Monday February 22 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 1-3

Reflection: Faithful. Let that word sit with you for the entirety of this devotion. Moses stood on Mount Horeb to express to the people that their faith, their trust in God, had brought them thus far on their quest for the Promised Land and for the blessings the Lord had promised them. But Moses’ words were challenged when two leaders of their army saw how big and mighty the Amorite and Canaanite armies were. Seeing the threat before them, they thought they would be defeated for sure. Their faith in the Lord was challenged, and their hope was depleting. Soon, the Israelites disobeyed God and would not be granted entry to the Promised Land by the Lord. Caleb and Joshua told the people to be patient and that if they trusted God, they would enter the Promised Land. But their disobedience to God reflects their lack of faith.

Many people, even you, might face trials of your faith or trusting in God. You might say we all are going through a test of faith amid a global pandemic. Just as the Israelites were afraid to trust that they with God’s help could conquer the Amorites and Canaanites, we are all wondering when if we will get out of this pandemic and upside down life anytime soon. But as Caleb and Joshua did, we must trust that God is here, in all of us, around all of us, and be patient for your true trusting faith to show.

Prayer: Dear Lord, I come before you today in need of hope. There are times when I may feel helpless, there are times when I may feel weak. I pray for hope. I pray for hope for a better future. I pray for love and kindness. Some say that the sky is at its darkest just before the light. I pray that this is true, for all seems dark. I need your light, Lord, in every way. I pray to be filled with your light from head to toe. To know that all is right in the world as you want it to be. Help me to walk in your light, and live my life in faith and glory. In your name I pray. Amen.

Author: Carson Sacco, MPPC youth

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Sunday February 21 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Numbers 35-36

Key verse: (35:28) 28 The accused must stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest may they return to their own property.

Reflection: Central to maintaining the purity of the land given was the need to prevent the shedding of innocent blood. However, the shedding of a guilty party was customary; if a man deliberately slew another, the slayer’s life was to be forfeited. Blood is given for blood, however shed, because murder was to take what belonged to God, God’s very life and breath that lived on the earth through a person. But there is more to this story as we read the selection for today.

A city of refuge was made in order to provide time to fully investigate and completely understand the act of an unintentional murder. The slayer could be isolated until the death of the High Priest. At the death of the High Priest, it was understood that his blood would in some way allow for the slayer’s release. The death of the High Priest would expunge the consequences of blood-shed. 

As we journey to the cross in this season of Lent, we sit in a city of refuge. We have failed in our promises and have committed great sin against others, against ourselves, and against God. We are seeking refuge from the punishment in which we deserve for our actions, whether intentional or unintentional. It is by the shedding of blood on the cross that we are made whole and are made free again. Christ is prophet, priest, and king: Jesus spoke God’s word and is the Word of God; Jesus cleanses us by the offering of his life; Jesus is above of all earthly authority and is ruler of all.

I wonder where you are seeking refuge now, as we wait for the High Priest to offer his life for the forgiveness of our sins. In knowing what is ahead in Holy Week, and the victory over sin and death claimed through Christ’s death and resurrection, I wonder how we are to respond through our living and dying, through our blessing of wholeness in Christ, and through our call to sacrificial love.

Prayer: You are my refuge and strength, O God, a very present help in times of need. I run from my failures and seek shelter due to my sinful ways. Draw me into you. By the sacrificial love of Christ Jesus our Lord, make me whole again I pray. Amen.

Author: Ben Brannan

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Saturday February 20 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Numbers 33-34

Key verses: (33:1-2) These are the stages by which the Israelites went out of the land of Egypt in military formation under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting points, stage by stage, by command of the Lord; and these are their stages according to their starting places.

Reflection: Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron.  At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey.

After the tenth plague of Egypt, Moses and Aaron lead the Israelites out of slavery and toward the Promised Land. Numbers 33 names each campsite, 40 in all, between Rameses and the plains of Moab.  The journey took 40 years.  Can you imagine pulling up stakes, packing and unpacking 40 times in 40 years? The Israelites grumbled.

It was all God’s plan … to keep the promise made to Abraham. This traveling horde of grumbling Israelites was the plan’s centerpiece.  Their journey was not a quick and easy trip from point A to point B.  Their journey was a start and stop, broke down, “We want steak!” kind of trip that tested them in ways unimagined.

Is Lent not such a journey?  We begin with the reminder that we are but dust, we give something up or add something in and fail some at both.  We reflect and self-examine and have some “A-ha” moments and some clueless ones.  We despair at the cross and, finally, mercifully arrive at the resurrection.

Perhaps this pandemic has been the same sort of journey.  A journey with roundabouts of possibility and potholes full of failings.  We have traveled through self-discoveries, loss and deep grief, blazing beauty and love and hope and grace.  The journey has uncovered all of the best and the worst of humanity.  And God has remained with us, just as God remained with the Israelites.

Prayer: Dear God, As we journey through Lent, keep us from breaking down or grumbling and bring us, at last, to the bright hope of the resurrection. We know you are with us. Amen.

Author: Teri Boone, Elder class of 2023

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Friday February 19 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Numbers 31-32

Key verse: (32:5) “If we have found favor in your eyes,” they said, “let this land be given to your servants as our possession.  Do not make us cross the Jordan.”

Reflection: How often have I chosen my plans, thinking they are in line with God’s desires in my life?  And how often have I judged other’s plans without fully knowing the reasoning behind their actions?

In this passage, the Reubenites and Gadites are one battle away from crossing the Jordan to reach the west, the Promised Land.  But they decide the east side is more suited to their needs, to their livestock and possessions. From Moses’ perspective, this was all about their financial bottom line. Moses’ first thought is that this goes against God’s plan of having all 12 tribes live together in community, and that these tribes want to escape the trauma of any more battles. Moses lets them have it, he doesn’t hold back.

And yet when given a chance, the two tribes explain themselves, and assure Moses that they will not leave the other tribes defenseless. Instead, the Reubenites and Gadites promise to continue in battle until all the other tribes have reached the promised land.

God loves us enough to give us the freedom of choice and allows us to discern what it means to follow God’s will. Sometimes that is messy, and sometimes we end up walking further away from God rather than closer to God. Sometimes we think we know what other’s intentions are, but are surprised when we stop and listen. Other times, it seems like all has fallen away from God’s desires, like when the tribes were conquered by the Assyrians. And yet, God continues to be present and work through all of the ups and downs, twists and turns in our lives. 

How might the Reubenites and Gadites lives have been different if they hadn’t listened to their instincts, but instead entered the promised land? Perhaps their lives would have been better, perhaps things would have been different. Or perhaps they would have faced a different set of challenges that God would have seen them through. Could it be possible that God doesn’t have just one plan for our lives, but is present with us through all of our circumstances?

God loves us and wants the best for us, so we may be a blessing to others. We see that love in droves when we follow God’s will through discernment, rather than solely relying on our own desires. And yet God is bigger than any one of our decisions, and meets us where we are no matter our choices. During this season of Lent, may we reflect on those times that we’ve chosen our priorities over God’s, and consider God’s presence with us through life’s ups and downs. And through life’s journey may we look to Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the cross offers us both hope and salvation!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as we journey through Lent, help us to prepare our hearts and minds, reflecting on the ways we have strayed from your will. Teach us to take up the cross of Christ with grateful hearts and humble spirits. In Christ’s name we pray.  Amen.

Author: Beth Bell, Elder class of 2022

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Thursday February 18 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Num. 28-30

Key verses: (28:9-10) On the sabbath day: two male lambs a year old without blemish, and two-tenths of an ephah of choice flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, and its drink offering— 10 this is the burnt offering for every sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.

Reflection: Ritual has always been an integral part of religion. While our sabbath offerings may have changed from lambs and choice flour to text donations to the COVID-19 Fund, our desire for order and ritual on the sabbath day remains the same. Before the pandemic every Sunday I would wake up a little bit later (if our children decided that would be allowable), make pancakes for the family, and then we would all get dressed and ready to head to church. There is nothing extraordinary about this ritual, however it provided a sense of order, which (coupled with free childcare) allowed me to feel focused as we came together to worship. This is just one routine that has changed dramatically over the last year. We have had to cope with changing the way we experience worship, Sunday school, youth group, Bible study, prayer group, and more.  It can be difficult to feel connected to the church when the order and rituals we have known are taken away.  Finding order in these chaotic times may be hard but we must continue to seek those rituals that allow us to feel closer to God. Take time this Lenten season to reconsider what routine and rituals help you feel focused and connected to God, try and start one of those this week!

Prayer: Dear God, allow us the insight to find new ways to feel connected as the body of Christ while we remain socially distanced.  Give us strength as we struggle to find order in the chaos of these strange times and show us how to continue to love one another just as your Son loved us. Amen.

Author: Steve Adams, Elder class of 2023

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Wednesday February 17 2021

As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.

Scripture: Numbers 26:63-65

Key verse: (65a) For the LORD had said of them, “They shall die in the wilderness.”

Reflection: Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Today is Ash Wednesday and some version of those words will be said again and again today. We begin the season of Lent, our journey with Christ toward the cross and then on to the empty tomb, by remembering our own mortality.

Some of us have become acutely aware of our mortality. We have heard a frightening diagnosis. We have watched a loved one take a last breath. We have felt the panic of chest pain or of not being able to catch our breath. Others of us know intellectually that we are mortal but we haven’t faced it yet. We go through our days somewhat oblivious to that reality, avoiding any conversation about death and dying, and denying any grief or loss we experience. Still others of us function as emotionally immortal. We can do anything, taking any risks and assuming we are invincible.

We are mortal. We all die. Every day is one day closer to death. And yet we live today. As people of faith, we are reassured that in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God knows the reality of death. And in the resurrection, God has defeated death. We are mortal but death doesn’t have the final word.

In today’s reading from Numbers, we are reminded that the slaves who were delivered from slavery in Egypt died in the wilderness and did not enter the Promised Land. A new generation of people entered the land. This was seen as a consequence for their disobedience on the wilderness journey. One generation, the slaves, moved from slavery to freedom, from the reign of Pharaoh to the reign of God. Yet it would be their descendants who would make the next move, from wilderness to Promised Land, from a nomadic life to the established life of the nation of Israel. This is the reality of our lives. Each generation moves forward, but none arrive at the promised perfection of God’s kingdom. Each generation experiences the power of God at work, but none experience the fullness of God’s heavenly presence. We give thanks today for the generations who have gone before us, with their faithfulness and with their mistakes. May we learn from them. And we acknowledge that we too are mortal, with our faithfulness and with our mistakes. We are dust and to dust we shall return.

Prayer: Almighty God, you despise nothing you have made and you forgive the sins of all who trust in you. Create in us new and contrite hearts, that truly repenting of our sins, and acknowledging our brokenness, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness; through your Son, Jesus Christ our redeemer, we pray. Amen.

(prayer adapted from the PCUSA Book of Common Worship, service for Ash Wednesday)

Author: Millie Snyder

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Tuesday February 16 2021

Scripture: Numbers 22:7-35

Key verse: (23) “The donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road . . .”

Reflection: Today’s passage includes a miraculous folk-tale about a talking donkey, but the most important part of the narrative concerns Balaam who was basically hired as a diviner.  In the ancient world a diviner was someone who had special powers to curse or bless or predict the future, acting as a prophet.  The king of the Moabites, Balak wanted Balaam to put a curse on the Israelites because he was afraid that they would literally take everything from him – land, animals and food.  It’s interesting that even though Balaam was a pagan, he listened to the LORD.  This is an important point throughout chapters 22-24 in Numbers.  Even though Balaam followed God’s initial instructions, the text says that God became angry with him.  It’s a bit confusing.  But, what isn’t confusing is how the LORD uses whoever the LORD chooses to speak – even a donkey.  This is a fanciful tale in some ways.  It’s humorous that Balaam’s donkey spoke to him and that they had a conversation without Balaam asking how the donkey suddenly was able to speak.  But, God can use anyone and anything to fulfil God’s will.  Balaam’s eyes were opened and he saw the angel of the LORD. From that point on, he would speak the words the LORD gave him.

I wonder how many times we are sure of our course of action and when it is interrupted we curse whatever is getting in our way.  Balaam cursed his donkey, beat it and even wanted to kill it.  His animal could see something he could not.   Sometimes we have to be tested and tried in order to take the words of the LORD seriously.  Balaam confessed his sin and submitted himself to God. 

You and I may not encounter God in this way, but I wonder how many opportunities we have missed because we couldn’t see the LORD right in front of us.  How many times have we thought we were doing God’s will only to find out that our pride was getting in the way? By the end of Chapter 23 in Numbers, Balaam has fully embraced God’s leading by saying: “Did I not tell you, ‘Whatever the LORD says, that is what I must do’?” (v. 26)  What might happen if we started each day listening for the LORD and then acted according to what the LORD calls us to do?

Prayer: O, LORD, our God.  We are grateful that you use all manner of things to speak your word.  Help us to listen and look for you in our lives as we seek to follow you.  Remind us today of your great love.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Author: Deborah Conner

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Monday February 15 2021

Scripture: Numbers 19 – 21

Key verses: (21: 8-9) The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

Reflection: When Jason, Leah and I moved to Tucson for him to begin work as the Presbyterian Campus Minister at the University of Arizona, we were quickly introduced to all kinds of desert creatures: javelinas, tarantulas, scorpions and rattlesnakes. To protect babies from scorpions, the legs of a crib were placed into glass jars so scorpions could not crawl into the sheets. Still, Jason scoured Leah’s crib each night to confirm no scorpions had fallen into her bed from the ceiling.

On the nightly news, we prayed along with the community for a toddler who had been bitten by a rattlesnake on a walk with her family in the desert. Forty-seven vials of anti-venom later, she was healed.

For good reason, we were extra cautious about desert creatures. One day getting out of the car with Leah in the baby seat in one hand and groceries in the other, I heard a rattle and jumped far enough to make a track coach proud. When I looked around to find the snake, I realized Leah’s baby rattle had fallen to the ground by our car.

At this point in Numbers, the Hebrew people are jumpy, tired and fearful. Are they complaining? Yes. Do they have some valid reasons to complain? Certainly. God is angry at their rebellion, and yet they are angry at their circumstances which continue to not improve.

The beauty of this cycle of stories in Numbers is that after each rebellious act, even one by Moses himself (trying to force water out of that rock without God’s help), God acts with justice and mercy. This God who is bound by covenantal love, bettered by dynamic relationships, and blessed by God’s people whose resilience is evidenced in their willingness to ‘try again’ seeks creative ways to communicate with the people even when we try and slither our way into rebellion once again.

“Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live,” God instructs Moses. Moses followed the command and raised the odd flag for all to see. Now when I read this text, I hear only one thing: Can we look into the eye of that which we are most afraid and imagine life beyond that fear? To do so requires a reliance on God’s providence and care beyond our tight-fisted grasp on control.

This text is lodged prior to one of the most famous verses in all of scripture John 3:16: 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. As much as that text means to many, few remember the verses prior in John 3:14-15: Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

Feels a bit thorny theologically to suggest “the son of man must be lifted up” but perhaps this is what we must consider: Christ takes to the cross our greatest fears of violence and death. There we face them with resolve that is bolstered, transformed, and lifted up with resurrection power.

In the pandemic, many of us have had to face our greatest fears. Numbers 21:8-9 affirms what we have come to know as well: we can look at those fears and live. We can dwell with those fears and live. We can pray together with the church about those fears and live. We can feel the weight of those fears, and yet oddly be lifted up in a life-giving way. What slithers, loses its power. What hisses, we can dismiss. What poisons, can be stared down.

For those afraid or in need of deepened resolve this day, may this promise be good news.

Prayer: Try using Isaiah 41:10 as a breath prayer:

Inhale: Do not fear, for I am with you;
Exhale: Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
Inhale: I will strengthen you and help you;
Exhale: I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Author: Lisa Nichols Hickman

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Friday February 12 2021

Scripture: Numbers 13:21-33

Key verses: (32-33) So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying “The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them”

Reflection: Moses sent spies into the land of Canaan to assess the land and its inhabitants. I have mixed feelings that the land God promised to them was already inhabited. I’m disturbed by the thought of a god who chooses to take land away from those who live there and give it as a promised gift to another nation. That god doesn’t fit with my understanding of the God I know revealed in Jesus Christ.

In today’s passage we read about the return of the spies and their report about the land and its inhabitants. The land was fertile. Lush crops were growing. A friend of mine has this carving that represents Numbers 13:23.

The majority of the spies believed that the inhabitants of the land were too big and frightening to be conquered easily. In the key verses, they claimed that the inhabitants are the Nephilim (strange giant beings from Genesis chapter six) and in comparison the spies were grasshoppers.

Do you have days when you feel like a grasshopper? Small, vulnerable, easily defeated? I have those days. On those days, I struggle to remember that I am created in the image of God, I belong to God, and God has called me to follow Christ. On grasshopper-days, let’s remind one another of God’s presence with us that strengthens us to do whatever we are called to do. God does not destroy us and God does not abandon us.

Prayer: Sometimes I have bad days, O Lord. Days when I feel like a failure, days when I wonder whether I’m making a difference, days when I question my own worth. Remind me of your presence and your strength. I belong to you. Amen.

Author: Millie Snyder

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Thursday February 11 2021

Scripture: Numbers 10: 29-34

Key verse: (33) So they set out from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey with the ark of the covenant of the Lord going before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them,

Reflection: The Isrealites had settled in here at Sinai. When they arrived a year before, there was some work that needed done. They organized into tribes and laws were given. The Tabernacle was constructed and they had priests to guide them.  They had gotten comfortable.

Moses offered an invitation to set out for a journey. “Come with us.” 

Invitations are extended all the time but this one is a bit different. Come journey with God. Moses knows his brother-in-law Hobab and knows the gifts he will bring to the journey.  Moses sees him and extends the invitation to be part of something beyond himself.  It was time to set out for the promised land.  This was a pilgrimage unlike any other and Hobab would want to be on this journey. I do think that Moses could use a man with his particular gifts, but I think it had to be more than that.  I think Moses knew Hobab needed the journey. They didn’t know where they were going but they trusted in God to guide them.

Come with us! Who can you extend an invitation to this week?  Would you come join us at worship on Sunday? Come join us on our habitat build this spring! Come with us to get food for Loaves and Fishes for our food drive Feb. 28! What invitation can you extend? It is a good journey we are on.

Prayer: God, help me stop today and see the people in my life. Guide me in putting aside my fears and excuses so that I may extend an invitation to join us on the journey of life with you. Amen.

Author: Michelle Thomas-Bush

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].