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almost-daily Lenten reflections:

Good Friday, April 3

So, we’ve done it. By “we” I mean humankind. God so loved that world that he gave his only son ... and we killed him. 

Was God pissed? There was an earthquake, the curtain of the holy temple ripped from top to bottom, and it got dark at noon. Think about that for a while.

If you  need a quiet place to think about this today, you’re welcome to use our chapel for your prayers.

If you feel like you need to be in the company of other Christians today, join us in Overman Park at noon and again at First UMC in Waterloo at 6:00 tonight.

Maundy Thursday, April 2

judas at first methodist church cedar falls

That's Mike Cole portraying Judas - talking through his decision to betray Jesus. An element of Lent is to spend time wrestling with the issues of faith that we find difficult. One of the things that I find difficult is the concept of sacrifice. Sacrifice is a common element of many faiths, but it isn’t something that we, modern Westerners, understand or practice very well. In fact, our culture operates on the premise that we shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything. But, look at Jesus on the night of the last supper: humbly washing his disciples feet. Is he sacrificing his dignity to do so, or is he showing that dignity is a human concept, and love is divine? Look at Jesus telling Judas to go and make his deal of betrayal - Jesus actually gives Judas permission to set the trap that Jesus knows he, himself, will be caught in. Certainly that is Jesus sacrificing himself, but to what end? An atonement of MY sin? That’s the part I struggle with. How is it that Jesus’ death makes me, a sinner, OK? I can't quite connect those dots. None of this makes sense until Sunday, when the rest of the story is told.

darkness coming first united methodist church cedar falls

Wednesday, April 1

One of the elements of Holy Week that fills me with awe for Jesus, is that he knew all along how it would end. As he spoke with his disciples he said, “You have heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you. If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe’. - John 14:28-29.

A statement like that probably left the guys with more questions than answers, but it tells them everything they really need to know: “I am leaving, but don’t worry about me. I’ll be with God, and I’ll be back. When all this starts happening, remember I told you it would be this way. Trust me. Always trust me.”

Tuesday, March 31

Yesterday, Pastor Steve wrote of the times that he has visited the garden tomb, and how it is one of his favorite places in the holy land, “ You can step into the empty tomb, and believe with real Easter faith that “He is not here. He is risen.” That’s what we’ll be celebrating this coming Easter Sunday, please join us!. The view from inside the tomb - looking out - is bright and beautiful. But, the journey into the tomb is a tough one, and we still have a few days of Lent left.

We understand Jesus to be both fully God, and fully human. As His final week is winding down, we see tension build between the human and the divine. As a man, he has real fear - a sense that pain is coming, and his work is not yet done. Reading through the Gospel of John, I find Jesus making his last efforts to be sure that his disciples understand what his ministry has meant, and wrestling with real human fear. Just yesterday, Jesus was the exalted king, entering Jerusalem in triumph, but he knows his message is a threat to the Jewish leaders, to local politicians, and to Ceasar. It is a very dangerous situation and he’s feeling the heat.

Still, he doesn’t run and hide. He restates his purpose, and he struggles with the pain that he knows will come. “Now my soul is troubled, and what should I say, ‘Father save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name”. - John 12:27-28

Darkness is coming, and he knows it. And still he proceeds. Chew on that tonight.

Wednesday, March 25

banyam classroom first methodist church cedar falls

You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.”  - John 13:13.  

I confess that the spiritual nature of God is hard to understand, and I think I’m pretty average in this regard.  God knows this about us - that wonderful as it is, the human mind can only go so far.  And so, God showed himself to us in OUR form, human form, a form we can understand.  Let’s remember that Jesus is God Himself: the Divine born into humanity to teach us how to live in the full grace of God.  As a teacher, he used stories to illustrate - not the letter of the law, but the wholeness of heart that God created us to have.  He spoke to us in language that we can understand. He used action, as he modeled the perfect, faithful servant’s life.  


As we consider Jesus The Teacher, what have we learned from Him?  Have we learned to love God?  Have we learned to trust Him?  Have we learned how to love our neighbor?  Maybe it is time to revisit the gospels.  

Tuesday, March 24

spring first methodist church cedar falls

"For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land." - Song of Solomon 2:11-12 ESV 

The daffodils are poking up through the leaf litter our yard.  Robins are hopping around, looking to pull the first worms out of the frozen ground.  It is hard to be patient as we wait for the sun to finally triumph over winter.  God has set these things in motion to bring renewal and life to his world.  We are part of this, and our sun came in the form of the Son, two thousand years ago. 

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  -John 3:16.  

In our Lenten reflections this week, let’s think about who Jesus was: a teacher, a reformer, a rebel and our savior. 

 

Friday, March 20

As we contemplate the majesty of God, we can look down, as well as up. Yesterday, I was watching a very small piece of God’s creation - a spider - and it reminded me of that great John Hiatt lyric:

“There's a spider at my window
And she spins a web of truth
More beautiful than all those memories
And she surely is God's artist
As she's caught the morning dew
It's a simple prayer that brings me to my knees”

There’s beauty and complexity and interrelatedness all around us. There are also beginnings, endings, and new beginnings again. As I watched the spider moving about her web, she slowed, folded her legs, and died. It was sort of awesome to be there in the creature’s final moment. I know, I know, she was JUST A SPIDER. A bug. Insignificant to the rest of the world. But let me ask you … can you make a spider? Can you design and build an eight-legged, land-dwelling, web-spinning carnivore? Can you begin to fathom the networks of food and habitat and biology that it took for that one spider to exist? It’s beyond me. And then, for it to end so quickly, so easily... If I hadn’t been there, nobody would have noticed her passing. Next week, as we continue our Lenten journey, we’ll think about God’s plan to offer us all a new beginning - a life beyond our physical being - and we’ll look at the one he sent to make it possible.

Wednesday, March 18

night sky 1 first methodist church cedar falls

As we contemplate the majesty of God, we tend to look up.  A small crew from our church is spending the week at a mission depot in the middle of Illinois.  We’re far enough from Springfield’s light pollution for the night sky to be really pretty.  I’m trying to shoot some time-lapse videos of the stars, so I’m spending a lot of time with my head tipped back and my mouth open in awe and at the heavens above.  The scale of  creation is staggering.  The majesty of the creator, even more so.  I simply can’t fathom it, can you?  Let’s try a different approach.  After a few thousand years of humans trying to understand God, let’s just choose to love God, instead.  Let’s marvel at the miracle of our own existence, and praise God for it.  Let’s be awed at the complexity and beauty of God’s creation, and love Him for it.  

Tuesday, March 17

first methodist church bambur cedar falls

What is worship?  Why do we worship?  My SLM class was asked to answer these questions last weekend.  A common theme for most of us was that of awe … that God is so big and powerful and we are so insignificant.  A piece of my answer to “what is worship” was,

“Worship happens in those special moments when I feel very, very small, and, simultaneously, connected to something very, very big.  Sometimes these moments are triggered by music, sometimes by visual beauty, by a loving scene played out before me, by an activity I’m caught up in.  Sometimes worship is planned, sometimes I’m moved to worship in an instant.”   Today, let me ask you, how big is your God?   

"Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.”   1 Chronicles 29:11

girl prays cedar falls first methodist church

Monday, March 16

Last week we prayed about those things in our lives - decisions we’ve made - elements of our character - that are keeping us from a more perfect relationship with God.  We prayed about our failures, our embarrassments, our addictions and our doubts.  This kind of deep self-analysis isn’t always enjoyable, but if we are to grow as people of faith, we have to learn to be honest with ourselves as we identify the areas where we need to ask for and apply God’s strength.  Admitting our failures to God opens the door to our healing through His forgiveness. And here’s the cool thing … God DOES forgive.  And when God forgives, it’s not like someone just saying, “no worries”.   When God forgives, it is a validation of YOU as one of His children.  Is that awesome or what?!  Think and pray about this today, and as we go through this week, we’ll meditate more on the majesty of our God.

Friday, March 13

How’s your faith today?  It’s a question that makes you cringe when a stranger asks in an elevator, but seriously, how’s your faith?  Some people have a very strong, unshakable faith.  Lots of us don’t.  I think our churches are full of people who love what the church stands for, but find it difficult to believe in an authentic way our concepts of God and and His desire to be a part of our lives. This, more than anything, needs our prayers.  Pray on, and have an excel-Lent.  

Thursday, March 12

corner door first methodist church cedar falls

Do you know someone who is struggling with an addiction?  Is it a close friend?  Is it you?  Let’s pray about that today.  Addictions are like a chain that hold us back from freely being the person that God made us to be.  And, the tough thing about addictions is that they don’t just chain the addict, they chain everyone who loves the addict, too.  Pray to break this chain.  Pray for freedom.  

Wednesday, March 11

Today let’s pray to pray.  We’re about halfway through Lent, and let’s pray that the prayer habits that we’ve been developing will continue after the season of Lent is over.  Let’s resolve to involve God in all the areas of our lives, our longings, struggles, fears and also in our celebrations and victories.  

Tuesday, March 10

Today, let’s pray for a spirit of gratitude to dominate our lives.  Let’s resolve to be thankful for and gracious to all of the people help us directly and indirectly.   

Monday, March 9

old pew first methodist church cedar falls

How are those Lenten prayers and meditations coming?  Late last week we were focusing on the divinity of Christ.  This week, let’s pray about some of the situations that we get into which draw our attention away from a more perfect relationship with God.  Need a suggestion?  I’ll give you one every day this week.  Today, pray about something in your past that you’re not proud of, or pray for some guilt that you are carrying about the way you’ve treated someone else.  Pray for God’s forgiveness, pray for forgiveness from the other person, and pray that you can forgive yourself and move on with a free spirit.  


Friday, March 6

In our meditation passage yesterday (John 14:1-11) Jesus asserts that he is the way, the truth and the life - the one true pathway to God, the reality of all God promises and our link to an eternity in God's Kingdom.  This isn't always an easy concept for us.  Heck, even his disciples didn't get it right away - they needed to witness a resurrection for the truth to sink in.  Spend the weekend in this same passage from John, read the whole chapter if you want.  Really think about what Jesus is saying as he tells his crew, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father".    

Next week we'll pray about some of the situations we get ourselves into that separate or distract us from a closer relationship with God.  Have a good weekend, and an excel-Lent.

Thursday, March 5

lame bridge art first methodist church cedar falls

There's a sketch that missionaries and evangelists sometimes use to explain the significance of Christ.  The drawing shows a deep canyon with a person - you - on one side, and God on the other.  The deep canyon represents the sin that separates us from God.  The idea, of course, is that you want to cross to the other side and be with God.  So the evangelist draws a bridge across the canyon, labels it "Jesus", and voila, you're in.  It is an incredibly simplistic explanation for a concept that lots of us really wrestle with.  Go ahead and google "bridge to God".  There's a ton of artwork out there and most of it is pretty bad.   Is Jesus the only way into God's Kingdom?  The wishful thinker will draw a canyon with lots of other bridges: my good works will get me across, my goodwill toward other people will get me across, my donations to charity will get me across, etc.  Where do you stand on this?  Have your Lenten meditations brought you any closer to understanding that faith in Christ is the one sure pathway?   For today's meditation, spend some time in the Gospel of John, Chapter 14:1-11.

Wednesday March 4

As we look at ourselves and the world we live in, we are filled with wonder and awe.  How has all this come to be?  Why did it come to be?  Grand arguments are fought over these questions: theories proposed, dissertations written, scholarly degrees earned and conferred .... and we still don't know.  It is beyond us.  It is possible that we are incapable of ever really knowing.  In fact, on one occasion when his disciples asked about the divine timetable Jesus replied, "It is not for you to know...".    We do not get to know everything.  That's OK.  We do not need to know everything, we simply need to trust that the God who created it all is capable of taking care of us in this life and beyond.  Today we pray, not to understand the holy mystery, but to praise God that we are a part of it.

excelLENT first methodist church cedar falls

Monday, March 2

So, are you having a Happy Lent - or is it a Merry Lent? We don’t really have a greeting for the season of Lent. When I spoke at FUSION a couple of weeks ago, I proposed that our Lenten greeting should be “excel-Lent” and a fist bump. Lent really isn’t happy or merry. There’s an element of brokenness to all of us. Part of Lent is for us to address our own unworthiness through prayer and meditation. That’s generally not a “merry” thing to do, but that doesn’t mean Lent is a completely dark time. Lent should be serious, but Lent should be positive. Once we’ve identified some areas to work on in our relationship with God and begin praying about them, we’re now taking active steps toward developing a relationship with God that He will find pleasing and that we will find fulfilling. So, keep on praying, and have an excel-Lent.

Friday, February 27

lent wilderness first methodist church cedar falls

As we've been praying pieces of Psalm 25 this week, how have you felt about your understanding or relationship with God?  Have you felt that you're walking through a wilderness, like Jesus did?  This is a picture from Pastor Steve's trips to the Holy Land. Blow the picture up to full-screen size and put yourself there for a while.  This is what the Judean wilderness looks like: there's just nothing there except some of the sturdier kinds of rocks (I stole that phrase from Mark Twain). There's something about a desert that helps one to focus on the essential and distill their life to the most elemental level.  Imagine yourself there: the daily cold-hot-cold temperature swing, silence except for the wind, every surface hard or sharp.  There's no cover in this wilderness - one exists in total exposure to the elements.  During the season of Lent, we strive for total spiritual exposure - a complete opening of ourselves to examination.  Under this kind of scrutiny, our need for a savior becomes clear.  

We'll see you in church this Sunday, and check back here Monday to continue our Lenten journey.

Thursday, February 26

Our most fervent prayer is that God will overlook our sins and grant us mercy, and a place in his Kingdom.  That God does so, is what we call grace.  We are imperfect people.  We are unable to live up to His holy standard.  All the same, we pray, and pray hard ...  

Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
    according to your steadfast love remember me,
    for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!  - Psalm 25:7

Wednesday, February 25

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all day long.  - Psalm 25:4-5

This prayer expresses our innate yearning to understand God and His desires for us.  We open ourselves to be taught and led for His glory and purpose.  We acknowledge that living according to God's desires is our true salvation.  We pray to understand the teaching and the sacrifice of Christ, which shows us the way to that salvation.  And as we pray, we will wait, quietly and patiently, confident that God will reveal himself and his desires to us.  

Tuesday, Feb 24

lent feb 24 first methodist church cedar falls

Pray these words from Psalm 25:1-3a
In you, LORD my God,
I put my trust.
I trust in you;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame...

This Psalm is a prayer for guidance and deliverance. Today as we pray this, we consider our true level of trust in God. We consider our true level of belief in Christ as our savior. We consider our enemies. Why do we have enemies? Is it something political, religious, or competitive? Is it jealousy or a need for vengeance or something else? Is forgiveness called for? Can we cut our number of enemies in half, by being the one who forgives? 
Something to think about for Lent today.

Monday Feb 23

lent personal first methodist church cedar falls

Lent is heavy.  Lent is serious.   Lent takes work, effort and commitment.  The thing about Lent, is that it is very, very personal.  Lent is about understanding what God has done for you, and where you stand with Him. In your meditations this week, take a look at your life and identify something that is holding you back from a more perfect relationship with God, and then take the positive step of beginning to pray about it.

Friday, Feb 20

potato chip lent first methodist church cedar falls iowa

There are a number of different approaches to returning to God.  Some people choose Lent as a time of fasting or self-denial.  A couple of years ago I tried to give up potato chips for Lent.  Fasting is a great focusing mechanism … I thought about potato chips ALL THE TIME.  Fasting works better for some people than for others.  It can be complex and it is a very powerful spiritual practice.  If you are interested in the idea of fasting, I would encourage you to speak with one of our pastors, or someone who has done it before for some spiritual guidance beforehand.  

Fasting  isn’t the only way to observe Lent.  some people choose to use Lent as a time to try to be a better person, through outward acts of kindness every day.  Few things bless us quite as much as being a blessing to others.  Few things bless God as much as extending kindness to his other children.  Acts of kindness are a huge part of living the Christian life.  

Ultimately, however you do it, Lent is personal and intimate.  Lent is about understanding the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice for you and developing a closer relationship with Him.  Do you have any plans for Lent?  Are you giving something up?  Share with us on facebook, and check back on Monday.  

Thursday Feb 19

The biblical model for Lent is the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism.  Jesus left the populated communities and walked into the desert for an extended time of prayer and personal communion with God - a time of strengthening the father-son bond.  It was a time of retreat where Jesus could isolate himself from the distractions of the world and focus only on coming to terms with who he was created to be.  Lent can be a similar time of refocusing for us.  In the next six weeks that lead us to Easter, we can take the opportunity to focus on improving our personal relationships with God and living lives that are pleasing to him.

ash wed today first methodist church cedar falls iowa

Wednesday Feb 18

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  

Lent is a period of 40-Plus days  - Sundays don’t count - where we can reset our faith and refocus our attention and renew our relationship with God.  We shouldn’t need a specific time of year to focus on God, but lots of us DO need that.  Between now and Holy Week, I’ll occasionally post some thoughts that you can use as places to begin your own Lenten observances.  Let’s start, appropriately, in worship at our Ash Wednesday service tonight in the sanctuary at 7:30.  We’ll share in the sacrament of Holy Communion and participate in the imposition of ashes.  

Tuesday Feb 17

From the book of Joel:

the Lord says,

   “return to me now, Give me your hearts.

   Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning  ...

Return to the Lord your God,

   for he is merciful and compassionate,

Announce a time of fasting;

call the people together

Let them pray, “Spare your people, Lord!


That passage from the book of Joel, in the old testament, sounds like a pretty good description of the season we are about to enter:  the season of Lent.  That makes Joel a man about 800 years ahead of his time (I guess that’s why he gets the title of “prophet”).  Doesn’t that sound like Lent, when Joel talks of a time of fasting and weeping and mourning, and when he says, “Let them pray, spare your people, Lord”.  There’s that attitude of penitence and acknowledgement of our sinful nature and an acknowledgement of our need to return our attentions to God.  Which is what Lent is all about.  Start your observance of Lent tomorrow night in our sanctuary at 7:30 with a service of holy communion and the imposition of ashes.