Easter Sunday Sunday, Mar 31 2013 

John 20:1-16 (NIV)

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.   2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”  3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)  10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb  12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”  “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”  14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

John 10:3 (NIV)

[The Shepherd] calls his own sheep by name.

DEVOTION – Colin D. Harbach (Cumbria, England)

As a child, I stood outside a railway station waiting to be picked up by an aunt with whom I was to spend my holiday.  I had not met her before; I had only seen her photograph.  How would I find her in this bustling sea of people?  Then I heard my name.  That call was quickly followed by a smile and a hug from the aunt in my picture.  I was somebody again in that crowd.

I imagine it was something like that for Mary from Magdala on the morning of Jesus resurrection.  The pre-dawn darkness would have accentuated the horrible emptiness of her loss.  Her face was lined from weeping, and the empty grave made her sorrow complete.  In the growing light, even angels seemed unconvincing.  And then she heard the risen Jesus say her name:  Mary!

For me, all the joy, the hope, and the wonder of Eater come with that meeting between Mary and Jesus.  Death turns to life; endings become beginnings.  But the best of all is recognizing that in Jesus I can be sure God not only knows about me but knows my name.  That is Easter.  That is why Christ lived and died and rose again – so that each of us may know ourselves as deeply valued by God in the midst of the world’s crowds.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: For those who look and listen, every day is Easter.

PRAYER:  Dear Lord, fill our lives with Easter moments of meeting you in the middle of everyday things.  We thank you that you know our names, each one of us.  Amen

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Who Feel Forgotten

A Tale of Three Tombs Saturday, Mar 30 2013 

Matthew 28:1-15 (NIV)

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Matthew 28:5-6 (NRSV)

The angel said, “Jesus who was crucified….is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.”

DEVOTION – Gus Browning (Texas)

Years ago I visited the tomb of Russia’s Vladimir Lenin in Moscow and then later, China’s Chou En-lai in Beijing. In each tomb, the body of the former leader was preserved in a clear coffin where his faithful followers could see it as they paid their respects.  As I emerged from each of those tombs, the same thought went through my mind:  Where could Jesus’ followers go to see his body?  The answer, of course, is nowhere!

I also have visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, built around the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb.  I personally like another site better, one called Gordon’s Garden Tomb.  While it may or may not have been the tomb of Jesus, it was more like what I imagined his tomb to be.  I went inside past a large stone in a groove to permit rolling it to seal the tomb door.  I saw where a body would have been laid, but no body lay in either of these two Jerusalem tombs.

No major religion except Christianity claims that its founder rose from the deal.  If this claim by Jesus’ followers had not been true, all that the authorities would have had to do was point to his dead body.  They tried to say his disciples stole it but would those who hid on Easter evening “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19) have later sacrificed their lives if they knew the Resurrection was a lie?  Three leaders, three tombs, but only one leader is alive today!

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Let us rejoice in our risen Lord!

PRAYER:  Thank you, God, for Christ our risen Savior and for the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen

PRAYER FOCUS: Visitors to Jerusalem

Good Friday Friday, Mar 29 2013 

Mark 15:22-39 (NIV)

They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. 25 It was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews. 27 They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself !” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself ! 32 Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.  33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “”Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? “”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

1 Peter 2:24 (NRSV)

[Christ] himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

DEVOTION – James A. Harnish (Florida)

When I was young, the stores in our small town closed their doors from noon to 3pm on Good Friday to commemorate the hours Jesus hung on the cross.  My family sat through the entire three-hour service that rotated among the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches because they had the largest sanctuaries in the community.  This observance was a formative experience in my life.

The cultural patterns of those days are long gone.  We gave up the noon-to-3:00 service decades ago in favor of a shorter one on Good Friday night, a tradition that goes back to the Middle Ages and one that I appreciate more every year.

But evidently those childhood experiences conditioned me to think of Jesus as hanging on the cross only at that time of day.  The Gospel of Mark, however, says that Jesus was crucified at 9am.  Then midday darkness covered the earth from noon to three.  I shuddered at the sudden awareness that Jesus was on the cross for six hours – an eternity in that hell.  No wonder Jesus prayed, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).  Who wouldn’t feel God-forsaken in a time like that?

And yet Good Friday is not a time for theorizing about how we are saved by God’s love at the cross.  Rather, it is a time simply to hear the story, to experience the love, and kneel in wonder in the presence of a God-forsaken Christ like this.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Relationship with Christ leads to the greatest love of all.

PRAYER:  O God, thank you for your love that saves us from a God-forsaken eternity.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Leaders of Lenten Worship

Why Don’t You Help? Thursday, Mar 28 2013 

Colossians 1:15-23 (NIV)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.   17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation– 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Matthew 27:46 (NIV)

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means, “My God, my God, wy have you forsaken me?”).

DEVOTION – Gavin Campbell (Western Cape, South Africa)

We had just finished a particularly busy Holy Week and Easter weekend when our 15-month-old son was injured.  He pulled a tablecloth from a table, and the cloth brought with it a square, rough-cut glass vase that sliced his nose open as it fell.  It was a serious cut.

At the hospital, we had to wait six hours for treatment; they had to delay administering anesthesia because he had eaten just before the incident.  When his treatment time came, his mother and I accompanied him into the operating room to keep him calm; but he panicked anyway.  As the medical team struggled to hold the mask over his face long enough for the anesthesia to take effect, they bumped his nose, starting the bleeding again.  Blood was everywhere; it even ran back into his eyes.  With those blood-filled eyes he looked at us as if asking, “Why are you standing and watching them hurt me like this?  Why aren’t you doing something to help me?”  I told him that this was the only way to “make it better.”

Then it dawned on me:  God watched Jesus dying on the cross, as Jesus asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  But Christ’s death was God’s only way to “make it better,” to heal us and to take away the pain and the penalty of our sin.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Jesus died to heal us of our sin and the pain it causes.

PRAYER:  Lord God, thank you for your power and love made visible in Jesus.  Thank you for his sacrifice that makes right our relationship with you.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Facing Medical Emergencies

Joyous Giving Wednesday, Mar 27 2013 

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 (NIV)

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Leviticus 27:30 (NIV)

A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.

DEVOTION – George M. Smart (Ohio)

As a child, I saw that my parents believed in tithing.  They gave 10% of their income to our church and to those who were needy.  I remember my father often telling me, “The more we give away, the more we get back.”  At the time his words did not make sense to me.  I couldn’t understand how giving away money could result in having more.

But soon after my wife and I began tithing almost 20 years ago, we began to understand what my father had been telling me.  The more we gave away, the more we received – not just from the standpoint of financial return but more importantly from the joy of knowing we had helped our church and God’s children.

Whether our tithe is a small or large sum, the Lord is pleased with our offering.  Attitude is just as important as the amount we give.  God loves a cheerful giver!

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:  The more we give to others, the more we experience God’s goodness.

PRAYER:  Dear God, thank you for the resources you have given us.  We pray that we will invest them in your work and service and that we will do so generously and joyfully.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Trying to Decide to Tithe

Light the World Tuesday, Mar 26 2013 

1 John 1:5-7 (NIV)

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Matthew 5:14 (NIV)

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.”

DEVOTION – Malinda Fillingim (North Carolina)

I collect flashlights of various shapes and sizes.  I have a small one in my purse, a stand-up one in my car, a variety of old ones in my closet, and several sturdy ones posted around the house in case of an emergency.  Why collect flashlights?  Because I feel afraid in the dark.

Because Jesus said he is the Light of the world, I know that wherever I go, whatever happens, I have the most powerful Light in the world with me and I need not be afraid of what the future holds.  Christ is my source of light, and as his follower, I am to light up the world around me with love and grace.

We are each different vehicles of light of Christ, but each one of us has the responsibility and joy of bringing this light into a dark world.  Together, we light the way to truth so others can find their way to God.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: When we are connected to Christ, our light can show others the way to hope.

PRAYER:  Dear God, in the darkness of our world make us conduits of the light of the world shining into despair and corruption.  Help us never to grow weary of being your light.  In the name of Christ.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Without Electricity

Honoring Christ Monday, Mar 25 2013 

Mark 16:1-8 (NIV)

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”  4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Proverbs 22:6 (CEB)

Train children in the way they should go; when they grow old, they won’t depart from it.

DEVOTION – Graciela Kupcevich de Cohen (Rio Negro, Argentina)

My grandmother came to Argentina from Russia.  Painful memories of war reflected from her light, almost transparent eyes.  Those eyes had the appearance of being on the verge of tears that you could not wipe away.  She left behind her parents and sister, never to see them again.  Grandmother Xenia held on to her Slavic traditions as a way to remember her family.

As was the custom in my grandmother’s native land, Holy Week was a busy time with much preparation leading up to Easter – purchases to make, meal preparation, and housecleaning.  My grandmother lovingly prepared delicacies for the Easter Sunday meal – tea prepared in the samovar, blini (Russian pancakes), kasha (porridge), kotlety (meatballs), and most of all pashka (Russian Easter cheese dessert).

Finally, Easter Sunday would arrive and with it the true reason for our family celebration.  As we sat around the table, my grandmother would raise would raise her cup of tea and offer us a greeting with a gracious smile:  “Christos voskrese (Christ has risen)!”  And in one voice we responded: “Voistinu voskrese (Truly Christ has risen)!”

Many years have passed; family customs and traditions have changed; but we still honor the love and sacrifice of Christ.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: What act of service or kindness can I offer someone today?

PRAYER:  Risen Lord, your sacrifice on the cross calls and empowers us to demonstrate your love through our service.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Families Gathering at Easter

Palm Sunday Sunday, Mar 24 2013 

Hebrews 2:9-18 (NIV)

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” 14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.  17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 4:15 (NIV)

We have [a high priest] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are.

DEVOTION – Derek Sum Wei Siang (Perak, Malayshia)

Sometimes when talking with others I give examples of how Jesus responded when faced with temptation.  The usual response to this is, “Yes, but Jesus is God!”

We often thing that Jesus had the unfair advantage of being god, that temptation had no effect on him, that he by nature would resoond in the best possible way to bad situations.  We prefer to concentrate of Jesus as God, but today’s passage from Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was completely human, suffering as all of us do.

Jesus shared in our humanity.  He struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane; he was betrayed by a close disciple.  He endured public rejection and humiliation and the awful pain of flogging and crucifixion.  Were all of these just God going through a charade?  Was life easy for Jesus?  No.  jesus experienced every sensation and every emotion, just as any of us would.  However, in spite of it all, he remained pure and blameless.  That is what makes the message so powerful.  The gospel is not about how God effortlessly came to save us but how God became “fully human in every way” (v.17) – made like his brothers and sisters – and died to save us.

“Salvation is free,” we say.  Yes, it is free for us to receive – but it came at great cost to the Giver.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Jesus shows us how to be fully human and available to God.

PRAYER:  Dear Father, forgive us when we take for granted your gift of salvation.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those Facing Great Temptation

The Living Word Saturday, Mar 23 2013 

Psalm 91:1-16 (NIV)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.  9 If you make the Most High your dwelling– even the LORD, who is my refuge– 10 then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;  12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.  13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.  14 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.  16 With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91:2 (NRSV)

[You] will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

DEVOTION – Avis Hoyt-O’Connor (Maryland)

The woman I was visiting had asked me to read the psalm to her; so I should not have been surprised that as I read, she whispered the words, “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”  When I stumbled in my reading, the words poured forth from her.  She told me afterward she had carried that psalm in her heart though some difficult days.  She had been a refugee form a country torn by poverty and violence.  After making a new life in the United States and starting a family, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I was her hospice chaplain.  I spent time each week reading to her and praying with her.  I was new at the job, and she showed me that the words of scripture are themselves balm to a tired soul.  I had read scripture in private devotion, Bible study and worship, but I had seldom read scripture when I visited those who were ill.

Now I read scripture during many of my visits.  The word of God, without commentary or preaching, comes into our darkest valleys as a source of great comfort and peace – for my patients and for me.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: The words of scripture bring us hope and direction.

PRAYER:  Gracious God, thank you for your grace we find in the words of scripture.  Thank you for the comfort and healing your bring as we read and listen to your word.  Amen.

PRAYER FOCUS: Those in Hospice Care and Their Caregivers

Good Neighbors Friday, Mar 22 2013 

Leviticus 19:15-18 (NIV)

” ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.  16 ” ‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. ” ‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD. 17 ” ‘Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. 18 ” ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Romans 12:18 (NIV)

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

DEVOTION – Deanna Baird (Michigan)

From the moment we moved in, we knew that our neighbors were going to be difficult.  They argued loudly, their dogs barded, and their music blared at all hours.

Though we asked them to quiet down, our requests did little more than provoke them.  Their lifestyle and values differed from ours, and nothing seemed to bridge the gap.  So we chose to distance ourselves.

Weeks turned into years.  Wary and frustrated, I asked God, “Why aren’t my prayers enough?  Isn’t’ this situation ever going to change?”  Troubled, I searched the scriptures.  I came across Jesus’ admonition, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39).  The verse was familiar; but in my frustration and anger, I had forgotten that these neighbors were God’s people, just as I am.  God’s words pierced my heart that day, reminding me to not only recite the commandments but to live them out.

My neighbors did not change, but my attitude toward them did; and we were able to live peaceably beside them.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Love as Jesus loves.

PRAYER:  Dear Lord, open our hearts to love those to have placed in our lives.  Amen

PRAYER FOCUS: Neighbors in Conflict

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