2021 Lenten Devotional
Welcome to Trinity United Methodist Church’s 2021 Lenten Devotional!
Each of this year’s contributors from our Congregation chose a scripture important to their faith journey, and wrote a devotion focused on the scripture they selected. The devotions include the chosen Scripture for the day, a short prayer, and sometimes a spiritual exercise.
Mark 15:42-16:8 42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.
16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’ 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”’ 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
The ending of Mark 15 is abrupt and as sharp as the circumstances it describes. It is Friday, the Day of Preparation; a day in which all things are set for the human observance of the cosmic significance of the Sabbath. When the last rays of sunlight leave on Friday, the Sabbath starts; no work can be done on the Sabbath, not even the necessary work of burial of the dead. After the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea hastily goes to Pilate requesting the body. Joseph works as quickly as he can without the disrespect of hurry. He gathers a linen cloth, takes the Savior’s body down from the cross, wraps him in the cloth, places him in a tomb, and rolls a stone against the entrance. Nearby, two women mark the location of the tomb as the Sabbath begins.
The white space in our bibles between where Mark 15 ends and Mark 16 begins measures a time of about 36 hours. The Sabbath lasts from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday; there is an additional night before the dawn of discovery on Sunday. At some point in that 36-hour span, more than likely after Saturday’s sunset, Easter happens. In Jesus’ tomb, in that space hidden from human eyes, Light pierces the darkness and the spark of the divine ignites hope and promise. In the awful and supposedly permanent silence of the tomb, the sound of a deep breath punctures the quiet. There is movement. Jesus lives!
There is no timestamp on the miracle; it happens while some bask in the satisfaction that a troublemaker has been removed from the scene. It happens while the followers of Jesus grieve and console one another behind locked doors. It happens while the world moves onto the next news cycle.
Resurrection happens before Mary and the women arrive on that Sunday morning. They marvel at the rolled away stone, the angelic messenger, the empty tomb, and they flee in terror and amazement. The first followers of the Lord do not yet understand Easter. As sunlight races across the morning sky, death and brokenness no longer hold eternal power. This is Creation’s eighth day; it is the day that Christ Jesus arose.
Resurrection and new life happen in places we do not see and at times we do not know. We do not always grasp the timing or the location in geographic terms or in our common spiritual lives; yet, Easter happens. Even as we are distracted by current events and the rush and crush of our calendars, Easter happens. The grace of God is not blocked by our limitations of mind, body, or soul. Grace comes when we do not deserve it and in ways we fail to understand except in hindsight. Grace comes in the in between places of life, in the blank spaces of our life’s narrative. Easter still happens, thanks be to God.
Prayer – God of Resurrection, thank you for offering us new life even when it happens in unexpected places and unknown ways that we fail to understand. In the name of thee Risen Christ, Amen.
Rev. Joseph James, Jr.
Trinity UMC Senior Pastor
John 3:16-19: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
Luke 23:32-34; 44-49: ‘Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.’
‘It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.’
The holy season of Lent is sometimes defined by symbols. We remember the stories, and hopefully the meaning, that is associated with ashes and palm leaves, by bread, wine, and towels, and by a bare cross. I have, as many of you, a collection of crosses and I value each one. And all of them are bare of a human figure, because the cross was not the end of the story.
The narrative of Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified, is one of the most horrific stories I have ever read. I have read the description of death by crucifixion in medical journals, and Bill O’Reilly’s book dealing with the political background surrounding the crucifixion, but Jim Bishop wrote the best, “The Day Christ Died.” Each of them makes me wonder why God allowed Jesus to endure that experience. Was it necessary to go through that horror to enable a person like me to be forgiven. I have sometimes felt like the Jewish leaders who taunted Jesus by saying, “Come down from the cross, so that we may see it and believe.” (Mark 15:32)
General William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, explained it best. “It is because Jesus did not come down from the cross that I believe in him.”
Good Friday means that there is no limit to God’s love, that there is nothing in the entire universe that God will not do on our behalf.
That is the primary reason we call it Good Friday.
Prayer: Thank you, heavenly Father, for your willingness to suffer on our behalf. Help us to never forget the depths to which you will go for our spiritual salvation.
Reverend Dr. Regi Thackston
Trinity UMC Pastor Emeritus
John 13:31-35: “When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him,God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Sometimes, our religious words get in the way of our practice of faith, because words change. They change from one national language to language of another nation, or from meanings in one community to another community. I remember when “cool” no longer was restricted to weather, but also to behavior, or personality. And I remember some others, also.
One of the most profound religious words which has not changed is the Holy Thursday name of “Maundy Thursday.” Maundy comes from the word “mandatum” which means “commandment.” It is easy to recognize how closely “mandatum” sounds like “mandate.”
The name “Maundy Thursday” refers to the new commandment Jesus gave at his last supper with the disciples. He told them, after Judas left on his act of betrayal, “I give you a new commandment, love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
(John 13: 34-35)
Mandatum .. . commandment . . . “As I have loved you, so must you love one another.”
Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for making faith simple enough to practice, and profound enough to change our lives . . . and our world. Help us keep this, your commandment. AMEN
Reverend Dr. Regi Thackston
Trinity UMC Pastor Emeritus
I was reading William Barclay’s study of the Book of Luke when I came to the Temptation story. In this story, Jesus had to choose the way of temporal and finite power and glory or the way of suffering and the cross. The first of the temptations had to do with food, or material things. Bread is not bad as are many things we are tempted with, but to choose them over choosing God is always wrong. The second temptation deals with compromising standards – choosing the world’s standards over God’s standards. Jesus is tempted to choose evil – worship Satan- to gain personal power and glory. The third temptation asks Jesus to do something sensational to prove his powers. Once again Satan was tempting him with immediate fulfillment.
Jesus turns his back on all Satan can throw at him. He does it by dwelling in the Word of God.
How are we tempted? We must understand that Jesus lived the same kind of life that we live for 30 years. He fully understood what it was like to be human. He understood the need for food and material things just to sustain life. But we are not to let our quest for material things override our relationship with God through Christ. We are also tempted to compromise standards – to try to get along with the world rather than to stand apart. Sometimes we might think that cheating, undercutting, or cutting corners is the way to get ahead. We might also be tempted to brag about what we perceive God has done for us! All I could think of is “healing ministries” that seem to be all for show.
How do we stand up to these daily temptations? Keep our eyes on Jesus and keep God’s Word ever before us. And give God the glory in the Name of Jesus!
Daily discipline: Try to discern each day how I am tempted to follow the world.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I pray that I am daily attuned to your word and to the leading of the Holy Spirit that I may turn my back on the temptations of Satan, and that I can follow your son’s example in all things. Amen.
1 Jn. 3:23-24
“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”
In these verses are two commands that are the basics of our Christian belief. God knows that we cannot live our lives without sinning. He sent Christ to be the supreme sacrifice for our sins; however, our belief in this and living our lives in a way that reflects that belief in Christ is what makes the forgiveness of our sins a reality. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31)
To love one another is a command that can challenge us in our daily lives. But when we obey these two commands, the spirit of Christ truly does live in us.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, may we live our lives as we have been commanded so that your Spirit will live in us.
1 Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens.
2 Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet:
7 all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth!
Have you ever witnessed a sunrise on a cold morning from a treeless vantage point or a sunset on the edge of a mountain, or heard a mourning dove call late in the evening, or chased leaves falling from a tree in October? Have you ever stood at the base of a waterfall and wondered how long ago it was only a stream? Have you ever watched for shooting stars at night and wondered how the ancients learned to sail using the constellations as guides? Have you watched a tree grow from a seedling to become large enough to hang a swing on? Have you ever had stick races in a stream with a close friend? Have you ever watched the wind blow in the trees above you but felt calm on the trail? Have you heard the still small voice in any of these settings? Elijah did in 1 Kings: 19.
The Lord calls and speaks to us in all kinds of places and circumstances. Some of us have access to the great outdoors and experience God there, but His presence can also be found in the face of an old friend bed-bound in a nursing home. Whatever your circumstances today, listen carefully: He may be calling.
Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth!
Dr. Arland Compton
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Life can be difficult at times, and we can be fraught with fears and apprehensions. In the Old Testament God commanded His people to be strong, courageous and fearless and he promised to be with them.
And so that assurance of God’s presence is given to us in the New Testament when Jesus said in John 14: 16: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever.”
Prayer: I pray that the Lord God almighty be with me wherever I go now and forever. Amen
Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and courageous: do not be frightened or dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
In this time of extreme stress and upheaval I am so thankful for the strength that we can draw from our faith. So many people are suffering, and we have lost so many of our precious church members. I can only imagine how different church will feel once we finally go back to in-person worship. Through our faith we can survive this difficult time and come out stronger. Hopefully we will learn to be kinder, more sensitive to the needs of others, more helpful, more generous and just better people.
Prayer: Gracious Heavenly Father, Thank you for your ever present love and strength. Thank you for guiding us through this turbulent time. Please help us to be the people you would have us to be and help us to live a life that reflects how much we love you! In your most precious name we pray. Amen!
Luke 9:25-41: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. …
James 1:2-4 NRSV: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
None of us have been exempt from adversity over the past year. We’ve all faced it in one way or another. Some of us have faced what we might call minor bumps in the road while others have been hit with absolutely tragic circumstances. Some of us are living our lives in solitude, having temporarily given up time with friends and family, while others have lost friends and family until we can be reunited in Heaven above. Getting through a challenge is never easy and rarely do we see any “silver lining” while in the midst of it. That truth is amplified when the adversity lasts for days, weeks, or even months.
However, when we get to the other side of the adversity, we find a way to count our blessings and move forward in our faith. James 1:2-4 provides us with a “secret recipe” that can help us find joy and blessings in the midst of adversity rather than waiting until the end to rediscover these emotions. Knowing that God is in control and that He is shaping us and building us in every moment gives us reason to celebrate, even when celebrations are the furthest from our minds.
When I was young, my father would send me and my siblings off to school with the same phrase every day: “It’s gonna be a great day, kids!” I remember lashing out at him on at least one occasion, claiming that there was no way he could already know first thing in the morning that the day was going to be “great!” Of course, as my faith matured, I came to understand what he was doing. If you begin each day by proclaiming your willingness to see God’s great work, your day WILL be great!
Dear Heavenly Father, Open our eyes to all the good that You are doing each and every day. Help us see Your works first, above any adversity that we may face here on earth. Amen
Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; Do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and he will show you the path to take.”
Recently while on our way to breakfast, Logan (my oldest daughter) and I were behind a car with a Proverbs 3:5-6 sticker on the back. Like most 13 year olds, Logan had her phone handy, and she pulled the verse up on her phone and read the verses. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; Do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and he will show you the path to take.”
Life throws situations and circumstances at us that we sometimes have a hard time wrapping our minds around, and at that time my family was in the midst of one of those times. I was constantly questioning God and trying to figure out why this event was happening to us. I was searching for understanding and I found myself trying to make sense of this all on my own.
King Solomon’s words in Proverbs teach us differently…verse 5 says, ”Trust in the Lord with all your heart; Do not depend on your own understanding.” Instead of focusing on trying to understand the why of our circumstances, we should focus on placing our full trust in God. We must be mindful of Him and realize that He is in control and at work in all the events of our life. Verse 6 says, “Seek His will in all you do, and he will show you the path to take.” God never asks us to figure it all out on our own. He just asks us to trust Him and recognize Him in all areas of our lives. And He promises to make our pathways straight.
When we find ourselves in the midst of life’s struggles, instead of focusing on asking “Why is this happening?” or “How did we get here?” or “How could God allow this?” or “I don’t understand….. Why????” We should be focusing on asking “how can God be glorified through this situation?” Knowing He is always with us as we walk through them. Because he is with us, we can go through life’s trials trusting God completely, even in uncertain times.
God doesn’t always rescue us when we want out of our life’s circumstance, but He is always with us as we walk through them. When we trust that His way is always best, we glorify Him and His plan for our lives.
Prayer: God, even though life is full of changes, we find peace and comfort in knowing You are ever steady, everlasting, and always in total control. Please help us focus more on You and less on ourselves. May we seek You and Your will for our lives in all situations. We thank You for Your steady presence and steadfast love. Amen.
2 Corinthians 4:7: “That the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”
I read a story once about John Wesley that has always stuck with me and one on which I often reflect. During those days, lay preachers with limited education would often lead the church services. One such man used Luke 19:21 as his text:” Lord, I feared Thee, because thou art an austere man.” (KJV) He did not know what the word “austere” meant. He used it as the word “oyster.”
He explained how a diver must endure freezing water to retrieve the oyster. Often he might cut his hands on the sharp shells in the process. But in his success, he rises to the surface, with bleeding, torn hands, clutching his prize. The lay preacher added, “Christ descended from the glory of heaven into sinful human society in order to retrieve us sinners and bring us back up to the glory of heaven with him. His nail torn and bleeding hands are a sign of the value he has placed on us, the object of his journey. “
Afterward, 12 men received Christ. Later on that night, someone came to Wesley to complain about the unschooled lay leader and his ignorance of the word “austere.” The well-educated Wesley said simply, “Never mind. The Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.”
Our very best efforts may not always measure up to the standards of this world, but God takes them and uses them for his glory.
The Master can use what you have to offer,
though you may consider it small;
His work here on earth is done through his children,
So give him your best, your all. -Hess
Lord help us to do what we can with what we have to glorify your holy name. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
Colossians 4:6 “Let your conversation be always full of GRACE, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
When I was giving thought as to what I would write for our 2021 Lenten Devotional booklet, the word “GRACE” kept popping up in my head. I read the scripture above and was particularly intrigued with the phrase “seasoned with salt,” until with further study I read the following explanation. “Salt is a preservative and is tasty. Similarly, the Christian’s conversation is to be wholesome.”
During this past year with the Pandemic, political differences, social justice issues and the economic crisis, all of us have been emotionally stretched to the limit and beyond. Even with family and friends, our conversations with each other have sometimes gotten to an emotional tipping point which has led me to give a lot of thought to giving each other GRACE, and to be sure our conversations are wholesome. GRACE has been defined as “courteous goodwill” and wholesome as “conducive to or promoting well-being.” It would truly be incredible if, even in disagreement, all of our interactions were wholesome and filled with GRACE.
Think of all the many times our Lord said, “My GRACE and peace I give to you.” The next time you are talking with someone, remind yourself that your standard is to have wholesome and GRACE-filled conversations.
Prayer: Dear GOD: Thank you for teaching us that your GRACE is sufficient. Remind us daily to extend GRACE to all those we encounter along the way.
Jeremiah 31: 3 The Lord appeared to me from long ago. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.
When we die, don’t we want to be remembered for something – something worthwhile and meaningful? Don’t we want to leave some kind of worthwhile legacy?
Money is spent; buildings decay; monuments are self-serving and in time lose their meanings; good works are fleeting and are often forgotten.
Isn’t there a better, more long-lasting, more worthwhile, more meaningful legacy to leave our loved ones and our fellow men? Love – true, selfless love – is meaningful, comforting and hopefully lasting and self-perpetuating. Selfless love never runs out, never rots, never boasts and never dies.
Parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, friends and other people who give us love never really die. Their love, even their tough love, is remembered by us and by others. Love freely given and taught is passed on to us and dwells within us to pass on to our children, our grandchildren, our friends and to other people, even strangers. Selfless, true love is eternal, just as our Lord’s love for us is. Love is not selfish or judgmental and never dies. It is a lasting legacy, wonderful to receive and fulfilling to pass on.
Immortal Love, forever full,
Forever flowing free,
Forever shared, forever whole,
A never-ebbing sea!
John Greenleaf Whitter (1807 – 1892)
From The Methodist Hymnal
from the 2018 Lenten Devotional
Isaiah 43: 1-5: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you.”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us understand that during our lives we will have problems and we will be disappointed, but also help us to remember that our Lord will always be there for us. Amen
Psalm 103:20 NRSV: Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word.
“Who gets lost in the woods? What are you talking about?” I ask Beth. It’s Sunday morning, September 20 of this past year, 3AM. My wife hands me her smartphone. On it was a news story with a picture of my father’s face. The title read “Elderly Man Lost in Woods.” I was still pretty groggy and thought “Well that headline is going to irritate him” as if he had just wandered off and put himself into the massive state park near my childhood home close to Memphis, Tennessee.
This had to have been a mistake; my dad as of 2 years ago was running in the New York City Marathon regularly before his doctor asked him to stop. He created his own engineering consulting business in his ’60’s and was in high demand. He has written 3 books. “This doesn’t make sense!” I snapped.
“The police have set up a mobile command unit in Shelby Forest and your mother is there, but that is all they can tell me.” I am now. Immediately. Awake. Called my father and mother, no response. Almost 1000 miles away, I never felt so helpless in my life. My mom eventually responded but had no new information except to confirm what I had seen online. The search would continue in earnest the next day. Nothing to do but wait.
It’s hard to face one’s thoughts alone in the dark; devastating, terrifying thoughts are met with unbearable silence. I wandered inside and outside my home. I put a ladder away that was sitting on the side of the house. I played guitar on my porch, my phone always beside me. It never rang. I watched the night dissolve into morning and then drove to Trinity to pray. When worship was over I booked a flight to Memphis.
By the time I landed, Hugh had been found. He was exposed in the wilderness for 3 days and 2 nights. The story is long, so I won’t go into all of that. He was rushed to the closest hospital and treated for dehydration. He had no broken bones, no concussion and we only found out later, a bit of pneumonia. He got turned around on a trail doing his
Favorite hobby, bird-watching, and tried to traverse the wilderness to find a path with which he was more familiar, slid down an embankment and ran out of steam, and sat down. He stayed in his spot for roughly 30 hours. Because of Covid 19, my mother was the only one allowed to visit him in the hospital. She held his hand and told him how much she hated to think about him lost and alone in the middle of nowhere. He told her “I wasn’t alone. There were people with me.” After 48 hours of observation, my father was cleared to leave. I collected my parents in their car and drove home where my 2 brothers were waiting. Talking to him later, he repeated his assertion that people were with him. He was certain of this. “So if people were there, why wouldn’t they have given you water or helped you out of the woods?” I asked. “They didn’t see me, and I didn’t call out. Some of them were playing music,” he said.
As I watched my father napping after supper on his living room chair I began to think about angels: everyday angels that show up when a car breaks down, or to help watch children for a new mother when she’s overwhelmed, that donate food and clothing for people in need, or the people that work tirelessly for days to find a missing man in the woods that most of them didn’t know. I thought about the prayer warriors of Trinity and other churches sending my family and me notes of support, love, and concern. I thought of actual Biblical angels and wondered if what Hugh experienced in the woods was sent by God to comfort him. Because of angels, there was Daddy, right in front of me. I was home with my brothers and parents. It’s hard to describe in words what that felt like.
To this day he’s embarrassed about all of the attention, and I get it. However, I think the story is bigger than his misadventures. Perhaps Rev. Joseph said it best when I returned to Trinity that this was one of the best stories of 2020 – during a nasty year of sickness and uncertainty, here was a tale about people coming together; and I will never, ever forget that as long as I live. Thank you, rescuers; thank you, Trinity; and, most of all, thank You, God.
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for everyday angels. Thank you for miracles. Thank you for the cloud of witnesses that help us throughout our lives. May we as your children always work together in times difficult and calm to do your good work on Earth. Amen.
Psalm 28:7 “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song.”
Life is made up of highs and lows. It is unavoidable, and certainly 2020 hit many low points for a lot of people, and especially for me. Sometimes tears blind our eyes, and we can’t see the way ahead. But we must keep going. When our hearts are broken and our eyes fill with tears, our first inclination may be to go back to bed, to give up.
There is a song from years past named “Singing in the Rain.” When the rains come into your life and everything seems dark and dreary, keep walking – don’t stop. Nothing can prevent the rains from coming, but, thorough faith in God and with His power working in us and for us, we can learn to sing in the rain. Heartache breeds bitterness, resentment and self-pity. But when the heart is trusting in Him, the resulting song in your heart will dry your tears. Remember Easter morning follows Good Friday!
Dear Heavenly Father, as we go through these difficult days, please warm our hearts and dry our tears so we can go forth praising You with unending love and abiding faith.
Psalm 137:1-6: By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
This is a Lenten season like no other!
This is a time of participating in and experiencing church in ways as we never have before. This is, spiritually, a different and difficult age.
There was a time long ago when the people of God were carried away from the land which God had promised them, and to which they had marched toward for generations. It was the place where their Temple, which was built to be the special place for God, was destroyed. They became captives for the second time in history and worked as slaves for a king with a strange name, who worshipped an idol who required behaviors that were not just uncomfortable, but distasteful and immoral to them.
I sense, when I read The Old Testament, especially in the prophets like Jeremiah, that the easy way would be to yield to the powerful and godless forces that controlled their lives. The temptation would be to “go with the flow.” And some of them did. Perhaps it was the feeling of spiritual isolation that caused the Psalmist to lament, “How can we sing a song to the Lord in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4) Because things were different, that Psalmist could not sense the presence of God in the places which were different and less comfortable. It took the spiritual wisdom of other Psalmists to recognize that, wherever they are, God was already there.
If we think about it, as much as we miss the community of faith, as different as “doing church” in a new way has become, God is still with us, and that is reason enough to “sing the Lord’s song.”
Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, help us sense that you are with us here, today, and that we have a song of praise to sing. AMEN.
Reverend Dr. Regi Thackston
Trinity UMC Pastor Emeritus
Philippians 4:8 KJV “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any praise, think on these things.”
These words from Paul to the Philippians are as timely for us today as they were then. We are seeing across our nation many conflicts of ideas that have escalated into physical conflicts, with tragic results. These things are not new; yet, they are spotlighted by our numerous means of communication in this age of technological advancement. One could say that healthy conversations and debates can cause us to think more deeply about why we believe what we do, and why we act accordingly. At times, things seem so complicated, with families and friends appearing fundamentally opposed to each other.
Some might say that each element of description (true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy in the Bible verse above) is an opinion-type word that could be placed on a continuum, and that each is not a fixed, discrete point. Others might disagree and say that each element is exact, an all-or-nothing quality. Who is to judge?
Simply, I think we must. It is our daily challenge and opportunity. In accepting the gift of Christ’s death in our place on the cross, we have also accepted the newness of life that was given to us through Him and in His resurrection. In rejoicing over this Good News, I think as Christians we are meant to find comfort in truth, live honestly, promote what is right, protect what is pure, look for good in others and in situations, and encourage others.
Dear God, Thank you for the gift of earthly life and eternal life to come. While we are here on earth, help us to be mindful of our actions and our thoughts, and to strive daily to live with qualities that are pleasing to You, so that we can see and enhance the good in all things. Amen
John 13:34-35: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
This verse is my favorite verse in the Bible. It’s so powerful because these are some of the last words Jesus said to His disciples before He was crucified. It also confirms to the world that we are called, as Andy Stanley would say, to be New Covenant believers. Often we are guilty of viewing our faith as a list of do’s and don’ts, just like the Pharisees did. We try to do better. We try to follow the rules. We try to be better sinners. That’s so Old Covenant.
Jesus came not only to save us from our sins but also that we could be transformed through His Holy Spirit residing in our being. The natural result of that is the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control, gentleness) being exhibited in our lives. Not because we are trying to be better sinners, but because we can’t help it when we are transformed.
So how do transformed, new covenant believers proceed in this uncertain world. We ask “What does God’s love for me, require of me in this situation”? Or to keep it even shorter “What does love require of me”?
What does love require of me when
….. I’m talking to someone who has different political views than me?
….. I’m on social media interacting with folks who see things different
….. I see that classmate sitting alone in the cafeteria?
….. that patient who is never happy shows up on the schedule?
….. that homeless man walks up asking for money?
….. my friend or family member disappoints me?
….. my spouse is not the same person I married?
….. I feel church leadership has made the wrong decision regarding an
….. I’m asked to volunteer my precious time?
SCRIPTURE: Mark 8:1-10
“In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, 2 “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.” 4 His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” 5 He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. 7 They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. 8 They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over; seven baskets full. 9 Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Samantha.”
DEVOTIONAL: In this reading from Mark 8, Jesus is on the eastern shore of Galilee—an area populated by both Jews and Gentiles. It may be that Jesus is there for a time of teaching, and it is remarkable that both Jew and Gentile sit down together to share a meal.
Jesus has entered pagan territory to show his concern for all peoples and the scale of the commission he will give his disciples. Jesus sees the great need of the people and asks the disciples what could be done. His disciples reply, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?”
Do the disciples lack confidence in Jesus to perform another miracle? I don’t think so. Are they just being cautious? Perhaps. Or maybe they are still trying to figure out who this Jesus is and what it means for him to be at work in the world and their lives.
There is much that we don’t understand about what it means for Jesus to be at work in our lives. Why does God seem to act some of the time but not at other times? What is the connection between our prayer life and God acting upon our requests? We can gain insight into our questions as we try to understand the stories of Jesus in the Gospels. Can you see yourself in those stories, as the crowds began to gather around Jesus? They came to him with broken hopes, hearts, and bodies. I believe that we too, are hungry for things that one can find only in Jesus.
PRAYER: Lord, as we follow Jesus and commit ourselves to living for Jesus in this world, we pray not only for ourselves, but also all who trust in Jesus. Please hear our prayers on behalf of the people who do not yet know him. May we share God’s love with those we meet each day. Amen.
Max K. Jackson
Lamentations 3:25: “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.”
For many years, I have appreciated Lent as an especially helpful time for introspection. However, I do not recall “giving up” much during those seasons.
Then, along came Lent 2020 after we were aware of COVID-19. Although involuntarily, I gave up the regular companionship of most of Trinity’s musicians (for varied and legitimate reasons).
When those of us who have been able to remain picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves off, we set forth on a reinvigorated mission to continue Trinity’s music ministry as best we could. It’s been a challenge, but we stand by our efforts. This would not have been possible without the sustaining comments from friends at Trinity and beyond.
Surely, we all look forward to a return to “normalcy.” Meanwhile, the musicians of Trinity will continue to provide the best contributions to musical worship of which we are capable.
Prayer: Direct us. O Lord, in all of our doings with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
1 Corinthians 13:13: “Faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.”
As we look forward to Easter let us practice love. The year 2020 has been a very difficult year for many. The pandemic has changed the way we live and taken the lives of many. We did not celebrate holidays and other events with family and friends. Many have lost jobs while others have worked very long hours to care for the sick. Our election process has brought out anything but love in so many. Where is our love for one another?
As we reflect on the resurrection and the love Christ has for us, may we find love in our hearts for others. May we put love in the place of hate and fear. Why not make love your anchor? We are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
When Christ returns and gathers His people to live with Him forever, faith and hope will have been realized and the love of Christ will be seen.
From the prayer of Saint Francis
Lord make me an instrument of Your Peace.
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine master grant that l may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console.
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it’s in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born…
To eternal life.
John 2:1-12 The Wedding at Cana
1 The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. 3 The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” 5 But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. [b] 7 Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, 8 he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions. 9 When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. 10 “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” 11 This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him. 12 After the wedding he went to Capernaum for a few days with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples.
Many of us certainly recognize this to be the beginning of Jesus ministry – his debut as the Messiah and his first of many signs and miracles that he performs over the next three years. And it certainly seems to be a fun, lighthearted miracle to start with. Jesus, his mother, and his disciples are attending a wedding. Along with other members of the community, friends, and family, they are celebrating the covenant of marriage and there is food, wine, music, and lots of festivities. And when the wine runs out Jesus simply turns the water into wine and the party continues! Who wouldn’t want Jesus at their celebration after this? And think about Mary – “Son, we are out wine. Would you please do something about that?” Talk about favorite child status.
As cool as it is, it gets even better. There is some absolutely beautiful meaning to this seemingly lighthearted, celebratory miracle Jesus performs at Cana. First, let’s think about Mary. She is the one who instigates the entire process. Mary knows of the promises given to her regarding Jesus but we are unsure what she has witnessed up until this point in Jesus life. Has he done miracles or signs at home that are not recorded? We will never know. Regardless, Mary steps forward and creates an atmosphere of expectancy. She recognizes a need and she goes to the one who can provide for that need. And even after Jesus’ initial rebuttal, she presses in and tells the servants to do as he says. She is not willing to give up. This atmosphere of expectancy and persistence Mary creates is something we should all take note of.
Secondly, the tangible miracle Jesus performs is both cringe-worthy and delightful. Those six pots were probably not empty pots just sitting there. They were enormous pots for people coming into the house to cleanse themselves. The environment there is dusty & dirty so before you entered the house you must clean up…ceremonial washing they like to call it. So the water contained in them was pretty nasty. The servants were instructed to fill them up even more – not empty them out, clean the pots and then fill them. Just top them off. So nasty. But as we all know how the miracle turns out, Jesus turns this nasty, murky, dirty water into the BEST wine that the wedding-goers have ever tasted.
Lastly, I would not want to be the servant instructed to carry the water to the master of the ceremonies. The water was not yet wine until it was poured out for the master. Imagine what was going through the servant’s mind as he brought this dirty water over to the table. It must have been terrifying to say the least. But the servant had to step out in faith. He took a risk. He had to get involved in the miracle and Jesus made it all happen that way. Jesus could have turned the water into wine in the big pots but he chose to include the servant in the miracle. Jesus performs the tangible miracle but it is happening in the hands of the servant.
Are you waiting on God to show up for some kind of miracle or sign? Stop waiting. He is ready. It is up to you to step out in faith and take the risk. Grab that glass of dirty water and take it to the table and expect God to turn into the BEST wine.
Prayer: Dear God, why am I waiting? Why do I lack expectancy and persistence? Help me to see that you are ready & willing to take my sins, inaction, prayers, concerns, needs, and wants and turn them into something beautiful. Help me have the courage and faith to step out and take the risk. Help me be bold enough to take the first step. Help me see that you want me to be just as involved in the miracle as You are. Thank you for loving me so much that I can be a part of glorifying You here on earth. Amen.
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)
When Jesus saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth, he said “Follow me.” Levi got up and followed Jesus, leaving everything behind.
Levi then held a large banquet for Jesus at his house (and a large number of tax collectors were invited). Jesus’ disciples were asked by some of the teachers of the law (Pharisees) who were there, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them with the verse above. This was not to imply that the Pharisees were “the healthy,” but that a person must recognize himself as a sinner before he can be spiritually healed.
Prayer: Lord, we know that you sent Jesus to call us from our sins to repentance. May we respond when Jesus says “follow me” and live our lives as we know we should.
Mark 10: 35-39
The disciplines most often accepted during Lent have to do with denial, especially if we need an impetus to lose a few pounds, or behave in a more civilized manner, or give up a behavior (sometimes called a habit) that makes us unattractive to family or friends. Actually, the purpose of the sacrifices during Lent is to remind us that there is always the possibility of discomfort as a result of practicing our faith.
When Jesus began his deliberate journey which ended at Golgotha, he tried to explain to his close friends that this was not to be an easy time, yet James and John missed that truth because they believed that Jesus would still establish an earthly kingdom. Their attempt to become important, as told in another gospel, was made by their mother (see Matthew 20:20ff), which may have had more to do with a pushy mother than with a misplaced ambition. Only Matthew knows!
Jesus pointed out to those two ambitious disciples, that those who continued to follow Him would have to suffer, by using the analogy of baptism – which had a significant meaning in that situation. Simply put, Jesus told them that they would be submerged in the terrible experience of being the object of hate, anger, pain and death to which, Jesus knew, he would be subjected. Jesus knew that James and John were not yet aware that there was a cross in the future.
There are times when we need a calm and peaceful faith, where “life flows along like a song,” but the disciplines of denial which we practice during Lent are a way to remind ourselves that a life of faith is sometimes uncomfortable.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, who was willing to allow evil to limit the ministry of Jesus, I thank you that he accepted the pain of being faithful. Help me, in any discomfort of my personal sacrifice, to become less anxious for reward, and more willing to become a faithful disciple. AMEN.
Reverend Dr. Regi Thackston
Trinity UMC Pastor Emeritus
You are lonesome, a friend calls –
The Holy Spirit sees;
You are sad, a warm fond memory enwraps you –
You are in doubt, something in nature awes you –
The Father knows.
God, the three in One, is in charge –
God loves you;
God is good –
Luke 2: 17-19
And when they had seen it (the Babe lying in a manger), they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child.
And all they that heard it wondered at these things which now were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10
Last year in our Lenten devotional booklet I shared with you the scripture Joshua 1:9 about having courage and not being afraid as related to my fear of entrance ramps onto the interstate highways. Recently while traveling to Columbia and readying my prayer for getting on the interstate, my attention was focused on the roadsides along the way. Leaving Sumter, I always notice the trash along the roads or the absence of, thankful for those who pick up the debris. There are other areas along the way down Highway 601 and Screaming Eagle Road that can really be an eyesore with trash strewn everywhere. When I come to an area where the trash has been removed I get a feeling of relief and thankfulness that God’s creation is anew with cleanliness and order.
My journey made me think about how we, as God’s children, can carry a lot of trash (burdens) with us every day or we can enjoy the freshness and relief of God’s joy by giving our trash to Him. “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Hate, malice, anger, jealousy, grudges, prejudice, lying, gossiping, etc., are all trash and weaknesses in God’s eyes and are not likely to bring joy to our hearts or His. Just like trash on the side of the road, these actions are not pretty. They are burdens that weigh us down and suck the life from us.
On the other hand, when we are pouring out ourselves in love: helping others, encouraging others, showing compassion and selflessness for others, “laying down our lives” for our family, friends and strangers and loving our neighbors; the joy of the Lord becomes our strength. Our focus is not on ourselves, but on service to God.
Faith step: Make a list of all the “trash” in your life. Pray for God to help you release the “trash” and then put it in His trash can.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me so that I may serve you from my heart and make this a place of beauty and love.
When I was elected to the Circuit Court bench in 1996, I was asked several times how, as a Christian, I could be a judge when the Bible says “do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned.” (Luke 7: 37 NSRV) My answer then and now is that I was not judging my fellow man for failure to obey God’s laws but was judging humans for violation of the laws enacted by man so that we could live together in peace and harmony. I was not making moral judgments for violation of biblical teachings. That is for the Lord to do. Granted, many of God’s teachings are the same as man’s laws, such as the prohibition against killing or stealing. Nonetheless, my job was to make judgments of human violations of man-made laws that enable us to live among each other on earth peacefully without violence and hate. I often added that I could not be a judge if I were not a Christian. My Christian beliefs made it possible for me to enforce man’s laws with compassion and without moral judgment.
My guide to being a judge is found in Leviticus 19:15 (NRSV) where the Lord spoke to Moses saying: “You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.” This was my objective, leaving moral judgment in the hands of the Lord.
Prayer: Lord help me to fairly and justly judge my fellow humans for transgressions of laws enacted by man to enable us to live together peacefully, and not to condemn him for conduct that violates your laws, and forgive me when I fail to live up to this creed. Amen.
Joel 2:12-13 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
Prayer: Dear Lord, Help us to consider your graciousness, your compassion. Help us to remember that You are slow to anger and that You abound in lovingkindness. Help us to remember that we are special to You and that You love us and, that no matter what, You desire that we return to You. Amen.
Psalm 51: 10-12: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
These words from Psalm 51 are very familiar, as we hear them every year in Ash Wednesday services. Throughout the season of Lent, it can be helpful to return to them as we observe our Lenten disciplines.
We live in a time of pointing fingers. It is very easy to look at those with whom we disagree and identify how they are just wrong. We carry our preconceived notions of how the world should be with us wherever we go, and when life inevitably surprises us, it is all too easy to look for someone to blame.
And yet, in this season, followers of Jesus are called, not to focus on others, but to focus on self. We are invited to an inward journey with God, to examine our lives and offer up to God those parts that need healing and restoration. We are invited to remember that “all have sinned and fallen short” and that if we do not allow Jesus to wash our feet, we can have no share in him.
On leaving a monastery, a monk was asked by a passerby, “What do you all do in there?” The monk answered, “We take a few steps. We fall. We get up again. We take a few steps. We fall. We get up again.” This response was the monk’s description of a life dedicated to God in community through prayer, simplicity and acts of service. The forty days of Lent are a time for us each year to assess where we have fallen and ask God to help us get up again.
Our primary task during Lent is not to ask God to fix other people. It is to acknowledge our own deep need for God to heal, forgive and restore us. “Create in me a clean heart, O God” is a prayer for any day, as we ask God to mold us into who we were created to be.
Prayer: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in
me a willing spirit.
Luke 2:44-45 44But they [Mary and Joseph], supposing him [Jesus] to have been in the company [caravan of friends and relatives], went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. 45And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.
In this scripture passage Jesus’ earthly parents were retracing their journey back to Jerusalem to literally find Jesus. They had to travel a day’s journey. A day’s journey is the ancient way of estimating distances. The caravan Jesus was supposed to be with would have traveled only 3- 8 miles on the return trip home when Mary and Joseph realized Jesus was not with them. Another ancient measure of a journey was “a Sabbath day’s journey or about only a mile. In Acts 1:12 after Jesus’ ascension the apostles had a Sabbath Day’s journey from the Mt. of Olives to Jerusalem where they would wait to experience Pentecost and their real journey to Jesus would begin.
Whether our personal journeys to find Jesus may be short or long, a mile or many miles, even if we have to retrace our steps as Mary and Joseph did, even if we think the journey has possibly come to an end or we must wait as did the apostles, the journey is never over. It may be short and sweet, or long and rocky, but it is worth making. Finding Jesus is a gift worth receiving.
When we walk with the Lord
In the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way;
While we do His good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey.
Hymn Writer ~ John H. Sammis, 1846-1919
Hymn Music ~ Daniel B. Towner, 1850-1919
A New Covenant and A New Creation
John 15:1-8: 1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
The Christian life is a life found in Christ, redeemed from sin, and consecrated to God.
A Christian is one who has entered into this life and has been admitted into the new covenant of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the mediator of this everlasting covenant which he sealed with his own blood.
God, who promises to give us new life in Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, stands on one side of the covenant. Each day, God shows us that his promise stands firm as he proves his goodness and grace to us.
We stand on the other side of the covenant promising to no longer live for ourselves but instead to live fruitful lives only for Christ because he first loved us and gave his life for us.
Graciously, Jesus has grafted us in to be branches that are now a part of the vine that is him. He has cleaned us and pruned us from our sin. As we remain part of Christ, we remain branches that provide good fruits of his love.
During this Lenten time of self-examination and reflection, let us look at our lives and reaffirm our part of the covenantal life we live as Christ followers and reaffirm our promise to live as a new creation in him.
A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,
Praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.
And now, O wonderful and holy God,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it also be made in heaven.
John 14: 1: “Let not your heart be troubled…”
Although this passage is frequently used at funerals, I find it appropriate for our time in today’s world. Jesus is speaking to YOU as an individual. He is telling YOU to take control of your feelings.
I could write a “laundry list” of reasons why our hearts are troubled today. (If you don’t know what a laundry list is, ask someone over the age of 75 who remembers those days.)
Do all that you can every day to guard your health and happiness. Be strong for your family and friends. Walk with Jesus. Talk with Jesus. Pray with Jesus. Trust him. He’s the answer to your troubled heart.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, let me always remember that you are with me. Let my heart focus on that thought and let my daily troubles be lessened by your presence. Amen
“Serendipity” is a word that every spiritual seeker should understand. It means “an unexpected and fortunate discovery”, or “a beneficial surprise”. My Lenten serendipity occurred when I found, tucked away on the back of a cluttered shelf, a small book about Nicholas Herman, who was born about 420 years ago.
Nicholas Herman was injured as a soldier in France during the “Thirty Years War.” He then became a footman, who waited on tables, held doors for visitors and moved furniture, and who, he admits, “was clumsy and broke everything.” He then became a cook in a monastery in Paris where he discovered a pure and uncomplicated way to work continually in God’s Presence. He took the name of “Brother Lawrence” and lived a life that is best described as “the practice of the presence of God.”
He is remembered for his holy life, which he described by saying, “I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him…. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.” Every single thing he did, even the menial and routine, was recognized as an opportunity to be in the presence of God.
The small book, which was my Lenten serendipity, consists of four conversations and 16 short letters, which demonstrate a pure and uncomplicated way to live and work continually in God’s presence. He explains that to be continually walking with God involves not just the head, but also the heart.
Brother Lawrence demonstrates for me what The Psalmist meant when he wrote:
“You will show me the path that leads to life;
your presence fills me with joy
and brings me pleasure forever. (Psalm 16:11)
Practicing the presence of God is not only something we do during Lent. It is a lifestyle.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for revealing new ideas in our head, and new feelings in our heart, so that your will is done everywhere we practice your presence. AMEN
Reverend Dr. Regi Thackston
Trinity UMC Pastor Emeritus
Psalm 139: 13-14: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well.”
Cohen and Heath were born at 29 weeks and 6 days at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, NC. They lived in the NICU for 90 days attended by skilled doctors and nurses whose extraordinary training met the boys’ physical and medical needs and also showed incredible care and compassion. During the first year of their lives all thoughts were about survival but after that came thoughts of learning and integration in their home and community. Would they meet milestones, develop language for communication, enjoy playing with other children, and go to school?
When the boys turned one I started providing therapy services to them in their home. In the beginning we focused on skills like playing appropriately and learning to ask for toys and foods that they wanted and they excelled eventually using vocal language instead of sign. Over the next years the boys continued to work with therapists who focused on building skill that would allow them to be fully incorporated into all natural environments.
These brothers made incredible strides. They are now 3 years old and we run an in-home preschool program for them preparing them to enter a school based preschool program independently in the fall. These boys are so interested in learning, they love to play, and they TALK, TALK, TALK!!!
In our home preschool we introduced a Bible literacy program and they love it. Their favorite part of our day together is studying our daily Bible lesson. They have learned so much about the Bible and know that Jesus loves them and knew them before they were born. Depending on the week, if you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, they will tell you they want to be Moses, Joshua, Jonah, the big fish, or Peter the fisherman.
My prayer for Cohen and Heath is that they will come to love the Word of the Lord more and more each and use it to light their walk and heed the call we all have to become fishers of men.
I am thankful that the Lord has given me the opportunity to serve these precious boys and tell them of His love for them. I am also thankful for our Children’s and Youth ministries and the dedicated leaders who share the gospel with boys and girls and young men and women.
Prayer: Dear Father, I am thankful for your call to serve Cohen and Heath. I am thankful for the call many others in our church have received to serve our children and youth. Give us a boldness to teach your Word with conviction and tell of your excellent greatness, mercy, and grace beyond all comprehension. Help us show love and compassion to each and every child and youth we encounter. In the words of Nehemiah, “Let me be your successful servant.” In the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Excerpts from A Point of View from Meg Creech on the Guatemala Trip:
Matthew 25:40-45: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
We knew from the start this would be a special group put together “for such a time as this”. We…excitedly awaited our first day we would travel to set up our first medical clinic for the week. We saw beautiful people who obviously love their country and value their belongings as we traveled lots of very narrow, dusty roads! We made it to the school we would be in for the day in about an hour and saw many people already lined up to be seen by the doctors.
I knew being one of the two there with NO medical training that my job was going to be to lend a hand where I could and love on the people as much as I could. I loved my job because I got to see ALL of the wonderful trained medical folks…as they served as the hands and feet of JESUS! And I mean really served! The “patients” were checked in, asked some general questions, had their weight, blood pressure, oxygen, and heart checked. They were then sent to a provider who examined them and prescribed medicines, vitamins, etc. as they saw fit.
After a couple hundred patients were examined, given worm pills, vitamins, medicines, and small prizes for the children, we headed back to Bethesda with full hearts, blessed and ready to take on another day in another village with another couple hundred patients.
There are no words to describe the blessings we had, the provisions that were in place for us to have a great week, and the miracles we witnessed daily!!
Acts 4:13 – When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
What does the future hold for our spiritual lives, and for the life of our church? I find great hope in the story of the early church, as told in chapters 2, 3, and 4 of the New Testament book of The Acts of the Apostles. Good things were happening, people were sharing, the church was growing, and “many miracles and wonders were being done.”
One of the miracles was the healing of a lame man at the “beautiful gate” entrance to the Temple. That was when Peter said to a beggar who asked for help, “silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give to thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” (Acts 3;6, kjv)) That event is important for many reasons, but especially because it led to a hearing before the High Priest and other leaders in the courts, who asked of Peter, “How did you do this?”
When Peter explained, the Council was amazed, because Peter and John were “ordinary men of no education . . . but that they had been companions of Jesus.”
Many people excuse their lack of spiritual involvement in faith because they consider themselves ordinary, or uninformed. The season of Lent is an opportunity for those who want to grow in understanding and service, to accept a daily discipline of study and prayer, and to find a way to help someone. As Peter said, “silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give to thee.”
Prayer: Thank you, God, that you made me who I am. I ask that you will empower me through my focus on you during Lent, to discover your will for me, and to respond to the opportunities you give me to be your companion. AMEN.
Reverend Dr. Regi Thackston
Trinity UMC Pastor Emeritus
Galatians 5: 13-26: “13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”] 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
Today’s reflection comes from the 5th Chapter of Galatians. Here Paul is discussing with the local church the freedom of living a life through Christ, a life wrapped in the fruits of the Spirit, a life summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
By being in the Spirit, you avoid the desires of the flesh. What the flesh desires is opposed by the Spirit; the Spirit desires is opposed by the flesh. Live avoiding impurity, jealousy, anger, envy and strife. Let your life reveal in you the fruits of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control. “If we live by the Spirit, let us be guided by the Spirit.”
During the constraints and quarantines brought on by the coronavirus epidemic, we have witnessed a need to regain our sanity and to restore our hope for a better summer and fall in 2021. We see those so overcome that they have lost their spirits and have forgotten to love their neighbors as themselves.
As we prepare for Easter 2021 we hope to celebrate more joyously than we did last year. Our faith has been there, but we have been limited in ways to fulfill our commitment to Christ. Let us be freed to give to others the fruits of love, joy, peace, and kindness. It is amazing that with how much small effort and on how much a small scale this can be done to the benefit of all.
PRAYER: Easter is coming! He is risen! May the fruits of the Spirit be evident in me today. Amen.
Dr. Arland Compton