was one that really stuck out – being constantly thankful.
This may sound like a daunting task, but once I stopped to examine my life a little more carefully, I became more and more aware of how many blessings I am constantly surrounded by. Friends, family, the beautiful outdoors, the opportunity to study, a steaming hot cup of coffee in the morning – I’ve realized I can find something to be thankful for at all times. Along with having a greater awareness of the blessings I was surrounded by, I’ve also tried to be more intentional about taking a moment to pause and say a word of thanks. It’s astonishing how much stopping to find something to appreciate and thank God for in a situation can improve my mood!
This week’s theme focuses on how blessed we are. During this Lenten period, I challenge to you be more aware of the incredible amount of blessings you are surrounded by, to stop and reflect, and to give your thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
Sometimes I feel like Martha and say, “But Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Or maybe I say, “But, Lord, I know what the data is and I don’t feel optimistic.” Or “But Lord, they are so overwhelmed, they don’t want to learn and steward your creation.” Or “But Lord, even though there is fear around us constantly, why don’t they take better care of each other?”
“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
Sometimes I struggle with what we’ve done so far with this earth – meaning consuming more than what we give back. I have to have faith in those circumstances to know that humans will gain knowledge, then they will believe in what they know, and then they will want to change their behavior – and not just talk about it.
I cannot just believe Jesus will take care of this earth without my help. But I can, hopefully, with God’s help, help resurrect – to bring back to life – urban and rural areas exploited, neighborhoods forgotten, waterways spoiled, and the respect of all creation.
Daily my Lazarus is restored to life when I see prairies being restored, superfund sites being cleaned up by the Environmental Protection Agency and people growing their own food.
I believe. Thanks be to God.
“When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is put down the shovel.”
A friend shared this saying a few years ago, and it has stayed with me as a reminder to stop, when I find myself in difficult circumstances, and take stock of the situation. How often we blame others for our troubles. How often we get in our own way when we take matters into our own hands, forgetting to ask for divine guidance.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a pit not of our own making—as Joseph found himself in a pit as a result of his brothers’ jealousy, or religious martyrs found themselves thrust into an oubliette—an underground prison cell shaped like a burial pit, its only opening at the very top, out of the prisoner’s reach. But in Psalm 130 it’s pretty clear that the writer has created his own troubles. The pit of our own making burns deep in the belly with shame. Asking for help makes us vulnerable.
Thus the cry from the depths in this Psalm is also a cry of hope, because the speaker has already reached the turning point, in his state of despair, when he realizes that he can call upon a God who forgives.
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you . . .
No matter how low we sink, once we turn to God for help, we are no longer alone. Instead, the dark places and moments in our lives offer us an opportunity to enter into a conversation with a living God of forgiveness.
The attitude of the Psalmist is one of vigilance. He waits for God more eagerly “than those who watch for the morning,” and he repeats the line for emphasis. Perhaps he waits so earnestly because he needs to feel God’s forgiveness in order to forgive himself.
In the Northern Hemisphere, Lent takes place during late winter, a time of transition and waiting. We have all experienced the depths of winter. Just when we think it’s over, the snow returns. We venture out into spring-like weather one day, only to be thrust back indoors by the chill of the next. But through it all we know, deeply, that spring will eventually arrive, just as we trust in God’s forgiveness to patiently transform our lives.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.