This blog is meant to be an encouragement to you as you journey through your day. If you have a question about the life of faith, please feel free to email me. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I welcome the conversation.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Reflect, Repent, Renew: Lenten Daily Devotional, Week 7 - Holy Week

The Christian season of Lent has traditionally been set aside by the church as a time for reflection, repentance and renewal. It lasts forty days, plus Sundays, and is meant to mirror the forty days of Jesus in the desert. We are called to take on new disciplines, new ways of thinking, and partner with the Holy Spirit to more clearly see who we can be in Christ as we embrace what our Savior has done for us. This devotional guide can help you in this journey.
How to use this devotional guide: You may choose to use this for individual use, for small groups, or for use during family time. Each day there are readings from scripture – several psalms, another Old Testament reading, a reading from the Gospels, and from the New Testament epistles. We encourage you to read one or more of the passages and meditate on them. Some of the scripture passages are obviously connected to the season, while for others the connection may not be so obvious. The devotional writing for each day is in response to one or more of the scripture passages. We have left room for your personal notes and reflections.
If you find the devotional writing to be a blessing or help, please let the author know. After all, you will see them in worship – and how often do we get to thank an author in person?
In addition to the printed version available each Sunday for the next week, they are also on the church website, www.avongrovenazarene.org. Click “Connect,” then click “Pastor’s Blog.”
Kris Guertler is the wife of Jim and mother of Jamie. She serves as director of our women’s ministry, on the Academy board and music ministry. She is a school nurse in the Octorara Public Schools. She lives in Parkesburg.
Heather Hyde is the wife of Jackson and the mother of Hadley. She serves as our Associate Pastor. She lives in Chatham.
Becky McGehean is the wife of Jay and mother of Maddy and Mackenzie. She is an administrator at Avon Grove Nazarene Academy and a member of the church board and youth staff. She lives in West Grove.
Jay McGehean is the husband to Becky and father of Maddy and Mackenzie. He serves as our youth pastor, and is a health and physical education teacher at the Avon Grove Charter School. He lives in West Grove.
Justin Reed is a senior at Avon Grove Charter High School, a leader in our youth group and involved in music ministry. He lives in Cochranville.
Clara Saxton serves as director of Kingdom Kids, our Wednesday evening program for children, and is a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway,  Fox and Roach Realtors. She lives in Kennett Square.
Esther Schutz is the wife of Mike. She serves as our Minister of Worship Arts and Administrative Assistant and teaches music lessons. She lives in Penn Township.
Mike Schutz is the husband of Esther. He serves as our senior pastor. He lives in Penn Township.
Beckey Williams is a recent graduate of West Chester University and serves as director of the after school program and a teacher at Avon Grove Nazarene Academy, and is a member of our music ministry. She lives in Oxford.

Monday, March 21

Scripture Readings:  Psalm 36:5-11, 51, 69:1-23; Isaiah 42:1-9; Lamentations 1:1-12; Mark 11:12-25; John 12:1-11; 2 Corinthians 1:1-7
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of sympathy (pity and mercy) and the God, Who is the Source, of every comfort (consolation and encouragement). Who comforts (consoles and encourages) us in every trouble (calamity and affliction), so that we may also be able to comfort (console and encourage) those who are in any kind of trouble or distress, with the comfort (consolation and encouragement) with which we ourselves are comforted (consoled and encouraged) by God. For just as Christ’s own sufferings fall to our lot (as they overflow upon His disciples, and we share and experience them abundantly, so through Christ comfort (consolation and encouragement) is also (shared and experienced) abundantly by us.   - II Corinthians 1:3­-5 (Amplified Bible)
For several years now, the Amplified Bible has been my Book of choice; especially for when I read passages of Scripture that I have read many times before. In this particular translation of the Bible, certain words are expanded on to demonstrate other possible translations. For me, it is a fresh wind.
In this passage from II Corinthians 1: 3-­5, the word comfort/comforts is mentioned six times. For me to read the same word six times, from a familiar passage, sometimes puts my brain on auto­pilot. Now the last thing I want to be during our journey thru Holy Week is on auto­pilot. We have all lived thru many years of observing Holy Week. What would make this year any different? It might just come down to one word. When I read this passage, one word leaped out at me over and over again. The word comfort; which could also mean console, encourage. The Holy Spirit worked thru all the familiarity of the English language and the oft read Scripture passage to say “encourage.” “Esther, I am encouraging you now. Christ suffered, and in this world, you will suffer; but I will comfort, console, and encourage you. I encourage you so you can encourage others. I will allow this time of testing, hardship, illness; but only so you will know my Presence as I comfort you, console you, and encourage you.”  
Dear friends, I can testify to the comforting, consoling, encouraging Presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. As you travel the suffering road to Gethsemane this week, may you know that Christ did the same for you. And may you know that “Christ’s comfort, consolation, and encouragement can also be shared and experienced abundantly by us.” – Esther Schutz

Tuesday, March 22
Scripture Readings:  Psalm 6, 12, 71, 94; Isaiah 49:1-7; Lamentations 1:17-22; Mark 11:27-33; John 12:20-36; 2 Corinthians 1:8-22
27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 28 “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”
29 Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”
31 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)
33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”  - Mark 11:27-33

God isn't playing games with us.   
You strive to be Holy, or you don't.  
You believe in who He says He is, or you don't.  
You believe that prayer works, or you don't.  
You choose to love all, or you don’t.    
You choose to pursue His will for your life, or you don’t.  
You take His commandments seriously, or you don't.  
You love Him or you don't.
You believe in His sacrifice for our sins, or you don’t.  
We want to live in a grey world.  We want to mix sin with Holiness.  We want to have everything that makes us happy, good or bad.  Please understand these words are as much for me as they are you. The spiritual leaders that Mark writes about here, they never got it.  They lived in fear of both the truth and the people.  They had lost their effectiveness because they were comfortable in the grey.  God doesn't have time to play games with us.  There is true genuine love on His part, He just needs you to pick a side, and He desperately wants it to be His side.  This week we get to celebrate the amazingness of His promise.  His sacrifice is an eternal act of love and devotion to you.  He is “all in” on you, will you finally decide to be “all in” on Christ?  - Jay McGehean


Wednesday, March 23

Scripture Readings:  Psalm 55, 70, 74; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Lamentations 2:1-9; Mark 12:1-11; John 13:21-32; 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11
Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, Lord, to help me.
May those who want to take my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace. May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!” turn back because of their shame.
But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say,  “The Lord is great!”
But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay.
 – Psalm 70

Why is it so hard to wait sometimes?! Growing up, on Christmas morning, my sisters and I were not allowed to open any of our “Santa” presents until my dad had returned home from milking the cows. He would get up earlier than us to start his day but, it always felt like an eternity until he came home! I remember begging my mom to let us open just one box or rushing my dad through breakfast because waiting for him to finish was so difficult. 

When we seek God’s help, often times we question his timing. This passage of scripture reads, “Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, Lord, to help me.” It’s a plea for help, as the author finishes by saying, “Lord, do not delay.” We get so caught up in wondering when we will get answers that we forget the way He is working in our lives as we wait and pray. Although we don’t always understand, God’s timing is always on time. He is always working in our lives. This week, challenge yourself to open your eyes to the wonderful blessings God sends each day, regardless of what has you waiting. I continually tell the children in my class, “Be patient” or “You’ll have to wait.” We all know waiting can be difficult; trust in the Lord, for He is our “hope and deliverer.” – Beckey Williams

Thursday, March 24
Scripture Readings: Psalm 102, 142, 143; Lamentations 2:10-18; Mark 14:12-25; John 18:1-19:42; 1 Corinthians 10:14-17, 11:27-32
10 Daughter Zion’s elders sit on the ground and mourn. They throw dust on their heads; they put on mourning clothes. Jerusalem’s young women bow their heads all the way to the ground. 11 My eyes are worn out from weeping; my stomach is churning. My insides are poured on the ground because the daughter of my people is shattered,
because children and babies are fainting in the city streets.
12 They say to their mothers, “Where are grain and wine?”
while fainting like the wounded in the city streets, while their lives are draining away at their own mothers’ breasts.
13 What can I testify about you, Daughter Jerusalem? To what could I compare you? With what could I equate you? How can I comfort you, young woman Daughter Zion? Your hurt is as vast as the sea. Who can heal you? 14 Your prophets gave you worthless and empty visions. They didn’t reveal your sin so as to prevent your captivity. Instead, they showed you worthless and incorrect prophecies. 15 All who pass by on the road clap their hands about you; they whistle, shaking their heads at Daughter Jerusalem: “Could this be the city called Perfect Beauty, the Joy of All the Earth?” 16 All your enemies open wide their mouths against you; they whistle, grinding their teeth. They say, “We have devoured! This is definitely the day we’ve been waiting for. We’ve seen it come to pass.” 17 The Lord did what he said. He accomplished the word that he had commanded long ago. He tore down everything and humbled the nation,  made the enemy rejoice over you; he raised up your adversaries’ horn. 18 Cry out to my Lord from the heart, you wall of Daughter Zion; make your tears run down like a flood all day and night. Don’t relax at all; don’t rest your eyes a moment.  - Lamentations 2:10-18
John Wesley, in his commentary on this passage, reminds us that all of this destruction could have been avoided, if only the people had been “sensible of your sins.”
Today is Maundy Thursday. It is the day we remember Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and the Last Supper. In liturgical churches, the day is often commemorated by a Tenebrae service, which is Latin for “shadows.” It is a somber service, meant to remember the betrayal, abandonment and agony of the events leading to the cross. The service is in candlelight. After each reading, a candle is extinguished, until only the Christ candle remains. Finally, the Christ candle is extinguished, and the service ends in silence and darkness. For me, it is one of the most meaningful services of the year.
I do not believe our Christian faith can be all it can be until we truly grasp the power of sin and the depth of suffering. Lament is the appropriate response, as we recognize that our lives, our community, nation, world, and all of creation groan under the pain and alienation caused by sin. The Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Holy Week are set aside as the time to grapple with this reality.
It is a shallow experience to rush too quickly from the parade of Palm Sunday to the joyful celebration of the resurrection on Easter. Until we experience the truth in the middle, we cannot know what we are truly celebrating. Ken Collins gives a helpful analogy. If you see only the happy ending of a movie, everyone who saw it from the start is elated, but you go away saying, “So they were all hugging each other? So what?” But if you see the beginning and the middle part, with all the suspense and grief, you understand what the characters overcame, and the happy ending is all the happier. So to me, attending the Easter service without attending the Holy Week services is like watching the happy ending of the movie without seeing the middle—you only rob yourself of joy.
Take time to think about the events of Holy Week. Place yourself not only in the roles of the disciples and the crowd, but take time to think on your own life. How much pain have you suffered because of sin?  - Mike Schutz

Friday, March 25
Scripture Readings: Psalm 22, 40, 54, 95; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-33; John 13:36-38, 18:1-19:42; 1 Peter 1:10-20
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.  Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust, they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him. Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. 10 From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. 11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. 12 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. 13 Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. 15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. 17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. 19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. 20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. 21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen. 22 I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. 23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. 25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;  before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. 26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him— may your hearts live forever. 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. 29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! – Psalm 22
Today is Good Friday. A bittersweet day for believers as we remember Christ's suffering for us on the cross. 

Psalm 22 are words from David, but are also the words of Jesus quoted, calling out to his Father when he was suffering on the cross. In those moments of agony Jesus did not feel heard.  We all face times when it feels as though God does not hear us, care for us, or will never respond to us. This can cause us to have conflicted emotions; feelings of guilt questioning God's presence and action in our situation.  When we remember times in our past when he has been faithful it's hard to understand why he won't act similarly in the present. We want to be faithful followers to others coming to Christ but that distance makes us feel less than faithful. 

What is important to remember on days when God feels far away is that Jesus himself faced these feelings. He felt abandoned by his Father and he was God's son!  It is not wrong or sinful to feel far from God, but never give up crying out to him.  Just because he feels far, doesn't mean he is not working out something for good. 

Jesus' feelings of abandonment are not the end of the story. Remember what is to come in a few shorts days. 

Psalm 22:19 "But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me."
                                                                                                                                                                        - Heather Hyde

Saturday, March 26
Scripture Readings: Psalm 31; Lamentations 3; John 19:38-42; 1 Peter 4:1-8
I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead. He has walled me in so I cannot escape;  he has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked. 10 Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, 11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help. 12 He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows. 13 He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. 14 I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long. 15 He has filled me with bitter herbs and given me gall to drink. 16 He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. 17 I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. 18 So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.” 19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
 for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”  - Lamentations 3:1-24

This is Holy Saturday. The day of darkness. The day when nothing happens. The day of waiting, and grieving, and simply living in the midst of suffering, doubt, fear. We can forgive the disciples for asking “What will happen next? What will become of us, of me?”

Lamentations 3 is painful to read. It is almost too personal, like we are reading someone’s diary. They are in real pain, a pain that cuts to the heart of their being. They have seen the destruction of the city, and the destruction of lives. All who have felt such pain can understand his suffering. Heartbreak has become his life.

We are most familiar with verses 22 and 23. Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
 for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. There is great truth in those words, but like so many other places in Scripture, we miss the point if we take them out of context.  They are being spoken by someone in the midst of great pain. They are not casual words. They are words of real hope spoken in the midst of the tragedies of life.

Contrary to what the superficial false prophets of our day proclaim, suffering comes to all of us, whether we have faith or not. When we seek to cover it up under a false veneer of happiness, we not only deny our condition, but we subtly communicate to others that they must hide their pain as well. This is how church becomes less relevant, less real, and more pretend. Lament, crying out in our suffering, is not a sign of less faith. It is a sign of real participation in the real world. And it is then that our words of hope ring true. Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” – Mike Schutz


Sunday, March 27

Scripture Readings: Psalm 114; Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; Romans 6:3-11
 When Death Becomes Life
1-3 So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land! 3-5 That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country. 6-11 Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did. Romans 6:3-11
I was baptized in high school, in a pool in someone’s back yard.  This morning, we will see people baptized in the baptismal of our church.  I know people that were baptized in a lake, or even the ocean.  Being baptized is a truly important spiritual experience.   But, the experience has very little to do with how or where it happens.  Rather, it has everything to do with the why.  This scripture passage in The Message paints a beautiful mental picture of baptism.  Baptism is the beginning of something new in each one of us.  And, it is only possible because of Jesus’ love for us through his death and resurrection. 
I know I needed to read this – to be reminded of the why of my baptism.  Maybe you need the reminder, too.  Or, maybe you need to consider taking this important step in your relationship with God.  “We get included in his life-saving resurrection (v. 8).”  Today is the day we get to celebrate that truth.  We are part of this story; He did this for us.  Don’t miss the chance to embrace your inclusion in the resurrection story today.  This story – this celebration – is about ALL of us.  It is not just Jesus’ story…it is our story too.   – Becky McGehean

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