Lenten Devotional Series 2020: Day 12

Wilderness vs. Eternal Life by Jack McKee

Several weeks ago, our hearts were broken open as my chosen family learned that our beloved Matty had lost his battle with depression. Like the Israelites referenced in verse 14, most of us have, at some point, experienced ourselves lost in the wilderness. Numb and disconnected from our loved ones, from God, our wells of living water run dry, we cry out in despair.

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Lenten Devotional Series 2020: Day 11

As I Am by Tamasha Tennant

I used to live in Charlotte, NC, and while I lived there, I attended MCC – a non-denominational church that was very open and accepting of everyone.  I hadn’t belonged to a church in many years, and it was a unique experience to worship in a place where I could be myself.

One year as we prepared for Charlotte Pride, we started having protestors show up at our services.  It was the typical “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” thing. It was normally only 3 or 4 folks at a time, but as Pride drew nearer, the number of protestors also grew.

I was furious in the way that a super-independent-except-when-I-was-homesick-20-something could be.  I remember driving through the crowd that was blocking the parking lot entrance, a little faster than I should, and screeching my tires as I parked.  I huffed through the church doors and found Pastor Mick and ask him what we were going to do about “those ignorance baffoons outside”?!  He said, “I’ve got it covered.”

Pastor Mick had picked up doughnuts and coffee on his way to church that morning.  When he entered the sanctuary, me puffing at his heels, he explained to everyone that we would serve the protestors that morning.  It was unseasonably cool, overcast, and slightly raining, so we were going to take them coffee and doughnuts. But first, we were going to pray for them. “Why?!!!” I demanded.

Pastor Mick asked me, “Do you know what Jesus offered Judas to eat at The Last Supper?”  I thought about it, but I didn’t know the answer.  He said, “He served Judas exactly the same thing he served the others.”

Open mouth; insert foot.  Yep.  That was a tough pill to swallow.  Indiscriminate love. Actually, literally, loving thy enemies and praying for those goofs was hard.  Damn hard.  And I did it reluctantly.  I stomped as I carried the doughnuts.  I was secretly glad that the coffee was no longer piping hot.  I kinda wished it would really start raining hard and that incredible gusts of wind would overturn their tables and blow away their signs and that they’d all start running wildly, like a scene from “The Birds”.

We came back inside and went ahead with service as usual.  We took communion, and as I ate my wafer and drank my grape juice I couldn’t help but recognize that there I was, taking communion, minutes after I’d wished mayhem and probable harm upon a group of people I could see out the window but didn’t even know.

The call to “be perfect, therefore, as God is perfect”, in my mind, doesn’t actually mean that we need to be PERFECT in all aspects of life.  It’s not the “perfection” that we all think of – the unattainable pinnacle of sinless living with a heart of gold.  If you actually look up the word “perfect” in the dictionary, it is defined as “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.”  Now, that’s funny.  The very definition of perfection hints that there is an element of reality to consider – as good as POSSIBLE.

Because of that, I think this passage and this translation of “perfect” really applies only to love.  That’s possible, right?  For us to love perfectly?  For our sense of love to be whole, and not lacking or tainted in any way.  Ok, now that’s something I think I can work towards.  When I think of God as my heavenly parent, I can’t help but think of the way I love my own children.  Sure, they upset me.  They make choices that are foolish and harmful and ridiculous.  And none of that matters when it comes to how much I love those little humans and I pray for them daily.  And I know that God loves me that way, too, to the Nth degree.  So, He wants me to love all these other people He’s created.  All (gulp!) of them.  It’s a work in progress.

As am I.

(Still unsure about the coffee and doughnuts, though.)

Matthew 5: 43-48

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as God is perfect.

Lenten Devotional Series 2020: Day 9

Taking a Leap  by Tamasha Tennant

Before I sat down to work on this devotional, I caught my youngest child, age 5, attempting to jump from the 6th step down to the floor, which would have required also clearing the baby gate on the first step.  She pumped her arms twice and was ready to take the plunge before I caught her by her shirt and pulled her back from what would certainly have been a disaster.  She was upset that I foiled her plan.  “I could’ve done it, Mom,” she huffed and pouted.  “I can do everything.” 

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Lenten Devotional Series 2020: Day 6

Following God by Mark Matson

God says, “You shall be holy.”  Another word is “whole”. To be wholly representative of the great God above, the community is called to abide by quite demanding behaviors.  Americans are fond of saying we live in a Christian country.  That we are a light to the world.  Even that our President is ordained by God to lead us.

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Lenten Devotional Series 2020: Day 3

Today we Dwell by Mark Bryan

I remember growing up and doing a 24-hour fast at my church. The fast was typically associated with fundraising for those who were in need. I very rarely heard about fasting otherwise. I do remember my mom once talked about praying and fasting for a day when she was praying for someone who was not doing well. That was my experience with fasting.

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Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 25

Matthew 2:19-23 

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

The Path is Never Straight and Clear by Mike

The threats to Jesus’s life are immediate and constant. Herod is the enforcer of death – willing to kill large numbers of children, just to make sure the One is dead. From birth Jesus – an infant – forces His family to become refugees. So it must be a relief to hear the news, “when Herod was dead.”

This is often my approach to threats of any kind – “Once BLANK is gone, everything will be better.” Perhaps this is Joseph’s though, “Herod is dead,” all is clear. The path ahead will be clear and smooth. “Get up and go home – to Israel.”

It lasts only a minute, and the plan changes, new threats, a different path, an end point previously not considered.

And yet…”All is fulfilled.” That is a reminder to me that there is not one path, but many ways to the same ends. Perhaps this season, the message we need is to let go of searching for the clear, direct, smooth pathway. Like Joseph, to embrace the goal, obey, keep moving and trust God sees and travels with us – no matter who threatens us on the way.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 24

Matthew 2:16-18 

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

It’s Christmas Eve, and I am

This passage is only three verses long.  It starts with Herod being furious because his ego is wounded. So his irrational impulsive decision is to slaughter every boy under the age of 2 in Bethlehem and its vicinity.  That all happens in the first verse. We don’t have to read the last 2 verses to know what happened.  Of course, there will be weeping and mourning.  Of course, no one will be comforted.

If I take time to feel the feelings in the passage, I could easily enter into all of the stages of grief and I didn’t even know any of the children or families.  Grief is a no win situation.

As part of the writing process, I tried to feel what “Bethlehem and its vicinity” were feeling and now I am angry, out of control, refusing to be comforted, tears streaming, I am having a very ugly cry even as I type.

Doesn’t this passage remind us of mass shootings? Of black lives lost to gun violence? Of nightclubs, religious services, or concerts disrupted by gunfire?  Of war torn countries and refugees longing for safety?

But it does change some things. This reading, horrible as it is, opens us up to feel, to connect, to be human just as God is about to become human.  Maybe in my ugly cry, in the death of all these toddlers, in these feelings, we connect to each other and to Jesus.  Perhaps unwrapping the gift of being human is the true gift of Advent.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 23

Matthew 2:13-15 

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

Seeking Safety by David

As I read these verses, I think of the many children, adults, and families who are working to flee from their own dangers, whether it is from wars, violence, or personal abuse. They are all, regardless of the circumstances, fleeing in the hopes of finding refuge and safety. We see families being separated as they search from safe harbors from unthinkable atrocities. I see young children being sent alone by their parents to find a more welcoming place, so their own life can be spared. These families and individuals, through their own faith, must trust that the will find angels to guide them on these journeys.

As we enter this season of advent, and we celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is my prayer that all of those seeking a safe place will find it. I pray they may find peace in that place. Amen.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 22

Matthew 2:1-12 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

How to read the Daily News

The ‘BREAKING NEWS’ of the day didn’t arrive via flashy TV pundits, internet, Twitter, or a newspaper headline. The news came slowly, observed by some and heard secondhand by others. Just like our breaking news, not everyone takes in the message in the same ways.

‘Where is the child?’ The prophets foretold his arrival, the stars announce it is time. Some prepare to worship, while Herod is ‘troubled’ – just like today, what is good news to some is troubling to others. Even among the powerful King Herod and the Wise Men – the news evokes very different responses.

These differences in responses are often hard to detect – the worshippers and the duplicitous can sound the same, making it hard to know how to act. So hard, that the Wise Men – having read the stars and the prophets correctly, journey far and come with gifts to worship – are uncertain about what to do with Herod.

They rejoice with the child Jesus and his parents – how could they not give Herod the same opportunity, after he asked so politely? Even these Wise Men need help, they need a warning from the divine. I suspect what makes them wise is that they accept the help, they listen to the voice and respond to their dream. ‘they departed for their own country by another way’

This advent season, let us be wise and accept the help we need.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 21

Luke 2:21-29 

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word.

How long must I wait?    

Waiting is not something I enjoy. In fact, having to wait mostly makes me cranky and irritable. Lines at the BMV, people with too many items in their cart at the grocery, traffic, it is easy to think of the annoyances of having to wait. Waiting is so hard, I find it much easier to complain. In fact, complaining about having to wait is a favorite hobby – not that it does anything to shorten the wait or make it enjoyable. Usually, it just makes me more irritable and difficult to be around.

This is not the case with Simeon, he appears to have waited his whole life – without my grumbling and complaining – just for the sight of the Savior. A savior who has yet to do anything – given that he is an 8-day-old baby. All Simeon needs is to see the child and he is at peace knowing his hopes are fulfilled….BEFORE Jesus has done anything, before he is old enough to do anything – Simeon already knows the wait has been, and will be, worth it.

This season, how will you wait like Simeon?

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 20

Matthew 1:1-17 

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph,and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

The Intersection of Our Lives

  1. What was the first thing that struck you about the passage?

I have been begotten and I have begotten. I have generations before me and there is already a generation after me.  And in God’s timing, I believe there will be multiple generations after me.

  1. How does this passage inspire you? Just as God was at work in all of these generations and in all of these stories, God is faithful to our generation and is in all of our stories. God is still at work and I am inspired to look for God at work. To wonder at how God is demonstrating God’s faithfulness to our generation.  Just as those generations trusted that God would be faithful to the generations to come, I trust that God will be faithful to the generations coming after me. I trust God will be involved in the stories of their lives. And I want to help the next generations to be a people looking for God and God’s work.
  1. What is something about this passage that you would want to share with Stone Village?

One of the many ways God has been faithful to us is by having our lives intersect. From this intersection, we have begotten together.  We have given birth together.  Not necessarily to children, but to dreams, to laughter, to love, to community, to hope, to fruitful labor, to justice, to peace.

We come together, we love each other, God births in us, and God births through us.  It is miraculous.  The Virgin Mary gave birth, but that wasn’t the last birthing miracle. Look around this amazing community. Definitely evidence of God being at work in our midst!

During this advent season, I pray that you will see what God is birthing in you, in others, and that you too would celebrate the new creations in your life and of Stone Village.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 19

Luke 2:8-20 

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

To Marvel at Glory by Mark

I think we often forget to look up and marvel at what is before us. We forget how wonderful and amazing it is that trees grow. We forget to admire the stars and the light that comes to us from millions of billions of light years away. When was the last time you stopped, took in the scene around you, felt human, and also felt God’s glory at what He has made?

The shepherds saw glory and were afraid, which seems like a common reaction today. When we find ourselves with something new we see it as something that could be challenging, or it feels overwhelming and we are unable to process what it could mean. The body is a marvel. Did you know, that if you look at challenges as something to surmount, versus something that could bury you, your body does not perceive that as stress? Instead, it responds with the same reactions when you have feelings of courage. That is AMAZING!

How could we change our view to be more in marvel of the glory we see around us versus ignoring it or being afraid? God puts these moments in front of us so that we can marvel, smile, wonder, be amazed, be surprised, and to know the vastness of His glory.

This season, I pray that we can remember to marvel at the sights in front of us as God’s glorious work.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 18

Luke 2:1-7 

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Seeking Shelter by Beata

Traveling many miles.  Joseph – steadfast, patriot. Mary – pregnant, so very pregnant. What do the miles matter? The baby moves with each bumpy step of the donkey.

I try to envision the traditional images of a serene Mary traveling with Joseph walking beside her. Instead, I see groups of tired, hopeful, some angry people – walking, walking, walking; pregnant mothers, men, women, parents, and little children running alongside who are laughing, playing, tiring, and wanting to be carried. However, their parents’ arms are full of meager belongings – you don’t bring a lot when you are fleeing. Will they find a safe place? Will their babies be born in a place of hope and safety? Or, like Mary and Joseph, will they be turned away?

Oh God in heaven, blessed be your name above all names. As you watched over Mary, as you brought Jesus into the world to bring hope and love, please be with the immigrants, the refugees, the asylum seekers. Bring them to a safe place, give them love, give them hope. Amen