Westwood Baptist Church - Springfield, VA logo

COVID-19 Updates

Daily Devotionals

Monday, June 1, 2020

Today’s Scripture: Mark 4:35-41

35 Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, "Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake." 36 They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along.

37 Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38 But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, "Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?"

39 He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, "Silence! Be still!" The wind settled down and there was a great calm. 40 Jesus asked them, "Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?"

41 Overcome with awe, they said to each other, "Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!"

Today’s Devotional

Does it sometimes feel like Jesus is asleep in the boat? When we are in the middle of storms, does is not feel like sometimes Jesus is just not around, unaware of our problems? If you are like me you have found yourself echoing what the disciples said in this passage "Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?"

It feels like we are in quite a storm right now –or should I say, storms –plural. Add to that any storms that we may be facing personally and it can feel like we are in gale-force winds and the boat is getting swamped.

The mistake the disciples made and the mistake we make is believing that Jesus does not care. But that really should not be our concern. Instead, Jesus reminds the disciples –and us –that we SHOULD be worried about is giving into fear and not having faith.

That’s hard for me! My FIRST reaction is usually giving into fear and declaring that I don’t have faith.

Maybe this story about Jesus can remind us of a few things. First, storms are going to come. And sometimes there will be gale-force winds, and sometimes the boat will get swamped. Don’t be surprised by the storms –they happen.

Second, don’t let fear and lack of faith be the driver. Take a deep breath (maybe hundreds of times a day!) and remind yourself that it’s just a storm and all storms eventually run out of rain.

Finally, don’t forget Jesus is still in the boat. He may be hard to see, we might even forget he’s there. But he has said he will never leave us or forsake us –even in the middle of a storm.

Today’s Prayer

God we are in some storms right now –and we have sometimes acted out of fear and lack of faith. Forgive us. And remind us that you walk with us. Remind us that Jesus is still in the boat –even though the water seems to be everywhere. Help us to live faithfully in the storm and to find ways to help others through it.

Amen

Friday, May 29, 2020

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 9:14-17

14 At that time John’s disciples came and asked Jesus, "Why do we and the Pharisees frequently fast, but your disciples never fast?"

15 Jesus responded, "The wedding guests can’t mourn while the groom is still with them, can they? But the days will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they’ll fast.

16 "No one sews a piece of new, unshrunk cloth on old clothes because the patch tears away the cloth and makes a worse tear. 17 No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If they did, the wineskins would burst, the wine would spill, and the wineskins would be ruined. Instead, people pour new wine into new wineskins so that both are kept safe."

Today’s Devotional

This passage from Matthew is the daily lectionary Gospel passage for today. I find it extremely relevant to where we are right now.

Jesus was getting all kinds of questions about why he did things the way he did and why his disciples acted in certain ways. "Why do you eat with sinners? Why don’t your disciples fast? Why do you hang out with tax collectors?" If you pay attention all the questions he was getting have a common theme. They can be summarized with one question: "Why are you doing things differently?"

I think it’s a fair question –especially when you are in a culture that reveres tradition and history like Jesus was. There is some legitimacy to asking the "why are you doing it THAT way" question.

But Jesus points out the problem with these kinds of questions: they have a basic assumption that the new way of doing things is bad. When in fact, Jesus knows that the old ways of doing things cannot possibly work as containers for the new thing God was about to do.

Sometimes we get so attached to the way things were that we would rather hang onto to old containers than celebrate the new thing that is being poured into them!

Jesus reminds us that the old containers CAN NOT hold the new things God is doing. If we try and keep them around they will burst –just like old wineskins.

If I have been convinced of anything these past three months it’s that God is going to do a new thing (and is, in fact, already laying the groundwork for it). But we will absolutely miss it if we insist on old containers.

I don’t know what the new containers are going to look like. But I do know that we need to start thinking about how to have the courage to lay the old ones down and pick up the new. And when we do, there is no telling what God will pour in.

Today’s Prayer

God we confess to you that we are in love with our old containers. They have served us well. But we also want to be a part of the new thing that you are doing. Help us to be awake to your Spirit and recognize that new wineskins are needed for new wine. Give us the courage to welcome both the new thing you are doing and the new container that will inevitably come with it.

Amen

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Today’s Scripture: Lamentations 2:18-19

18 Cry out to my Lord from the heart,you wall of Daughter Zion;

make yourtears run down like a flood all day and night.

Don’t relax at all; don’t rest your eyes a moment.

19 Get up and cry out at nighttime, at the start of the night shift; pour out your heart before my Lord like water.

Lift your hands up to him for the life of your children—

the ones who are fainting from hunger on every street corner.

Today’s Devotional

Right before I sat down to write this devotional I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across a post one of my friends put up about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I had read a little about the incident and knew there was a video, but I had not watched it until just then. I wish I would not have watched. And yet, I wished I had watched it earlier.

What is shown on that video is evil. There is no other way to put it. I don’t care what George did or was accused of doing –he did not deserve to die –especially at the hand (knee) of someone sworn to protect him.

This is not about politics. It’s beyond politics. The scripture teaches us, and Jesus shows us, that we are ALL created in the image of God –not just the powerful, not just the rich, not just white people, not just people who look like us or talk like us or live like us. All means all. When we as individuals, or as a society, treat others as "less than" just because we can –we are violating the divine law of creation –not just the laws of the state. When we as society –and especially we as Christians –stand by say nothing –we are saying that we disagree with God –that we know better than God –that there are some people who are not created in God’s image, and we get to decide who those people are.

What is our response? I admit I am overwhelmed. And I admit that I want to ignore it and maybe it will go away. But it’s not going away. And I’m done ignoring it.

So where do we start? I think we start with this passage from Lamentations. We need to cry out to God. We need to listen to the experience of our African American brothers and sisters and we need to lament the state of things and confess our role in letting the state of things continue. We need pour out our hearts and lift up our hands.

And then we need to start looking for ways to be the voice of those who are created in God’s image but are not treated like it. We need to find a way to bring the reality of the divine creation into the reality of our messed-up world. We need to scream and shout for justice and then live our lives in pursuit of that justice.

So today, lament. But tomorrow, start looking for ways to act.

Today’s Prayer

God we grieve over the death of George Floyd, who was created in your image. We confess to you all the times we have treated others as "less than" and have ignored the divine image in them. Forgive us for our action and our lack of action. And help us to do better, to be better, and to speak truth and love in all situations.

Amen

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Today’s Scripture: Psalm 118:1-9

1 Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,

because his faithful love lasts forever.

2 Let Israel say it:

"God’s faithful love lasts forever!"

3 Let the house of Aaron say it:

"God’s faithful love lasts forever!"

4 Let those who honor the Lord say it:

"God’s faithful love lasts forever!"

5 In tight circumstances, I cried out to the Lord.

The Lord answered me with wide-open spaces.

6 The Lord is for me — I won’t be afraid.

What can anyone do to me?

7 The Lord is for me — as my helper.

I look in victory on those who hate me.

8 It’s far better to take refuge in the Lord

than to trust any human.

9 It’s far better to take refuge in the Lord

than to trust any human leader. (Common English Bible)

Today’s Devotional

This selection from the 118th Psalm is full of good things to remember. For example "God’s faithful love lasts forever" is repeated four times in the first four verses! Do you think the psalmist wanted us to get it?

But the verse that really got me from this Psalm was verse 5: "In tight circumstances, I cried out to the Lord. The Lord answered me with wide-open spaces."

What are your tight circumstances today? Maybe it’s being a home-school teacher. Maybe it’s attending twelve too many zoom calls in a day. Maybe it’s feeling lonely or isolated. Maybe it’s dealing with a health issue or grief or depression. Some of us are literally in a tight circumstance –we can’t leave our homes!

Notice that the psalmist wrote "in tight circumstanceS" –plural. In other words, tight circumstances are a part of life. We don’t just have one and are done.

When these circumstances come, and they will come, the psalmist reminds us to cry out to God. God can take what we throw. God wants to hear about the tight circumstances we are in.

But check out the response: wide-open spaces. In other words, God releases us from the tightness with a wideness! Why? Because God’s faithful love last forever.

How might God be answering your cry with wide-open spaces today? Keep a look out.

Today’s Prayer

God we are people who sometimes feel quite constricted by circumstances. Help us to remember that we don’t stay in tight places –but that you move us to wide-open places. Show us those wide-open places in our lives today as we place our trust in your faithful love.

Amen

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Today’s Scripture: Mark 1:29-38

29 After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. 31 He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.

32 That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered near the door. 34 He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.

35 Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. 36 Simon and those with him tracked him down. 37 When they found him, they told him, "Everyone’s looking for you!"

38 He replied, "Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come." 39 He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons. (Common English Bible)

Today’s Devotional

It’s easy in this passage of scripture to get caught up in all of the "ministry" Jesus was doing: healing Simon’s mother-in-law, healing others who were sick and demon possessed (the whole town at the door!), deciding to go to other villages to preach and heal. There is a lot going on.

But look back at verse 35.

In the middle of all that activity, Jesus went away to a deserted place to be alone in prayer.

Sometimes in our lives we get to thinking that our activity is the most important part of us –that the things we do take priority to anything else. We have a list to complete, projects to finish, things to accomplish. And yes, some of these things might even be pretty important.

You could argue Jesus’ activity was VERY important. I mean, what could be more important than healing people and casting out demons?

And yet, Jesus took time to be alone in prayer.

The practice of solitude and silence in the life of a disciple is HUGE. But it is usually the first thing we let go. Christians throughout the centuries have reminded us that this kind of silent, contemplative prayer will free us from a false sense of self, remind us of our union with God, and give us the ability to live whole and faithful lives.

Spend some time with God in silence today.

Today’s Prayer

God forgive us for getting so caught up in our activity that we forget to stop and seek you. Remind us that in order to live as the disciples you are calling us to be, we must take time to connect with you in stillness and quiet.

Amen

An Invitation

Tonight at 7 p.m. on our Facebook Page I’m going to be talking live about Contemplative Prayer and lead us in a guided Contemplative Prayer practice. I hope you will join us!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Today’s Scripture: Philippians 4:4-9

4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious— the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (The Message Translation)

Today’s Devotional

I’m working on a sermon for Sunday from I Peter. It’s about anxiety, and the passage came above came to mind while I was writing. (I’m sure we’ve used this passage in our devotionals over the past months!) It’s a good one to remember.

It also brought to mind a song I’ve recently re-discovered from Hillsong Worship. It’s called –Be Still. I want to share the lyrics with you as our devotional today.

If you want to follow along with Hillsong singing the song –click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7pJb49vVQY

The lyrics are below. I pray they speak to you today. We will not have a devotional next Monday in honor of Memorial Day. I’ll talk to you on Tuesday. Hope to see you on Sunday for worship. Have a great weekend!

~BB

Be still and know

That the Lord is in control

Be still my soul

Stand and watch as giants fall

I won’t be afraid ’cause You are here

You silence all my fear

I won’t be afraid, You don’t let go

Be still my heart and know

I won’t be afraid

Be still and trust

What the Lord has said is done

Find rest, don’t strive

Watch as faith and grace align

I won’t be afraid, You are here

You silence all my fear

I won’t be afraid, You don’t let go

Be still my heart and know

I won’t be afraid

I won’t be afraid

Surely love and mercy

Your peace and kindness

Will follow me, will follow me

Surely love and mercy

Your peace and kindness

Will follow me, will follow me

Your love surrounds me

Your love surrounds me... here

Your love surrounds me

Your love surrounds me... here

Today’s Prayer

Dear God,

Our minds get so full that we sometimes miss what you are trying to say to us. Help us to be still and know. Help us to not be afraid. Help us to rest in your presence this day.

Amen

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Today’s Scripture: Psalm 139:7-12

7 Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

9 If I take the wings of the morning

and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me fast.

11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night,"

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

Today’s Devotional

I was on a Zoom conference call the other day (how many times has THAT happened to you in the past two months?). It was a conference call with a bunch of pastors –so pretty boring. Just kidding. It was actually interesting because we were talking about what it is going to take to re-open churches.

When the call started, I expected there to be a big push from Pastors to open and open now. But that did not happen. Instead, there was a lot of talk about safety and preparation and making people feel comfortable. There was concern about someone in one of our congregations getting sick from coming to church. And there was some legitimate worry about the how different it was going to feel and would people even WANT to be a part of something that felt so disjointed from what they had known before.

As I was listening to all of this the Psalm that is our reading today came to mind. I was reminded that no matter how far we think we’ve traveled, no matter how off the path we feel, no matter how foreign life feels –God is there. In fact, God is ALREADY there.

When we return to worship and to gathering again we will not be returning to a place where God is absent. In fact, God is already there. While things will feel different –look different –BE different, God is not different and God will join us in the new.

If you are like me you are a "future worrier." That is, someone who worries about all the different ways life can turn out. But the psalmist reminds us that no matter how much we worry about the future and fret about it being different –God is there and will hold us fast in God’s right hand.

So, bring on the future. No matter how strange it may be.

Today’s Prayer

Dear God,

Thank you for going before us and preparing a way. Help us to remember that no matter our worries about the future, you are already there. Calm our anxious minds and help us to rest in a future that you are creating for us.

Amen

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Today’s Scripture: Acts 17:22-28

22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, "Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, 'To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him— though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For 'In him we live and move and have our being;' as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we too are his offspring.'"

Today’s Devotional

I miss singing. And I’m going to miss it even when we return to worship –for it does not look like singing is going to be safe for a while. So, I’ve been singing in my office –hoping that no one else is in the building!

The other day the old hymn "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" popped into my head for some reason. So I looked it up on YouTube and found a version that Willie Nelson did with a recording of Patsy Cline. In case your wondering, here is where I found it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOKaircCiGI. But there are many good versions out there.

I got to thinking about the simplicity of this song. Just a closer walk with you, God –that’s all I’m asking.

Too often we try to complicate things. We think that living as a disciple is about reaching some level of understanding or moral perfection. But here’s the thing. We will never have complete understanding –and moral perfection is a long way away for most of us.

So what do we do? Paul reminded the people of Athens that there is no reason to "grope" for God. God is here –it’s in God that "we live and move and have our being." All we really need is to recognize that fact. Just a closer walk with Thee.

Today, don’t think about it too hard –just ask God for a closer walk –and see what happens.

Today’s Prayer Requests

Pray today for our members in retirement homes and rehab facilities. Pray that they will not feel isolated and are able to reach out to loved ones.

Today’s Prayer

Dear God,

Just a closer walk with Thee,

Grant it Jesus, is my plea.

Daily walking close to Thee,

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

Amen

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Today’s Scripture: Luke 6:27-36

27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."

Today’s Devotional

Last Sunday night we decided we’d had enough of cooking at home –well, Robin decided and since she does all the cooking I, of course, went along. We placed an on-line order with Chipotle and I went to pick it up.

Chipotle now has a "Mask Required" rule when you go into their restaurant. I slipped mine on and opened the door and went inside. I saw that all the employees were wearing masks –so far so good. And then I noticed three other guys waiting for food. Two of them were wearing masks and standing far away from each other. One was sans mask and standing right in front of the pick-up area.

I’m confessing to you that I did not have loving thoughts towards this guy. I mean, really? You’re not wearing a mask AND your standing right next to where I need to go? Can you be more rude?

And suddenly it hit me. I had decided to make this guy –and anyone not wearing a mask –into an enemy. I mean, who knows –they COULD be corona carriers, right? Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you this so that you have permission to not wear a mask. In fact, I’ll say it very clearly: WEAR A MASK WHEN IN THE PUBLIC! Instead, I’m telling you this because maybe we all need to take a step back when we find ourselves labeling people –even those without masks.

"Love your enemies… pray for those who abuse you… do to others as you would have them do to you."

The teachings of Jesus do not go out the window during a pandemic.

I sense that things are getting a little tense when it comes to our interactions with "the public." Maybe we need to be reminded to "do unto others." Maybe we need to pray for people instead of judging them. This is hard work in the best of times. It’s crucial work right now.

Today’s Prayer Requests

Pray today for workers who have to interact with "the public" all day. Pray for their protection and that people will be kind towards them and supportive of them.

Today’s Prayer

Dear God,

Forgive us for labeling people before we know them. Help us to do to others as we would want people to do to us. Help us to be merciful, just as you are merciful.

Amen

Monday May 18, 2020

Today’s Scripture: Psalm 46:1-7

1 God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,

though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

3 though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the Most High.

5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;

God will help it when the morning dawns.

6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;

he utters his voice, the earth melts.

7 The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Today’s Devotional

Today is May 18th. I want to tell you about what I was doing 40 years ago today. I was 11 years old and my family and I were living in Washington State. My Dad grew up in Washington and I have many relatives that live in the Pacific Northwest. We were living in a little town on the Colombia River border with Oregon. That town was about 60 miles as the crow flies from a mountain named St. Helen’s. On this day 40 years that mountain (actually a volcano) erupted.

I remember being engrossed in the news coverage of the eruption all afternoon. I recall watching live as a house floated down a flooded river (all the snow had melted in an instant), and then seeing that house crash into a bridge into a thousand pieces. I remember the ash falling from the sky. It felt like the end of the world.

And the eruption was not a one-time event. There were several more eruptions over the coming days and weeks –each with it’s own fall of ash. People were wearing face-masks in order not to breath it in.

Eventually the eruptions stopped, and life got back to normal for my 11 year old self. But life was not so normal for the area around the mountain. It was devastated.

However, if you were to go to Mt. St. Helen’s today you would not see the same level of devastation. In fact, you would see a landscape that has been renewed. You see, life came back to the mountain. Life grew out of the ash.

The Psalm we read today has been meaningful for me in these past weeks. I’m sure it was meaningful to the people around Mt. St. Helen’s in 1980 as well. "God is present –even though the mountains tremble."

I think we can learn a lot about our current situation by remembering the way God renewed the mountain called St. Helen’s. We are on the front end of our own eruption. But we know that God will bring new life out of ash. He’s done it before.

Today’s Prayer Requests

Pray today for our church members who are ill and who are grieving.

Today’s Prayer

Dear God,

Thank you for being a very present help in trouble. Help us to fully recognize that you are with us –even though the mountains shake and the waters roar and foam. And help us to live our lives in the confidence of your presence.

Amen.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Today’s Devotional

Since it’s Friday I thought we would do one more Lectio Divina. Next Friday we will try something different. But today, find a place to sit quietly to reflect on the Word of God. The passage of scripture is listed below.

  • 1. Read the passage below –don’t just skim it. And notice any word or phrase that jumps out at you. Then sit in silence for a moment.
  • 2. Read the passage again and this time notice how the word or phrase connects to your life right now. For example, your word might be "delivers me" and it might connect with your current situation of having to be stuck at home. Then sit in silence again.
  • 3. Read the passage again. This time notice what it is God might be asking you to do. For example, God might be directing you to reach out to someone to "deliver you" from loneliness. Or God might be instructing you to just rest and let God do the delivering. Then sit in silence once more.
  • 4. Read the passage once more (yes, four times!). This time just rest in what God is telling you knowing that God will give you everything you need.
  • If you are so inclined send me an e-mail and let me know what God is telling you. Have a great weekend. See you on-line for worship on Sunday!

    Today’s Scripture: John 14:15-21

    (Incidentally, this is the scripture passage for the sermon this coming Sunday.)

    "If you love me, you will keepmy commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

    18 "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for those who are experiencing loneliness.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Thank you for speaking to us. Give us ears to hear what it is you are trying tell us.

    Amen

    Thursday, May 14, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Mark 9:38-41

    12 Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, "Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean." 13 Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, "I do choose. Be made clean." Immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he ordered him to tell no one. "Go," he said, "and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them." 15 But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. 16 But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.

    Today’s Devotional

    I went for a walk the other day. This is nothing new. I try and walk around our neighborhood every day. It keeps my head clear (usually). I can listen to podcasts. And it makes my wife Robin happy for two reasons: I’m exercising and I’m out of the house.

    When I came home, and after we ate dinner, I found myself just sitting and staring out into space. I had no energy to do anything –even just surfing mindlessly on the internet. "What is wrong with me?" I thought. Did I over-do the exercise? Did I overeat? (Both of these are possibilities!) I don’t think it was anything specific I did.

    Instead, my tank was empty. Just empty. I was exhausted physically from the walk (maybe I did over-do it). But I was also exhausted mentally and spiritually. My tank needed re-filling. Fortunately, I was able rest a bit and felt much better the next day.

    Our tanks become empty when we don’t stop to fill up. It’s pretty basic, right? Anyone who drives a car knows this fact. Our body tanks need refilling with food, water, and sleep. Our mental tanks need refilling with rest and play and friends and family. And our spiritual tanks need refilling by being in the presence of God.

    When our spiritual tanks run dry several things will happen. We will stop listening to the Spirit. We will struggle more with sin. We will feel more isolated and lonely and frustrated. And it becomes harder and harder to see God at work in our lives and in our world. Our spiritual tanks need to be filled.

    Jesus knew this well. Often in the Gospels we see him going away to be by himself. Notice in our scripture today how the increase in crowds led to his removing himself to pray. He knew that in order to stay connected to God he had to actually make time to connect with God –to worship –to pray –to be in God’s presence. Why would we think we could do this life better than him? We too need time to connect with God –to pray –to worship. It’s these things that fill our spiritual tanks.

    How is your spiritual tank this week? Find a way in the next few days to refill it.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for small business owners in our community as they deal with the economic reality of the pandemic.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    This life can run us down –but we know that the answer is to reconnect with you –to spend time with you –to be in your presence. Remind us today of the importance of refilling our tanks so that we can be the people you are calling us to be.

    Amen

    Wednesday, May 13, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Mark 9:38-41

    John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group."

    "Don’t stop him!" Jesus said. "No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded."

    Today’s Devotional

    Our son Evan likes watching videos on YouTube. He can search for videos he likes, and YouTube will even give him recommendations for other videos he might enjoy. One of the things he searches for is Thomas the Tank Engine videos.

    The other day we heard some strange sounds coming from his iPad. Upon investigation we discovered he was watching Thomas the Tank Engine –in German! A little later we heard French. Later we swore we heard Mandarin.

    We’re pretty sure Evan does not know German or French or Chinese. But he does know Thomas. It just did not matter what the language was –it was Thomas! He was not going to let not understanding the words stand in the way of enjoying the video.

    I think when it comes to our relationship with God, sometimes we feel we have to know all the words before we can enjoy the video. In other words, we think we have to have it all together, we have to know all the church-words, or we have to completely understand theology in order to get it.

    Not true. We just have to be open to watching the video and engaging with what we do understand.

    Jesus told his disciples not to stop someone from casting out demons in Jesus’ name just because they might not have fully understood what was happening or were not part of the "group." Instead, Jesus recognized that trying counts –that following where you can counts –that complete understanding is not a prerequisite to faith. In fact, it’s better to come as a child.

    Sometimes in our faith journey it can feel like we are watching a Thomas The Tank Engine in German. That’s ok. Just keep watching.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for the families of Irving Middle School who come and get weekend snack bags every Friday that we help pack and distribute. Last Friday we handed out 468 bags.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    We admit that sometimes we don’t understand –that living this life of faith feels like living in a land where no one speaks our language. Help us to look for you even when we may not understand. Help us to see you even though you may seem hidden. Help us to trust you even though we are not sure of the direction you are taking us.

    Amen

    Tuesday, May 12, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: I John 1:5-10

    This is the message we have heardfrom him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness,we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light,as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from allsin.

    8 If we claim to be without sin,we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sinsand purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned,we make him out to be a liarand his word is not in us.

    Today’s Devotional

    We don’t have a back yard –it’s actually a brick patio. It’s pretty cool and one of the things that attracted us to the house we are in. What we did not notice when we were house hunting was the very large tree in our neighbor’s back yard that spreads over OUR patio.

    Of course we noticed last fall when we moved in! But once all the leaves were up I thought I was finished cleaning up after this tree –at least until next fall. I was wrong.

    This tree drops things. Twigs, leaves, pollen, and other assorted tree junk. I didn’t realize how much had fallen from this tree until I swept the patio about two weeks ago. It was almost as bad as last fall!

    So, I made a deal with myself. I decided to sweep every day or every other day. And you know what? It’s gotten a lot easier to keep the patio clean. I actually enjoy walking on it now. But, I have to keep it up. The tree is not going to stop depositing things upon the bricks.

    The passage from 1st John is one of my favorites. It reminds us to that we need to

    "confess our sins." Confessing is good. It cleans off the patio. And just like the patio, it’s better if confession comes regularly instead of when everything piles up.

    Regular confession is not supposed to be a cudgel that we use to beat ourselves up. Rather, it’s a broom that helps keep the way clean and clear. It also helps us to think about our day and recall ways that we did not live as Christ.

    Maybe today spend a minute or two and ask God if there is a way we did not act like Christ in the past 24 hours and then confess and let it go. Because the best part about the verse from 1 John is the part that says "he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." We are forgiven. Thanks be to God!

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for the two teenagers from First Baptist Church in Alexandria who are in ICU with covid-19.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Forgive us for letting sin just pile up. Help us to not be afraid to confess our sins to you. Remind us that you are a God who forgives and purifies through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ –in who’s name we pray.

    Amen

    Monday, May 11, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Romans 8:22-27

    22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For inhope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

    26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedeswith sighs too deep for words. 27 And God,who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spiritintercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

    Today’s Devotional

    Over the past few days I have been reading about the case of Ahmaud Arbery –the 25 year old African American man who was shot and killed in Georgia by two men who thought he looked like a robbery suspect. In fact, he was an unarmed guy going for a run. I’m not going to get into all the details here, but I encourage you to read about them.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this case and have found myself wondering what exactly I can do –or we can do as a church –to bring attention to the continuing problem of race in our country and what actions I or we could take to help change it. I’ve wondered how someone could take the law into their own hands and pursue a man with guns because he "looked like" someone who might have done something wrong. I’ve agonized over how it took two months to see an arrest in this case and about the racist history that is behind some of the laws on the books in the state of Georgia. And I have groaned over the legacy of white supremacy that continues to infect governments and laws and people, including me.

    That word –"groan" –is a word that Paul uses in our scripture today. It’s a word that the New Testament uses to describe our response to "a state of oppression which causes suffering and from which there is a burden to be free."

    Groaning is a Biblical response to suffering. But Paul reminds us that we have hope.

    I have a strong hope that white privilege will end. I have a hope that God is moving hearts and minds toward love and acceptance. I have hope that justice will be done and that we can be a part of the new thing God is doing.

    But we are not there yet –so we wait. We work, of course –we try and move the needle and be part of the solution –but we still wait. However, we wait with hope. We work with hope. We pray with hope –even when we don’t have the words and all we can do is groan.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for the scientists who are racing to find a vaccine and treatment for the coronavirus.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Help us to be agents of change in a world that seems upside down. Help us to be advocates for justice in a world where the poor and weak are discarded. Help us to be spokespeople for love and acceptance in a world filled with division and prejudice.

    Amen

    Friday May 8, 2020

    Today’s Devotional

    Let’s do another Lectio Divina as our daily practice today. The passage of scripture is listed below. Find a quiet spot and open yourself to what God might be saying to you this morning.

  • 1. Read the passage below –don’t just skim it. And notice any word or phrase that jumps out at you. Then sit in silence for a moment.
  • 2. Read the passage again and this time notice how the word or phrase connects to your life right now. For example, your word might be "delivers me" and it might connect with your current situation of having to be stuck at home. Then sit in silence again.
  • 3. Read the passage again. This time notice what it is God might be asking you to do. For example, God might be directing you to reach out to someone to "deliver you" from loneliness. Or God might be instructing you to just rest and let God do the delivering. Then sit in silence once more.
  • 4. Read the passage once more (yes, four times!). This time just rest in what God is telling you knowing that God will give you everything you need.
  • If you are so inclined send me an e-mail and let me know what God is telling you. Have a great weekend. See you on-line for worship on Sunday!

    Today’s Scripture: Matthew 6:25-34

    25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you— you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

    34 So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today."

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for ECHO, the organization that Westwood supports that helps those in need. Pray that their financial contributions would rise and that their food pantry will be able to support the current need.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Thank you for speaking to us. Give us ears to hear what it is you are trying tell us.

    Amen

    Thursday May 7, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21

    13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves."16 Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."17 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish."18 And he said, "Bring them here to me."19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

    Today’s Devotional

    I was thinking about abundance and scarcity the other day. We really do live in a world that believes the universe is finite. That there is a limit to all things. But God’s universe is the opposite. It’s all about multiplication. Henri Nouwen said it better than me:

    "The opposite of a scarcity mentality is an abundancy mentality. With an abundancy mentality we say, 'There is enough for everyone, more than enough: food, knowledge, love . . . everything.' With this mind-set we give away whatever we have, to whomever we meet. When we see hungry people we give them food. When we meet ignorant people we share our knowledge; when we encounter people in need of love, we offer them friendship and affection and hospitality and introduce them to our family and friends.

    When we live with this mind-set, we will see the miracle that what we give away multiples: food, knowledge, love . . . everything. There will even be many leftovers."

    (Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri J.M. Nouwen)

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for our church and for other churches in our area as we begin to think through what ministry looks like post-pandemic.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Help us to be aware of the scarcity mentality that exists in our world and in ourselves. Forgive us for holding on instead of giving away. Remind us that you are all about multiplication and that there is enough for everyone.

    Amen

    Wednesday May 6, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Philippians 4:6-7

    Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    Today’s Devotional

    The part of this scripture passage that really gets me is the phrase: "Do not worry about anything." Really? Anything? I’m pretty sure I am not physically able to worry about nothing. It’s in my DNA to worry. My third-grade teacher once wrote on my report card "Bryan worries too much." I’ve worried about that comment ever since she wrote it!

    Seriously, worry about nothing? What about catching the virus? Other people ignoring social distancing rules? Being around people in the grocery store? Seeing people in the grocery store without masks? What about the economy or the stock market or retirement funds? What about family members who might not be as good at protecting themselves as we are?

    (** Note, it’s at this point in writing this devotional that I had to physically stop myself from continuing with the "what about" list in the previous paragraph. I could have written all day! **)

    And yet the scripture here is pretty clear. It seems that Paul, the author of this letter, was telling his readers that they should not worry.

    Wait. Check that. Actually, he was not telling them to NOT worry (this would be impossible for almost all of us!) –instead, he was saying to give any worries we have over to God. And when we do that, we are in essence worrying about nothing.

    I cannot stop myself from worrying. Trust me, I’ve tried. But what I can do is each time a worry comes to mind is to choose to turn it over to God. This is hard work! Sometimes I find myself in a worry loop where worries about life are coming at me about 100 times a minute. That just means I need to give 100 worries to God in that minute –even if I have to give the same ones to God over and over again.

    Try this. When a worry pops into your head, instead of dwelling on it just say "God, I’m worried about: ." Then rest your mind, be still, and try not to hang onto the thought. Try to do this each time a worry comes to mind. It’s a little thing. But it reminds us that we are not in this alone. And the result will be the "peace of God, which surpasses all understanding."

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for those in nursing homes and assisted living apartments. Pray that they will feel connected even though they cannot leave their rooms.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    We are worried about a lot of things right now. Help us to remember to tell them to you and to rest in the knowledge that you hear us. Give us your peace this day.

    Amen

    Tuesday May 5, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Matthew 5:11-16

    "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

    "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.

    In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

    Today’s Devotional

    So, I don’t know about you, but I REALLY don’t feel like the "light of the world" right now. If anything, I’m a 15-watt bulb! And Jesus wants me to let my light shine before others? How is that even possible? Unfortunately, I tend to read this passage from Matthew in a grandiose way –like I am responsible for lighting the whole world. And yet there are days when I can barely light the step that’s right in front of me.

    But is this really what Jesus is calling us to do? Light the whole flipping world? Maybe the answer comes in the verse before the one about the light –maybe the answer is in the verse about the salt. Not only are we, as Jesus’ disciples, the light of the world. We are also the salt of the earth. But have you ever had too much salt on something? Yeah, it’s pretty bad. We are not supposed to dump a load of salt on the world. In the same way I don’t think we are responsible for lighting the whole world. I think when it comes to letting our light shine before others –a little goes a long way.

    This is really good news for those who feel kinda dimmed out anyway. Jesus uses dim lights! In fact, Jesus WANTS dim lights. It’s how he works best. He takes all those dim lights and turns them into something amazing.

    So, even though you might be feeling a little less than full strength right now –you (and I) can still shine our light before others. It does not take much of an effort to say a kind word, to check on someone who is alone, to smile at the delivery driver, to pray for the teacher, to show love to the stranger.

    That’s what letting our light shine is all about –being the presence of Christ in whatever way we can be.

    So, let your light shine today.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for those business leaders and owners who are making tough financial decisions and those on the receiving end of those decisions.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Sometimes we feel quite dim. And yet even then you can use us to light the world. Give us eyes to see how we can share your light with a world living in darkness.

    Amen

    Monday May 4, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Mark 4:35-41

    35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

    Today’s Devotional

    Yesterday my brother-in-law sent me a YouTube video by a psychologist talking about the importance of awe in our lives. He mentioned that we are the only animals capable of awe. In fact, he believes that awe is a unique human attribute that should be cultivated. The problem is we get so caught up in the routine of our lives that we just are not awed by anything.

    Our current lock-down has produced a routine in our lives that I believe has limited awe. When I woke up this morning I had no earthly idea what day it was. And when I thought about the day, it was going to be just like any other day over the past six weeks or so. This did not fill me with awe. In fact, it’s hard to find awe in the middle of a pandemic lock-down.

    Or is it? As I stood in the bathroom getting ready for the day I started thinking about the clean water that was coming out of my faucet. I did not have to walk to a river or well to get it. I don’t have to be worried about catching diseases from it. And it’s always there when I need it. If that’s not "awesome" I’m not sure what is! And suddenly my day seemed a little less filled with "same" and a little more filled with "awe."

    Maybe the answer to pandemic boredom and routine is to find awe, somewhere, everyday. Think about that as you move through the day. Ask God to show you things that fill you with awe. These are the things that are important.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for individuals in our church family who might be lonely during this lock-down.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Forgive us for getting into such a routine that we miss the awe that is all around us. Help us to see what awesome things you have done and are doing. Help us to be filled with awe as the disciples were so long ago.

    Amen

    Friday May 1, 2020

    Today’s Devotional

    Last Friday we did a Lectio Divina practice. I thought it might be nice to do another one. The passage of scripture is listed below. Find a quiet spot and open yourself to what God might be saying to you this morning.

  • Read the passage below –don’t just skim it. And notice any word or phrase that jumps out at you. Then sit in silence for a moment.
  • Read the passage again and this time notice how the word or phrase connects to your life right now. For example, your word might be "delivers me" and it might connect with your current situation of having to be stuck at home. Then sit in silence again.
  • Read the passage again. This time notice what it is God might be asking you to do. For example, God might be directing you to reach out to someone to "deliver you" from loneliness. Or God might be instructing you to just rest and let God do the delivering. Then sit in silence once more.
  • Read the passage once more (yes, four times!). This time just rest in what God is telling you knowing that God will give you everything you need.
  • I pray that you will be blessed by this ancient practice. Have a great weekend everyone! See you on-line for worship on Sunday.

    Today’s Scripture: Romans 8:1-17

    There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law— indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

    9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

    12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ— if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    On this May Day, pray for our healthcare workers. Pray for their protection, that they will stay healthy, and that they will find rest.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Thank you for speaking to us. Help us to listen better.

    Amen

    Thursday April 30, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Matthew 22:34-40

    34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" 37 He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

    Today’s Devotional

    Today’s scripture passage is most likely one you have heard before. Perhaps you have even memorized it. It’s one that probably SHOULD be memorized. It reminds us of the importance of love in the life of a disciple –something we do not spend enough time talking about in my opinion (even though it may seem like we talk about it all the time!).

    There is one part of this passage that I think gets short shrift. It’s the phrase "as yourself." The command to love our neighbors contains within it an assumption that we love ourselves.

    Now, on one level we can come to think quite highly of ourselves and can become selfish and egocentric and full of pride. In that case we might want to think about not loving ourselves so much! But I don’t think that’s what this passage is talking about. I think instead it is a commandment to love others as much as we love ourselves with the assumption that we SHOULD love ourselves. What if the phrase had been turned around to read "Love yourself as you love your neighbor?" I wonder how many of us live up to the commandment when read in that way.

    What have you been doing during our "lock-down" to care for yourself? What have you done that has helped to feed your soul? What things have you been able to do that, while not really important, are nonetheless meaningful for you? How have you been kind to yourself? In other words, how have you "loved yourself?"

    Even though we are in the middle of a pretty big crisis here, we need to stop every once in awhile and do something frivolous that makes us happy –because in the end it’s not so frivolous. So, consider this your permission. Find a way to care for your soul so that you are fully present to care for your neighbor.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray for those who work in our food supply chain that they would be protected and stay healthy.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    It feels like we should not focus on ourselves right now. There is so much sadness and anxiety and stress in the world. And yet you call us to love others as we love ourselves. Help us to understand what exactly that means and how we can better love ourselves and offer others our best.

    Amen

    Wednesday April 29, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Psalm 92:1-4

    It is good to give thanks to the Lord,

    to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

    2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning,

    and your faithfulness by night,

    3 to the music of the lute and the harp,

    to the melody of the lyre.

    4 For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;

    at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

    Today’s Devotional

    I think maybe it’s time for an exercise in gratitude. Well, it’s time for ME to exercise some gratitude. (After all, the things I write in these devotionals are things that I need to say to myself!) But maybe you are experiencing the same need.

    Seven and a half weeks into this thing and I’m finding my gratitude waning. So, let’s do a gratitude exercise –are you with me?

    Re-read this scripture for today and remind yourself that "it is good to give thanks" and that everything comes from God.

    Spend a moment thinking through one specific thing you are grateful for in each of these categories:

  • Family
  • Protection
  • Relationships
  • Conveniences
  • Health
  • Something that makes life fun
  • Spend some time in prayer giving God thanks for each of those specific items and any others that come to mind.

    Listen in silence to what God might be sharing with you

    Find a way to tell someone today about your list. If you want, send me an e-mail with your list! Just find a way to share what you are grateful for today.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray for Lucina Marvin who just lost her father and for her and Dick’s safety as they travel.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    When we are overwhelmed we can forget that there is so much to be thankful for. Forgive us for not being grateful for the things you give us. Forgive us for forgetting to say thank you. And remind us again of all the good gifts we have from you.

    Amen

    Tuesday April 28, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Romans 8:31-39

    So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us— who was raised to life for us!— is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

    They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.

    We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

    None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing— nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable— absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

    (The Message Translation)

    Today’s Devotional

    Yesterday my dad shared a picture on Facebook of his knock-out roses. They're pretty amazing.

    My dad also shared with his Facebook friends a thought about his roses and our current situation. I’ve stolen the idea from him to share with you today.

    He reminded his Facebook friends that a couple of years ago a very bad virus was affecting roses in several parts of the country. The roses that caught this virus usually had to be dug up. In fact, many people dug up their roses because they THOUGHT they would catch the virus. For some reason mom and dad left their roses growing.

    Sure enough, the roses caught the virus. They did not look good. I remember seeing them during this time and commenting that they looked like they were going to have to go. But they kept them. Over time they got better. They became more resilient. Today they look awesome.

    You can see the parallels, yes? Right now things feel pretty bad. Infections increase, deaths increase, and when we think about life after the virus we just can’t get our heads around how different it’s going to be.

    But what if we come back from this with a new vigor and verve? What if our time facing this virus has created space for God to prune away what’s not working in order to allow new growth? As our scripture says, "nothing can get between us and God’s love." Even a virus.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for those workers at our food processing plants across the country –that they would stay safe and protected.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    In the middle of the storm it’s hard for us to see any outcome that’s good. And yet, that’s not how you work. You are the God of redemption –and nothing is beyond your love. Fill us today with hope for what you are going to accomplish in us and through us as a result of this virus.

    Amen

    Monday April 27, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: I Peter 5:6-11

    6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

    Today’s Devotional

    What do you do with your anxiety? What happens to your worry and stress? If you are anything like me, a good deal of it stays internalized. That’s not very healthy –and can lead to all sorts of issues. Of course, sometimes we take the stress and anxiety we are experiencing and throw it out into the world –and especially onto our families. We "cast" our anxiety onto the closest target –maybe not intentionally –but we do it nevertheless. Can you think of an example from the past few weeks when your anxiety either went internal or went all over someone close to you? I can think of WAY too many.

    We deal with a lot of stress and anxiety in "normal" times. These days, it’s off the charts.

    The author of the letter which is our scripture for today was writing to people who seemed to be under a lot of stress. Perhaps they were being persecuted for their faith. The writer’s advice was for his readers to "cast your anxiety on him, because he cares for you." I know, I know –easier than it sounds. But maybe it really is that simple.

    The next time you feel worry and anxiety well up in you, the next time you are worried about what is being "cast" onto your family from your own stress –pause and say "Jesus, I give this stress, this situation, to you." It’s that easy.

    You might not notice a big change right away. But over time you will begin to see that Jesus does really care for you and can take all that anxiety that you might be directing toward yourself or toward your family. Of course, we still have to work at reducing the anxiety in our lives. But we do so with the knowledge that Jesus cares for us and helps with the load we are carrying.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for parents who are entering their 7th week of working at home while also taking care of kids. Pray for patience, wisdom, and the ability to help with math.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Thank you for providing a place for our worry on the shoulders of Jesus. Help us to remember that we do not have to internalize our stress, nor do we have to cast it on our family. May we cast our anxiety on Jesus this day.

    Amen

    Friday April 24, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Psalm 138

    1 I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart;

    before the gods I sing your praise;

    2 I bow down toward your holy temple

    and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness;

    for you have exalted your name and your word

    above everything.

    3 On the day I called, you answered me,

    you increased my strength of soul.

    4 All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O LORD,

    for they have heard the words of your mouth.

    5 They shall sing of the ways of the LORD,

    for great is the glory of the LORD.

    6 For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly;

    but the haughty he perceives from far away.

    7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,

    you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;

    you stretch out your hand,

    and your right hand delivers me.

    8 The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;

    your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.

    Do not forsake the work of your hands.

    Today’s Devotional

    Today’s devotional is to invite you an ancient practice called lectio divina (sacred reading). Here is what I want you to do.

    1. Read the above passage again –don’t just skim it –and notice any word or phrase that jumps out at you. Then sit in silence for a moment.

    2. Read the passage again and this time notice how the word or phrase connects to your life right now. For example, your phrase might be "delivers me" and it might connect with your current situation of having to be stuck at home. Then sit in silence again.

    3. Read the passage again. This time notice what it is God might be asking you to do. For example, God might be directing you to reach out to someone to "deliver you" from loneliness. Or God might be instructing you to just rest and let God do the delivering. Then sit in silence once more.

    4. Read the passage once more (yes, four times!). This time just rest in what God is telling you knowing that God will give you everything you need.

    Scripture is one of the most important ways we encounter God. My prayer is that you will connect with God today through God’s speaking in this passage.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for those who are finding it harder and harder to put food on the table.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Thank you for your Word to us. Help us to see you, grow close to you, grow deeper into our true selves through the reading of scripture. Speak to us this day and everyday. And give us ears to actually listen to what you are telling us.

    Amen

    Thursday April 23, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: John 15:12-17

    "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

    Today’s Devotional

    I have a friend from seminary who was working as a part-time music minister in a church while we were in school. He told me one day on campus that he had gotten in trouble for leading the congregation in the hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." Apparently there were those in the congregation who thought this hymn made Jesus out to be a little too chummy. They thought Jesus should be revered and calling him "friend" went too far. I guess they had not read this passage from John.

    What does it mean for Jesus to be our friend? We could spend a lot of time on that question so maybe we should limit our scope. What does it mean that Jesus is our friend today –during this time in our lives?

    Here’s a couple of thoughts. First, it means that he knows what’s going on with us. He knows the sleepless nights, the anxiety, the worry, the anger, the times we speak harshly to our family –he knows all of it. And he’s still here –like a friend. Not judging. Just listening.

    Second, if Jesus is our friend then we have someone to talk to –we are not alone. I know that several of us are battling feeling very lonely during these days of being cooped up. Talking to Jesus does not make you strange –it helps you connect with him and know that he’s with you. Talking with our friends is important.

    Third, if Jesus is our friend then we know we are loved no matter what. That’s what friends do –they love us no matter what. Jesus’ love for us is so deep that he laid down his life for us.

    The result of recognizing Jesus as our friend? The answer is there in the passage: we are friends with Jesus so that we can bear fruit (see Galatians 5) and love one another. Having Jesus as our friend makes us a better friend to those around us.

    Reach out to your friends to day –including Jesus. They are important.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray again today for governmental leaders –that they will have wisdom in their decision making.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Thank you for sending Jesus. Thank you for his friendship, his love, his sacrifice. Help us to befriend him more so that we can in turn befriend others. Help us to love as he loves us and listen as he listens to us. Thank you for all our friends.

    Amen

    Wednesday April 22, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: John 15:1-11

    "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete."

    Today’s Devotional

    I have a love/hate relationship with this passage of scripture. I love the part where Jesus speaks of abiding and bearing much fruit. I hate the part about being pruned and thrown into the fire!

    I think the life of a disciple is all about this dance between abiding and pruning. We desire to be close to God and abide in Christ but there are parts of us (our false selves) that hinder that abiding. It’s these parts of ourselves that need to be pruned away.

    Now, I don’t believe Jesus comes at us with pruning sheers ready to chop into our lives. I believe that when we start to abide we start to see those things in us that are not really that great and do not produce fruit. It’s at this point that we have a decision to make. We can continue to live with the dead branch –holding on to it for dear life. Or, we can make the decision to let Jesus prune it away.

    The process of pruning can be painful. But we soon learn that when the dead wood is gone, we can abide even more –love even more –and experience even more joy.

    What are you seeing in your life that you need to allow Jesus to prune away? These days of crisis provide us a good opportunity to see what is not working and allow Jesus to remove it –even though it might hurt at first.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Please pray today for those who are grieving. Their loss might be new or it might be from many years ago. Pray that they will find comfort in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    We tend to love our false selves and think that there is much to hang on to. Show us the truth about our lives. Show us the areas that need to be pruned. And allow us to invite Jesus to remove those branches from our lives.

    Amen

    Tuesday April 21, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Philippians 4:4-9

    Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

    Today’s Devotional

    I read a daily devotional sent via e-mail from Richard Rohr. It’s pretty good but I have to admit that it’s sometimes a bit over my head! Yesterday’s e-mail, however, spoke to me. He talked about how we choose to respond to suffering.

    There can be no denying we are all currently suffering –some more than others, yes –but all of us are feeling the effects of the pandemic. The choice before us is how we are going to respond.

    One option is to harden up –to become bitter and angry. To be honest this is the easy response and I would wager that most of us have found ourselves in the middle of anger these past few weeks. It’s not bad to feel anger. However, staying in anger and bitterness can cause us to close ourselves off from God and others –to build walls around our hearts.

    The other option is to soften our hearts and open to God and others. This is SO HARD TO DO! But in the end it’s how God uses our suffering to transform us. We did not choose to be in the middle of a pandemic. And I am certain that God did not launch this disease upon us so we could learn a lesson. However, how we respond to suffering WILL make a big difference in our spiritual lives and in our lives moving forward.

    Today, find a way to choose softness over hardness. Find a way to open to others rather than closing off. Find a way to be honest with God about what you are feeling and ask God to use our suffering to change us into the people he is calling us to be.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for those in our detention centers and prisons. Pray that they will be safe and protected in all ways –but especially from this virus.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    It is so easy to close down and become bitter during suffering. And yet you call us to openness and transformation through our suffering. Help us to be honest with you about our emotions. But also help us to choose being open to you and others rather than becoming bitter and locked in anger.

    Amen

    Monday April 20, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Psalm 145:1-9

    1 I will extol you, my God and King,

    and bless your name forever and ever.

    2 Every day I will bless you,

    and praise your name forever and ever.

    3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;

    his greatness is unsearchable.

    4 One generation shall laud your works to another,

    and shall declare your mighty acts.

    5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty,

    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

    6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,

    and I will declare your greatness.

    7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,

    and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

    8 The Lord is gracious and merciful,

    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

    9 The Lord is good to all,

    and his compassion is over all that he has made.

    Today’s Devotional

    I was reading through this Psalm as part of today’s lectionary reading, and verse 4 caught my eye: "One generation shall laud your works to another." I’m reminded about how my grandmother used to tell me the story of one time coming home from work wondering what she was going to fix her family for dinner because she knew there was nothing in the pantry or refrigerator. However, when got home a bag of groceries had been placed anonymously on her front step. She would tell that story as an example of God’s faithfulness. One generation lauding God’s provision to another.

    I wonder what we are going to tell our grandchildren and great grandchildren about God’s provision during the Global Pandemic of 2020? We will be able to laud the works of God?

    The thing is, in order to share God’s works, we have to recognize them. In order to tell of God’s faithfulness, we have to be aware of it. Otherwise we might just end up telling stories about toilet paper shortages and how we all had to cut our own hair.

    I get that it can be hard to see the works of God in the middle of the storm –that’s what storms do –limit our vision. But that’s why we have to be intentional about keeping our eyes open to notice where God is and what God is doing. Otherwise we might just miss it.

    Here’s the thing. God IS being faithful during this time. God IS providing for us. God IS active and walking with us in the middle of the storm. We just need to pause and notice.

    How would you describe the ways you have seen God during the past 6 weeks? Look closely. God has been here all along and will be in the days ahead. Let’s pay attention so we can tell the story to other generations.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for our school teachers who will be once again trying to launch distance learning for their classes. Pray that the technology works and teachers are able to concentrate on teaching.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    We know that you are here with us –walking with us –providing for us. Help us to see where you are. Help us to see how you are faithful even in the middle of the storm. May we remember all that you have done –and may we be able to laud your works to all generations.

    Amen

    Friday April 17, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

    So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

    Today’s Devotional

    There is a phrase in this scripture passage that caught my attention: "our inner nature is being renewed day by day." Sounds good to me –but what does it mean?

    Paul is comparing our otter/physical nature with our inner/spiritual nature. Of course, we believe that the body and spirit are connected. We are "embodied" people, meaning that our bodies are an important part of who we are –bound up with our souls. However, Paul is reminding us here that even if our bodies are "wasting away" - our spirits can be renewed. Not only that, "temporary afflictions" can prepare us for glory.

    So here is the question I have: how are our temporary afflictions preparing us for glory? How are our inner natures being renewed during this time of pandemic? Put simply: are we going to come out of this stronger in our relationship with God?

    It may not seem like the best time to think about "emerging stronger" but I at least want to put it on our radar. I’m not talking about a "Plan for Spiritual Growth –Quarantine Edition." (Although that would be a cool program to try!) Instead, I’m suggesting that we put just a little intention into growing in our relationship with God WHILE we are going through this. After all –pandemics "are temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal."

    Try and work on your internal life while we are going through this. I know it’s hard. And yes, there will be days we will fall short. That’s expected and totally ok. Just start again the next day.

    Here are some ideas. Take time to be grateful (make a list!). Spend 5-10 minutes alone with God in silence. Pray at the beginning and the end of your day. Read a Bible story with your kids and ask questions about it. Say a prayer during your day each time someone you love comes to mind. Pray that God will give you opportunities to be a good neighbor to someone. Even so called "little things" make a big difference.

    And remember –this is temporary. So let’s emerge stronger in our faith –deeper in our hope –and wider in our love.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for our Governor and State leaders as they balance health decisions with economic decisions. Pray that God will give them wisdom.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Help us during this time of crisis not to neglect our internal lives. We want to emerge stronger in our faith than when this all started. Help us to grow in our relationship with you even in the midst of the storm.

    Amen

    Thursday April 16, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Galatians 6:7-9

    7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.

    Today’s Devotional

    All of the news stories I’ve been seeing lately are focusing on how our country can open back up. These are good discussions to have –but I wonder if we are rushing by an important question: what are we going to reap when we do open back up? This applies to our spiritual life as well.

    I think maybe we are in a time of "sowing/planting." Yes, there will be a time for "reaping/harvesting." But right now we are definitely planting. And that means we need to think about exactly WHAT we are planting.

    Paul reminds us in the letter to the Galatians that what we plant, we will harvest. What am I planting during this time of crisis? I have to admit to you that a lot days I’ve been planting fear, anxiety, scarcity, and worry. I’m not sure what those seeds will produce but I promise you it won’t be healthy!

    Instead, maybe we should focus on planting seeds "to the Spirit" as Paul puts it. What exactly are those seeds? He tells us in this same letter to the Galatians: they are seeds that produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

    Now, don’t get me wrong. Planting these good seeds is hard –even when we are not in a global pandemic. Planting them today can seem downright impossible. But we should at least try.

    So the next time you feel fear –try replacing it with a seed of generosity. The next time you feel angry –try replacing it a the seed of peace. The next time you want to lash out at your family for something annoying they are doing –try replacing with a seed of kindness and gentleness.

    Who knows what kind of harvest might result from this crisis?

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for Fairfax County School Teachers as the district struggles with their distance learning technology.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    We confess to you that too often we get caught up in emotions and actions that are not productive and certainly not healthy. We acknowledge that we get scared, we get angry, we get frustrated. We know that you are ok with our emotions and can handle anything we throw at you. But we also know that sowing seeds of the Spirit will produce something healthy and will help us cultivate Christ-likeness. Help us to be planters of good seed –even now –even today.

    Amen

    Wednesday April 15, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Exodus 12:40-42

    The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. That was for the LORD a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the LORD by all the Israelites throughout their generations.

    Today’s Devotional

    As part of my personal Bible reading I will sometimes read the Daily Lectionary. If you are interested, this is the website I use: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/devotion/daily/

    I was looking over the scripture for today when I came across the above passage from Exodus. Unfortunately, when I was reading it, I was not in the best frame of mind. I was feeling pretty depressed about the mess we are currently in. I was feeling anxious about decisions I was making. I was feeling on edge about the state of the world. And worst of all I was letting my anxiety infect those around me (never a good idea!).

    And then I read that first verse. FOUR HUNDRED THIRTY YEARS??? I immediately got scared that God was trying to tell me that the situation we are in is not going to end any time soon. I lost it. Are you kidding me God?? We are already on the edge here. How can we go on another four hundred and thirty years???

    When I calmed down and let God actually speak through the scripture, I soon realized that of course God was not telling me that the pandemic was going to go on four hundred and thirty years. It may go on longer than I want –but not as long as all that. It WILL end. We will be back together. Life will return to something resembling "normal."

    In fact, if we pull back on the scripture a bit we see that this passage in Exodus is actually not about how long the Israelites were in Egypt. Rather, it’s about God establishing the ritual of the Passover –a vigil for remembering that God brought them out.

    I think we need to try and focus on the fact that God is going to bring us out –even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. In the future, we may even need to develop our own rituals just to remind ourselves of that time we were trapped at home in a pandemic and God provided.

    But right now, in the middle of it, it’s hard to believe it will end. But it will end. There is hope.

    I know I’m speaking to myself today. But maybe you need to hear this too: God has not forgotten about us. In fact, God is walking with us through all of this. Look for God –even in the midst of a bad day. And have hope.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    While no one in our congregation has developed Covid-19, several of our members have friends and relatives who are infected. Pray that those who are ill would heal quickly and for the healthcare professionals who are serving them.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    It feels like we are in the middle of a storm that will never rain itself out. And yet we know that you are here with us –even now –even when don’t see you. Help us to rest in the love of Christ. Help us to know that Christ is our firm rock –our cornerstone –our hope. Give us peace and strength for the journey that we are on. Remind us that this too shall end.

    Amen

    Tuesday April 14, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: John 14:1-7

    "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going." 5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."

    Today’s Devotional

    There is a hymn we were learning on Wednesday nights during Lent (before we stopped meeting!) It’s called "In Christ Alone" and it’s one of my favorite new hymns. I wanted to share with you the words from the first verse:

    In Christ alone my hope is found,

    He is my light, my strength, my song

    This Cornerstone, this solid Ground

    Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

    What heights of love, what depths of peace

    When fears are stilled, when strivings cease

    My Comforter, my All in All

    Here in the love of Christ I stand.

    As we enter week five of social distancing and not meeting together in worship I’m finding these words encouraging.

    First we sing that our hope is found in Christ alone –not in flattening the curve or in government leaders –not even in Dr. Fauci! Don’t get me wrong –I’m very pro-science and pro-doctor! But ultimately our hope comes from Christ who makes all things new.

    Christ alone is our light, strength, and song. I don’t know about you, but I need some light, strength and song right about now! This verse reminds us to look to Christ for our strength. He’s got this.

    Christ is firm through the fiercest drought and storm. No matter what kind of storm we are in, Christ remains our firm rock –unmovable by any virus or anything we are going through.

    Heights of love, depths of peace, fears stilled, strivings cease. This love and peace and lack of fear comes from trusting in Jesus who lived, died and rose again. Christ defeated death – we can rest in his love and peace. We can stop trying to do it all ourselves.

    Here in the love of Christ we stand. Love is the building block of the universe. Love is what motivated God to send his son. Love is what drives the kingdom of God. And it is in this love that we stand –especially now.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray specifically today for a vaccine to this virus. Pray that it will come quickly to the world.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    It feels like we are in the middle of a storm that will never rain itself out. And yet we know that you are here with us –even now –even when don’t see you. Help us to rest in the love of Christ. Help us to know that Christ is our firm rock –our cornerstone –our hope. Give us peace and strength for the journey that we are on.

    Amen

    Monday April 13, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: John 20:19-23

    19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

    Today’s Devotional

    I wonder what was going through the disciples’ minds when they saw the resurrected Jesus? If they were anything like me there would be rejoicing of course, but also a feeling of relief that things can finally go back to normal. Now that he’s back, I would have thought, we can start healing people again and listening to his teachings and maybe get rid of those Romans.

    But of course, Jesus was not back to stay. And he was certainly not back to carry on with what was "normal." As much as his disciples may have wanted to return to the pre-Easter way of life –it was not going to happen.

    But the disciples still did not know what the new normal was going to look like either. After the resurrection they entered a time of upheaval, trying to figure out what the future was going to be.

    We cannot be pre-Easter people. We live in a post-Easter world. But life after Easter –life after we have become disciples –life after we have declared the lordship of Jesus in our lives –this life is so much better than the life before.

    The pandemic has thrust us into a time of upheaval. We cannot go back to normal. And yet, we do not know the future. We are in the same kind of transition time the disciples were in right after the resurrection –just trying to figure it out –not knowing what is next.

    So, be gentle with yourself and others as we navigate this period of history. But also keep an eye on the future instead of the past. Wrestle with what God might be doing when this is all over and what your part will be in it. I am convinced that God has something amazing in store. We need to be ready.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Please pray for our school teachers as they get fully into the swing of distance learning.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    We don’t like times of transition. We REALLY want things to just go back to the way they were. But we know that you are a God that moves forward. Help us to be faithful during this time of change. Help us to focus on the future instead of the past. And help us to become the disciples you are calling us to be.

    Amen

    Friday, April 10, 2020

    Hello everyone,

    Our devotional today is a little different. Since it is Good Friday we are offering to you a Virtual Stations of the Cross. We are asking you to take a break today (or several breaks) and head to the website linked below. Start with the "Beginning" and then move through each station as you like. Each station is about 3 minutes long.

    To access the Stations of the Cross click here: stations-of-the-cross.org

    I’m looking forward to seeing everyone on Easter Sunday at 11:00 on Facebook Live.

    Be sure and send your "He is Risen" or "Christ is Risen - He is Risen Indeed!" video to my e-mail address: bryan.brock@westwood-baptist.org

    Have a great weekend everyone. See you on Sunday.

    Bryan

    Thursday April 9, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: John 13:1-9

    Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table,took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" 7 Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." 8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." 9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"

    Today’s Devotional

    Today is Maundy Thursday. This is the day of Holy Week we remember the Last Supper Jesus held with his disciples. I hope you will join me tonight on Facebook Live for a Maundy Thursday Communion (facebook.com/WestwoodBaptist). Just find some bread and some juice or wine and come be part of a virtual communion.

    Maundy Thursday is not just about the Last Supper. There is something else Jesus did on that night in the upper room –he washed his disciples’ feet. There is a lot wrong with washing someone’s feet. Feet are gross. They get dirty and smelly. They carry the weight of the world and show it. Feet are those things we keep under wrap –unless we are at the beach. And even then, feet are not something we want to pay much attention to –especially other people’s feet. Is Jesus telling us that we need to literally wash each other’s feet?

    Maybe. But I think he might also be telling us something bigger about how we should interact with the world. Our position should not be one of superiority –it should be of kneeling. We should not avoid the dirty and gross parts of life –we should go directly to them. We should not seek to be served –but to serve.

    This attitude of humility, reaching out to the lowest, and living to serve should define us as Christians. It is not a suggestion. If we are going to be followers of Christ, we must follow Christ.

    This can be hard –especially when the world is upside down and the LAST thing we want to do is reach out. And yet, that is what we are called to do.

    How can you be a servant to someone today?

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for those who are dealing with grief over the loss of someone they love.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    The position of a servant is not one that we like to take. And yet Jesus showed us what it takes to follow you - to kneel and to serve. Show us ways we can serve this day. Give us a heart for lifting up others instead of ourselves. Grant us the desire to reach out and be your hands to the world.

    Amen

    Wednesday April 8, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: John 13:21-32

    21 After he said these things, Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. "One of you is going to betray me."

    22-25 The disciples looked around at one another, wondering who on earth he was talking about. One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder. Peter motioned to him to ask who Jesus might be talking about. So, being the closest, he said, "Master, who?"

    26-27 Jesus said, "The one to whom I give this crust of bread after I’ve dipped it." Then he dipped the crust and gave it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. As soon as the bread was in his hand, Satan entered him.

    "What you must do," said Jesus, "do. Do it and get it over with."

    28-29 No one around the supper table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that since Judas was their treasurer, Jesus was telling him to buy what they needed for the Feast, or that he should give something to the poor.

    30 Judas, with the piece of bread, left. It was night.

    (The Message Translation)

    Today’s Devotional

    The Lectionary gives us a reading for each day of Holy Week. Today the reading is about Judas. Judas gets a pretty bad rap, doesn’t he? Even today we call people who are not loyal "Judases." And yes, Judas did betray Jesus. Let’s not forget that.

    But have you ever wondered why exactly Judas did what he did? There are different speculations (and of course the text tells us that Satan had a role to play!). But one reason may have been that Judas was tired of waiting on Jesus to act to overthrow the Romans who were occupying the land. Judas was a man of action and Jesus was just dragging his feet. Someone had to do SOMETHING. So Judas decided to take matters into his own hands and force the issue.

    I have to admit that I see some Judas in me. Not the betrayal part (I hope). Rather, the part that wants to force Jesus to act. The part that wants to take matters into my own hands. The part that is just tired of waiting already. Can’t we move this along Jesus?

    The pandemic is really causing this side of me to blossom! I am ready for this thing to end –now! My patience is about over. And to be honest, yesterday it WAS over. I found myself throwing up my hands at Jesus and saying (possibly screaming) "Act Already!" It wasn’t pretty.

    And then a church member sent me a verse from Psalm 27. It said "Wait for the Lord;

    be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!"

    Yes, sometimes the Holy Spirit just gets right up in our face.

    We are going through a very difficult time. This is hard. We REALLY want to take things into our own hands. But the story of Judas reminds us of how THAT turns out. So, take a deep breath, and wait. Trust Jesus to walk with you through this. It may seem like he’s not doing anything. But in the end, we may look back and see how Jesus helped us hold it together, how Jesus increased our love and compassion, and how Jesus had us all along.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Please pray for the residents of Green Spring Retirement Village and especially our many church members who live there.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    We admit to you that there are times we have no patience. There are times we just want to take matters into our own hands.This current crisis is forcing us to wait and it’s hard to do so. Give us strength. Give us wisdom. Give us the ability to hang on and trust you in the waiting. And may we look back at this time and see that we grew closer to you - even in the waiting.

    Amen

    Tuesday April 7, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: John 12:23-25

    22-23 Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, "Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

    24-25 "Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal."

    (The Message Translation)

    Today’s Devotional

    I’ve been reading a lot about how different life is going to be after the pandemic. Most of the people who are pontificating about what will change have no idea. They’re just guessing. But I think they are right about one thing: life IS going to be different.

    I don’t know about you but that scares me a little! I liked the way life was BEFORE the pandemic. And yet, we can’t go back. Too much has changed. Too much is changing.

    This passage from John reminds us that for something new to be born –the old must die. Just like a grain of wheat is buried but then produces a whole stalk of wheat which in turn produces even more wheat. If the farmer holds onto the grain of wheat and does not bury it –change will not come. The harvest will not materialize. It’s the death of the grain that leads to the abundance.

    We are in a season of burying seeds. Our old way of life is dying. This is causing a fair share of grief and anxiety and worry and depression. I think it feels even worse because we are not yet able to see what is going to come next. Just like the farmer must trust that the buried seed will grow into something different –we are at a time where we must trust that what is buried will live again –but it’s going to look a lot different.

    The scripture says "But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal." I think the key phrase in that verse is "reckless in your love." Now is the time to be reckless with our love. But yes, this is hard. It feels like we are burying something that will never return. But God is doing something. We need to trust that it’s going to be amazing.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for our church and the changes we will face as a congregation once this is over.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    It is so hard for us to let things go –we like things to remain the same. But we are living in a time when "same" is no longer an option. Help us to let go of the seeds that we need to let go of so that you can bring about something new and wonderful. Help us to focus on hope instead of despair –on love instead of fear –on faith instead of anxiety. We put our trust in the new thing you are doing.

    Amen

    Monday April 6, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Luke 9:51-56

    51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

    Today’s Devotional

    I sometimes have trouble being focused. It’s not anything that has hindered me (too much), but sometimes I just can’t stay on task. I find other things that need attention and want to work on those items rather than the thing in front of me that needs attention. This is why I protect my mornings for study and ask to not be disturbed. If I didn’t, I’d never finish a sermon!

    The past few weeks I have seen my ability to focus dwindle. It’s like my mind just can’t settle long enough to really zero in on what’s in front of me. I wonder if you have found this to be true as well? Living in a surreal crisis can do that to us, I think.

    On this Monday of Holy week, I am reminded of this passage from Luke about Jesus setting his face towards Jerusalem. Luke spends the next 10 chapters telling us about the journey to Jerusalem. But it’s here that we learn of Jesus’ focus and determination. He knew what was waiting for him in Jerusalem (or at least he was beginning to understand). He knew, but he was focused and determined. Luke even uses the phrase "set his face" twice!

    As we enter this strange Holy Week, we need to give ourselves some grace about our inability to focus. However, we also need to realize our propensity to distraction and not let it guide us away from being the disciples Jesus is calling us to be. Try this week to focus on Jesus’ journey to the cross as much as possible. Walk with him through this week with the realization that on the other side is . . . resurrection.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for our county and state leaders as they continue to work through this crisis.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Distraction is such a part of our lives these days. We jump from one website to another, one project to another, one conversation to another. And in the midst of our crazy world right now we find ourselves more and more distracted. Grant to us the ability to focus like Jesus - to set our face toward being your disciples not matter what might try to grab our attention.

    Amen

    Friday, April 2, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Matthew 25:41-46

    41 "Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, 'Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.'

    44 "Then they will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?'

    45 "And he will answer, 'I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.'

    46 "And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life."

    Today’s Devotional

    There is a brick wall behind my house that has just been rebuilt. It was leaning over –almost falling over –and so the HOA pulled it down and rebuilt it. While it was down, the back of our home was exposed to the world. While the wall was down –coronavirus struck. I admit to you that it felt good this week when the wall was finally finished. It was almost like we were protected from the world again.

    It’s perfectly normal to want to hide and protect yourself from the outside world when perils arise. It’s part of our ancient DNA, I think. We want to shield ourselves. When this happens, everyone and everything can be seen as a threat. It’s easy to want to build walls to hide behind.

    But when those walls are built we start to see people as "other," danger, or hazard. We stop seeing them as individuals and start lumping them together in groups that have the potential to hurt us. When this happens, we stop seeing Christ in them.

    This is what Jesus was warning against in this parable. We have to be intentional about seeing Christ in others –otherwise we will assume that there is no Christ there at all. When this happens the Kingdom of God is hindered and the love of God is blocked.

    It’s normal to want to build walls during a crisis. But as disciples we need to continue to find ways to love our neighbor - because in doing so we are loving Christ.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for those who are stuck at home in an abusive situation. Pray that they will be protected and find ways to reach out if they need help.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    We confess to you that we are in a time when we just want to hunker down and not even THINK about our neighbors. And yet you remind us that we are your hands and feet in this world and command us to love our neighbor. Help us to see Christ in others. Help us to find ways to share you love.

    Amen

    ~~~~~

    See you on Sunday on Facebook Live! Be well!

    Bryan

    Thursday April 2, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Romans 8:26-31

    Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

    28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

    31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

    Today’s Devotional

    I wonder if you have been like me during these past few weeks and found yourself not sure how exactly to pray? There have been moments I have sat aside for quietness and prayer only to have the words not come at all. How DO we pray for the world? How DO we lift up all the needs we are currently facing? How DO I pray for my family and my church and my community? I think my brain sometimes gets so overwhelmed that it just shuts down.

    That’s why I find this passage in Romans so comforting. It’s almost like Paul, the author of this letter to Christians in Rome, knew that there are times the words just do not come.

    Maybe we are too tired. Maybe our hearts and minds are overwhelmed. Maybe trauma and crisis have taken away our voice. Whatever the reason, there are times when we just do not know what to pray.

    But in times like this the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. The Holy Spirit will be our voice. We don’t have to come up with fancy words. We don’t have to come up with words at all. In fact, all we really need to pray is "God, help."

    There have been so many moments these past few weeks where the only thing I have been able to pray is "God, help." But that’s ok. The Holy Spirit is praying for me with sighs too deep for words.

    If you find yourself without prayers today or tomorrow or at any point in your life. Relax. Trust in the Holy Spirit to pray for exactly what you need. And trust that God has heard.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for those in our congregation who are at home alone. Pray that they will feel connected to others even though there is no one else in the house. Pray that God will alleviate any loneliness.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    There are times that we just do not know what to say to you. We are overwhelmed with pain, with stress, with the weight of everything we are going through. But we trust in these times that the Holy Spirit will speak for us. Help us to trust that you hear us –even when we don’t speak.

    Wednesday April 1, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Psalm 3

    O Lord, how many are my foes!

    Many are rising against me;

    2 many are saying to me,

    "There is no help for you in God." Selah

    3 But you, O Lord, are a shield around me,

    my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.

    4 I cry aloud to the Lord,

    and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah

    5 I lie down and sleep;

    I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.

    6 I am not afraid of ten thousands of people

    who have set themselves against me all around.

    7 Rise up, O Lord!

    Deliver me, O my God!

    For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;

    you break the teeth of the wicked.

    8 Deliverance belongs to the Lord;

    may your blessing be on your people! Selah

    Today’s Devotional

    The other day I was talking with my wife about life in the middle of this virus and I told her that I felt like my shields were down to 5% and I wasn’t sure how much more they could take. Yes, that was a Star Trek reference!

    In the Star Trek world, star ships are equipped with shields. These shields are deployed when there are attacks or potential attacks on the ship. The shields protect the ship from danger. Shields have an effectiveness that is rated by percentage. So, shields at 90% are much better than shields at 15%. Each hit the shields take will lower their percentage.

    As I said, I feel like my shields are down to 5%. Where are your shields this day?

    Life these days can feel like we are on a star ship that is under attack –we are just praying the shields hold. Each day (sometimes each hour) brings another volley of ammo headed our way. It’s exhausting.

    Low shields can cause us to lash out at people we love. Low shields can bring grief and loneliness and anger to the surface in an instant. Low shields can cause us to cry at the strangest times or scream out at the slightest frustration. Low shields increase worry and anxiety - or at least seem to make it more acute.

    But here’s the deal. We don’t have to be responsible for our own shields. The Psalmist reminds us that GOD is the shield around us –the lifter of our heads. Not only that, when we cry out - God hears us.

    Read the Psalm again and let the words sink deep into your soul. It’s ok if your shields are down –God will be your shield. Trust that those shields will hold.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for our church and for our sister churches. Pray that we will come out of the pandemic stronger and more committed to being the presence of Christ.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    We confess that we try to hold it all together only to discover that we are just barely hanging on. We ask that you remind us that you are a shield around us –that you are the one who helps us through the attacks of life. Remind us of your strength, of your care, of your love for us –even in the midst of the battle.

    Amen

    Tuesday March 31, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Matthew 21:1-10

    When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, 'The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately." 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

    5 "Tell the daughter of Zion,

    Look, your king is coming to you,

    humble, and mounted on a donkey,

    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

    6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd[b]spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

    "Hosanna to the Son of David!

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

    Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

    10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" 11 The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."

    Today’s Devotional

    This passage is our sermon scripture for this coming Sunday. As I was looking it over the other day I found myself getting a little anxious. I was not sure why. This is a perfectly fine text –one that we may have read many times before. What about it was making me nervous? It’s just a text about the Triumphant Entry after all.

    At first, I thought I was just really getting into the text –thinking about how at the end of this story Jesus will be crucified - even though he is being praised here. Then I thought I was anxious about getting ready for a Holy Week that will be completely virtual with no contact from each other –a type of Holy Week which none of us have ever experienced.

    But as I sat with it a little bit, I soon came to the point that was making me nervous: the crowds.

    Look back over the text and notice how many times "crowds" are mentioned. It’s a lot! I don’t know about you, but crowds make me nervous right now. We are being told to avoid them. We are seeing how they could be dangerous. My anxiety about crowds was coming out in the reading of this text!

    But then I started to feel sad. I WANT to be in a crowd again. I want to worship in a crowd like this with voices signing all around me. I want to hear the roar of thousands of people in a baseball stadium. I want to see a crowd in our sanctuary on Sunday mornings. Crowds will return –but not yet.

    In the meantime, we have to find ways to connect with each other away from the crowd. We must find ways to worship Jesus that don’t involve being in physical proximity. We cannot let our fear of the crowd diminish our praise. How can you worship God today –even though you are not in a crowd?

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for all the parents who are suddenly academic teachers. Pray that they will have patience, grace, and forgiveness. Pray that they will be gentle with themselves as they tackle this new role.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    There are lots of things that scare us right now –including crowds. But we know that we don’t have to be in a crowd to worship you. Bring to our minds ways that we can lift praise to you and give you honor and glory right we are.

    Amen

    Monday March 30, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Romans 12:9-19

    9-10 Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

    11-13 Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

    14-16 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

    17-19 Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. "I’ll do the judging," says God. "I’ll take care of it."

    (The Message Translation)

    Today’s Devotional

    Some of you may have seen this prayer yesterday from Nadia Bolz-Webber. It expresses my feelings this Monday morning, so I am reprinting it here for you. I pray you have a good week.

    For the layers of comfort and convenience that surrounded our lives and that we never considered a blessing but always just took for granted, forgive us.

    For we who must grieve in isolation and not in community, comfort us.

    For we who care for the sick, protect us.

    For the ability to turn off the fear-mongering and unhelpful commentary and worst-case scenario click bait, strengthen us.

    For the times when we are all out of creative ideas for how to get through this with cooped up kids, inspire us.

    For we who are now cutting our own bangs at home, guide us.

    For the grace to allow ourselves and others to just be less productive, shower us.

    For the generosity needed from those of us who have more resources, empower us.

    From our own selfish inclinations, deliver us.

    For just being your children, none of whom have done a global pandemic before, love us.

    For the days ahead, accompany us.

    God unbound by time, help us to know that you are already present in the future we are fearing.

    AMEN.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    As I mentioned in worship on Sunday, we have heard that there is a case of Covid-19 in Greenspring Senior Living. Please pray for the containment of this virus in Greenspring –that it does not spread to others parts of the campus or to other individuals.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    We admit to you that this Monday seems a little more “Monday-like”. As we look out at the future in front of us –not knowing what will come –be our guide and our comfort, our hope and our future.

    Amen

    Friday March 27, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Genesis 1:1-10; 31

    In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light;" and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

    6 And God said, "Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

    9 And God said, "Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

    31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

    Today’s Devotional

    When God created the world he paused and looked at what he had done each day and "saw that it was good." I want us to pause on this Friday and think about all you have done in the past two weeks:

    You have reached out to friends and neighbors to see if they need help

    You have set up a home office and learned the ins and outs of Zoom

    You have become a teacher of your kids overnight

    You have had to make hard choices and lived through them

    You have learned how to take care of yourself while taking care of others

    You found creative ways to cook meals based on what was hiding on the high pantry shelf

    You have carried the weight of the world on your shoulders

    You have connected with family over a puzzle or a video call

    You have spent way too many hours indoors with your loved ones and yet have not injured them

    You have worshiped with others in real time but not in the same room and still felt connected

    You have seen God in places you might not have expected

    You have dealt with the mental stress of this time with love and grace

    I just want to remind you that what you have done is amazing. And I believe God is looking at you and saying "It is good."

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray for a close couple friend of the Marvins who have Covid-19. They live in Gainsville and the husband is hospitalized.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    There are a lot of good things happening - even in the midst of the craziness of the world. Help us to see the good. Remind us of the good that we are doing. Allow us the courage to celebrate the good. Thank you for being with us in the storm and for showing us that you are the creator of all good things.

    Amen

    ~~

    See you at worship on Sunday Morning. Don’t forget to try and have virtual dinner with someone tonight! Our devotions will continue on Monday. BB

    Thursday March 26, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Ephesians 4:26-27

    Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry— but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life. (The Message Translation)

    Today’s Devotional

    I love the way The Message translate these verses from Ephesians. Especially the first line "Go ahead and be angry." We are not told that very often. But it’s true. It’s OK to be angry.

    Anger is part of grief and we are all going through grief right now - in one way or another. This grief, and any grief I believe, causes anger to sit just below the surface of our lives. Anger can come out in a variety of ways. We might not even recognize it as anger about our current situation. And yet, think about how easy it has been to get angry these past few days.

    For example, the other day I received a completely normal e-mail which really set me off for some reason. (Don’t worry, it was not from you!) I found myself getting hotter and hotter. I read it again and again and each time I could feel my blood pressure rising. I was composing scathing responses in my head and really going off the deep end. Then at some point I asked myself. "Why am I so mad about this e-mail?" It really was nothing to get upset about. Seriously. It was no big deal and yet I was reacting as if the world were ending.

    The more I thought about it the more I realized that my anger was not at the e-mail or the person sending it, but rather at our current situation. Anger is sitting just below the surface and it will come out in many different ways.

    And that’s OK! "Go ahead and be angry" says Paul to the Ephesians. BUT don’t stay there. Find a way to put a firewall between your anger and your actions and make sure you don’t go to bed angry. Anger that stays and grows and festers can lead to all sorts of evil. Be angry –don’t stay there.

    So, be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. And find a way to flush the anger.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for the teachers in our county who are ramping up plans for distance learning. They are also dealing with the grief of not being able to see their kids again this year.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    There is a lot of grief and a lot of anger in the world right now. We feel it every day. Help us to know that it’s ok to angry – but not ok to stay there. Help us not to give evil any kind of foothold. Help us to put our anger and our grief onto your shoulders – each and every day.

    Amen

    Don’t Forget! Kids Time with Pastor Bryan is TODAY at 2:00pm. We will be sending a reminder via e-mail and on Facebook. Here is the link: zoom.us/j/822507320

    Wednesday March 25, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Psalm 139:1-6; 13-14

    O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

    2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

    you discern my thoughts from far away.

    3 You search out my path and my lying down,

    and are acquainted with all my ways.

    4 Even before a word is on my tongue,

    O Lord, you know it completely.

    5 You hem me in, behind and before,

    and lay your hand upon me.

    6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

    13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

    14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

    Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

    Today’s Devotional

    Yesterday was a hard day for me. I’m not sure why, but everything suddenly became very real and I found myself struggling. I have heard from many of you going through the same thing. These are extraordinarily stressful times. How do we take care of ourselves?

    Yesterday I came across a very helpful list from Partners in Care. It helped me yesterday and I am sure I will come back to this list often. I wanted to share it with you today.

    10 Mental Health Tips for Coronavirus Social Distancing:

    1. Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing; use technology to connect widely;

    2. Clear routines and schedule, seven days a week, at home—don’t go overboard;

    3. Exercise and physical activity, daily if possible;

    4. Learning and intellectual engagement— books, reading, limited internet;

    5. Positive family time— working to counter negativity;

    6. Alone time, outside if possible, but inside too; but remember, don’t isolate;

    7. Focused meditation and relaxation; (Daily prayer time works well! BB)

    8. Remember the things that you really enjoy doing, that you can do in this situation, and find a way to do them;

    9. Limit exposure to TV and internet news; choose small windows and then find ways to cleanse yourself of it;

    10. Bathe daily, if possible, to reinforce the feeling of cleanliness.

    (pih.org/article/10-mental-health-tips-coronavirus-social-distancing)

    I know today’s e-mail may not feel like a devotional in the traditional sense of the word. But I do know that God wants us to take care of ourselves and is concerned with our spiritual, physical, AND mental well-being. So, taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your spiritual health and physical health. In fact, I’d say they are all related!

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Last night on our Deacons meeting we heard about a member of our congregation who had to lay off a significant amount of people. We also heard about church members who have been laid off and who are not seeing much work. Pray for everyone having to make hard decisions and those who are affected by them.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    I know that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I confess to you that sometimes I feel broken. Help me to realize that I’m not broken –but I am made in your image. Help me to know the love you have for me. And help me to focus on what is good and right and healthy.

    Amen

    Tuesday March 24, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Romans 12:1-2

    I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritualworship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

    Today’s Devotional

    Richard Rohr is an author I really like. One of the things he says often is that spiritual transformation comes either through great love or great suffering (and great love will always lead to great suffering.) I have found this to be true in my own life. When I look back at the times I have suffered the most and compare myself to the person I am now, I can see a real change in my spiritual life. For some reason God uses suffering to transform us spiritually.

    Now, I do NOT believe God brings us suffering intentionally. Rather, God can use the suffering we go through to transform us –if we trust God enough to let that happen.

    Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel once said "Never let a good crisis go to waste." He was talking about politics and public policy, but I think it might work for spiritual transformation as well.

    We are in crisis times. If you don’t feel like you are suffering right now, just wait. So the question is –how is God going to transform you during this trial? How are you going to grow in your spirituality? How are you going to grow closer to God?

    Here are some ideas to open ourselves up to transformation:

    1. Be honest with God. Don’t hold anything back. God can take it. We need to practice vulnerability before we can truly grow closer to God.

    2. Find time for silence. Find a way, everyday, to sit in the presence of God (even if you have to wake up before everyone else!) Just sit in silence and let God look at you. Don’t talk –just keep bringing your mind back to God.

    3. Serve. Find a way to reach out to others Show love in as many ways as you can. Serving others leads to transformation.

    4. Look for what God is doing. Where is God acting? How is God prompting you towards growth? Try and see God everyday.

    My prayer is that all of us come out of this time closer to God, acting more like Christ, and transformed into the people God is calling us to be.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for our High School Seniors who found out yesterday afternoon that their Senior Year is now officially over.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    These times are hard. There is a lot of uncertainty. There is a lot of stress. There is a lot of depression and anxiety. We pray that as we walk through this valley you will begin working in us to transform us into the likeness of Christ. Use this crisis to draw us closer to you in ways that will make a difference long after the crisis has passed.

    Amen

    Monday March 23, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Proverbs 15:1-4

    A gentle answer deflects anger,

    but harsh words make tempers flare.

    2 The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing,

    but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness.

    3 The Lord is watching everywhere,

    keeping his eye on both the evil and the good.

    4 Gentle words are a tree of life;

    a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.

    Today’s Devotional

    As we enter the second full week of physical distancing, schools being closed, and working from home, I think it might be a good time to revisit these wise words from Proverbs –especially the admonition that a gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.

    When we are stressed and anxious our filters sometimes go away. We hear something someone says to us as an attack or filled with snark, and instead of letting it roll off our backs or responding gently, we react with our own attack. This attack then causes the first person to react in the same way and suddenly we are off the races. It never ends well.

    I get it. These are stressful times. Being cooped up with people we love is not easy. It’s a wonder ALL our answers to each other are not filled with hostility! There have been too many times in the past few days I have shared words of malice instead of words of love.

    That’s OK. We need to be gentle with ourselves. But we also need to be gentle with others. The stress of this situation will turn us into jerks if we let it.

    The wisdom from Proverbs is important for these days. We need to develop the habit of answering gently. (Sometimes this means not answering at all!) When we answer with love instead of wrath we will soon notice that the whole temperature of the house will be reduced and maybe we can enjoy each other’s company once again. Sometimes all it takes is a gentle answer from us to change the whole dynamic.

    These are hard times for everyone. Let’s show a little gentleness.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for those who work in the Fairfax County health department and in healthcare in general –including some of our own church members. Pray that they will have strength for their job. Pray for their protection. Pray that they will know they are not alone.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    Forgive us for the times these past few days when we have spoken with hostility instead of love. Help us to take a deep breath and speak with gentleness even when we would rather lash out. God, these are tough times and our stress levels are high –anxiety is our norm. Teach us to trust in you, to find comfort in you, and have hope in you –even this very day.

    Amen

    ~~~

    If you need assistance please let us know. We have several individuals who have offered to go shopping if you need it. Also, don’t forget to reach out to someone today!

    Bryan

    Friday March 20, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Leviticus 19:9-10

    9 "When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop.10 It is the same with your grape crop — do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God."

    Today’s Devotional

    I realize a verse from Leviticus might not seem like the ideal text for a daily devotional. But I was reminded of this passage this week by an author I follow and I think it has some insights for us. Buried deep in all the commandments found in the Old Testament book of Leviticus is this passage about not harvesting the edges.

    Since we don’t live in an agricultural society, we might miss the meaning here. Basically, God is saying that we should not hoard what we have. Instead, we should leave some margin so that we can give to those in need.

    This passage reminds us that to be good neighbors we must be willing to share what we have. This is a hard thing to do in our normal lives – much less during a national emergency where supplies are running low and fear is running high. And yet, it is one way to be the hands of God and love our neighbor as ourselves.

    I have been thinking a lot about what “church” looks like on the other side of this. It’s not going to be the same - and I’m not sure what it will be. But one thing I do know, we will have to be people who do not harvest the edges. So, let’s start today. How can you show love to a neighbor? How can you connect with a friend who is isolated? How can you share from your own field?

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray today for our government leaders who are having to make very tough decisions almost daily. Pray that God will give them wisdom for these times.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    We admit to you that we want to harvest to the edges. We want to keep everything for ourselves and our family. We confess our fear of running out and our fear of not having enough. Forgive us for forgetting that you took five loaves of bread and two fish and fed thousands. Help us to be people who share our abundance.

    God we pray that this day you would help us be the presence of Christ in our world.

    We pray in the name of the one who gave us his all, Jesus Christ, Amen.

    ~~

    Don’t forget today is "Virtual Dinner Friday!" Plan to have virtual dinner with someone tonight.

    The next Daily Devotional will come on Monday, March 23.

    Have a great weekend! See you on Facebook Live for Worship on Sunday!

    Bryan

    Thursday March 19, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Philippians 4:8-9

    8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. (New Living Translation)

    Today’s Devotional

    Yesterday I shared a prayer of St. Patrick. What I did not tell you was that the words I shared with you are part of a much larger prayer. If you are interested, google it. It really is a powerful prayer to pray.

    There is one phrase in that prayer that really hit me today –a phrase that was not in the section I shared yesterday. Patrick prays "Christ, shield me today against wounding."

    There are two ways we can read that. The first, and most common way (and most likely the way Patrick prayed it) is to pray that Christ will protect us from harm. I find myself praying this a lot these days not only for me, but for my family, and for all of you. We need Christ’s protection not only from the virus, but also from the troubles that will inevitably accompany it.

    But there is another way to pray "Christ, shield me today against wounding" –that is: "Christ, help me to not wound other people today –shield me against wounding others."

    We have two choices before us during these days of upheaval. We can either withdraw into ourselves, put up walls, and lash out at others. Or, we can open our hearts and our hands to those around us. We can choose to be loving or we can choose to be wounding. But we do have a choice.

    I pray that we will be people who love instead of people who wound.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Marie Skalski’s procedure went very well. Thank you for the prayers. Please pray for our members who are in assisted living facilities. We learned this week that the dinning rooms at Green Spring and other places have shut down. This means one more point of connection has been lost. Pray that these individuals will feel the peace of God in these days.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    We confess to you the times we have wounded others this week. We pray that you will forgive us for being selfish and for hurting others with our words and deeds. Help us to live as Christ – with openness, with hospitality, with love. Show us ways to be the presence of Christ this day.

    Amen

    Have a great Thursday everyone! Don’t forget Story Time with Pastor Bryan will be today at 2:00 on ZOOM. Here is the link: https://zoom.us/j/822507320

    Bryan

    Wednesday March 18, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Galatians 2:19a-20

    Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. (The Message Translation)

    Today’s Devotional

    I totally slept on the fact that yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, I did not wear ANY green. It’s a good thing we are social distancing, or I would have gotten pinched for sure! I was reminded of this prayer from St. Patrick that I really like. Perhaps you have heard it before:

    Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

    Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

    Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

    Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,

    Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

    Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,

    Christ in the eye that sees me,

    Christ in the ear that hears me.

    I think we sometimes forget that Christ is in everything –and especially that Christ is in us. But, as Paul writes in Galatians “It is no longer I [ego] who lives, but Christ lives in me.” What would change about our lives if we really believed that Christ was before, behind, beneath, above, on the right, and on the left? For me, it brings a sense of comfort and protection and peace in the midst of craziness.

    But also, notice that Patrick prays about Christ being in those we encounter each day. How would we see other people if we truly prayed and understood that Christ was in every heart and every mouth and every eye and every ear that interacts with us?

    Let today be a day where we really feel the presence of Christ in us – and really see the presence of Christ in others. Even if we only see them on a computer screen or from 6 feet away.

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Pray for the homeless population who are quickly finding the places they spend their days are closed (Library, fast food dinning rooms, etc.) Pray that they will find shelter and protection.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    When things get tough, when anxiety increases, when worry floods in, we have a tendency to forget that Christ is right here – before us, behind us, beneath us, above us, and in us. Forgive our forgetfulness and use the circumstances of this day to remind us that Christ is near – all the time.

    Amen

    Have a great Wednesday everyone! Don’t forget Bible Study with Pastor Stephen today at 6:30 pm on Facebook!

    Tuesday March 17, 2020

    Today’s Scripture: Psalm 34:1-10

    1 I will bless the LORD at all times;

    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

    2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD;

    let the humble hear and be glad.

    3 O magnify the LORD with me,

    and let us exalt his name together.

    4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me,

    and delivered me from all my fears.

    5 Look to him, and be radiant;

    so your faces shall never be ashamed.

    6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD,

    and was saved from every trouble.

    7 The angel of the LORD encamps

    around those who fear him, and delivers them.

    8 O taste and see that the LORD is good;

    happy are those who take refuge in him.

    9 O fear the LORD, you his holy ones,

    for those who fear him have no want.

    10 The young lions suffer want and hunger,

    but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

    Today’s Devotional

    One of my favorite daily devotionals was written by Heri Nouwen. Here is his entry from yesterday. I thought it was very appropriate!

    "Trees look strong compared with the wild reeds in the field. But when the storm comes the trees are uprooted, whereas the wild reeds, while moved back and forth by the wind, remain rooted and stand up again after the storm has calmed down.

    Flexibility is a great virtue. When we cling to our own positions and are not willing to let our hearts be moved back and forth a little by the ideas or actions of others, we may easily be broken. Being like wild reeds does not mean being wishy-washy. It means moving a little with the winds of the time while remaining solidly anchored in the ground. A humorless, intense, opinionated rigidity about current issues might cause them to break our spirits and make us bitter people. Let’s be flexible while being deeply rooted."

    (Bread for the Journey, Henri J.M. Nouwen)

    Today’s Prayer Requests

    Marie Skalski who has a surgical procedure scheduled for today.

    Today’s Prayer

    Dear God,

    In these times of uncertainty help me to trust in my roots and be flexible in the storm. Forgive me for my rigidity and desire to have everything perfect. I pray that I will grow closer to you each day and live my life in ways that honor you. May I be filled with your peace this day –and may that peace guide my words and actions.

    Amen

    Have a great day everyone!

    Bryan

    ArrowIcon BloggerIcon AimIcon DeliciousIcon PaperIcon EtsyIcon FacebookIcon FilmStripIcon FlickrIcon CameraIcon LaunchIcon GooglePlus2Icon GooglePlusIcon HeartIcon InformationIcon InstagramIcon LastfmIcon FrontCameraIcon LinkedInIcon EmailIcon MoneyIcon ItunesIcon MyspaceIcon OpenTableIcon PayPalIcon PencilIcon PersonIcon PhotoIcon PicasaIcon PinterestIcon PodcastIcon RssIcon ShoppingCartIcon SoundCloudIcon StarIcon TableProjectIcon TheCityIcon TumblrIcon Twitter2Icon TwitterIcon TypepadIcon VideoIcon VimeoIcon WordPressIcon YelpIcon YoutubeIcon