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Devotions for Lent 2023

The church season of Lent is a time of spiritual preparation before Easter, lasting 40 days from Ash Wednesday (Feb. 22) to Holy Thursday (April 6), not counting Sundays. During Lent, many Christians practice repentance and spiritual discipline. Over the next few weeks, students, faculty and staff will offer devotions to draw us together as a community to think about four main Christian practices: prayer, serving, reconciling and fasting.

This devotion may make you hungry:


Lent is tough for me because when I think of fasting I attribute it to food. I love food. It brings me joy. And I know that Lent isn’t only about food, but it’s the first thing I think of when I think of Lent. Those who gave up dessert or sweets or coffee – I prayed for you daily, because that kind of Lent just doesn’t work for me, and that’s okay.


When I was in college, I was a discipleship major. The Bible was my textbook, and wow did it get old. So I used to flip through it and find the weirdest, out of context verses that I could find just to keep it interesting. These verses kept me going – as cheesy as that sounds – and helped me see that God thankfully has a sense of humor, because it’s difficult for me to take things super seriously all the time. One of my favorite Bible verses I found in college has nothing to do with what happens during Lent, in fact it’s not even in the New Testament. But it really clicked for me:


Looking at the NLT Version, Proverbs 15:17 says, “A bowl of vegetables with someone you love is better than steak with someone you hate.”


The Bible just told me I have to eat my vegetables. But it is better to power through a bowl of something you (I) don’t like to eat in the presence of someone you love rather than going to Texas Roadhouse with a group of people I don’t want to be with. It is better to be surrounded by love than hate. Real love, not the sugar-free version of it.


In all of this, I want to encourage fullness. I want you to get as much of the daily bread from the Lord’s Prayer as possible (Matthew 6:9-13).


With all of these Lenten devotionals talking about fasting, here’s what I propose: I want you to eat the Bible. Really chew on it – find one of those good verses that feels like a little nugget of joy or peace or truth or wisdom that you can just really savor.


It can feel really easy to think you know the Bible around Christmas and Easter because that’s the big story right? Jesus was born, He did the thing, He died, and He rose again. We know the bookends of the story, but have you ever really just taken a second to really look at what the Word says – don’t go to the kid’s menu and get the chicken tenders, flip through the whole menu and get a real sense of what God is cooking up for your life.


Let us pray: Hey God, thank you for humor. Thank you for the ability to talk freely with you. Thank you for your Word and all of its verses. Give us today, our daily bread – and let that be enough for us - help us to prune away what is no longer of you and your goodness. Amen.

The Resurrection of Hope

"Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” — Luke 24:13-24


My brothers and sisters, by the time you get to the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Luke’s story of Jesus has just about come to an end. Jesus has been crucified and resurrected on the third day. And the irony mark is that Luke ends his gospel there, but that’s where our journey as disciples begins. Because I would argue to you that you cannot correctly claim Christianity if in the depth of your heart you don’t believe that Christ died and has been resurrected from the dead. There may be many of things we can debate within Christianity. But the one thing that is not debatable in Christianity is that Jesus died and rose again. That’s where Christianity begins, and you may find it ironic, then, that if Christianity begins with the belief in the resurrection of Jesus, you will find that those who followed him, this was the most difficult thing for them to believe. They believed he could walk on water. They knew he could change water into wine. They knew he could raise the dead, but they struggled with believing that he would be resurrected after his crucifixion. Women go to the tomb, the body is missing, angels verify it, and they still don’t know. Disciples run to the tomb and find it just as the women said, and they still don’t know. The struggle with the resurrection is clearly seen on this road to Emmaus. This passage tells the story of two people who left Jerusalem, and they’re on a road to Emmaus, some seven miles outside the city. One is named Cleopas and the other has given no name. The text tells us that they are making their way to Emmaus, and while they’re on their way, they are talking about what has just happened in Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t fill it in, but if I can guess what the conversation was about: “Man, can you believe this happened?”

“No, I sure can’t.”

“Can you believe Pilate crucified him?”

“That was a shame.”

“Man, trifling Judas sold him out.”

“Wait 'till I find him.”

“Peter betrayed him.”

“I thought Peter was down for the cause.”

“Peter left too.”

They’re talking about everything that went down, and the Bible says while they’re discussing, Jesus shows up. They don’t recognize the resurrected Savior. Jesus asked them, 'what you all are talking about?' So, then they begin to tell Jesus about Jesus. Are you the only one that hasn’t been in Jerusalem? You don’t know what’s happened. It’s been all over the media. It’s on the internet. It’s on every page of Facebook. Every post on Twitter and Instagram. And you don’t know what has happened. They began telling Jesus about his crucifixion. In the midst of their testimony, they say something that is really one of the saddest statements to come out of a believer’s mouth. That says 'we had hoped.' This was the testimony of two people whose hope has died. What a sad thing to be a believer in Christ but be without hope. You know you've lost hope when you resign yourself to the realities of your life and believe that there will be no change. You know that you’ve lost hope when you look at tomorrow and have no expectation that tomorrow is going to better than yesterday. You know you’ve lost hope when you look at what is coming up the road in your life and have no expectation that greater is ahead than what was behind. What a shame to be in a place where you have lost hope. Hope is central and critical to the Christian life. You can’t claim to walk with God and lose your hope. Hope is an anchor to the soul. Hope will hold your soul together while the storms of life are trying to pull you apart. As critical hope is, all of us at some moment in life will walk the road to Emmaus. That road where hope is behind you. That’s the reason why Luke gives us one disciple named Cleopas. But the other is unnamed because whenever a biblical writer doesn’t give you a name, it’s an invitation to put your name there. So, as you journey to Pentecost, resurrect hope in your life. Declare this on the journey:


My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.


When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
in every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.


On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand:
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.


Let us pray: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen and Asé.

What is your favorite Easter memory? Is it painting easter eggs? Is it the food spread with family? Is it the Easter basket filled with goodies? Chocolate, robin eggs, or Peeps?
One of my favorite Easter memories is the easter egg hunt at my great-grandmother's house. There were around a dozen cousins all vying to find the most plastic eggs. We ran around the inside of the house looking out the windows, trying to scope out where all the aunts and uncles had hidden the eggs outside.  Not knowing that in the frenzy of running around, our strategy would have been thwarted by older cousins who could run faster and more keenly aware of secret hiding spots from years before.
The cool thing about this plastic egg hunt was the fact that each egg of varying sizes and colors contained coins! Each size had a specific amount: a 50c piece, quarter, nickels and dimes. The aunts and uncles knew how many eggs there were (and where they were hidden). So, once all of the eggs were found and accounted for, we would divide the eggs, opening them with sheer delight at the money. We probably didn't realize all the cousins would get the same number of eggs. There was always hope of finding the most and getting more than anyone else. Our family was always fair, and each cousin got the same number of eggs and the same amount of money. Five dollars is a lot of money to an eight-year-old! Then the empty tossed away eggs would be gathered by the aunts and uncles to refill next year.
Easter is about finding the joy in life: a joy that is filled with love and hope, with goodness and satisfaction. In a sense, Easter is learning how to live each day as an Easter egg hunt as we hunt for and find those things that fill us with the God given joy, love and promises – the little Easter eggs of life – family and friends, satisfying employment, studies, and serving others.
Childhood memories of joy cannot even come close to the immeasurable joy of the other side of Easter. It is immeasurable joy when we find life over death, healing over sickness, gain over loss, wholeness over brokenness.
Keep looking for the eggs of life. Keep looking for the moments of joy. Keep looking for the peace that is revealed in finding the lost. Keep looking for the perfect cup of coffee. Keep looking for the right grade. Keep working for the satisfying pleasures of life. But hold onto them too. Hold on to the joy that God calls us to wholeness in God's love, grace and mercy. for surely God keeps searching for you and me, even when we don't deserve, warrant or need it. Keep looking for the eggs of life which are well more valuable than a $5 Easter egg, knowing God keeps looking for you!
O Seeking God, thank you that you keep looking for us. Thank you that you keep finding us in the thick of life and still love us. Thank you for loving us and drawing us nearer to you, so that we might experience Easter, over and over again. In the name of Love, we pray. Amen.

See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high. Just as there were many who were astonished at him — so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals — so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.

Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. — Isaiah 52:13--53:12

On this day, nearly 2,000 years ago, we commemorate the first day following the death of the Son of God, who had long been waited for by generations. He was supposed to set the people free and yet here He was dead and buried. He had been crushed. It appeared to many that the weight of salvation was far too much for Him to bear alone. The light appeared to be extinguished and crushed out and there was no hope for humanity. The supposed Savior was unable to save himself. We, having the benefit of hindsight, seem to neglect that Jesus had been dead for three days. For three whole days, the remaining 11 disciples were distraught and afraid. Distraught because their friend and mentor had been brutally executed and secondly they feared they were next.

Living in the 21st century, we know how the story goes. On the third day, as was foretold, Jesus is resurrected, showing He had defeated sin, overcome death, and paid the price of our wickedness in full and there is nothing that can go and put Jesus back in that grave. Even in the worst and darkest moments, God is still in control and this has always been God’s plan. It is God’s sovereignty and his unchallengeable power that is the main theme of today’s passage.
This passage comes from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah is found in the Old Testament and is regarded as a book of the major prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was written during the Jewish exile into Babylon (597 BC) and is filled with many great teachings and prophecies. These prophecies regarded Israel, God, and most importantly, the long-awaited messiah, or savior.

Today’s passage captures so much of what it means to not only be human but also to be a servant of the Living God. Isaiah begins with the description of God’s ultimate servant who will come. Six hundred years before Jesus walked the earth, here he is being prophesied. The passage continues with a description of who this man will be. In verse 13, “He will be exalted and lifted up” is a direct reference to the coming crucifixion of Christ on Calvary. This continues with verses 14 and 15 with “Just as there were many who were astonished at him — so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals.” Jesus on the cross, beaten, flogged, and stripped naked and nailed to a cross, and this has always been God’s plan. That is the most amazing piece of it all. We can look further back to Genesis 3:15, the first prophecy regarding Jesus, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” If the description of Jesus being so marred beyond human recognition is merely His heel being bruised, how much worse was the damage done to Satan and sin?

The penalty of Sin and Death and the Rule of Satan has been obliterated! What’s best about this is the scroll continues. A little side note, chapters, and verse numbers weren’t added until centuries later, so when Isaiah was writing his 52nd and 53rd chapters, they shared the same scroll, therefore, we know the story continues into the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah 53 continues with a further description of Jesus. He describes the life that the Messiah is going to live out how He is going to grow up before God and He would be rejected during His lifetime. John 1:10-12 furthers this point  “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” What’s so awesome about these two passages correlating is the hundreds of years separating them and yet they are unified in accurately describing the life of Jesus. Furthermore, verse twelve of John 1 ties directly into the ending verses of Isaiah 53. “… He gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12) we can be known by God and have a relationship with the Creator of the Universe through, and only through, Jesus having “borne our infirmities and carried our diseases…[being] wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed … the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).

I’ve been thinking recently about leadership. What does it take to be a great leader? Charisma? Decisiveness? Extroversion? Intelligence? There are many theories of leadership. The great man theory states that leaders are born with all the “right” traits for leadership. The behavioral theory, on the other hand, says that leadership can be learned by following the behaviors of great leaders. A “transactional” leader is one who leads through the control of rewards for good behavior and penalties for bad behavior. These are just a few examples of the types of leaders we may encounter in our lives.

The prophet Isaiah wrote of a different type of leader – the servant. More specifically, the “suffering servant.” “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity ... he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (Isa. 53:3, 5). Isaiah was likely referring to Israel, which was thoroughly destroyed by the Babylonians. But, as God’s chosen people/nation, Israel rose from the ashes. Though its appearance was marred and it was rejected by many, it remained a beacon of hope for the world.

On this day, Good Friday, we remember the woundedness of Christ. Jesus was a servant leader, always putting the needs of others above his own needs – sacrificing his dignity and his physical appearance so the world could be saved. A servant leader is one who leads others through service. I like to think of this type of leadership as the willingness to roll up our sleeves and do the work that needs to be done, no matter how difficult or mundane that work might be. Servant leaders don’t seek glory for themselves, but for everyone. Jesus’ suffering, Jesus’ service, brings new life to all.

While I’m not a fan of suffering, I do believe there is something to be gained from serving. Think about what can happen when we serve our neighbor, our teammates, our colleagues. Think about how relationships can be strengthened when we are willing to put the needs of the whole in front of our own selfishness. Think about how much better the world can be when we collaborate rather than throw roadblocks. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, it is when we humble ourselves in service that we become truly free.

A prayer: God, you call us to be Christ-like; to love our neighbors as ourselves; to serve others. Give us humility and grateful hearts. Help us to follow you and consider the needs of the world. Amen.

“See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. Just as there were many who were astonished at him — so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals — so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.” — Isaiah 52:13-15

Mindset is important. It is very important. We could be in what other people consider to be an impossible or uncomfortable situation but if we have the right mindset, we can see the proverbial silver lining in any cloud. Having the right mindset is often the thing that separates the grateful from the ungrateful. Having the right mindset is often the thing that separates those who see the big picture from those who have tunnel vision.

If anyone had the right mindset, it was Jesus Christ. He was often questioned but he had the right mindset. He was often misunderstood but he had the right mindset. His was rejected but he had the right mindset. He was betrayed but he had the right mindset. He knew he was going to die but he had the right mindset. He had the mindset of being a true servant.

What Jesus did on Maundy Thursday was the ultimate example of what it means to be a true servant. Jesus knew he was going to die the next day and he decided to wash feet. That’s right. Jesus knew the end was near, yet he carried out a supreme act of humbleness and servanthood. He washed feet. The man who raised the sick and healed the dead washed feet. The man who was able to feed the multitude with two fish and five loads of bread washed feet. The man who died for each of our sins humbled himself and washed feet. And not only did he carry out this act, but he also commanded his disciples (that includes us) to humbly serve GOD and others as well.

My brothers and my sisters, that’s a commandment and challenge that is well worth it. We just need to have the right mindset.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your son. We can’t thank you enough for your son. Thank you for his example and for his mindset. Please help us to have that same mindset and to not be afraid to serve others and you. Amen.

One of the most beautiful things about Easter Week is the myriad of emotions that the Lord shares with us within seven days.  The Lord is making it clear that it is not what happens to us in our lives, but it is all about how we handle every situation that is tossed our way.

Imagine the joy and excitement of riding into Jerusalem with people cheering and laying palms before the Lord as he approached the city.  Jesus choses a humble ride by selecting to ride into town on a lowly mule.
Rock star fame turned humiliating shame all in a week's time. On Wednesday and Thursday within 48 hours He washes the feet of each of his disciples, the epitome of service. Yet, suffers the humiliation of being betrayed by the disciples, Judas on “spy Wednesday’ and denied by Peter three times, the greatest of humility.

It doesn't end there. Jesus is mocked, spit on by soldiers, a mock trial with a predetermined outcome, and tortured and insulted throughout his walk while carrying the cross.  Then he is nailed to the cross for a horrific death.  Yet, he forgives others with his last breaths before He dies on Good Friday. 
Faced with the greatest humility yet with empathy for others He navigates the roller coaster type of week. Yet, He showed his limitless love for us and the world even through the pain, unimaginable hurt and humiliation

We all celebrate his resurrection on Easter Sunday as we should, but one of life’s lesson is found in how He handled the events of the week. So too we can look to Jesus to find hope in the midst of our struggles and challenges and learn to respond in love and grace.

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips a turn."  Easter is a symbol and reminder of hope, renewal and life because Holy week humiliation doesn't last forever.  Death doesn't have the last word.

Let us pray, O' God, We pray to you every day, giving thanks for your blessings and asking for your strength during those tough moments that are our greatest opportunity to show you the depth of our love. Give us that hope when we need it.

See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. Just as there were many who were astonished at him — so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals — so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate. Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. — Isaiah 52:13—53:12


These verses from Isaiah are called the “suffering servant song.” I read them like Jesus’ résumé. Really. It reads like this: “This dude is awesome. He will do great. He will be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. Nations will be startled by him. Kings will shut their mouths in his presence. They will see things they have never heard of, and think about things they have never thought about." Sounds like an incredible person. That is who Jesus was.

The rest of the song is about what he did, and who he became. The suffering servant. Despised and rejected … he has borne our infirmities … carried our diseases … been wounded for our transgressions … and crushed for our iniquities. This sounds more like the fellow who borrowed a donkey for his ride into Jerusalem.

We are suffering servants when the service requires us to deny any part of ourselves. When we give up some part of our own comfort, to provide comfort to someone else, we are suffering in service. When we give up some of our own desires, for food, or things, to provide for others, we are suffering in our service. When we give up our most prized possession – our time – to be with those who need someone, we are suffering in service. That’s how we get a taste of suffering.

Israelites growing up reading Isaiah without the New Testament must have thought, "wow, doesn’t sound like much of a life, for someone so exalted to have suffered so tremendously." Today, we know there is such a life, a joyous one, beyond the suffering. So the suffering is eased. Thanks, Jesus.

Question one of the Heidelberg Catechism reads: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The answer: “That I am not my own, but belong, with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.”

Suffering to serve is easy for someone who understands that their life is not their own. Paul knew. He could write “rejoice always; pray constantly; in all things give thanks” while chained to a rock. Joy comes from seeing the complete fulfillment of the specific purpose for which you were created and born again, not from successfully doing something of your own choosing. The joy our Lord Jesus experienced came from doing what the Father sent Him to do (Oswald Chambers: “My Utmost … His Highest”). Jesus’ life was not his own. And he knew it. So he borrowed a donkey and rode into Jerusalem, where he would be beaten and crucified.

Go out into your world today bearing the name of Jesus Christ. Bear his name carefully, for you are not your own. Bear his name gratefully, for you have been purchased at a price. And bear his name joyfully, for he enlists each one of us in his service. Grace and peace.

We commonly think of Lent as a time of giving things up, to the point that “I gave it up for Lent” is a stock punchline. But the disciplines and discipleship of Lent can take other forms as well, and a discipline can be positive action as easily as it can be an act of abjuration. In this regard, prayer can and should be a staple of the Lenten observance.


When we fast or forgo certain foods or activities, we offer a tiny imitation of the suffering of Christ, Who gave up everything for our redemption. As Isaiah predicted, He was abased by the people around Him – scourged, mocked, and forced to endure a humiliating, tortuous death. But as He endured this, He offered prayers for His torturers, and even at the last, commended His soul to God.


We are confronted by Christ’s example, and by His surrender to the will of His Father. Our prayers, too, are acts of surrender – acknowledgments that our own understandings, powers, and desires are insufficient, even specious. If we pray sincerely, we concede that we are not the self-sufficient beings we like to believe we are, and that we are ultimately supplicants. In a way, then, our prayers force us to give up our willfulness and self-regard, a chastisement of the spirit as fasting is a chastisement of our bodies.


But paradoxically, there is liberation in that surrender, and peace in that chastisement. When we acknowledge God’s sovereignty, when we ask for forgiveness for ourselves and others, and when we commend our own lives and spirits to the hands of God, we allow God to direct our thoughts and actions. This gives us peace in turn, because in the words of Samuel Johnson, we are “Secure whate’er He gives, He gives the best.”


In fasting, we offer a suffering to God. In prayer, and in the service we can see as physical manifestations of prayer, we offer ourselves, as He offered Himself for us.


Let us pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of prayer during this Lenten season and always. Help us to remember that Your Son prayed among us, and submitted Himself to Your Will. Allow us to do the same. We ask this in the Name of Christ, Whose example we observe in this season. Amen.

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” — Matthew 6:16-18


As former collegiate wrestlers, Bryant and I are well-acquainted with fasting and the act of abstaining from food and water. It is a necessary component in the sport because athletes have to weigh-in at a certain weight class in order to compete. Making weight requires high levels of discipline, and there is a suffering aspect to it as with all fasting. However, I constantly remind my athletes to maintain an attitude of gratitude even in the suffering. It’s a necessary sacrifice in our sport if you want to be the best, strongest, fastest, and leanest version of yourself as a competitor.


Fasting in our walk with Christ also comes with suffering, but just like in wrestling, it is a necessary sacrifice that strengthens our faith. Wrestlers fast to get closer to their weight class. Christians fast to get closer to God and understand that it is a tool we can use not just during Lent, but in a wide variety of situations. Moses fasted before writing the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). The Israelites fasted before a miraculous victory (2 Chronicles 20:2-3). Daniel needed guidance from the Lord, so he fasted (Daniel 9:3 / Daniel 9:21-22). Jesus fasted in the face of temptation (Luke 4:2). Even the first believers in our Christian faith fasted when it came time to make important decisions (Acts 13:2-3).


As we fast during this Lenten season, let us maintain an attitude of gratitude while we demonstrate the depth of our desire to know Christ through this act. Be encouraged as we persevere, and know that our suffering will produce stronger faith and allow us to better know Christ in the fellowship of his suffering.


Let us pray: God of mercy and wisdom, hear our prayers, focus our minds, and open our hearts. It is with an empty stomach and full heart that we seek to feel Your presence more intensely and intimately than usual. As our hunger for food builds – so too shall our hunger for You. As we become uncomfortable and begin to suffer, show us the comfort that You provide – be our refuge, our oasis. Ease our suffering with Your Holy presence and fill our hearts with Your love. Allow our bodies to be cleansed from the toxins of our diets – and allow our souls to be cleansed from the toxins of our life and of our thoughts. Renew, restore, and invigorate us in the Holy Spirit. Give us a spirit of humility and allow us to draw from this the giving nature of a servant. As your servants, help us to hear the hungry and feed them. Help us to see the naked and clothe them. Help us to see the fallen and help them up. And help us to find the lost and guide them. We ask that You bless us, Lord, so that we may be a blessing to others. For it is in Your name we pray, Amen.

Join me in praying:

Dear God, as we begin the season of Lent, we turn our hearts and minds to you. We ask for your guidance and strength as we embark on a journey of fasting and spiritual growth. Help us to draw closer to you and to experience your love and grace in new and profound ways, as we remember your great sacrifice for us. In Jesus' name, Amen.

In the Lutheran tradition, fasting is seen as a way of self-denial, a way of giving up something good in order to focus on what is better — namely, our relationship with God. It is a way of acknowledging that our physical appetites and desires are not the most important things in life, and that our ultimate satisfaction can only be found in God. I was blessed enough to grow up in the Lutheran church, within a congregation that encouraged questioning your faith and personal exploration. I did not return back into my Christian faith until after my time here at Newberry, where I learned that faith and facts coexist into one of the same, and instead of conflicting with each other, should grow together.

As Pastor Coffman called on us to reflect upon the words of Patricia Tull, we hear, "If we can seek to emulate the servant's faithfulness, and that of Jesus himself, in choosing to bear others' sins, we will be reading Isaiah 53 for all it is worth." This resonated deeply within me, as a part of my spiritual journey was the revelation that, how are we to know what religion is correct? None could, all could, what have you. But Lutheran teachings show a loving and gracious God, who loves all of His creations deeply and fully, despite their own religious beliefs. Many religions practice fasting, and when exploring my own spiritual journey with fasting, I chose to incorporate as many different aspects of fasting as I could. That, the bonding of all of the servants of the Lord, whether they believe in Him or not, is what made me feel closer and have spiritual growth.

As we fast, we follow in the footsteps of our Lord, who fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was tempted by the devil, but remained steadfast in his devotion to you, God. May we, too, be steadfast in our faith, trusting in your love and grace as we deny ourselves and seek your will. And may we not just follow in the footsteps of our Lord, but also in our brothers and sisters of differing faiths, embracing how they serve their God, gods, or religious idols. We read in Isiah 53:

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed"

As the Lord took to our sins as His own wounds, He allows us to take the burdens of others in faith and embrace them through our own. As I follow fasting traditions of both Lutheran and Catholic faiths, of Islam and Buddhism, and even embrace the fasts of Taoism, I ask for others to embrace their faith and fast equally as individually. I have given up food in a traditional sense, in these many traditions, but also as those today give up things they love for Lent. From those who give up alcohol, to those who give up chocolate, or those like my own dad, who was born and raised on the South Carolina coast, living there his entire life, chooses every year to give up extreme snow skiing, we ask you for strength, Lord. Help us to fast in humility and sincerity, knowing that our true reward comes from you. May we not seek to impress others with our devotion, but rather seek to please you in all that we do. As we fast, may we be reminded of the great sacrifice that you made for us on the cross. May we turn our hearts towards you and seek to live a life that is pleasing to you. And may we remember that, no matter how difficult the journey may be, you are always with us, guiding and sustaining us with your love and grace.

“The Ultimate Servant-Leader”

“‘Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” — Mark 10:43-45

Lent is perhaps the most humbling season of the church year. The season even kicks off with a reminder that we are nothing more than dust, and to dust we shall return. The weeks that follow Ash Wednesday and precede Easter are designed to place pointed emphasis on fasting, prayer, reconciliation and serving. Each of these requires us to muster a good deal of humility to pursue meaningfully. And few things dish out humility quite like the realization of how easy it is to fall short in any, or all, of these.

As Christians, though, it is important to remember that, when God calls us to humble ourselves in service — to Him, to others and to His creation — He does not do so from the top down, as in an edict. He calls to us from our level, leading by example. One of the greatest gifts of Lent, next to the reality of salvation, is the realization that God humbled Himself to show us the way.

In these 40 days, we are reminded of Jesus’ humanity, and how, despite His divinity, He humbles Himself in service. In His birth, He comes among us in humble form, under the most humble earthly circumstances. In Luke 4, Jesus humbled Himself to fast, and experienced and overcame temptation.

In John 13, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet after the Last Supper, saying, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”

And in His crucifixion, He humbles Himself to the greatest possible extent, suffering humiliation and an excruciating death on the cross. Again, this was an act of service to us, and the greatest act, at that.

Jesus’ leadership is, in its entirety, a leadership through service. God calls us to serve having already walked the walk. He humbled Himself. He became human. He experienced our journey. He gave His life as a service to us. In doing so, He freed us to serve, not out of fear or compulsion, but out of love.

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for blessing us with the way, with truth, and with life. Strengthen us, during Lent and always, to follow the example of service provided for us in Christ Jesus. Amen.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. — Ephesians 6:18

At the end of the day, it is always interesting to think back over the day’s events. The various conversations we have been involved in. There are the classrooms where we are seeking to impart some course information, the casual hellos, the meetings where business was discussed, or the lunch break where colleagues and students “just talk.”

Many times, these conversations end with a resolution to a problem, new information, an insight not previously thought of, or the worst case, frustration. In today’s world, we can never avoid the electronic, sterile conversations via emails, intents and tone neglected from the nuances of the exchange. These conversations are opportunities to be present with someone and hear their concerns and get their advice. 

It is a blessing where a conversation takes place with a trusted and valued friend, their view a more neutral one that gives insight and guidance. A conversation that brings calm and peace as a burden is shared and a course for action made. 

The gift of prayer is that blessing. Psalm 17:6 says, ”I call on you, my God, for you will answer me, turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” This is our opportunity to have that trusted friend who will give us insight and guidance. I have long believed in the “God whisper.” That feeling or sudden realization of a solution, an action that must be taken, or a result that previously you were searching for, but God allowed us to suddenly appreciate this conclusion. That idea that seemed so remote to suddenly made sense as the best action. Prayer is our conversation with God, but the quiet, meditative moments are when we listen. We can all appreciate that God has the capacity for soft “God whispers,” or the He can also get our attention with a more robust answer that will startle us into listening.

The phrase “do not be afraid” appears in the Bible 365 times. An interesting coincidence, considering there are 365 days in the year. God's encouragement is especially evident in Psalm 23:4 , which reads: "Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me." This doesn’t say there will be no trials in your life, there will be no difficulties, no pain. It simply says do not be in fear. The elimination or reduction in our fear comes from the blessing of prayer. When we form a healthy relationship with God and understand His eternal grace and mercy, we realize that there is no real need for fear. The God of our mercy is with us in our present and is waiting for us in the future. And through His grace, He has forgiven our past.

Prayer isn't convincing God to do our will, but aligning ourselves with His will, which requires overcoming evil with good. Prayer gives that “big picture” view of our narrow lives. The Lenten season is a fantastic time to pause and remember the incredible sacrifice Christ made for us when He died on the cross. To reflect on how Jesus took our punishment so we wouldn’t have to, and how He made a way for us to be restored to a right relationship with the God who loves us.

What a wonderful gift and blessing it is that the God or grace and mercy is ever near. To seek is wisdom, guidance and reassuring love is but a prayer away.

Let us pray: I confess I tend to worry or play it small, preferring to stick with what feels safe and comfortable. I doubt what You can or will do. But God, You created the Universe! You conquered death! There’s nothing You can’t do. Please strengthen my faith and help me to trust in You for every one of my needs today. Help me not to get stressed out, worried or frantic by all the problems I see around me. Instead, please give me a sense of peace and calm that comes from knowing You are in control. Please help me trust in You in all things, even when the road isn’t easy or clear. In Your name I pray. Amen.

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. — Isaiah 52:2

We live in an age of surface impressions. With enough effort, at least we are told, anyone can become a star, or rather an influencer. Learn a few tricks of the light and some basic video editing, and you are on your way to being known. Even in our own Newberry College catalog, we have a course that teaches students “how to develop their personal brand.” Success these days means making a strong impression one way or another.

Because our culture demands that we brand ourselves, we cannot avoid it at some level. But we should not mistake having an image for making a contribution.

This is true even when we are engaged in some sort of giving back to the world. Because “volunteer work looks good on a résumé,” some people do community service just for the credit and the chance to snap a pic. Making a positive impact on the world is important and gratifying. But it is not always fun or photo-ready, and it often requires us to get our hands dirty — really dirty, both literally and figuratively.

This is especially true when service to our neighbor gives way to engaging with our neighbor in a relationship of mutuality, especially if it’s a neighbor with whom we disagree. The work of reconciling — one of the disciplines of Lent alongside prayer, fasting, and service — is often slow and arduous, not like a “one and done” service project (though those are valuable in their own right). The work of reconciling can feel like growing something young and green out of dry ground, the push of new life a sign of hope but also something still vulnerable to the inhospitable conditions in which it grows.

If prayer and fasting are Lenten disciplines that connect us to God, then service and reconciling are Lenten practices that call us to engage with one another. True reconciling requires yet another relationship: my relationship with myself. This is because reconciliation calls for self-reflection and humility as much as generosity and respect for my neighbor. The work of reconciliation requires me to question myself: how I see the world, the ways I do harm, the ways I fail to honor the dignity and worth of other people. It asks me to face all the things about myself that no filter can hide.

Yes, we live in a world that rewards surface impressions. We also live in a world that amplifies conflict instead of nurturing connection and asking us to work together across our differences to heal the world. There is no better time to consider the Lenten call to the work of reconciling. It is work that requires patience, persistence, and courage, with one another and with ourselves. But the Christian tradition tells the story of a God who has modeled reconciliation for us and who also calls us to the work of reconciling.

How can you take one step today toward a practice of reconciliation?

Let us pray: Holy One, in a world of infotainment that amplifies conflict and encourages us to live on the surface of things, grant us the courage and conviction to “go deep,” into ourselves and with one another. Grant us spirits of persistence and compassion to push us through the difficult moments of reconciling work and spirits of gratitude and joy for the healing that is possible when we ground our reconciling work in you, the Holy Reconciler. Amen.

"Serving Others"

A friend of mine sent me a brief article last week in which Kitty Stafford, a nursing director of adult services at Cone Health, highlighted the health benefits of giving to others. Among the reasons she gave were lowered blood pressure and stress, less depression and anxiety, and increased self-esteem. She also listed four reasons to begin a tradition of giving – feeling happy, good health, social connection, and that others seeing you give might encourage them to do the same. I don’t know if this article was based on research or observation. It was interesting.

What interested me the most about the article was that it described how giving benefits us. For me, it raised an important question. Is the only reason we should give to others, because it is good for us? As Christians we are challenged to give, to serve for a different reason. Giving, serving others, is an act of love. It is reflection of our faith in Christ. Our commandment is to love one another – to show that love through giving of ourselves to others, of serving others.

We are all aware of the challenges faced by members of our community, our country, our world. Many are searching for meaning, commitment, belonging, being accepted. We see hunger, homelessness, and the need of medical care. We see those seeking to improve their lives. Are we doing our part? Are we following the life of Christ?

Isaiah 25:4 reminds us of our responsibility to our neighbors: “For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall.” Isaiah 58:10 told us, well before the article I read was written, that "if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”

We are saved by the grace of God. We are redeemed by the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. It is nothing we did. We cannot claim credit for our salvation. Lent is a season of remembrance. Remembering the life of Christ. Remembering His unselfish service to others. Remembering what He gave to those around Him. Remembering His ultimate sacrifice – giving His life that we may have eternal life. It is a time of looking forward, of growing in our relationship to Christ, of looking inward. Is our salvation reflected in our daily life, in our service, our giving to others? Lent is a time to challenge ourselves to live lives of service to others.

Especially in this season of Lent, let us pray: Father God, help me live my life in service to others. Help me remember that in serving others, I am serving You. Help me to know that serving others includes those little things I do and say that are a blessing, even if it is known only to them. Help me to serve others without the need or desire for recognition. Help me to serve, not because it is good for me, but because it is the light of your love for me shining like a candle in the dark. Amen.

"What does it mean to serve?"

In this season of Lent, we look at Isaiah 52:13-53:12. In this passage, we hear about Jesus and the suffering that He is to undergo. In Isaiah 52:13, it says, “see my servant shall prosper. He shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high.” To me, this is talking about Jesus and how He’s going to prosper after He pays the ultimate price. It talks about Jesus’ life and how He is seen by others and how He will suffer and carry our infirmities and our diseases, but it says by His bruises we are healed.

Jesus came to serve us. His sole purpose was to save us and serve us. As I sat and read this chapter in Isaiah, I sit in awe and think about what this truly means. We say it in church and read it in the Bible that God sent His only Son to bear our sins so we can have eternal life. But I’ve never really thought about how Jesus served me. Just a lowly woman, He came and served me so that I can have life after death. Jesus carries all of my diseases and infirmities. He is stricken down and afflicted, but because of His bruises, I am healed and have eternal life due to His service to me. To me, this is deeper and it struck a chord with me.

As many of you know, I am a nurse by trade, and I serve others daily. I’ve worked a long time on oncology and as a nurse, I have held the hand of the dying as they take their last breaths, I have comforted the sick, and I have seen life begin. I answered this call a long time ago. Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? And I took this call to be a nurse and serve the sick. I knew what I was signing up for when I took this on, but I ask myself: was Jesus given the choice? If I was Jesus, would I have answered this call to serve? Jesus took this on knowing that ultimately, this would all lead to His death. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice: death. We all serve daily. No matter what our job is, or what we do daily, we are constantly serving others. As a teacher, I serve my students, I serve my fellow faculty members, and I serve Newberry College. We serve our neighbors and family, we give and help each other, but what does the word "serve" mean to each of us?

I challenge you today to think about what serving means to you. To Jesus, serving meant dying on the cross and bearing our bruises so that we are healed and have eternal life. What and who are you going to serve? How are you willing to serve God?

I would like to close in a prayer. Dear Heavenly Father, as I have sat here today and read Isaiah 52:13-53:12, I sit in awe. I appreciate Jesus’ service of everlasting life and dying on the cross to serve everyone. Thank you, God, for this amazing and ultimate sacrifice of love. I pray, God, that each of us learns to serve others, and to do this in Jesus name. Amen.

"Praying Without Ceasing"

Sometimes the Scripture give us a command that is easy to understand but hard to do, for example, “Love Your Neighbor.” God obviously hasn’t met some of my neighbors, but there is no question I understand what his commandment asks of me.

Other times the Scripture directs us to do something that seems impossible to do, such as “pray without ceasing.” Scott Hubbard, editor of the website “Desiring God,” notes: “This command from God is not a guilt trip, a monkish dream, or a summons to drudgery.” But on its face, it seems impossible. I can’t spend all day on my knees, eyes closed, head bowed and still live life. We have families, jobs, college and other responsibilities. Yet, the Scripture states, pray without ceasing.

"See that none render evil for evil unto any man, but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves and with all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." — 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18

Another translation states “pray continually.” Another translation, “praying perseveringly," yet another, “pray regularly," and another "consistently."

Since I am directed to pray without ceasing, continually, perseveringly, regularly and consistently, and yet I can’t stay on my knees, head bowed, eyes closed every minute of every day, there must be another way of praying.

In my life, I have found the concept of praying without ceasing is directly related to denying oneself. “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Note the time descriptions, “without ceasing” and “daily” are ongoing.

Praying without ceasing seems impossible because we make prayer an event. I practiced this type of faith for a long time. Believing was an event, usually during Sunday morning services. Praying was a moment within that service, knees bent, eyes closed. That was usually followed by a guilt trip because “deny himself” was confused with self-denial. Self-denial became guilt for doing acts on the prohibited list of my denomination. I got so tired of being on this spiritual treadmill, I treated church like a gym, joined, used it a few times, then quit going.

Then a mentor of mine shared 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 and Luke 9:23 with me, and showed me that prayer and faith are not events. To be genuine they have to become a way of life. A way of life that is so very “daily.” Each day starts with “denying myself,” which is a challenge because I can be awfully full of me. It doesn’t mean check the list for things my church tells me to do, or more often not to do. It starts with me nailing ego, selfishness, self-indulgence to the cross. It requires me to replace “me” with him — Jesus. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” — Galatians 2:20.

When it is not about me, but about him, my mind and heart are focused on him. What would Jesus want, how would Jesus live, and what would Jesus do? To answer those questions, I have to be in constant conversation with him. He has to be on my mind. Jesus has to be the focus of my heart.

Praying without ceasing becomes a way of life, not a series of events. I pray without ceasing because I am carrying on a conversation with my best friend. Think about it, conversations with best friends are easy, ongoing, and meaningful. Conversations with our best friends make us thankful. Conversations with our best friends help us to rejoice even in bad circumstances.

When Paul encourages us to “pray without ceasing,” he is asking us to have an honest, transparent, and continuous conversation with Jesus. When we struggle with this, which I often do, it is because something else has become more important than my relationship with Jesus. As soon as I deny whatever I have placed above Jesus, and take up the cross, the conversation flows again. Praying without ceasing becomes as simple as taking a walk and having a conversation with someone I love to be with.

"Try it God’s Way"

In verses 35–36 of Romans 8, Paul painted a picture of Christian life that can best be described as grisly. To paint this picture of Christian life, Paul used the following words: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, being killed, and sheep to be slaughtered (taken together, these are the vicissitudes of life). Romans 8:35–36 provides the context for Romans 8:28, the subject of this devotion.

After painting this gory picture of Christian life, in verse 37 Paul wrote, “In all these things we are more than conquerors.” Christians, in other words, are not just conquerors; they are more than conquerors. Tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and peril and sword (the vicissitudes of life) are not just defeated; they are more than defeated: they are turned into servants for our good. Romans 8:28 means that God is so completely in charge of the world that all the things that happen to Christians are ordered in such a way that those things serve our good. Tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and peril and sword (the vicissitudes of life) all work together for the good of those of us who love God.

The hope of Christians, admittedly unseen, is not the expectation that we will escape distress or peril or hunger or slaughter. Instead, it is that Almighty God will make every one of our agonies an instrument of his mercy for us and to do us good. Joseph said to his brothers who had sold him into slavery, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” The point being made is, with every calamity faced or experienced by those who love God, no matter the intention of the evil one, God meant it for good!

Several years ago, hired to take an organization through bankruptcy, Romans 8:28 became definitional that as a leader my fundamental responsibility is to make things better for people. Therefore, providing good service to customers and employees became, for all employees and leaders, the mantra and guiding goal. Instead of bankruptcy, the organization thrived. I reasoned that the infinitely wise, infinitely powerful Almighty God pledges to make everything beneficial to his people! Not just nice things, but horrible things, like tribulation and distress and peril and slaughter. Why not me? I am his son. True Christians, you are the sons and daughters of God!

Acknowledging Jesus as savior and the model sent by God, I decided, as his disciple, to live inside God’s massive Romans 8:28 promise. My life is as solid as the rock of Gibraltar; so too became the aspirational aims I established for the organizations, employees, and other organizational stakeholders. Inside the walls of Romans 8:28, nothing can be blown over. Outside Romans 8:28, all is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty and straw houses of deadening drugs and tin roofs of retirement plans and cardboard fortifications of anti-ballistic missiles and a thousand other substitutes for Romans 8:28. Once you walk through the door of love into the structure of Romans 8:28, everything changes. Stability and depth and freedom, in the face of organizational vicissitudes take up residence. You simply can’t be blown over anymore. The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an absolutely incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life.

What I say now in closing, is not hubris, but testimony to the beneficial reality of submitting to God. Yes, I can provide tangible, documented evidence of just a few outcomes/good that resulted when I operated in love and purpose for God. For the last thirty years as a city/county manager, there has been no tax increases recommended for the public organizations I led, employee compensations increased annually during my tenure beyond cost-of-living adjustments, customer service increased, infrastructures have been rebuilt, and every organization led experienced a AAA rating and major surpluses, even a tax rebate.

I tried it first my way; I then tried it God’s way. God’s way worked and despite so many messes along the way, major good was the result. More than 10 individuals with whom I’ve associated are today city/county managers or major heads of major agencies. God did it! I am especially proud that each gives God the credit. No promise in all the world surpasses the height and breadth and weight of Roman 8:28.

“One Sure Thing”

They say that only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Given the stories we’ve all heard about nimble accountants being able to avoid taxes, however, perhaps it is more accurate to say that the only certainty in life is death. How and when it comes remains a mystery, of course, but that it comes — that death will come — is for certain. Human mortality stands as not only a physiological inevitability but also a biblical declaration. The writer of Ecclesiastes, a book that ponders the nature and meaning of life, says it this way:

"For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from dust, and all turn to dust again." — Ecclesiastes 3:19-20

In other words, things die. Ash Wednesday, more than any other day in the church year, calls us to face this fact. No denying it today. “Remember that you are dust,” the liturgy says, “and to dust you shall return.” We are mortals. Somehow, some time, via tragic accident, cruel cancer, or insidious COVID, homicide, genocide or suicide, at ripe old age or life cut short, the grim reaper will come. Flesh and bone will decay into dust and ashes.

Yet, if Scripture demands that we acknowledge our mortality, it also declares that we recognize a truth, as C.S. Lewis said it, “from before the dawn of time.” Out of the dust the Creator fashions life, and out of the ashes rises the phoenix. Ancient Greeks passed down the story of the phoenix, that glorious griffin-like creature that would every 500 years burst into flame and disintegrate into ashes only to rise to new life more glorious still. Christians adapted that story into an image that has endured to this day to recall for us the resurrection of Jesus, the foundational proclamation of the Christian faith. To grasp the power and mystery of the resurrection requires (in some ways) a lifetime. Yet, the essence of the story resides in the earliest Christian creed: Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord. Which is to say that death is potent but not sovereign. Death is inevitable but it does not have the last word. The last word belongs to the one who spoke the first word. “Let there be….” And so there was. And so there will be. The last word belongs to the Lord.

Ash Wednesday calls us to take death seriously so that we might take life seriously. Make today count. Make a life. Make friends. Make a family. Make memories. Make a difference. Death marks our mortality but not our finality. Whatever life after death looks like, it rests with the one who gave life in the first place. So rest in that hope. God’s got this. For you. For me. For sure. Amen.

Let us pray: In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend ourselves to you, Almighty God. Help us to live this mortal life in the paths of your will, and when the day comes that death confronts us, bless us and keep us steadfast in your sovereign power and gracious peace. Amen.

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