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Lent Devotions

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March 16

John Paarlberg serves as a volunteer and retreat leader for Camp Fowler. John is pastor at First Church in Albany, New York.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

How is your heart?

In biblical thought the heart is not just the source of our emotions, nor only the seat of memory, but the center of our being. Located midway between your head and your gut, your heart is the meeting place where mind and feelings combine to form convictions, where thoughts and desires are merged into purposes. Your heart is your emotional, volitional, and moral center. It is what you decide in your heart that determines your actions.

Hearts can be hardened, rebellious, deceitful. Jeremiah was not at all encouraging about the proclivities of the human heart in chapter 17, verse 9: “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?”

Apparently God can. And God does not give up on the heart. The people of Israel had broken the covenant and turned from God in their hearts. And that is precisely where God goes to work—on the heart.

All of the action here is God’s: God will make a new covenant. God will put his law within them. God will write it on their hearts. God will forgive.

Is there hope for the human heart? Not if left to our own devices. But we are not left to fix our own hearts. God does that. Therein lies our hope, “and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

Prayer: Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ our Lord. (From the Book of Common Prayer)

The 2015 Lenten reflections were submitted by staff, volunteers, board members, campers, and friends who have spent time at Camp Fowler in New York.

For this year’s Lent devotions, the days follow the Common Lectionary texts. Each author was invited to: 1.Read the passage.
2.Read a couple passages before and after the assigned day.
3.Do something else for the day, keeping the passage in mind.
4.Find a word/phrase/concept that connects with your own experience. Reflect on that.
You are encouraged to do the same.

lent

Lent Devotions

lent

February 24
Nicole Brace is Camp Fowler’s former cook and wilderness guide. She is currently studying massage therapy in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Psalm 22:23-31

In the northern Midwest, where I live, the end of February is still very much part of the long, cold winter that begins around November and often stays until late April. In the second week of Lent, the darkness falls before dinner and lingers past breakfast. The dawn “breaks” of course, but usually after many people are well into their day of work, and if you’re not outside or near a window to catch it, you won’t see it. You’ll only know it’s come by the fact that the day is no longer dark.

Today’s selection feels a little like that experience. In these verses, the Psalmist is confident, certain, prophetic. He’s speaking boldly into the future. The words are full of light. But now read the first two-thirds of Psalm 22—and hear the darkness that came before these words. You will hear some of the most affecting cries of fear and abandonment made in the human heart. They are the words cried out by Jesus on the cross as he was crucified (see Matthew 27:46): “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

What happened? How did the Psalmist change from cries of anguish to the certainty of prophecy and the excitement of hope? We don’t get to see it. But something happened. The Psalmist believes, “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!”

If we don’t yet have the faith to believe what the Psalmist believes, perhaps today we might at least allow ourselves to wonder at what God could do in that place between darkness and dawn.

Prayer: God, today I choose to wonder what you are capable of.

For this year’s Lent devotions, the days follow the Common Lectionary texts. Each author was invited to: 1.Read the passage.
2.Read a couple passages before and after the assigned day.
3.Do something else for the day, keeping the passage in mind.
4.Find a word/phrase/concept that connects with your own experience. Reflect on that.
You are encouraged to do the same.

lent

Lent Devotions

lent

February 23
Pat Kinne previously served on summer camp staff and is currently principal at Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School in East Syracuse, New York. His children now attend summer camp.

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 (NIV)

“Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord.” The words of that traditional Sunday school tune that I learned as a child are at the core of today’s reading. In Genesis 17:7, God makes his covenant with Abram: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God…” Re-read those words! “I will establish my covenant as an EVERLASTING COVENANT between me and you and your descendants after you…”

Now, I am no mathematician and logic puzzles confound me, but I remember this basic formula: If a then b, if b then c, so if a then c. Using that logic equation, according to the song I mentioned before, I am one of Father Abraham’s sons, so that makes me a descendant of Abraham, which means that I am a part of God’s everlasting covenant.

So, as we are on our Lenten walk to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, why is this Old Testament passage in our daily devotional reading? I think it calls us to pause and consider what it means to be in covenant with our Lord.

First, we must gain a clearer understanding that being in a covenant with God is drastically different than being in a contract with God. In a contract, if I do something in violation of the understood agreement, the contract is considered broken and becomes null and void. However, in a covenant, those involved agree to uphold their terms of the agreement regardless of whether or not the other parties do so. Far too often in society today people regard their relationship with God in terms of a contract, which from the beginning produces an air of futility. After all, who could ever successfully live up to the “terms” of a contract with God? To do so would mean perfection, and we know that we are a broken and sinful people who live in a broken and sinful world. Many Christians, therefore, live a life of guilt or even leave the church altogether because of the belief that they have failed God or cannot live up to their end of the bargain. Consequently many of these people also believe that God will not uphold his end of the contract due to their failures.

I pray for those individuals because they have missed the heart of the relationship that God calls us to. God does not want to enter into a contract with us, but rather he yearns for us to enter into covenant with God. God recognizes our frailty and brokenness but he still offers us his everlasting covenant. When we enter into covenant with God, he promises to be faithful even when we fall short—which will happen.

But we must also understand that this covenantal relationship is not a “free pass” to go and do whatever we want. Instead, we look to Genesis 17:5 and 17:15-16. Once we understand that we are in covenant with God, he gives us a new identity. Just as Abram became Abraham and Sarai became Sarah, we too are called to become a new creation in covenant with God. We take on a new identity and a new way of thinking and doing things once we have entered into covenant with God. And we earnestly seek to try to honor the covenant we have entered into by living in such a way that we bring glory and honor to God’s name, so hopefully people notice that there is something different and almost counter-cultural in how we live and think.

This Lent, my prayer for you is that you will think about and nurture your covenantal relationship with God. I pray that you will embrace your “new self” and bask in the warmth of God’s loving embrace, knowing that he loves you so much that he will not back out of his everlasting covenant with you—for God has called you by name and you are his. I pray that you know God loves you so much and takes his covenantal promises so seriously that he sent his only son to pay the price for your sins through his crucifixion, and to give you hope for the future through his resurrection. In response to his love, as the final words to that old song about Father Abraham say, “Let’s all praise the Lord.” Amen!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for loving me and for entering into an eternal covenant with me. I pray that as I begin my Lenten journey that I might make a change in my life that will allow me to honor that covenantal bond a little more deeply than I may be accustomed to. Father, just as Abram became Abraham and Sarai became Sarah, help me to undergo a transformation that will allow me to walk in a deeper relationship with you, and will allow me to grow and spread your love to future generations. Almighty God, I humbly ask this in the name of your son, my savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

For this year’s Lent devotions, the days follow the Common Lectionary texts. Each author was invited to: 1.Read the passage.
2.Read a couple passages before and after the assigned day.
3.Do something else for the day, keeping the passage in mind.
4.Find a word/phrase/concept that connects with your own experience. Reflect on that.
You are encouraged to do the same.

lent

Lent Devotional

March 7: Responding to God

Posted: 06 Mar 2014 05:52 AM PST

Read: 1 John 4:16-21

We love because he first loved us. (v. 19 ESV)

Every relationship with God begins with divine initiative. God speaks first, we reply in prayer. God loves us first, we respond in turn with our love of God. In prayer we listen to God, speak to God, and spend time receiving the love of God and returning that love.

When my friend speaks to me I will listen attentively and then make a verbal response to let my friend know that I have heard what was said. When my friend shows love for me, I return that love. Our relationship grows through the interchange. So our relationship with God grows as we pray.

Even a cry to God for help in an emergency is actually not done on our initiative. The inclination to make an appeal itself comes from God, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Every inclination to turn to God is the result of God’s work in us. Our desire to communicate with God is in response to the gifts of love we have been given.

Every prayer we offer is in fact authored by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit within us leads us to respond to God with words, and sometimes with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26). –David Muyskens

Prayer: Dear God, you have given us your love in Jesus Christ. May our thoughts, words, and actions say, “We love you too.” Amen.

Words of Hope is an international media ministry, founded and owned by classes of the RCA, dedicated to building the church in the hard places. The Words of Hope devotional encourages readers to grow spiritually through daily Bible readings and prayer. To subscribe, please visit: woh.org/word/devotionals/.