Lent is right around the corner. In a few short days, we will gather for Ash Wednesday in churches, on sidewalks, and in coffee shops to confess that we have not been as faithful as we could be, and to begin this journey we call Lent toward the empty tomb of Easter.
Here are four books I’ve read recently that would be great resources for small groups, sermon series, or individual devotional time.
This was a sermon I preached at St. Mark’s United Methodist in Richmond. I preached on Exodus 17:1-7 as part of their Complaining is Draining sermon series. This audio is from the 11:00am service. You can also listen on the Podcast app by subscribing here.
Every Season Prayers: Gospel-Centered Prayers for the Whole of Life, Scotty Smith, Baker Books, 2016.
When it comes to prayer, one of the comments I hear often from people of faith often is, “Sometimes I just don’t have the words.” You know what that’s like. You sit down to pray and you are so overwhelmed by life that you just cannot find the words. There are feelings that our words are not elegant enough. Even though we know that God knows what is on our hearts, we are overwhelmed with wanting to give God the best.
In those times we search for a guide to prayer.
Here is the audio of my sermon from Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016 at Peakland United Methodist Church. The text was Philippians 2:5-11. You can listen on the Podcast app by subscribing here.
by Rev. Alan Combs
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words come at the beginning of Psalm 22. Immediately, the biblical scholar-wannabe in me asks a biblical scholar-wannabe question. How much of Psalm 22 did Jesus mean? Psalm 22 forms two distinct parts. The first eighteen verses or so are full of pain, oppression, and despair. They feel very much like what Jesus might have had in mind while hanging on the cross, blood pouring from his nailed hands and feet, struggling to breathe.
But then Psalm 22 changes at verse twenty-five. “From you comes my praise in the great congregation,” the Psalmist declares. The Psalm shifts to a prayer of deliverance. Yes many “strong bulls of Bashan” (I want to start a band called “Strong Bulls of Bashan) surround the Psalmist (22.12), and yes “I can count all my bones,” (22.17) but at the end of the day “dominion belongs to the Lord,” (22.18) so much so, that “All who go down to the dust shall bow before the Lord, and I shall live for God” (22.28).
by Minoka Gunesekera
Read Exodus 12:1-14
Many times when I go home from seminary I eat with my closest friends and family. It has become almost a ritual. The food and the actions may not be very unique, but when my community gathers for a meal it shows me an example of God’s love and devotion. And those moments of love I hold in my heart when I am away and I feel like I am about to walk into an “impending plague” or a time of trial. Just like the memory of these meals, God’s protection follows us when we feel like we need to be rescued, not because we did anything to deserve it but because that is God’s expression of mercy.
I 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.”
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.
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.
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)
How 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?