Palm Sunday Reflections

jesus_9085cI remember as a child gathering outside of my home church on the front lawn as the church service was beginning. We had our palm branches in hand and were already waving and running around as we waited. Then, at the appropriate time, one of our parents would open the doors to the church and we would proudly march, wave our branches high, and shout “Hosanna!”

It was the only time we could act this way in church. The parade like behavior on Palm Sunday was only reserved for Palm Sunday.

The limitations were removed on Palm Sunday. We did not have to be “just right and proper.”

While church is indeed a sacred place, too often limitations are placed on young people and the young at heart. Too often the limitations frown upon processing through the building making a joyful noise or the excited behavior little bodies show when they come to church. This kind of parade like behavior is not always welcomed. We like things to be “just right and proper.”

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The Rum Diary (2011)

rum_diary_ver2_xlgPaul Kemp (Johnny Depp) is an American journalist who has relocated to San Juan, Puerto Rico as a freelance writer in the 1950s.   He’s hired by a not-so-great American newspaper to write the daily horoscopes.   At first he thinks it’s a joke, but alas, it is not.

As the film unfolds, there’s a tension in the air, and I don’t mean the rum-aroma air that almost seeps through the screen.  There is a tension existing inside Paul Kemp.  As he sits at Al’s bar with Chenault (Amber Heard) he tells her, “I don’t know how to write like me.”   From the beginning of the film, we see this struggle.  After witnessing his first Puerto Rican cock fight, Paul wanders off with a camera.  He snaps some pictures of the local children in a trash dump.  He then writes a story about the children eating in the dump.  He wants to draw the attention of the reader to this great injustice.  It’s rejected by the editor, Lotterman (Richard Jenkins).  “Nothing will change,” Lotterman reasons.  “You underestimate me,” Kemp replies.

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Book Review: A Year of Living Prayerfully

Each Lent I choose to add a spiritual discipline or practice to my routine. With a new child in my life, I hadn’t really given this much thought this year. Somewhat organically, I found myself spending more time in prayer. I would find myself awake at night and instead of reading or putting Netflix on, I prayed.

519m4tktdJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I prayed for my new baby girl and my wife. I prayed for my church and my family. I prayed for wisdom and guidance. I prayed for my youth group and what God may be calling me to each day.

So, when I received a copy of Jared Brock‘s A Year of Living Prayerfully, I thought the timing was incredible. In his book, Jared, like other writers before him, goes on a year-long journey to learn more about prayer and go deeper in his own prayer life.

Jared has a video on YouTube that offers a glimpse into his writing style.

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Grace of God (2015)

There is a delicate balance to be found between the legalism of the Old Testament and the astonishing grace of the New Testament. Too often we are either overwhelmingly consumed with following the “rules” that we ignore the power of grace in our lives. Or we put so much focus on grace that we forget that the “rules” are there to guide us.

Grace is not a license to sin.

Grace is an amazing, unmerited, undeserved gift given to us freely by God through the redeeming act of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because we have been given this grace so freely, we can give this grace to others through forgiveness and reconciliation.

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Guest Post: Get Prepared

by Rev. Tammie Grimm

Read Mark 8:31-38

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)

washing_3262c-2How do you get ready for a storm? Whether it was Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene or “the blizzard that wasn’t” in January, many of us rush to the store to replenish the bread, milk and eggs so we can ride out whatever Mother Nature sends our way. For those of us here in Hunterdon County, where electricity is easily knocked out in high winds, those with generators get extra gasoline — just in case. In a similar sense, it is time to get ready for the last two weeks of Lent.

Traditionally known as Passiontide, these weeks are like the winds before a gathering storm with their own sense of gloom and inevitability heralding Holy Week. Scriptures like our gospel lesson from Mark turns our attention to the ‘Stations of the Cross.’ Our Lenten journey will culminate within the next two weeks. There is only one possible route to Easter – through Holy Week. How are you getting ready?

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Guest Post: Trust in God’s Promise

by Michelle Hettmann

washing_3262c-2Read Psalm 118:19-29.

This past fall, I studied abroad in Lugano, Switzerland, and Adigrat, Ethiopia. I was so blessed to have the opportunity to set foot in over 10 countries and experience glimpses of life in communities all over Europe and parts of eastern Africa. Being abroad was a wonderful experience, but also a challenging one. I was away from my friends and family for four months while they were here doing life together. I felt loneliness and sadness in the midst of the adventure. It was the biggest test of my faith and trust in God that I’ve experienced in my life.

While the experience wasn’t always easy, I experienced God in ways that I probably wouldn’t have if I wasn’t in that situation.

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Guest Post: Finding Silence

by Rev. Deacon Lisa McGehee

washing_3262c-2“Be still and know I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

Animals have an uncanny knack for reading the moods and habits of their human companions. My cat Pippin knows the precise moment when I wake up in the morning. As my eyes open he is jumps on the bed for his morning head rub. His brother Twitter is my quiet-time and reading partner. The more I settle into the quiet, the closer he snuggles beside me. That’s what happens when we enter into silence, we snuggle closer to God and we realize how close God is to us.

The BBC TV series The Big Silence tells the story of 5 people invited to learn how to incorporate silence into their lives. During the nine day retreat the only time they were able to speak out loud was during daily meetings with a spiritual guide and when they created their video log that shared the ups and downs the participants experienced during this extreme introduction to silence.

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Guest Post: One-Upmanship

by Brock Weigel

washing_3262c-2Read Psalm 31: 9-16

“For my life is spent with sorrow and my years with sighing; my strength has failed because of my iniquity, and my body has wasted away.” (Psalm 31: 10)

While playing basketball, the goal is to get the ball through the hoop as many times as possible. When I play, however, that goal is not on my mind. Instead of maneuvering the ball, my goal is one-upping the other team, or showing off for spectators. I care as little for the ball going through the hoop as plugging a lamp into an electrical socket. The task itself seems mundane when you remove the context. My joy in basketball is not in the ball, but in the victory.

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Guest Post: Hope in the Darkness

by Lauren Wright

washing_3262c-2Read Psalm 31:9-16.

When I was in 4th grade, I desperately wanted a guinea pig for Christmas. Being the clever child that I was, I decided that I would name my guinea pig “Hope,” because it was what I “hoped” I got for Christmas. Clearly I didn’t think this through, because I ended up with a male guinea pig named Hope…! At the time, I thought that hope meant wanting something badly. I thought that hope was about wishing and dreaming.

This passage really speaks to the true meanings of hope and trust. The psalmist illustrates the dichotomy of trust and hope with rejection and despair. This passage begins with descriptions of the pain and suffering that the psalmist is facing. Phrases like ‘I am the scorn of my adversaries, the horror of all my neighbors’ speak to this rejection from all in the community, and the isolation and loneliness that follows.

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Guest Post: God’s Love Endures Forever

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By Taylor Sherwood

In middle and high school, youth group was a huge part of my life.  I attended as many bible studies and youth group related activities as I could, and spent countless Sunday evenings in the youth basement forming a close relationship with God while creating memories with some of my best friends at the same time. At the end-of-year youth group picnic my senior year, I remember thinking that things would never be the same. I’m now 26 years old and I often find myself missing those meaningful youth group memories.

Somewhere between high school, college, and becoming an adult, the amount of time I spend with God seems to have steadily decreased since my teenage years. When I reflect on why this has happened, it seems partly due to the increase of responsibilities that come along with being an adult, but also the lack of structure in my schedule. Youth group allowed for me to clear my schedule every week during the same days and times to spend in worship. I finally realized last year that I seem to struggle with committing to bible study courses now as an adult.

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