Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, March 27

by Katie Lynch

It’s almost a joke between me and my roommates that sometimes I ask a question and don’t really listen for the answer. In busy days or hurried dinners, I’ll ask a quick, “How was your day?” or “What’s new?”, but my mind runs a million miles an hour and a couple seconds later I realize I missed everything they said. We laugh about it every time, but it’s even worse when I’m in large groups and the same thing happens … but thankfully in those times when I zone out, my friends are listening and I can poke them and they’ll whisper to me what I missed. They’re really good about this.

In a serious way, a couple days ago I was at home for Spring Break and under a crushing load of anxiety and fear. Anxiety about my family, my future, my friends. Anxiety about my anxiety — fear about what it all meant about me and my health and my faith. It was Spring Break so I wasn’t going to interrupt someone else’s beach trip or fun family time to tend to me, but something surprised me. My friend Claire called me randomly, and after a long conversation she shared something that was on her mind. She talked about thinking lately that Jesus really, truly is the only peace, and peace doesn’t always look like what we think it will.

Immediately when I got off the phone, I said to God, “Thank You for people who listen to You.”

God was whispering peace to me, through my friend, who was listening well. I was deep in a mess and wasn’t listening, but someone else was. It changed things.

We’ve been listening a lot as a church, as people together in a community, and in our personal faiths. I’ve been listening a little more in this season of Lent too, but I’ve also noticed how thankful I am for people in my life listening when I can’t. They share truth, grace, a lot of love with me when I have needed it most. It’s been friends sharing a smile, a hug, a quick word of love. It’s been parents welcoming me when I’m most tired and have nothing to offer, and a lot of y’all sharing wisdom and laughter too.

So together, today, let’s listen. We can listen for ourselves, but our listening may mean the difference for someone else too.

Prayer: Today, I thank you for the people in my life who listen to you, and it’s made all the difference to me. I listen now, and want to listen more, to be ears for those who can’t listen right now. Help me, Jesus. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Monday, Feb. 26

Listening, for Advanced Psychology Students
by Janet Frick

Psalms 5:3:
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.

In my developmental psychology classes, students learn about many clever tests that have been developed to test infants’ and children’s emerging understanding of the world. We learn about how babies search for hidden toys, how toddlers learn to navigate unfamiliar locations, and how adolescents problem solve. One particularly fascinating developmental milestone is the emergence of a concept known as “theory of mind.” In a nutshell, theory of mind is the ability to know that you may know something that someone else doesn’t know; that you and another person have different thoughts, different feelings, different points of view. It’s a tricky concept for children to master, and it usually begins to emerge between the ages of 4-5 (although it continues to develop for years).

I discovered that Colin’s “theory of mind” was emerging in a rather memorable fashion, not long after he had turned 4. We came home from being out somewhere, and he was in a foul mood; as memory serves, he was mad at me about something. He stomped down the hall and went into his room. I left him in there, happy to have a bit of a break! Well, after about 5 minutes, I heard him come out, and next thing I knew, he was sitting under the kitchen table giggling to himself. I peeked under there, and he burst out in laughter. “What’s so funny?”, I asked. He happily replied, “You don’t know that I just went in my room and called you stupid!”

Understanding that others have thoughts and feelings that are different from ours is a huge developmental achievement. However, the mere act of knowing that we and another person have different perspectives is not enough to help us live in harmony and communion. The next, and harder, step is figuring out what that person’s perspective actually is! And in order to do this, we have to listen — really listen — to their point of view, which can be such a challenge when we have our own point of view and our own feelings clouding our reaction to what they are thinking and feeling.

Just this past week (in timing that “ironically” coincided with the beginning of the Lenten season), a friend and I discovered that we each had been holding on to different — and limited — perspectives on a series of events that stretched back over months; each of us knew our own perspective on what had happened, but our interpretations of these events had diverged because we had not taken the time to discuss our feelings and really listen to each other. Getting to the bottom of this disconnect required both vulnerability and honesty, but also quiet, slow, “leave your ego at the door” listening. Not defensive “listening with the intent to justify or explain or share blame,” but listening with the intent to understand, to hear, to love.

The timing of this eye-opening conversation was serendipitous, to illustrate to me how the skill and discipline of listening has so many practical, spiritual applications. When we listen to others, we have to take the time to hear them as they are, not as we think they are or as we might wish they were. The same goes for our communion with God — listening to God requires us to quiet our hearts and minds to really hear what God would have us hear, and feel, and say, and do. We need to remember that our perspective is limited and clouded, and we need to take time to listen so that we can come closer to seeing, and hearing, and feeling with the mind and heart of God.

Prayer: All-loving and all-knowing God, help me to calm my mind, center my thoughts, and quiet my heart so that I may listen — truly listen — to your voice. What am I not hearing that I need to hear? What am I not seeing that I need to see? What am I not feeling that I need to feel? Help me to take on your eyes, and ears, and heart, throughout this season of Lent.

 

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, Feb. 24

by Nevana Martin

Matthew 7:5: You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

James and I moved our family back to Athens a little over three years ago. It was a weird time of the year to be house hunting, and the pickings were slim. However, the very first house that caught my eye on Zillow ended up being the one we now call home. The listing read:

“This home offers privacy and is an animal lover’s dream. Peace and tranquility abound just minutes from Athens bypass. Charming home nestled back among 6+ acres of wooded property. The driveway offers ample parking for farm vehicles, recreational vehicles, guests etc.”

The owners were also the builders. In 1963 they etched out their homestead in the wilds of Jackson County and resided on it for 51 years. By the time we came along, they were in their mid-80s, and the house had become too much for them to care for. Despite her age, the woman was spry and showed us the path she walked every morning down to her barn where she kept her horses. We followed her through a tunnel of green, side stepping fallen logs and losing sight of the house as we were engulfed in the underbrush. It was difficult for me to get a sense of the land because it was so grown up, but I was easily enchanted by both the cleared yard near the house which was dotted with pecan trees and blueberry bushes and by her stories of family picnics down by the creek on Sunday afternoons. I wasn’t sold on the funky house, but we made an offer anyway – a house you can renovate, but there’s only so much you can do to land. James was able to see the property in a way I wasn’t, and I trusted his instinct.

Despite our acreage, when we moved in I began to feel claustrophobic. First, I took down the dated blinds and various other forms of window coverings. That helped some. With the help of my in-laws, we took down a set of cabinets that were lined up along the ceiling in the TV room, dangling over my head as I tried to get lost in the brilliance of Dr. Phil. I ripped up the stifling carpeting in dog room (what any sane person would call the sun room). Piece by piece taken away, I could breathe a little more but now I was better able to see out the windows, and the woods soon became my obsession.

English Ivy has been my long-time nemesis. A lot of people love it and, despite that it’s an invasive exotic, folks seem to take any chance they can get to plant it around their homes. I do things a little differently – any chance I can get to kill it, I take gleefully.

One afternoon I took hold of James’ Mawmama’s hatchet and set out. You see, our land was eaten up with English Ivy – I’m guessing it was originally planted on a steep knoll to help with erosion control, but like English Ivy does, it spread. Everywhere. It creeped along, noxiously, like the rabies virus, slowly upward, bent on killing its host. The ivy climbed trees all the way to their canopies, slowly smothering the ancient, life-giving mystics. And I was not having it. I wacked the ivy for months, working my way around a tree, first slicing the vine at a sight about head level and then hitting it again near the ground. I’d gleefully rip off the strip and look skyward at the ivy left above me, knowing its days were numbered. I’d take a few steps to my right and repeat the procedure until the tree’s trunk was fully cleared of the ivy. Then I’d move on to the next tree. And the next. And the next. Seven acres worth of trees in all. As winter grew into spring that year, our tree trunks were freed of the albatross, and the branches above stretched closer to the sun, no longer being smothered by that which did not belong.

We’ve again come to the time of the year where I’m starting to lose joy at the sight of leafless trees, and I’m itching to see the greenery again. As I drive through town, my breath catches when I notice something green in a tree – are they budding out? Is it finally spring? Each February I spend disappointed. My obsession for signs of life points me instead towards signs of disease – almost all the green I notice during these weeks is English Ivy. Without the distraction of the natural beauty of the leaves, the dank green stands out along the tree trunks. I’m myopically drawn to this insult; I see it everywhere.

It can be overwhelming to walk around the world noticing the pervasiveness of injustice while everyone else continues on, seemingly un-phased by it. “It’s right there in their own yards, and they’re letting it happen,” I think to myself when I see a house with only five trees, all eaten up with ivy. “They’re just a simple 20-minute-wacking away from eliminating the problem. We could be rid of this awful invasive if everyone just pitched in and did their part.”

The way some of us do faith is a lot like the way I drive around town judging folks who have ivy in their yard. It’s so easy to see how other people are doing things wrong, how their thinking is wrong, that they’re being smothered and stifled by something which doesn’t belong – by an evilness which slowly creeps upward, bent on killing their soul. Lent, though, as we’ve heard in church, is about a time for internal reflection. For us at Oconee Street this year, we’re focusing on Listen. Rather than worrying about our neighbor’s yard, it’s instead a time to grab up a family-heirloom-hatchet, walk into the wilderness of our own souls, and whack away anything that doesn’t belong, that is distracting, that is holding us back from being the beautiful mystics God formed out of clay.

Prayer: Dear God, Please help me to see myself the way you see me. Please give me the strength and the skill to eradicate that which is holding me down and that which is getting in the way of me stretching up and out. Please help my branches to get wide so I can take in all the world, so that I can be a resting spot for a chattery squirrel and a solid limb for a fledgling bird learning to fly. Please help me to see my neighbors’ crowns of glory, and help me to not focus on their specks. Please help me to love them as you do. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Friday, Feb. 23

by Katie Calkin

Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”  

I caught a glimpse of the living Christ on Tuesday.  I was working with a man who was planning how to re-enter regular life when released from jail.  He described his own suffering, and the suffering he had created for his family, the last time he returned home after incarceration.  He had done a lot of thinking, praying and gathering wisdom this time and was ready to make amends and slowly rebuild relationships.

He spoke with humble grace and his face radiated joy.  For a few heartbeats I felt transported from the ordinary into a “veil is thin” experience.  Words aren’t adequate, but time seemed to pause for a few shimmery seconds.  I felt witness to Christ pouring out salvation into a broken soul who had surrendered and opened to the possibility of being made whole.

I have been feeling weary at work lately and digging deep to be genuinely present with hurting people.  This encounter reminded me to be faithful to the practice of tending to my own pain, and to honoring the suffering of others.

Prayer:  Living Christ,
Give me the energy and courage to look into each suffering face I meet today.  Thank you for the shimmery moments when your love is tangible.  Strengthen my faith that you are also present and working in each of the moments that feel ordinary.  Lead me to loosen my grip on ways I feel hurt or wronged so that I don’t pass on pain to others.  Bathe me in your transforming love.  Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, March 4

by Joe Dennis
March 4, 2015

John 13:34-35 – A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

One of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received was from a student who often confided in me. One day I asked her why she felt so comfortable to talk to me. “You’re a really good Christian,” she said.

At first glance, I may not appear to be a Christian. I’ve been known to cuss. I enjoy heavy metal music and gangster rap. I watch R-rated movies. I’ll regularly indulge in a beer or a glass of wine … or both. And I certainly don’t proselytize. I would not make a good Baptist.

But she knew I was a Christian, she said, because of the love I demonstrate for others.

We will work with each other. We will work side by side.
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
–Church Hymn, Peter Scholtes, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love”

In every interaction, I try to be Christian through my love, looking at every person as a child of God. I’ve worked really hard at practicing love, especially in times when showing love is difficult: when a client is yelling at me over how I handled a job, when another person hurts (physically or emotionally) a family member, or when the customer service representative has consistently messed up my situation. Sometimes this love can be interpreted as being weak. I disagree. It’s easy to show love when it is being reciprocated. But you have to be strong to show love when societal norms are to demonstrate the opposite. Was Jesus weak when — dying on the cross — he showed love by forgiving his tormentors?

God has empowered us with the ability to forgive, allowing us the capability to love. Loving others is entirely in our power, yet it can be one of the most difficult things we attempt. Do we show love for the leaders of “the other” political party? Do we show love for our personal oppressors? Do we show love for criminals? Do we show love for members of ISIS?

Prayer: God, thank you for loving us unconditionally. Please help us love others as you love us. Help us forgive those who have hurt us. And let others be so inspired by our love, that they reciprocate it in their own lives. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, March 3

by Lisa Caine
March 3, 2015

2 Corinthians 12:9 — “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”   

I can’t imagine what it would be like to go to bed on Sunday night knowing that in all probability it would be my very last night on earth, knowing that the next evening, I would be strapped to a gurney while people I didn’t know prepared to put me to death.

That’s what Kelly Gissendaner had to do Sunday. I had forgotten about her, the scandal of her conviction in 1998 for the murder of her husband the year before long gone from my mind. I stood at that time with the ones holding the stones, ready to throw them at her because of her sin. Righteous indignation is always so easy to gin up.

I didn’t think about her again until Saturday when her story once again became newsworthy and clergy friends of mine began posting on Facebook about her impending execution.  TV focused on 18 years ago, the heartless murder of her husband for the insurance money. My friends focused on the new Kelly, the person they had met and mentored for the last 18 years through Candler School of Theology’s prison ministry program, and who was now mentoring others, encouraging them reminding them that their suffering can be redeemed.

My friends spoke of a woman who had confessed her sinfulness and who took responsibility for her actions.  She had changed from the woman, who in her own words, “had become so self-centered and bitter about my life and who I had become, that I lost all judgment,” and still could not understand how ”I had let myself fall into such evil.” In prison she had learned,” no one, not even me, is beyond redemption through God’s grace and mercy.”

In 2011, in a speech to her prison classmates all of whom had studied for a year to receive the Certificate in Theological Studies from Candler, Kelly said, “receive the word and revelation and act on it; your life will never be the same . . . there is only one who can bring a clean thing out of something unclean . . . . When this miracle occurs, and only through Divine grace, our life is not wasted.”

We preach a lot about redemption, about salvation, about being born again, about new life in Christ. We say we believe it. We say we trust in it for our own salvation. We read in the Bible about sinful people who turned their lives around, still were far from perfect, but were used by God for powerful purposes.  King David as an adulterer and a murderer, had much in common with Kelly, but he too repented of his sin, and wrote “Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me.”   And of course, there is Saul, who had such a turnaround, that he received a new name to signify his new being – Paul.

We sing with great gusto the old hymn, “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.”  Do we really think those words are meant only for us “good” folk whose sins are mostly hidden and much less messy than Kelly’s, but nonetheless sin – pride, anger, envy, lust, sloth, gluttony, indifference, to name a few. Do we think we can judge who is eligible for salvation or do we believe Jesus’ words in Matthew, “Judge not that you be not judged, for the measure you give will be the measure you get.”  Are we so sure of our own righteousness that we can risk our own judgment for the pleasure of judging another? In advocating for her death are we not also committing murder in our hearts?  Let the person without sin cast the first stone.

The only way I can understand this obvious contradictory thinking is to believe we have split minds, our “civil” mind and our “religious” mind.   So we can simultaneously believe the courts have the right to judge “crime” and God has the right to judge “sin”; thus, God’s grace and mercy may abound freely over sinfulness of all kinds, but our human civil “justice” can’t show mercy, can’t show grace, can’t show forgiveness because that would somehow be  condoning and encouraging heinous behavior. This dualistic thinking is the way of our fallen world, not the way of God.

For now there is a stay of execution as the State examines the quality or potency of the drug that they were to have used last night.  It was “cloudy” for some reason.  Kelly has one more day at least, and of course, that is all any of us has – one more day. And so in that brief time that is guaranteed us, perhaps we can, to use Kelly’s words “put off hatred and envy and put on love and compassion. Every day.”

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, we lift up to you our sister Kelly. In life and in death you are God and Kelly and all of us are surrounded by your love and upheld by your grace whether we live or whether we die.  In this time of Lent, may we focus on our own sinfulness, our own alienation from you and from one another. Prevent us from turning our attention outward and focusing on someone else’s weakness; it’s always easier to look out than to look in.  In our own weakness may we turn to you for strength; in our own sinfulness may we turn to you for forgiveness, mercy, and grace.  And as we pray for these things for ourselves, may we not ask for what we would not want for someone else, for we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, April 5

by Carter Vest
April 5, 2014

Micah 6: 6-8, NRSV
With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

I must admit that I’ve not readily embraced the Lenten call this year. Done in by the extra practice demands to prepare the cantata during the busy Advent season, I’m still taking time off from choir. With packs of college students descending on our home over Spring Break, I’ve had a hard time making it to Sunday School. Many times I don’t really want to drive past our lifeless church property to attend church functions for “Oconee Street at Tuckston.” And this focus on holy habits brings to mind my abysmal record with New Year’s resolutions: the only one I ever kept was the resolution to stop making them!

I know that scripture and prayer, fasting and generosity strengthen our connection to God’s grace; that singing and study, worship and fellowship together enrich our common connection to the living waters. Yet it seems my desire to walk humbly with our God too often resembles the heels-dug-in-not-going-anywhere resistance of a willful two year old. I’m not sure quite how I’ve managed to avoid the spiritual equivalent of nursemaid’s elbow.

So how does one actually do justice in this world amid the complex of conspirators working against it? I suspect that most of us are far from the mark. It’s not by putting together a fabulous fundraiser or building a beautiful church or attending a thousand well intentioned meetings. The answer must start with the capacity to critically observe God’s creation and intently listen to people’s voices to be able to name injustice first, and then muster a willingness to act, in many cases without regard for self interest. Like Jesus I guess.

Thankfully, God does not always demand grand sweeping gestures, or that we appear every single time the church door opens. If we’re vigilant we might find opportunities to further the kingdom in big ways, but most of us will do well to advance the cause of kindness in measured steps as our vision permits.

I do know that presence with sacred gatherings of congregants, Oconee Street’s or otherwise, can afford glimpses of everlasting peace. So can quiet sitting with my buddy before dawn to read aloud the rich devotionals shared by so many of you. God moments do occasionally break out in committee meetings, even after interminable wheel spinning! As a health care provider, I sometimes find that listening beyond the physical discomforts that bring people into my office allows a deep connection that can start to change a heart.

Prayer: Thank you God, for inviting us to walk with you. Help us to uncover the pathways that extend your love. Thank you for grace when we inevitably fall short, and for fellow sojourners with whom to travel. Amen

Lenten Devotional: Monday, March 17

Every day during Lent, members of Oconee Street UMC will write a Lenten devotional and share with the congregation.

by George Miller
March 17. 2014

Hosea 6:3:
Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him.
                       As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; 
                  He will come to us like the winter rains,
                       like the spring rains that water the earth.
                                                                             
HOLY THOUGHTS, HOLY AND CLEAN BODY, HOLY VOICE
I sing because I’m Happy, I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow, I know he cares for me.

FAITH without works is dead (James 2:17) and WILLINGNESS without action is fantasy.

Having grown up in a very rigid religious family, characterized by fear based shame and guilt, I developed a mistaken belief system that it was SELFISH to take care of myself.  Now I know that God wants me to do just that; by taking care of my body, I will have a place to live and the Holy Spirit will have a temple.

Several years ago I had a physical emotional, mental and spiritual life crisis and suddenly reached a life changing “turning point” which was characterized by repentance, and death to the old and welcome to the new.  At that time my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual counselors recommended that I develop daily spiritual practices (Holy Habits)in order to become WHOLE, and then I would have the opportunity with God’s guidance to become HOLY.

HOLY THOUGHTS
Spending time in meditation and prayer lets us become better acquainted with God in the same way that we become acquainted with someone we would like to know, that is, by spending our time with them.  Meditation can be difficult in the beginning.  We are used to being very active and may feel uncomfortable with sitting still and calming our busy thoughts.  We may feel we are wasting time, instead of doing something more productive.  Actually, for us as Christians, nothing could be more productive.

Meditation is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God as we go aside into calm communion with Him.  In other words meditation quiets the mind to nourish our spirit.  Another aspect of meditation is SILENCE, since too often we speak simply to fill space with sound, because we feel so uncomfortable with lack of sound. So silence can be golden for us to hear God speak to us, with a touch of heaven.

HOLY AND CLEAN BODY 
Matthew 4:1-2 

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And when He had fasted for forty days and forty nights, He was hungry.

Fasting can be an experience of not just giving up food, but rather an opportunity for increased spiritual attunement and connection.  After about three days of fasting from food, the body has an abundance of increased spiritual energy, because it no longer needs the great amount of energy necessary to digest food.  And when fasting is combined with SILENCE, meditation and prayer, there is an increased awareness of the voice, unconditional love, and support of God. The abundance of increased calm  spiritual energy results not only in closer communion with God, but can also be used for higher levels of passion with creativity, healing and in our levels of relationship with one another.

Fasting generally applies to eating, but we can fast from any habitual activity, and in doing so may feel a sense of lack of fulfillment which can be a wonderful reminder of our sacred, most holy incompleteness.

Native American spirituality has a similar “going aside” with fasting, meditation and silence which is described as a Vision Quest.  Personally I have found that a highly structured and safe spiritual space, experienced on a regular basis (such as the change of seasons) is quite helpful and holy. In my experience, a two day personal retreat at the guest house of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers is a deeply moving spiritual connection.

The first day of Spring will be Thursday, March 20th.  Since God will be cleansing the Earth with Spring showers, it’s also a Holy time to consider fasting and internal body housecleaning as well.

HOLY VOICE

SINGING can also be another Holy Habit of a closer connection with God.  Many years ago I was having a Swedish massage and as the therapist was relaxing my upper chest and lower neck, she said, “have you ever sung”?  To which I replied, “only in the car or shower” and she then suggested that I see a voice coach.  After weekly voice lesions singing only scales for nine months, I auditioned as a bass with “Old Man River” and joined a Men’s Choral group for twelve years, claiming a voice I had never acknowledge and shared.  The act of singing requires

Even though I have been on a spiritual path for twenty five years, I have been away from organized religion.  So it is with a grateful heart and abundant love that I am returning as a slightly more mature Prodigal Son.  The fellowship and unconditional love of this congregation, especially at this time of Lent,  and sermons such as “Turning Point”, “Pass the Salt”, “From the Inside Out” and “Moving on to Perfection” were crucial to my reconnection, for which I am deeply grateful.

Prayer for Today:   Then sings my soul,  my Savior God to Thee:
                                 How great Thou art!  How great Thou art!
                                 Then sings my soul,  my Savior God to Thee:
                                 How great Thou art!   How great Thou art!

George Miller