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Lent Devotion: February 17th

Mark 1:12-15

12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”


The time of temptation and testing was a danger-filled time. The wilderness is not a safe place: Jesus “was with the wild beasts” (v. 13). Adversaries are all around, waiting to devour, but it is a protected place: “The angels waited on him” (v. 13).

This kind of protection in times of testing is illustrated in Revelation. For our purposes, it’s important to know that an evil power, which Revelation identifies as the first beast, “was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months” (Rev. 13:5). Evil is permitted an opportunity to run rampant.

Yet, in these same chapters, we see God’s provision. In Revelation 12, a woman is about to give birth. A dragon (allied with that ruling beast) waits there to “devour her child as soon as it [is] born” (Rev. 12:4).

When the woman gives birth to this child, who is destined to rule all the nations, he is taken away to God’s throne. The woman flees to the wilderness, “where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days” (Rev. 12:6). Both the child and the woman escape.

Let’s do the math: 42 months x 30 days = 1,260 days. The woman is protected for exactly the same amount of time as the demonic powers are allowed to exercise authority.

This might explain what it means that the kingdom of God has come near. We find ourselves in perilous times of evil and testing in this world, but God’s protecting presence is equal to and more powerful than the powers that would swallow us alive.

Repent and go to the God who comes near to you. Welcome his presence and protection.

Prayer: Lord, we thank for your protecting presence. Your power and love surround us and protect us. Come ever near to us and to our broken world, we pray. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Keith Krebs is a chaplain at American Mission Hospital in Manama, Bahrain.

Lent Devotion: February 16th

Mark 1:9-11

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


In these words of Mark we see Jesus’s entry point into his public ministry. Like the opening kick-off of a football game, the baptism of Jesus is the play that gets everything started. And yet, while nothing seems to have actually happened on the part of Jesus, the Father declares that in Jesus, he is “well pleased.” It’s not possible that the pleasure of the Father could somehow be misplaced. Jesus, without yet doing a thing, pleases his Father.

As we pass through Lent, the end of Jesus’s ministry comes into sharper focus. Although Mark doesn’t provide any details, we can see that the preparation before the baptism has been sufficient training to carry Jesus through each and every step of his ministry, including that final, very painful step: death on the cross, where he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). At this point, is the Father still pleased with Jesus? Mark is silent, but I believe the answer would be a resounding “Yes!”

The Nicene Creed reminds us that Jesus came to earth “for us and for our salvation.” There is nothing about his life and ministry that does not contribute to that final outcome of salvation for all who will place their trust in him alone. The Father is pleased in the preparation of the Son, and he is pleased as the Son lives a life that accomplishes exactly what was intended: the removal of our sin so that we could know real peace with God and receive the certain promise of eternal life with Jesus, our Savior and our Lord.

The Father is pleased at the baptism, and he must also be pleased at the crucifixion, for there could be no other way to reconcile sinners with a holy God but for Jesus to carry our sin away, clothing us in his righteousness.

Prayer: Lord God Almighty, thank you for the pleasure of the Father at the baptism of the Son, and for the faithfulness of the Son as he traveled to the cross. Clothe us in the righteousness of Jesus, fill us with the Holy Spirit, and shape our lives each day, so that they too are pleasing to you. Amen.

Brad Kautz serves as pastor of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church in Dulce, New Mexico, on the reservation of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, where he lives with his wife, Robin, their youngest daughter, and two foster children.

Lent Devotions: February 15th

1 Peter 3:18-22

18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.


Read that again. When I read this passage, I think, “Wait, what? I don’t think I get what this is trying to say.” The good news is that if you wonder this, too, we are in good company. Martin Luther once wrote this about the passage: “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.”

Even though the passage is difficult to understand, it has a simple effect on me: it ultimately leads me to the cross. It reminds me of the suffering, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. It reminds me that Jesus literally would have done anything to bring us to God, including dying a most gruesome and horrible death and going to the most horrible place after dying. Jesus is our bridge to God, and through his death and through the waters of baptism he has paved that bridge for us.

As Christians, we should want to share that good news with everyone. We want everyone, whether near or far from us, to know about that bridge. For hundreds of years RCA missionaries have been leading people to the bridge. Millions of people have been baptized, saved, and have crossed that bridge. What are you doing in your own life, through your own relationships and your own community, to bring people to the bridge?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. Thank you for forgiving our sins. Help us to find places to share that same love with others. When we do find those places, please give us the words to share and the actions to live out, so that we may help bring others closer to you. Amen.

Scott Engelsman is the RCA development coordinator for Global Mission, mission supervisor for Europe and parts of the Middle East, and the supervisor of disaster response.

Lent Devotions: February 14th

Psalm 51:1-17

1Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

3For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
5Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

10Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

13Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

15O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.


Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent—a season of repentance and conversion as we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. During Lent we are particularly attentive to the sin and depravity that separate us from God and one another. And in the church, that attentiveness is often heavily seasoned by feelings of guilt and failure.

To a certain degree, a particular sense of guilt and failure is an appropriate response to an increased awareness of our sin (v. 17). On the other hand, it is not an end in itself. The Christian faith is not about feeling bad for our failures (though preachers often use our bad feelings to “encourage” change); rather, the Christian faith is about disciplining ourselves for a better future—in a word: hope.

Notice the verbs in Psalm 51. The psalmist starts with wash, cleanse, and purge but does not end there. By the time we get to verse 10, the psalmist moves toward future-oriented prayers: create, restore, deliver.

Why?

So that “my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance” (v. 14).

If we use the season of Lent merely to focus on our sin and failures, we miss what is most important. Awareness of our wrongdoing is only useful inasmuch as it drives us toward a more faithful future. We look at where we have been, we look at where we are, and we use the knowledge of our past and present to help us orient toward where we are going: a future of greater faithfulness.

As the season of Lent progresses this year, do not hesitate to be honest about where you have been over the past year (or where you are right now), but never forget to look forward, that God may open your lips, that your mouth will declare God’s praise” (v. 15).

Prayer:
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.

Open my eyes, that I may see my transgressions and their consequences with clarity, open my heart, that I may know the depth and breadth of your grace, and open my mind, that I may begin to recognize your will for my life.

Through your Holy Spirit, grant me the courage to embrace the priorities of your kingdom even when they seem foreign to me, that you may be glorified in all I say and do. Amen.

Tim TenClay is an RCA pastor serving the Waldensian churches of Palermo (La Noce), Marsala, and Trapani on the Island of Sicily (Italy). He is the husband of RCA missionary JJ TenClay and the father of two daughters. Although pastoring three churches keeps him busy, he is an avid (albeit slow) bike rider and an enthusiastic knitter.

Ash Wednesday Service will be held at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church at 5:30pm

Please join Pastor Wakefield and the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church for Ash Wednesday service at 5:30pm.

What is Shrove Tuesday?

lent-pancakes

Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday. The custom goes back to when Lent was more abstemious than it is today and milk, eggs, cream, butter and other fats were forbidden during Lent. So thrifty homemakers used up these foods, making pancakes or other high fat foods like Polish paczki. So, have pancakes for supper on Tuesday and talk about Shrove Tuesday and the beginning of Lent.

“Shrove” comes from “shriven,” meaning your sins have been confessed and “shriven” or forgiven. Lenten disciplines do not earn forgiveness which is already freely given; they encourage growth and deepening of faith.

Shrove Tuesday is also a day when you can “bury the alleluia” and not use it at church or home during Lent. “Alleluia” is a word especially associated with Easter. It has been omitted from Lenten liturgy since at least the 5th century, forming a sort of verbal fast. Children can make specially decorated paper “Alleluias.” “Bury” them in a secure, hidden place and bring them out anew on Easter with special joy.

 

FAMILY ACTIVITY FOR LENT: MAKING PRETZELS

pretzel

Pretzels have an important meaning during Lent. Pretzels were made in the fifth century as a Lenten food in Austria, Germany, and Poland. People began to make them on Ash Wednesday, the very first day of Lent. The word “pretzel” is a German word meaning “little arms.” The dough was shaped in such a way to look like two arms crossed in prayer.

Pretzels were made to take the place of bread, since milk, eggs, and fats were not used during Lent. On certain days during Lent it was the custom to give pretzels to the townspeople who were poor.

As a family, make some pretzels. Two variations for making pretzels are included at the bottom of this sheet. Enjoy the pretzels and let them remind you that Lent is a time of prayer. Before you eat the pretzels, say a prayer together:

Dear God, we ask you to bless these pretzels which we are about to eat. Each time we eat them may we be reminded that this is the season of Lent, a time of prayer. Help us to remember to pray for those who need our prayers each day. Keep your loving arms around us, O God, to protect us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Adapted from “Pretzel Prayer,” A Time of Hope: Family Celebrations and Activities for Lent and Easter,Morehouse-Barlow Co., Inc., 1979 (out of print).

BREAD PRETZELS

1 1/4 cups water (85°)
1 tablespoon dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 1/2cups flour
1 egg yolk
1 to 2 teaspoons water or milk
Coarse salt

Let yeast and sugar dissolve in water for one hour. Add flour to yeast mixture and beat until smooth. Knead mixture for seven to eight minutes. Place in a greased, covered bowl and let the dough rise until double in size. Divide the dough in half; then divide each half into smaller pieces of equal size. Roll each piece in your hands to make pencil shapes twelve (12) to fifteen (15) inches long. Shape each length of dough into pretzels (see the diagram). Place on a greased baking sheet. Brush with egg yolk and water or milk mixture. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake at 325 degrees until lightly browned on top.

Daily Devotional: February 12th

The Gift of Love
February 12, 2018

Read: Song of Solomon 8:5-7

Set me as a seal upon your heart. (v. 6)

Chapters 6-8 of the Song of Solomon include further descriptions of beauty and declarations of love that echo what has preceded, which means we’ve come to the end of our look at this ancient poem. Before turning our attention to Ecclesiastes, let’s consider these words of Eugene Peterson: “With the help of the vocabulary learned in the Song we see God’s people (and ourselves) not through the dirty lens of our own muddled feelings, and not through the smudgy window of another’s carping criticism, but in terms of God’s word. We never know how good we can look, how delightful we can feel, or how strong we can be until we hear ourselves addressed in love by God” (Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, pp. 64-65).

God’s choice for us is love. God’s voice to us is love. Early on I asked why this book was in the Bible. After spending some time with it, I hope you join me in wondering why there shouldn’t be a book like this in the Bible. The heart of our story of salvation is love. Indeed, God’s banner over us is love.

In Mark 2:19-20, Jesus refers to himself as the “bridegroom.” Perhaps along with references in the Prophets, he appropriates that image from the Song. Through Jesus, all our broken relationships, both human and divine, are restored. That’s what salvation means—not just rescue, but restoration and wholeness. Praise God for his bounteous gifts of love! —Jeff Munroe

Prayer: We thank you, Lord, for the gifts of your love through the true bridegroom, your Son.

Daily Devotional: February 11th

How Would You Describe Jesus?
February 11, 2018

Read: Song of Solomon 5:10-16

This is my beloved and this is my friend. (v. 16)

In today’s passage, which mirrors the groom’s physical description of the bride (4:1-16), the tables are turned and the bride now describes her beloved groom from head to toe. In the first line, the words translated as “radiant and ruddy” are actually the words for “white and red” in Hebrew. Then we read that his head is gold and his hair is black. He’s a technicolor hunk! Actually, the first lines use colors to describe unseen inward attributes—a good translation might be, “My beloved is radiant and youthful.”

It is unusual in ancient poetry for a man’s physical beauty to be described. It still is unusual—men especially don’t know how to talk approvingly about the appearance of another man. I chuckle when I think of the old Detroit Tigers’ manager Sparky Anderson describing a player as being “built like a Greek goddess.”

How would you describe Jesus? Do you think of him as beautiful? What does it mean to think of him as beloved? Mystics such as Theresa of Avila report being swept into a sort of rapturous ecstasy during times of prayer. That sounds foreign, exotic, and even blasphemous to us. Can you think of Jesus while looking at the words of our passage? There are a couple of praise songs taken from this passage that calls Jesus “altogether lovely” and the “fairest of the fairest of ten thousand.” Do you think of him this way? —Jeff Munroe

Prayer: Give us a clear picture and appropriate ways to imagine you, Lord Jesus.

Daily Devotional: February 10th

The Challenges of Intimacy and Prayer
February 10, 2018

Read: Song of Solomon 5:2-8

I am sick with love. (v. 8)

I mentioned earlier that pastor and author Eugene Peterson considers the Song of Solomon a key to unlocking the secrets of prayer. Now that we are this far into the Song, you may be wondering why he would say that. This passage, reprising themes from 3:1-5, shows why.

In his book Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Peterson writes that exploring the challenge of intimacy in this passage illustrates the challenge of prayer, and that “it is the task of persevering and patient prayer to keep love ardent and faith zealous” (p. 55).

The bride has already gone to bed when the groom comes to her door (think of the image of Jesus knocking in Revelation 3:20). She doesn’t immediately want to get up, and he leaves before she rises. Realizing she’s missed him, she goes out to look for him and is beaten, apparently for causing a disturbance in the night. Intimate relationships are full of challenge and risk. We aren’t always in sync with the wants of each other, and no one can read another’s mind or fully anticipate another’s needs. Every marriage and close human relationship has moments of disappointment and pain in it. When it comes to my relationship with God, I think of my own attempts at prayer and the ways I disappoint God by falling asleep or drifting off into distraction. Relationships—human and divine—require attention, cultivation, and just plain work. —Jeff Munroe

Prayer: May our love for you, Lord, be ardent and our faith zealous.