Jesus is Alive – Life Wins!
Written by Jim Hardenbrook
"For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living." Psalm 116:8-9
This week, the one we call Holy, is filled with death, tears, and stumbling. Just read any gospel account of Jesus’s last week on earth and you will see what I mean.
Jesus becomes indignant about the misuse of the temple.
He cries when considering the future of Jerusalem.
He agonizes over his betrayal and crucifixion.
He stumbles while carrying his cross to Golgotha.
But this is only part of the story. It is only the story until Sunday morning. Sunday morning is when Jesus walked again – in the land of the living! The land of the living isn’t necessarily a place of peace but it is a place where life wins over death.
As Eugene Peterson wrote:
That’s where we Christians are stationed to affirm the primacy of life over death, to give a witness to the connectedness and preciousness of all life, to engage in the practice of resurrection.
We do this by gathering in congregations and regular worship before our life-giving God and our death-defeating Christ and our life-abounding Holy Spirit. We do it by reading, pondering, teaching, and preaching the Word of Life as it is revealed in our Scriptures. We do it by baptizing men, women, and children in the name of the Trinity, nurturing them into a resurrection life. We do it by eating the life of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. We do it by visiting prisoners, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, healing the sick, working for justice, loving our enemies, raising our children, doing our everyday work to the glory of God.
This Sunday, Resurrection Sunday, will be such a time: a time to challenge the forces of death and destruction with the incredibly powerful news that Jesus is alive. Life wins!
You, Lord Jesus, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling. May I may walk before you in the land of the living to your eternal praise and glory. Amen.
Lent Devotion - Be courageous!
by Jean Hershey
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9
I’ve always loved the word courageous. It means, “not deterred by danger or pain; brave.” When you hear someone say, Be Courageous! It sounds simple, yes. But its not so easy really, is it.
By definition, courageous people believe in themselves. They know who they are and what they stand for. They have strong values, recognize their personal capabilities, and are confident in meeting the challenges that lie before them. Courageous people are passionate and purposeful.
The Bible teaches that we are to take courage from the fact that He never leaves us or forsakes us. ... Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” With God, you can face your fear. You are not alone.
I will say here that being courageous doesn’t mean that you won’t be afraid. That is not always realistic. Instead, being courageous means to press through the fear when you feel afraid. In fact, sometimes your knees will shake or your anxiety will rise. Your mind may even start racing away with all kinds of “what if” thoughts.
About the time this happens, that’s when you have to kick into overdrive and let the Word of God take over. That’s when you have to plunge through your fear and trust in Him. You have to trust God beyond your fears.
God laid out a plan if you read a little bit before verse 9 in Joshua, "Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it."
I know it is not an easy thing to be brave and courageous as we face all kinds of fears in life. I have been there too many times and know that this can be tough. Personally, when things have looked dark, scary, or intimidating in my life, I’ve had to trust God beyond my fears. And it hasn’t been easy. However, that’s when the Lord would remind me, “Be strong and courageous, I am with you.” And I would have to repeat those words over and over again, and then walk in His strength and courage.
We, as Christians, know the plan, we have the tools! We are armed with the Word and God’s promise that he is with us, always. He even sent Jesus to seal the deal. We know the ending too, we win! So Be Courageous! Always!
Lord, help me to always remember that you walk with me every step of the way. I never have to face any fear alone, you are always there. Your Word strengthens me. With that faith help me to be courageous and live without fear. Amen,
Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord – I Want to See You
by Jessica Adams and Lucy Adams-Hardenbrook
"Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1:8-9
Our daughter-in-law, Jess, shared this conversation she had with our five-year-old granddaughter, Lucy. Feeling like I have a little saint in the making on my hands tonight.
Lucy at bedtime, weeping: I know Jesus is in my heart.
Jess: Yes, he is! Does that make you sad? What’s the matter?
Lucy: It’s just that I’ve never seen him.
Jess: Well, most people don’t, but you could pray for that.
Lucy: You mean I could make up a “pray” and ask Jesus to let me be a person who sees him?
Jess: Yes! You can definitely make up that prayer.
Lucy, still weeping: Oh, Jesus, I pray that you could please, PLEASE make me a person who sees you because I love you so much and I never want to lose you.
Jess: That was wonderful.
Did anyone out there pray like that when you were five years old?
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord; open the eyes of my heart – I want to see you; I want to see you. Amen.
Quick to Listen
by Deanna Carr
"Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry." James 1:19 NLT
I went to the bank, but the man I wanted to speak to was busy. I went to Walgreens to pick a up prescription at the drive-thru window. There was a sign there that said "no pharmacist available". That was different from their normal sign they put up when the staff is having a lunch break from 1:30-2:00. Many times I have gone there when they were closed for lunch. But remember this sign was different, NO PHARMACIST AVALABLE. It even said where the closest Walgreens is from Ontario.
I decided to physically go into the store and the shades were down. Then, I went to the front counter and asked the clerk. He said they w²ere probably just at lunch.
I decided to run another errand to the Phones Plus store. The gal messed around with my iPad and she was making progress. She then said that I needed to come back in thirty minutes. So, I went to a coffee place and purchased an expensive coffee. After thirty minutes had elapsed, I went back. Within five minutes it was ready to go and I headed back to Walgreens.
I checked to see if cars were in line and there was one, so I got in line behind it. The driver seemed to be waiting a long time and I could hear her angry words. So, I got out of my car and went to talk to her to see if they were really in there. She said they were but they were just messing around and they didn't know what they were doing.
After waiting a little more, I decided, I would come back later. I tried to get the lady behind me to back up. There was no response. I got back in the car and waited a little bit more. I discovered she had been sleeping. I signaled for her to back up. She did, but I hardly had enough room to back out.
I went home and called the pharmacy. The robot lady can't answer your questions unless she is programmed for the right ones. I finally was referred to someone who could help me. I told the pharmacy tech, Orion, what had happened. I know him. He said he was really sorry, but they had a problem with their Covid shots and were about to lose them. My heart went out to him and the other workers. I said I would come back later.
I went home to discover that the young man who is redoing my bathroom had made minimal progress. He has been working on it since November. He is starting a full time job on Monday.
I learned a little about anger, today.
When is it good to be angry? Jesus got angry. James writes about righteous and unrighteous anger. The late James Lewis talked about good trouble. The January 6th attack on the capital was not good anger or good trouble.
Righteous anger cares about others. Righteous anger doesn't hurt. It doesn't retaliate. Sinful anger opposes love, kindness, and respect. Righteous anger doesn't demean or denigrate. Righteous anger is improving and building relationships.
Our Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your grace that we don't deserve. Thank you for giving us second chances. Thank you for your magnificent love. Help us to be like Jesus in all we do and all we say. Amen.
Don’t Give Up Hope
by Anne DeBord
"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures forever." Psalm118:1
When my oldest son was about ten years old, he took on the summer job of caring for the neighbors’ yard while they were on vacation. With extra effort and for a little surprise for them, he was arranging medium sized rocks around the outside edge of the pond. All was going well when he accidently dropped a rock on his right index finger and thumb causing blood to flow, pain to start and a short run home to Mom for a look. It looked bad enough for a trip to the doctor, and it was close enough to quitting time for Dad to come home and help out with the crisis trip. Dad could drive and Mom could soothe a scared child.
Causing more problems was the fact that my son was planning a trip with his grandparents to Spokane for the World’s Fair in just a few days. The doctor analyzed the situation, found the thumbnail broken as well as the finger and thumb and it required splinting. We were sure the trip would have to be cancelled, but to our surprise, the doctor said, “You can heal traveling as well as sitting around being depressed.”
“Thank God,” I said.
Our son’s accident didn’t ruin a blessed chance to go have fun with his grandparents.
Praying in the crisis, along with us parents adding our layer of soothing, led to a very positive result.
In simple daily life, we pray for a clear view in moving forward in hope for a good future. Amen.
Playing by God’s Rules
by Chase Van Weerdhuizen
Pharaoh’s officials said to him, “how long shall this fellow be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the LORD their God; do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” Exodus 10:7
It’s hard to lose at the game.
Pharaoh was part of a tradition of winners. The kings and queens of Egypt never lost at anything. They were a global superpower at the time and had stayed that way for thousands of years by being the best at what they did. They had a highly skilled army. They were the best representational artists on the planet. And don’t get me started on how good they were at stacking rocks on top of each other! They had to be good at everything. They were surviving on a temperamental river system at the east of the Sahara. There was no room for losers.
Of course in order to be a winner, someone has to be a loser. In the case of Egypt, it was the slaves needed to maintain their infrastructure. At this point in the story, God had started letting Egypt know that he wasn’t happy about the whole slavery thing. But Pharaoh continued to hold out, causing his own team to suffer.
Pharaoh’s officials were reminding him of his duty to his entire kingdom. Why wasn’t he worried about how their livestock had keeled over? Or how the Deben was going down in value? Or that everyone was still trying to sweep frogs out of their houses? Oh let’s not forget how the sky had been streaked with fire and ice just the day before. Or that beyond their borders they had to deal with enemy states like the Mitanni and the Libyans who were ready to pounce at any moment. Because it wasn’t just God who wasn’t happy with them, it was all their neighbors too. Maybe if they’d been just a bit nicer before…
Pharaoh was willing to give up everything to win in a contest of spite against his adopted brother and his brother’s God. Often we are tempted to do the same, whether it is for our pride, hate, or even grief. God calls on us to be better sportspersons. Not only do we follow Christ’s example so that we might truly enjoy the game being played, but I’m pretty sure he’s willing to pay for an ice cream cone at the drive-in on the way home.
Dear God, help me to play by your rules when it’s so easy to follow my own. As we approach the darkest days of Lent, let Christ be our example of how to win the game against death. Amen.
lent devotion - Sally
by Pam Hardenbrook
"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2
Sally was making a trip from Idaho to Georgia to see her son receive an honor for his Marine Corps service. It was in the mid-1960s and she had never traveled in the southeast—and she had never met a black person.
It was the second or third day of the trip when a young, very pregnant black woman and two small boys boarded, and it was all the young mother could do to manage the children and their belongings. Having been in similar circumstances when her own brood was young, Sally jumped in to help and got them settled near herself.
Sally chatted with the woman, helped entertain the children, and shared her snacks. Near lunchtime, the train stopped for awhile for some passengers to transfer to another train. Sally helped her new friends disembark and fetched their food from the depot lunch counter. The young family was taking another train from there, so Sally hugged them, and said good-bye. She never saw them again.
When Sally re-boarded, the atmosphere was changed. Other passengers, all of them white, were aloof, if not rude to her. But the train employees, who were black, treated her with extra kindness. Later, Sally went to the dining car. Careful not to overspend, she ordered a sandwich and coffee. When her meal arrived, it included much more than she ordered, plus a piece of pie. “Compliments,” said the dark-skinned waiter.
When Sally arrived at her destination, a porter gathered her bags and escorted her off the train to her waiting son. He simply said, “All of us thanks you for your kindness to that family. God bless you, Ma’am.”
Jesus’s parents took at least two long trips—once while expecting and once with the young Child. I wonder if there was someone like Sally to help them. I wonder if that person had any idea who the family was.
Heavenly Father, at this Lenten Season, open my eyes to those whom I can touch with kindness, grace, and love. Amen.
lent devotion - jesus seeds
by Letha Essinger
"Then [Jesus] told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:3-9
Growing up in Kansas on a dry-land farm I looked forward each year to the coming of spring, with all the newness of life that it brought. Baby chicks arrived in the back seat of the rural mail carrier's car, and baby piglets and new calves were born. Weeds and perennial flowers sprung up and bushes promised delicious berries in summer. My father prepared the soil in our gardens and our fields for planting. I loved planting the seeds, imagining the good food that would be harvested in summer and the beautiful flowers to enjoy.
I remember one summer I took a few dried peas and beans from Mom's pantry and made a secret little garden in the draw behind our house. I was delighted to see them actually grow.
I'm told that “you can take the girl out of Kansas, but you can't take Kansas out of the girl.” I still delight in playing in the dirt. The winter chores had better be finished before mid-March, or they will have to wait until fall. You will find me all spring, summer, and into fall in my garden.
Our youngest daughter inherited the “dirt-under-the-fingernails” gene. She plans her spring breaks from the university (where she works) to come play in the dirt with her mom.
I'm wondering – who planted the Jesus seeds in your life? Who was it that loved Jesus and wanted you to love him too?
We had Sunday school in our little one-room schoolhouse. One of my seed planter/saints was Sadie Intermill. She was the organizer that made sure Sunday school happened. The main thing I remember is singing with Mrs. Intermill playing every key on the piano, with exuberance, for us to sing “Jesus Loves Me,” “Brighten The Corner Where You Are,” or “Heavenly Sunshine.” We memorized Bible verses and little poems to recite. When I grew up, I wanted to be just like Sadie Intermill.
As a layperson, and later as a pastor, I pray that I planted some Jesus seeds in many lives. No matter that I could never play the piano. I still love to sing! Hymn of Promise, composed by Natalie Sleeth, captures the idea of how “Jesus seeds” grow and produce fruit.
In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there's a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
Our loving heavenly Father, thank you for those who planted “Jesus seeds” in my life. Grant me grace to share seeds of love, hope, and faith in the lives of others. Amen.
lent devotion - prayer vigil
by Larry Haley
"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Matthew 18:20 KJV
Several years ago our pastor announced his intention to retire. We were a small church congregation and our pastor served us part-time which was just what we needed. We were concerned about who could provide this limited but important role for us. Part-time pastors are hard to find. Would a new pastor be serving multiple churches? Would our worship time need to change? Our retiring pastor suggested we start a prayer vigil focused on a new pastor and what we needed. We decided that for the months of February and March, the time before new pastors are assigned, that we would have Prayer Tuesdays. The plan was to have one hour prayer times in the church sanctuary that individuals could reserve and come and pray. The times were from 6am to 9pm. Immediately folks signed up and we filled most of the slots. And so on the first Tuesday in February the prayer vigil began and continued for the two months.
Sometime in April we were contacted that our new pastor had been selected and he was brought to our church by our DS and introduced. He was a retired pastor/DS who lived 15 minutes away. He wanted part-time at one church. And then he said “I decided I wanted to return to preaching and on the first Tuesday in February I called the DS to see if there was a possibility.” The day we started our prayer vigil! We prayed for two months not knowing that God had already answered our prayers.
In reflection, I’ve thought of the verse of being gathered in God’s name and I now believe it not only refers to physical gathering but also to spiritual gathering.
Prayer: Lord, you know what we need before we do. Help us to listen to you and to accept what you provide. Amen
We Have Been Set Free
by Jean Hershey
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
I found this story several years ago, and it brings tears to my eyes every time I read it. Let me share it with you today.
As a man was passing the elephants at a circus, he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact that these huge creatures were being held by only a small rope tied to their front leg. No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephants could, at any time, break away from their bonds but for some reason, they did not.
He saw a trainer nearby and asked why these animals just stood there and made no attempt to get away. “Well,” trainer said, “when they are very young and much smaller, we used the same size rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.”
Like the elephants, how many of us go through life hanging onto a belief that we cannot do something, simply because we failed at it once before? It seems a common human response to failure. We are bound by the belief that we just can’t, and we don’t try.
Failure is part of learning though; we should never give up the struggle in life. Especially when we have the strongest advocate ever, Jesus Christ, who lifts us up and strengthens us! Our bindings have been broken by the blood and sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross! We have been set free!
Jesus, help me remember that I can do all things through you. You strengthen me and are with me with every step I take. Through you I am released from the bonds that hold me, the fears of failure, and I can make it through any conflict or trial if I but lean on your strength and keep my eyes on You! Amen.