Lenten Devotional Series 2020: Day 18

A Balm of Forgiveness by Hannah Elhard

On most days I take pride in the person that I am. My colleagues, family and friends would describe me as generous and kind. I nod my head in church at the verses about loving our neighbors as ourselves, about laying one’s life down for one’s friend. I am responsible, measured, hard-working, considerate and generally “good”. If asked, I would affirm that God is forgiving and desires us to be as well.

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Lenten Devotional Series 2020: Day 15

A Time to Pray by Tamasha Tennant

Whenever times were tough for my Grandma, she’d always pray.  She’d pray in earnest, with tears streaming down her face.  When I was little, I didn’t understand her tears and chalked them up to fear.  For years, I thought she was afraid that God wouldn’t answer her prayers, and that’s why she was crying.  It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I asked her why she cried if she truly believed that God would intervene and help to soothe her worries.  She explained that her tears weren’t of fear, but of thanksgiving, because God had never failed her.  “Never?” I would push.  “Never. Not once.  Not even once,” she’d respond.

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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.