Devotions

This page has devotions from the Great Plains District. It is written by laity, clergy, and many others. If you have any comments or questions, email me, Pastor Bianca, at belliott @ greatplainsumc.org. Enjoy!

NOTE: If you would like a copy of the Upper Room or simply want to read it online, you may do so. For a physical copy, email Pastor Bianca. For an online option click on this link… The Upper Room .

Today’s Lectionary Text

John 12:37, 42-43

Although (Jesus) had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in Him. … Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in Him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

Today’s Devotional

I was raised in a non-religious household. While my mom believed in Christ, my dad did not. We listened to Gospel music on Sunday morning but that was about the extent of my Christian exposure. However, the message found in Gospel music and Christmas carols made me want to know more about Jesus. One year, I asked Mom for a Bible for Christmas. She was hesitant because she did not think my dad would approve. Nevertheless, I received a Bible for Christmas that year.

Interesting, it was not my dad who disapproved but my older brother. When he saw me with my Bible, he ridiculed me mercilessly. To avoid his mockery, I would quickly hide my Bible when he walked into the room. I did this out of fear of his ridicule, of his disapproval, and of being different.

The Gospel of John includes a number of stories about individuals who believed in Jesus but were afraid to confess it. Peter denied knowing Jesus as he waited in the courtyard outside the Jewish high priest. Nicodemus did not show loyalty to Jesus until after his crucifixion. Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple because he was afraid of the Jews. After the resurrection, Jesus found the disciples hiding behind locked doors, also because they are afraid of the Jews.

Fear can prevent us from claiming our Christian calling, but we can move beyond it. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea quelled their fear and publicly received Jesus’ body for burial. Peter left the locked room and boldly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah on the Day of Pentecost. The rest of the disciples, in their own ways, embraced the work for which Jesus prepared them. I finally picked up my Bible to read, study and proclaim it from the pulpit. Fear can be paralyzing but it also can be overcome.
–Rev. Bonnie McCord
Red Cloud-Guide Rock United Methodist Parish
bmccord@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Take away our fear, O God. Help us to courageously follow you in faith and trust this day and always. Amen.

How is fear holding you back from fully embracing Christ’s call on your life?

Wesleyan Means of Grace

Works of Piety

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

Works of Mercy

Individual Practices – doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others

Communal Practices – seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor

https://www.umc.org/en/content/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace
 

Today’s Devotional

How are you partaking in the Means of Grace?

Before we start, I must apologize. This blog post is quite lengthy. We all can say that this year has been really hard for everyone. Between the COVID-19 pandemic and political turmoil that is pulling the country apart, it seems we cannot go anywhere without seeing something controversial. We have seen many hurt and grieve this year. We have seen riots and chaos consume parts of our country. We have seen 500,000 people die in the U.S. alone from a disease we still know very little about. We have not been able to see people whom we are close with. It has been extremely daunting on us, and we are all experiencing fatigue.

With all of this going on, I thought about how I could grow closer to God; about how I can maintain an intimate relationship with God to where it pours out into other areas of my life. Also, it gives me a break from the craziness of the world. And I went to one of my favorite theologians, John Wesley, to see what he recommends. Wesley spoke of the Means of Grace in many of his writings and even has a sermon on it. So, I decided that this year I was going to take on more Means of Grace.

Before I continue with what I am doing, it would be helpful to know what the Means of Grace Wesley says every Christian should do in order to be in a relationship with Christ. 

First, we have the Works of Piety. We must read Scripture daily, no matter how much to see all the good that God has done. This means reading both the Old and New Testament because they are both important for us as Christians. We need to take communion as often as possible. Wesley said we should take it everyday, and I completely agree. We should fast, because fasting helps us realize we are finite beings and that we need God. We should take a Sabbath, both daily and weekly, to rest and recharge our bodies, minds, and souls. We must pray, pray everyday and pray often. It is our direct communication with God. We also must worship, because worship is celebrating all that God has done for us and participating with the whole body of Christ. We need to live healthy lives, taking care of our bodies and souls. Finally, and this one is difficult because of social distancing, but it can still be done, we must conference with other Christians. We must be active with others in Christian living, whether it is in large groups or small bands or one on one conversations. Zoom can be handy for this one.

Next, we have the Works of Mercy. Wesley draws many of these from Matthew 25. This is where we do good works, where we are helping those who are in need around us. Where we visit those who are sick and imprisoned. We feed and clothe those who need it.

We earn all the money we can, in a humane way, save all we can, where we can have enough to get by for a time, and then give all we can with all the money we have left over. Finally, we must seek justice for those who have been neglected. This can come in many ways depending on what the community around you needs. All of these, the Works of Piety and Mercy, help us in the process of sanctification as we move towards Christian Perfection.

This all seems like a lot, especially for those of us who work full time or who are in school full time, but they can be done. For me, I wake up early and I read my Bible everyday. At this point and time, I am reading through the book of Acts and seeing how the early, Apostolic church lived. I also want to read through all the Psalms again because they are awesome. I take communion 3 to 4 times a week. Here at Asbury, they have communion 5 days a week, and I am able to go 3 times during the week, and I rejoice knowing that Christ died for all of our sins. I have started a prayer journal, where I pray daily for anything and everything and to seek where God is guiding me that day and for while I am here at Asbury. Bea and I partake in a weekly Sabbath, where we take time to rest, spiritually and physically every Saturday (which means no homework, yay!).

I have started working out 4 days a week and watching my eating habits, because if I am to help others, I need to make sure I am taking care of myself. I am in worship 4 days a week. It is easier for me to worship since we have chapel 3 days a week, but having a place where I can regularly go and worship God is something we all need. Also, I am a part of a discipleship band, where me and 2 other guys meet weekly to talk about our struggles and successes going on in our lives. We listen to one another and pray for each other; it is truly one of my favorite times of the week. Finally, I have been asking God to show me where I can aid those in need around me. This is something I am still trying to work out, but I have been feeling led to talking with the pastor I am mentoring with about visiting those in prison here.

I am sure you are seeing all of these things and wondering how the heck anyone can do these. How can we add in more Means of Grace with the crazy schedules we have going on? I completely understand, it is not easy to pursue these things. But my friends, when you do pursue them, you grow close to God and He pours into other areas of your life. When we focus on having an intimate relationship with Christ, our perspectives change, we become more like Him. We are given a zeal to accomplish what Christ has set before us each day, and when we take time to rest, we are revitalized to continue that work.
-Abraham Ruffcorn
Asbury Seminarian
General and Jurisdictional Conference Lay Delegate Alternate

Prayer for Reflection

Friends, take time this Lenten season to pursue the Means of Grace. For when we grow closer to God, our lives are different, and Christ is able to work through us even more than He was before. Thanks be God that we are able to have a relationship with Him! Blessings to you all through this Lenten time. Amen.

*Emporia State University campus ministry is currently doing a series in Lent written by current students, former students and members of their board.  They have generously allowed us to share them with you in the daily devotion.  We invite you to visit their website to learn more about their campus ministry and FaithLab series at https://umcmesu.com/faithlab/

John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Today’s Devotional

As we prepare ourselves for Easter, we will once a week in Lent we will share in a Lectio Divina spiritual practice. Lectio Divina means divine, sacred reading or intentional sacred listening. It is a method of reading, praying, and meditating on the scriptures and allowing God to speak to us through them. It is not about analyzing or studying commentaries or historical context. Rather, the four-fold prayer form deepens our relationship with the sacred words in a way that we can hear God’s message for us today.

  • Lectio means “to read.” Read today’s text aloud slowly 2 or 3 times. Silently ask God to give you a verse, short phrase, or word for the day. Write the verse, short phrase, or word on a piece of paper.
  • Meditatio means “to meditate.” Meditate on the text. Write the verse, short phrase, or word for the day in the middle. Let it speak to you, listen for what God might say to you. While you are listening, you can draw. Doodle around the word and write in whatever you hear.
  • Oratio means “to speak or pray.” Talk to God in the more traditional way of prayer. Ask God questions like: What do you want me to hear and learn from this word, verse or phrase? Why is it important to me today?
  • Contemplatio means “to contemplate.” This is a time to release the verse, phrase, or word along with all of the thoughts and feelings that you have. Give up all activity of drawing, thinking, and writing and simply be still, comforted, and held by love. You may have a huge ah-ha during this time; or nothing may happen, and you may simply rest your body and mind for a few moments.

-Congregational Excellence Team

Prayer for Reflection

 O God, as we continue in this season of Lent, help us live out your word to us and what you have spoken to us in this ancient way of reading your word.  Amen.

Find these Lenten Resources are here for your devotion and to share with others:

Romans 9:36-38

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Today’s Devotional

My husband and I have spent five of the last eight years caring for his mother in our house. During that time, we kept behavior calm because doing so made the tasks bearable. Before that we had cared for my mother in her home, then kept an eye on her while she lived in nursing homes near where we worked. During these years, our bodies began to fall apart and need repairs. We acted as if we needed to show that we could still do all we had done before and became cranky when our bodies disappointed. We were harassed and felt helpless. We needed blessings from God’s good harvest.

Then came a day in September 2019 when all the stress came to a head. We were camping, I decided to say nothing as he tried to get us set up all by himself. He had not asked for help at any time while he prepared for the trip, nor was he asking now. I feared the fallout if I opened my mouth. Things changed that day. We have been learning to appreciate and thank each other ever since. This year of sheltering in place during the pandemic has felt like a mountain top retreat with God. I’ve been blessed to feel his Holy presence. There has been time to practice treating my husband the way I want to be treated.

We have been blessed by the harvest of God’s goodness, and love. We are blessed with retirement income that is more than is needed to meet our daily needs. As we learn of increased need around us, we are able to donate more to our church and trusted charities. I pray that these gifts remind folks that God has not forgotten them or left them alone. Whether we worship virtually or in person, this is my prayer:

Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship,
  and punctuate it with Hallelujahs:
Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers;
  give glory, you sons of Jacob;
  adore him, you daughters of Israel.
He has never let you down,
  never looked the other way
  when you were being kicked around.
He has never wandered off to do his own thing;
  he has been right there, listening. . Psalm 22: 22-24 (The Message)

 –Elly Biederman
Certified Lay Speaker
Plattsmouth, NE

ellybiederman@gmail.com

Mark 8:31-38

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Today’s Devotional

Just after telling Peter to “get behind me” for questioning his teaching on his own imminent death and resurrection, Jesus begins teaching the crowd on a life of sacrifice and service. This is an aspect of the Christian life that is hard for many to accept. We live surrounded by a common culture that teaches “if it feels good, just do it.” Or, that we should put ourselves first. We revel in sports championships and denigrate the runners-up as losers.

Our culture teaches that success is all about being first no matter the cost to others. Yet, Jesus said “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

This is the lesson of Lent. Once a year the church calls us to rethink our priorities and our definitions of success. We are called for these forty days to sacrifice, contemplation and service that we may better see the footprints of Jesus on that dusty road to Jerusalem and the cross.

The church has known for centuries that we cannot full rejoice in the glory of resurrection without first spending time contemplating the sacrifice and suffering of Jesus leading up to his death and resurrection.

As we continue in Lent let us remember,”For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.”-Russel McAlister
Retired Pastor

rmcalister1@cox.net

Prayer for Reflection

Gracious Lord, help us today to shoulder whatever cross you would have us carry and more closely follow in your way. Help us to live as you lived, in service to God and neighbor. Amen

John 13:1-7

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. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Today’s Devotional

One of the most beautiful songs in the United Methodist Hymnal is No. 432, “Jesu, Jesu.” Written to a folk song from Ghana, its words from beginning to end describe in succinct form much of the message of the Gospel. It outlines what we are called to do and who we are called to be.

Maybe you remember it. The refrain says, “Jesu, Jesu fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.” Then verse 1 describes actions of Jesus with and to His closest friends. Rather than bragging about who He is and how much more important He is than they, or even instead of having them wait on Him, He kneels and performs a menial task for each of them. Interesting that He does this in quietness.

Then, verse 2 summarizes who are our neighbors: rich ones, poor ones, those who look and act like me, those who don’t. The verse ends by noting that neighbors are not just those who dwell close by. Our neighbors might live in another city or on another continent. There are so many possibilities for whom we might serve.

The movement continues through the verses until we find ourselves on our knees, offering a caring, cleansing gesture for our friends. The group of friends has expanded though. It is now much larger than those with whom we are in regular contact. God’s love and tenderness have moved through Jesus into us and out toward others. The song puts us silently kneeling and offering care for those out in the world.

That silence provided a chance for Jesus to connect with God and with those around him. Even while we are busy with a task, perhaps quietness offers an opportunity to connect with God in our minds and hearts. It gives a chance to focus on others and lift up their needs before God. We can let ourselves be channels for God’s love to flow to them. The silent action of caring fills the other with a model and provides a nudge for sharing God’s love with even more others. The Gospel thus grows in power and spreads further throughout creation. Perhaps the opportunity is to wash feet.

Maybe it’s filling growling tummies. It could be helping with child care or homework. Maybe listening with an open mind and heart is the opportunity before us. There are lots of possibilities. We must each seize the best one, the one God calls us to. We just need to get busy.

That pretty much outlines what needs to happen. God expects it from us and desires it for all creation. Great hymn!-Rev. Dianne Tombaugh
Retired Diaconal Minister

Prayer for Reflection

O God, Thank you for the neighbors we have from you. Make us aware today of your love for us and them. Help us see where and how to serve this day. Amen

Ephesians 5:15-17

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Today’s Devotional

This week, I was curious to see what results arise from a Google search for: “Things that look easy, but are really hard.”

The first article outlined what things people originally believed to be easy, but turned out to be very difficult to do once they were actually attempted. I got a good chuckle out of the list and wanted to share it with you. I guarantee you’ve probably tried at least one of these:

  • Whistling really loudly
  • Having a bedtime as an adult
  • Playing on the monkey bars
  • Standup comedy
  • Making the perfect pancake
  • Making it all the way through the original Mario Brothers
  • Being a teacher

I would like to add blowing up a balloon to that list. This simple act gets the best of me every time.

John Wesley knew all too well that we do a good job of overcomplicating things that should really be uncomplicated in nature. So he offered three simple rules for living out our faith in our daily lives. These rules are:

  • Do No Harm
  • Do Good
  • Stay in Love with God

They are simple at first glance, but simple doesn’t always mean easy.

We don’t haphazardly walk into practicing these rules.
We have to be intentional with how we spend our time.
We have to be intentional in cultivating love.
We have to be intentional in cultivating the fruit of the Spirit.
We have to be intentional about having community conversations.
We have to be intentional about cultivating our relationship with God and our neighbors.
It takes discipline and commitment.

I invite you to be intentional during the season of Lent and open yourself up to the presence of God found within you and all of creation.
-Pastor Alex Rossow
Silver Lake UMC

arossow@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Creator God, open our hearts and minds to your presence all around us. Guide us to discover the rhythms of abundant life within us that are awaiting our discovery this Lent. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. 

Psalm 30:11-12

You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Today’s Devotional

In the role of pastor of a church I am invited into the struggles of our shared humanity. During this pandemic time of COVID (have we figured out a better name for what this shared is experience is to each of us?) the church I serve committed to helping people around us. We knew from the beginning as we entered into shut down that many people would struggle to pay utilities, keep food on the table, and receive needed health care. All of these are reality in our community.

A fund was established to help people with needs. It was fast tracked to be able to respond quickly yet follow good accounting practices. This is a note of thanks forwarded to me from one of the helpers in getting what was needed (*names were changed):

Please tell the church how much their help has meant to Elizabeth. Elizabeth said, “These people don’t even know me and yet they have helped so much.” I give thanks for each person who stepped up to contribute to provide for her when her life changed so dramatically. This has most definitely restored my hope in humanity and in God. Elizabeth said, “I can’t believe God did this all for me.” She is in awe of God’s love via the church. I am so thankful she trusted us enough to help her.

What might we accomplish if we are willing to follow God’s calling to be the church? The church which does not pass judgement, find fault, or put shame in failure which has no blame. To offer grace to someone hearing a message of starting again when life is upended. It is the resurrection story in the most abbreviated form. As we begin our journey of Lent we might offer the assistance of healers to share hope as God asks us to make a difference. What might it be to trust someone enough to share in this season you are wearing sackcloth and need help? That the day may come when dancing is a reality and praise is shouted from the rooftops, even if it is only a hope today. Listen to God calling to you. During this Lent season we pray for hope and healing of all people.-Rev. Jo Mead
University UMC, Wichita

jmead@greatplainsumc.org?

Prayer for Reflection

Lord, lead us to trust in these confusing times. Lead us to serve our neighbors. Lead us to open our lives with honesty and generosity. Thank you. Amen.

Matthew 17:14-20 

When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Today’s Devotional

I sometimes describe myself as a liturgical purist. I find the patterns of the liturgical year useful both in my own faith walk and ordering community worship. As I write this, we are just at Transfiguration Sunday. We share with Peter, James and John in the mountain-top experience of seeing our Lord conversing with those two pillars of Old Testament faith, Moses and Elijah. We are treated to that glorious foretaste of the age to come as we see Jesus transfigured. But than we must come down from the mountain and encounter the dirty mundane things of everyday life.

In the above scripture the disciples are faced with their own human limitations. A year ago, I had the experience of being on the team of a Walk to Emmaus weekend. While I found myself caught up in the mountaintop of the Emmaus experience while helping to guide others to a new understanding of the grace of Jesus Christ, I came down from the mountain and arrived home to the COVID-19 shut down. All the familiar places were shutting down: the church where I joined in communal worship, the gym where I worked out, my barber, even regularly scheduled medical appointments were canceled.

Like the disciples in our text, I asked “why can’t we?” Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost, even Advent and Christmas came and went without in person worship. And I mostly stayed home for safety. The pastor of the church with which I am associated stated recently stated that it seems Lent has lasted all year.

“Why can’t we?” we ask with the original disciples; and like them we receive Jesus’ answer. “I assure you that if you have faith … there is nothing you can’t do” Matthew 17:20 CEB

-Russel McAlister Retired Local Pastor
rmcalister1@cox.net

Prayer for Reflection

Christ, in your mercy help us to walk through these difficult times seeking those things we can do through our faith in you. Amen

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
    a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
    nor will be again after them
    in ages to come.

Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
    and relents from punishing.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
    and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
    for the Lord, your God?

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
    gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
    assemble the aged;
gather the children,
    even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
    and the bride her canopy.

Between the vestibule and the altar
    let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
    and do not make your heritage a mockery,
    a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
    ‘Where is their God?’”

Today’s Devotional

Isn’t it just like us humans to turn back to God when we are between a rock and a hard place? Certainly, I have said my most fervent prayers when I was in desperate need: in hospital waiting rooms, in the midst of painful discernment, in taxi cabs in both New York and Chicago. Those drivers are nuts. This reading in Joel has the same ethos to me. Something is about to go down. People are at risk. The darkness is falling, and a powerful army is at the door. At that moment, we turn to God to save us.

Ash Wednesday reminds us that the human condition is one big something-is-about-to-go-down kind of situation. We are alive and then like a blip on the cosmic timeline, we are dust again. In the grand scheme of things, none of us has very long. Some of us have even less. So today we are called to turn back to God with no little bit of urgency. We are called to ask the big questions of why are we here and what should we be doing with the precious time that we have? Today, we are called to make a big turn. We are called to weep and mourn for the time we have wasted in pursuit of so many other things besides the God who is love. As always, God makes a way for us: with ash on our foreheads and repentance on our hearts. -Rev. Chris Jorgensen
Omaha: Hanscom Park UMC

cjorgensen@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. So go forth with the courage to see your mistakes and mis-steps, to acknowledge the distance between you and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling … and go forth with the freedom and power to turn back toward the God of love and light and hope. Go in peace. Amen.

Matthew 6:16-18

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Today’s Devotional

In the past few years, I’ve taken on a daily Lenten study as a spiritual practice. The author uses a Bible verse for a request for presence, a daily reading, an observation, a meditation and closes with a practicum. It’s a steadying practice in an off-kilter word.

Feasting and fasting are also a part of this practice. Deciding what to fast from to draw me nearer to God is always a challenge, but especially this year. I’m not a big chocolate eater, I gave up soda months ago, and giving up my one cup of coffee a day sounds like a bad idea not only for me but for those who live with me.

On my feasting day do I really want to load up on sugar or caffeine only to crash later that day or the next? No thank you. And it doesn’t feel like a good way to draw closer to God.

I don’t know about you, but it feels like we’ve been slogging through Lent for the last almost year. We’ve had many days of fasting, but few of true feasting. We’ve fasted from the physical presence of friends, family, gathering for special occasions, going to concerts, seeing movies, celebrations and gathering as a community in grief.

So, what do we fast and feast on during this time? Could I fast from negative thoughts and feelings? Could I store up positive interactions from the week and feast on them all at once? Stick to health eating six days but feast on a favorite dessert on Sunday?

If nothing else, I think the pandemic has taught us to find even the small joys in everyday things. Fasting from the frenetic pace of our lives before and feasting on a new slower flow that might be better for us. Maybe it’s a chance for a reset, to let us focus on what really matters.

Wait, does that sound like the purpose of the Lenten season? It sure does to me.
-Lisa Soukup
Communications administrative assistant
lsoukup@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Heavenly Father, help us to use this season of Lent to draw closer to you.  The last year has been taxing for many of us, help us to use this experience to get to the heart of who you want us to be in your world. 

Colossians 3:12

Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 

Today’s Devotional

The church season of Lent goes from Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, until Saturday, April 3, 2021. We prepare for the season of 40 days, not counting Sundays, before Easter. Lent, with the Anglo-Saxon word lecten, means “Spring.” In these cold temperatures, we look forward to spring! As we prepare ourselves for Easter, we will once a week in Lent we will share in a Lectio Divina spiritual practice.
This step-by-step guide is for you to use personally as well as to use with your family, a small group or Sunday school class, people gathered at work or school, churches and/or networks to use. For a guide to use Lectio Divina every day in Lent go here.

Lectio Divina means divine, sacred reading or intentional sacred listening. It is a method of reading, praying, and meditating on the scriptures and allowing God to speak to us through them. It is not about analyzing or studying commentaries or historical context. Rather, the four-fold prayer form deepens our relationship with the sacred words in a way that we can hear God’s message for us today.

  • Lectio means “to read.” Read today’s text from Colossians 3:12 aloud slowly two or three times. Silently ask God to give you a verse, short phrase, or word for the day. Write the verse, short phrase, or word on a piece of paper.
  • Meditatio means “to meditate.” Meditate on the text. Write the verse, short phrase, or word for the day in the middle. Let it speak to you, listen for what God might say to you. While you are listening, you can draw. Doodle around the word and write in whatever you hear.
  • Oratio means “to speak or pray.” Talk to God in the more traditional way of prayer. Ask God questions like: What do you want me to hear and learn from this word, verse or phrase? Why is it important to me today?
  • Contemplatio means “to contemplate.” This is a time to release the verse, phrase, or word along with all of the thoughts and feelings that you have. Give up all activity of drawing, thinking, and writing and simply be still, comforted, and held by love. You may have a huge ah-ha during this time; or nothing may happen, and you may simply rest your body and mind for a few moments.

Put the verse to action: Write a letter of forgiveness to someone to need to forgive. If there is no one you need to forgive, yet someone who feel needs to forgive you, write a letter releasing them of the need to apologize. Take your letter(s), place it in a grill, fire pit, fireplace, or other safe place and light it. As you watch the paper burn, experience the refining fire of God forgiving you and pouring out new life within you. For more prayer practices this season, go here.
Prayer: O God, as we prepare the start of the season of 40 days, help us live out your word to us and what you have spoken to us in this ancient way of reading your word. Therefore, as your chosen ones, holy and loved, guide us to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience today and each day. Amen.
Find these Lenten Resources are here for your devotion and to share with others:

Offered by Great Plains Congregational Excellence Team

Psalm 50-1-6

A psalm of Asaph. The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages. He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people: “Gather to me this consecrated people, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for he is a God of justice.

Today’s Devotional

If we counted the times in our life that we lost an item, we may not want to let anybody know the number. It could be embarrassing. Yet it seems to be a part of life to either misplace an item or just loose it somewhere. Some of our thoughts may be that someone else stole the item or the dog carried it outside and buried it. Normally the culprit is us. We set the item down or put it away in a safe place to only forget where we left it. So, we retrace out steps to the place where we were sure that we had it last. Usually, the lost item is found somewhere between the last place we remember having it and the place where we discovered it was lost.

The psalm of Asaph reveals to us that God is all around us and always communicating to us through various ways, shapes, and forms. He will never be silent; He loves His people and desires us to be close to Him. So why would be lose sight of God? Is it related to losing an item and we cannot remember where we put it? Or do we put God in a safe place to call on when we really need him.

Whatever the case is in our lives, God is always there and ready to communicate with us. His love is too great to be hidden or put away for another day. As the scripture tells us “And the heavens proclaim His righteousness, for He is a God of Justice.” Let us retrace our steps back to God and rejoice in the fact that we are near Him again.-Brad Zimmerman
Pastor, Bucklin UMC

Prayer for Reflection

Dear Lord, let us always remember that you are with us always in all situations. Amen.

Mark 9:2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Today’s Devotional

One hot summer day when I was 10 or 11, my friend Betsy and I got involved in a mystery together. KIT radio in Yakima, Washington, was giving away a pair of tickets to a Braves game scheduled for that evening. The Braves were the local semi-pro baseball team. To win the tickets all one had to do was guess the coin make-up that added up to $1.34 (or some amount I don’t remember exactly). The announcer would toss the coins on the table and folks would call in with their guess. It was hard to get through, but it would be worth the wait for the winner. Betsy and I were taking turns placing the call. On my turn, finally, I got through. I gave my answer. It was right! I had solved the mystery. I won the tickets! That evening my dad and I got to go to the ball game.

That was a mystery. It was a riddle, a stumper, something to solve, to unravel. Aren’t mysteries fun? The story in today’s Scripture reading involves mystery as well. However, that may not be the kind of mystery this reading depicts. Rather it is a story of Holy Mystery. In the narrative Peter, James, and John witnessed this Holy Mystery. It stunned and bedazzled them. They watched as Jesus was changed right in front of them, and they saw Elijah and Moses join Jesus. Wow! The Holy Mystery was displayed before their eyes.

The Holy Mystery surrounded Jesus and emanated from him. This was not the same mystery that involves guessing the number of coins that make up $1.34. It was the kind of Mystery that words cannot describe. It was Mystery that exudes power and authority. It was Mystery that defies definition. It was Mystery that fills and urges and offers help.

What did Peter, James, and John do? They offered to do the practical thing, to build dwellings for Jesus, for Elijah, and for Moses. Then this Holy Mystery could be contained, made comfortable, and kept under control. It could be worshipped.

Sometimes in our own rush to be in control and to perform in those ways God expects of us, we forget God is Holy and that means worshipping and adoring God. We need to be filled with awe and wonder at this great and amazing God, who appears in the transfigured Jesus.

However, as we are filled with such a spectacle of glory and power, we can allow the power to fill, energize and transfigure us. We can be changed into God’s creatures who use our own selves — our hands, our voices, our gifts, and talents — in the world where we are. We can allow ourselves to be used to help transfigure the world into something better, into a just place, a place where no one is treated better than another, and where each person is concerned for the well-being of every other person.

We will not ever completely “get” the Holy Mystery. What we will get is the chance to join that Holy Mystery in bringing the world closer to that which God desires it to be.
 –Rev. Dianne Tombaugh
Retired Deacon
Wichita, KS

Prayer for Reflection

O Holy Mystery, fill us with awe that strengthens and empowers us. Show us how to use such strength and power to change the world and bring it closer to you. Amen.

John 11:43

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

Today’s Devotional

Meet Mary, Frank, and Marcia. Or maybe you already know them.

Here’s Mary’s story:

“I came into that church a broken person. Alone and unsure. People said this was the place to learn about God, but nobody talked to me. Nobody welcomed me. The sermons were boring. The people were all in cliques. They kept talking about community, but I never felt more alone. That church is dead to me.”

Here’s Frank’s story:

“The Finance committee asked me to be on the audit team. So I spent three months working with this small group looking at the church’s finances and practices. I gave up time with my family in order to put a comprehensive report together. Nobody said thank you, and as far as I can tell, nobody even looked at it. That was it. That church is dead to me.”

Here’s Marcia’s story:

“My parents forced me to go to church as a kid. I hated it. What my parents never knew, or refused to acknowledge, was that one of the youth sponsors was abusing me and a few other girls. For me, that church is the least holy place I’ve ever been. That church is dead to me.”


What would it take for you to make such a statement? Maybe one of these scenarios sounds familiar to you. There are lots of Marys, Franks, and Marcias out there who have abandoned the church.

Wait, is that right? We tend to think of folks who step away from church as if they are abandoning it, but in each of the stories above, it would seem the church has abandoned them!

How can this be? Churches can be so nurturing, so friendly, so life-changing and soul-filling for millions of people. How can they let down so many others? Or, I should say, how can we?

Is it our fault when hospitality and discipleship lets people through the cracks? Is it our fault when leadership isn’t strong and structured? Is it our fault when predators can get to our own children? Yes, of course. It is absolutely our fault.

Being the Body of Christ is an audacious undertaking. It’s a lot of complicated systems that all have to work together for the body to be healthy. Sometimes, even when we think we’re in peak condition, one of those systems fails, and we’re in trouble. As good as dead, at least to some of the folks who get hurt in the process.

If we’re going to own up to the damage that we can inadvertently cause, we have to consider these sad stories as near-death experiences. If we don’t pump some new life into our systems, we risk our churches becoming lifeless tombs. Like the kind they put Lazarus in.

When Jesus comes to bring him back to life, Jesus does not say “Lazarus, resume what you were doing!”. He does not say, “Lazarus, let’s pretend this never happened,” or “Lazarus, how are things in that tomb?”

He says, “Lazarus, come out.” That’s exactly what we’ll have to do if we’re ever going to reach the folks who say our churches are dead to them. We’ll have to come out to where all the hurt folks have gone, and find a healthy way to love them.

Let Mary, Frank, and Marcia be good reminders for us.

You can’t fully offer life to people…

If you’re not fully alive.

Rev. Mitch Todd
Wamego UMC
mtodd@greatplainsumc.org

Hebrews 12: 1-3

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Today’s Devotional

I recently watched the “going home” service of Henry “Hank” Aaron. One of the speakers used imagery of a baseball stadium. He described Hank Aaron as leaving the field of play, where we run the race that is set before us, and moving into the stands — becoming part of that great cloud of witnesses.

I loved that imagery. As a baseball and football fan, I have often sat in the stadium cheering on my favorite team. Not surprising, “Field of Dreams” is one of my favorite movies. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if heaven is the opportunity to experience those dreams that we had to let go of in this life on earth?

These past few weeks, several personal saints have made the transition from running the race on the field of play to cheering us on from the stands of heaven. I find encouragement in thinking that they are there, looking on and cheering — no longer trapped in bodies that could no longer sustain their spirits; Sitting in the stands with friends and family that made the journey before them.

I hope that, when my time comes to move from the field to the stands, I can do it with as much grace and dignity as I have witnessed these past few weeks. And be assured, I will be cheering for all of you who are still running your race.-Mary Brooks
District Lay Leader & LSM Director for Five Rivers

marylbrooks6401@msn.com

Prayer for Reflection

God of the universe, heaven and earth, we hold fast the promise Jesus gave his disciples that he prepares a place for those who follow him. Help us honor the memory of those who have fought the fight and won the prize — eternal life with you. We look forward to a reunion with you and those we love. In Jesus name. Amen.

Ephesians 1:11-12

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

Today’s Devotional

My father spent his early life waiting on an inheritance that didn’t materialize, and his later life waiting on an inheritance that outlived him. It seems to me as an adult a rather sad way to live.

From my mother’s family there was no promised grand inheritance, only a dark china cabinet full of my grandmother’s china and glass. It’s no stretch to say my grandmother was my favorite person growing up, and it was no secret I was her favorite grandchild. Our bond was cemented at a hospital bedside very early on and continued to grow as I enjoyed my stays at her house in Kansas City over breaks from school and in the summer.

I have fond memories of peering into the china cabinet of the corner of her dining room as she would tell me that the china and glass would be mine one day. But not too soon. As a child with a great imagination, I assumed these treasures were handed down to her from her mother, grandmother and down the ancestral line.

Late last month these treasures came to my house and are now displayed in my kitchen and dining room. As I unpacked the carefully wrapped dishes and blue glass, I texted my mother asking about its heritage.

It came as a surprise to me that the china was bought by my grandfather around the time of her own marriage to my father, but the glass had its own tale to tell.

My grandmother had to drop out of community college when her father died. She got a job at the Board of Public Utilities where she would later meet my grandfather. Every paycheck she designated a small amount of funds to go to the department store and purchase some of this glass. Piece by piece she built this marvelous inheritance that is now mine. It’s not ancient and certainly not worth vast sums but it became dearer to me now than if it was worth a fortune. She set aside hard-earned money at a time when she likely had little to build this collection I now have on display.

She also built an inheritance for me in the Methodist church. A former church secretary and often office fill-in, I ran tame through her church. I enjoyed countless hours in Sunday school, vacation bible school, choir practice and sat in the background of many a Circle or UMW meeting. I saw church politics play out, women in leadership, and learned what it was to be the body of Christ in a church much larger than my own.

I saw in my own church how her involvement influenced my mother. A piano player as well, she also directed the church choir. Later I would see her become a Lay Speaker, leader in the congregations we were a part of growing up and have leadership roles at the district and conference level.

I have been the recipient of this rich heritage in the Methodist church. It is an inheritance fully realized, and one that I pray outlives me.

I love having my grandmother’s glass and china in my home. It is a tangible reminder not only of the hard work of a matriarch who set aside treasure of glass and china for future generations but set an example of a rich relationship with Christ and community.–Lisa Soukup
Communications administrative assistant
lsoukup@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Holy God, thank you for the saints that came before us. For those who taught us how to follow you, shaped us, and showed us how to lead in your church we give thanks and praise. May we look to these servant leaders and cloud of saints as examples of how to be a witness for you in the world.

Philippians 1:12-14

Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that all that has happened to me has helped to spread the Good News. All the Roman guards and all the others here know that I am in prison for serving Christ. My being in prison has caused most of the believers to put their trust in the Lord and to show more courage in telling people God’s message.

Today’s Devotional

For nearly a full year now, we have been living with the reality of COVID-19. The pandemic has made us change our routines in countless ways. Pastors, teachers, judges, attorneys and businesspersons have by necessity learned more about virtual meetings and distance communication than they ever cared to learn. Even grandparents have learned how to Facetime chat and Zoom. Technology has been that double-edged sword that is necessary for success but is also somewhat painful. Painful or not, the routines of our daily lives have drastically changed.

The early disciples also had to completely change their routines. They left their jobs and homes and traveled throughout the known world to spread a radically different message of salvation. They were not well received. They were beaten, stoned, and imprisoned. But they rejoiced to be sharing in the suffering of Christ. They didn’t hesitate. They didn’t turn aside from their calling. They didn’t give up.

Paul wrote most of his contributions to the New Testament while he was imprisoned. In his letter to the Philippians, he says all that has happened to him has helped him spread the Good News. Sometimes it may feel as if we are locked in a prison with no bars. We are restricted by a virus from many of the activities we formerly enjoyed. But consider the knowledge we have gained. I have not been able to visit my relatives in other states for a year. But I have seen their faces as we visited. As a pastor, I have not been able to do many of the activities that I formerly enjoyed within the walls of the church building. We have had few in-person meetings. We have had no meals, no handshakes before and after services, no hugs, and no choir. But I have been able to worship on line with friends and new faces from hundreds and even thousands of miles away.

Christians are still called to share the news of God’s mercy and love. Covid is a poor excuse to withhold that information. Write a note. Make a phone call. Zoom or Facetime. Find a way to share the love and forgiveness showered on us all.-Pastor Dorothy Smith
Humboldt and Table Rock UMC’s

dlsmith@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Ever-present God, forgive me when I say, “I can’t”. Remind me that with your Holy Spirit, we can. Remind me that your Spirit cannot be contained or restricted. May your holy name be praised by voice, by ink on paper, and on broadband. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Psalm 62:5-8

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us.Selah

Today’s Devotional

My dependence on medications began last May when my cardiologist discovered that my heart’s electrical system was not functioning properly. I made an appointment with my cardiologist since I was having trouble getting enough breath when walking. That appointment led to the insertion of a pacemaker above my heart the next week after my appointment. I was prescribed three different medications that help keep my heart in good rhythm, and I have to take them twice a day. Therefore, I depend on the medication to keep my heart functioning properly so that I can be kept alive.

As I was thinking about my situation, I had to wonder, “Am I as dependent on God for living as I am dependent on my medication?” From our reading today from Psalm 62, David tells us that our salvation comes from God alone, and we can never be shaken with Him as our rock and fortress. Our hope comes from God, and our soul finds rest in Him alone.

In these scary times of the presence of the pandemic in which we are living, maybe we have become more dependent on God since we may feel that we are not in control. Many are uncertain as to where their next meal is coming from. Some no longer have jobs. Home situations have changed to which people have had to adapt. Priorities have changed. Hard decisions have had to be made.

Our world needs to depend on God in order to have peace in our hearts, May we, as followers of Jesus, be faithful to dependence on God so that we may be a light to those who are burdened.-Linda Rector
Lay Servant
University UMC, Wichita

Prayer for Reflection

God of our salvation, thank you for the hope and peace you give us so that we can never be shaken. May we pass that hope and peace to those we meet.

Genesis 1:14

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years,

Today’s Devotional

Today we bring to you another snowdome devotion from Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede at Saint Paul Benson in Omaha.

Watch here

Psalm 15 

A Psalm of David.

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
    Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
    and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
    and do no evil to their friends,
    nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
    but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
    and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Today’s Devotional

When I think of someone who is blameless, my first thought is Jesus Christ.  This is an undisputable fact that our Lord not only lived a life without sin but made it possible by dying on the cross then rose from the dead three days later for all mankind to live an everlasting life by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior.   

What about the day to day living that we experience?  As David spoke in Psalm 15.  Is it possible to approach the sacred tent or come near the holy mountain?  Our attitude toward the grace and promises of God are extremely important in our daily lives.  Yes, we have the freedom to make those choices of truth over lies, right over wrong to our neighbors, fearing and honoring the Lord over a vile person.  Keeping an oath even when it hurts, lending to the poor interest free and not taking a bribe.  Not being shaken in any situation is the mark of someone that is grounded in the Word of God.  -Pastor Brad Zimmerman
Bucklin UMC

bzimmerman@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Our gracious Father, we love and adore you and thank you for giving us an opportunity to serve you.

*Devotion originally published 2/1/2020

Ephesians 4:29

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

Today’s Devotional

When I was a seminary student at Saint Paul School of Theology I took an intensive course called: Theology, Civics and Civility. The course was taught by the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver, who at the time was the Senior Pastor at Saint James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, MO. Today, Cleaver is a member of the House of Representatives representing the state of Missouri.

This course challenged us as students to ponder the intersections between theology, civics and civility. As well as those intersections between the church, the political landscape and secular culture. As part of the course work we as a class had to draft and adopt a list of Rules of Civility. Our conversation as we took on this project as a class was passionate, yet respectful. Our hope was to hammer out a list that would shape not only our own conversations but those of the faith communities we were serving.

As we transition from the season of elections to the season of governance I thought it might be helpful to all of us to revisit the list of Rules of Civility this class developed. – KC
Rules of Civility

Shortly after the turn of the 18th Century, a young colonist by the name of George Washington developed what became known as the 110 Rules of Civility which were based on and borrowed from Jesuit educators.

President Washington used these principles throughout his life to guide his disciplined style of leadership. These 110 hand written rules heightened his successful Presidency and contributed to the shape of the Office of President.

We the students of the Theology, Civics and Civility course at Saint Paul School of Theology, believe that civility in the tradition of Washington, can spiritually transform society. Toward that end and because of a commitment to human dignity and Creation, we offer our 25 best suggestions as the following Rules of Civility.

  1. Let others go first
  2. People have names, use them
  3. Consider everyone’s point of view; all voices have something to contribute
  4. Avoid generalizations and blanket statements
  5. Debate should end when the meeting is over — keep conversation in the room
  6. Consider your responses before acting — practice prudence
  7. Be conscious of one’s surroundings so as not to impose on others
  8. Be proactive in hospitality
  9. Acts of lying, cheating, stealing, coveting are uncivil
  10. Speak the truth in kindness when expounding a grievance
  11. Use language that uplifts rather than language that degrades
  12. Listen carefully to the words of others before distracting yourself with your own response
  13. If you take initiative take responsibility
  14. Be willing to laugh at yourself and smile often
  15. Let insults go unheeded — Never kick a SKUNK
  16. No fingers pointing regardless of what finger you use
  17. Endeavor to raise standards rather than lower them
  18. Share all you can without resentment
  19. Make sure everyone understands the rules and customs that will be followed
  20. Play well with others — everyone gets a turn
  21. Challenge uncivil behavior
  22. Respect God’s creation all life depends on it
  23. Recognize your own self worth and the value of others; we are all Children of God
  24. Pursue Physical, Emotional and Spiritual health and Wholeness
  25. EVERY RULE HAS EXCEPTIONS

Rev. Kurt Cooper
Emporia State Campus Ministry

kcooper@greatplainsumc.org

Psalm 25:5

Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all day long.

Today’s Devotional

I think its important as Christians that we share our struggles with each other.  This week (and in many previous weeks) my struggle has been with what we consider truth.  In the NRSV translation of the bible truth is mentioned 181 times.  That tells me that its important. 

Let me tell you how it started this week.  I saw a post on Facebook from someone dear to me.  Yes, it was political in nature, and you would think at this point I would be very good at just scrolling by.  Later, in a podcast I listen to this same email was referenced, broken down, policies it mentioned were explained in whole without spin and were shown to be misleading at best.  I had a decision to make.  I could respond to the post with this point by point information or just go on by.  I’m not confrontational in nature and I had to ask myself if this would make my relationship better by responding.  Ultimately, I’ve decided it would not.  I also didn’t want to subject myself to the possibly replies by others and the vitriol that can occur. 

As a student in communications in the early 2000s my professors weren’t concerned with what truth and fact was in journalism, other than it was black and white.  You researched and you published facts.  Opinions were left to the editorial pages.  After I graduated came the cable news onslaught and today, we find ourselves in a world of my news and your news, your facts and my facts, and the recently coined alternate facts.  We can all find a news source that fits our ideological view and facts that support our opinions. 

Social media only magnifies this issue.  We follow those who we agree with, we like and share memes that state ideas that we share the opinion of the poster.  Rarely do we research the information.  It’s easy to like and share at the click of a button to tell someone we agree and approve of that opinion even if the information we use is incorrect or misleading. 

So where does that leave us with truth?  I’m getting better and researching some of these claims, but even if I rebut with an alternate view am I using biased sources to support my claim? Is there a slant of the author of the information that I am unaware of? It’s complicated isn’t it.

I think for now I’ll lean into the Truth I find in the bible.  Yes, I know this is complicated too. (Isn’t everything these days?) Translations differ in word choices, even back to when the books of the bible were chosen.  Historical context, motivations of committees, even writers of the books all play a part. 

In the Psalms I found comfort.  It tells me where to find the ultimate source of truth.  If I use this verse as a guide, in both my social media interactions and my real-life interactions, maybe, just maybe I can find a path through this wilderness.  I can also use the questions that are posted everywhere in my daughter’s school that are good guides for my interactions:

THINK before you speak (or post, or like, or share)
T is it true?
H is it helpful?
I is it inspiring?
N is it necessary?
K is it kind?

It comes from a quote from Bernard Meltzer.  The full quote is, “Before you speak ask yourself what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful.  If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.” He likely was inspired by Socrates, the Buddhist tradition, or even the Rotary.  (See what I did there, researching where the information came from.)

Instead of quitting social media, which I did consider, I think I’ll run my interactions through a few tests before I like, share, etc. Can I find a verifiable, unbiased source? Does this really help anyone? Is it necessary to the world that I put it out there? Is it kind? 

I’ll add an extra test for myself.  If a loved one disagrees with this can we have an honest conversation about it where we come out of that conversation with a better understanding of how we both think or feel about the subject.  If I don’t think the post will spark that kind of discussion, it probably isn’t worth putting it out there in the world. -Lisa Soukup
Communications administrative assistant
lsoukup@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Heavenly Father, we struggle with what is truth, what is fact, and how exactly we find both of those things.  We know in you we can trust, in you we can rely and that your truth is the ultimate truth.  Help us to be discerning and ultimately kind to one another in our differences.  

1 Corinthians 12:12-27

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Today’s Devotional

A commercial on TV caught my attention a few weeks ago.  It was a young man, who is a tattoo artist, sharing the challenge during this pandemic of not being able to work and because of that, not being able to fully live into his place in the world.  Whether we agree with his choice of profession or not, I hope that we can agree that these past 10 months have been difficult for everyone.  It has been challenging to adjust to new roles, to readjust our focus and to learn to adapt to new ways of fully living into our place in this world.

A few days later, over the Christmas break, I watched Soul, the new Disney/Pixar movie.  I know there has been a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, about this movie.  Whether you think it’s a blockbuster or a flop, my dad firmly believes there is always a redeeming quality in every movie, if you look for it.  I agree.

If you haven’t seen it, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but there is a scene where the main character Joe Gardner, who is a middle school band teacher but aspires to make his living playing jazz, goes to get his haircut at his barber shop.  During this part of the movie, Joe is experiencing his life from a new and different perspective and he has an insightful conversation with his barber, Dez.  Dez talks about his original plan to be a veterinarian, but because of some life situations, he ends up being a barber and a professional listener.  The conversation that stuck with me was when Dez talked about the fact that he likes being a barber. “I’m happy as a clam, my man.  Not everyone can be Charles Drew inventing blood transfusions… That’s the magic of the chair.  That’s why I love this job.  I get to meet interesting folks like you, make them happy and make them handsome… I may not have invented blood transfusions, but I am most definitely saving lives.”

It reminded me of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.

12 There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. 13 We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so, we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink. 14 So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts.
15 Suppose the foot says, “I am not a hand. So, I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. 16 And suppose the ear says, “I am not an eye. So, I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell? 18 God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be. 19 If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body? 20 As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.
21 The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without. 23 The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honor. The private parts aren’t shown. But they are treated with special care. 24 The parts that can be shown don’t need special care. But God has put together all the parts of the body. And he has given more honor to the parts that didn’t have any. 25 In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy.  27 You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.

God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be.  We are all essential to the body of Christ.  We may not be the one who invented blood transfusions, but we all have a unique and essential role to play when it comes to sharing the love of Christ with the world.  Whether we are tattoo artists, barbers, middle school band teachers, jazz musicians or professional listeners, through Christ, we are all saving lives by living into our place in this world and by sharing the saving grace and unconditional love of Jesus with those interesting folks we meet along the way.-Paige Nelson
Director of Youth Ministries
East Heights UMC, Wichita

Paige@EHUMC.org

Prayer for Reflection

You are the body of Christ.  Each one of you is an essential part of it.  Fully live into your place in the world.  Share the love of Christ with those along the way.  Save lives.  Amen.

I Thessalonians 5: 12-21

But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good;

Today’s Devotional

We’ve escaped the enclosed Zoom room

in which we’ve become accustomed

to seeing each other from afar.

On this Sunday afternoon we meet

at nearby Mahoney State Park

standing near, masked face to masked face.

Pausing at the side of the rink

expecting to see this nine-year-old

skater wipe-out on the hard ice

like nearly everyone else I’ve

ever seen, staring at their feet in

 their premier adventure on ice skates.

We stand amazed, her dad, sis, and I,

as we see her take off with arms

swinging, somehow knowing this is

the way it’s done, without ever

having been on the ice before.

She appears confident in her

own powers, not grasping for support

but acting as one Super-Girl

 especially pleased with herself,

as though she had no doubt, she could

trust and balance perfectly.

Rare distress shows on her face when

able to stop only by slamming

into the wall of the ice rink.

Then her sister-teacher kindly shows

her how to turn her toes inward

to slow down, and to lean on the

outside of the blades to loop around.

This nine-year-old’s victory on ice

brings even more joy than the steaming

mug of cocoa stirred with an

unbroken peppermint stick.

Slurp it gingerly and enjoy

the wonder of the winter season!

At our annual church sledding party this past Sunday, there were many glorious moments like the Super Girl mentioned above. It was also fun to watch a teenager who has notably improved each year in his skating skills.  We delighted in seeing a nine-year-old boy sledding all the way down the long hill on a saucer that he uses as a snowboard. The girls circling round and round while increasing in speed with each turn brought a sense of calmness. And two other teenage boys who skate unconcerned about skill level, are great to see palling around together at whatever the activity.

On the other hand, people fall left and right. The prospects for wiping out are high when on the ice sliding on a narrow blade of steel. And certainly, with sledding! The good thing is that there were countless opportunities to help one another up with the “sweet eye of kindness,” as Julian of Norwich would have said.

Oh, that we would regard one another’s everyday failings with those same sweet eyes of kindness while fully appreciating this human experience we call life. Could we learn to be grateful for metaphorical- falls that teach us that we have the strength to rise up once more, and that God’s forgiveness knows no limits? Imagine how different the world would be if we didn’t live in shame and act out of pain for mistakes that are made.

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians*, he instructs the people to “pursue the good for each other and everyone else.” Remember that every one of us has weaknesses and strengths which God uses for divine purposes.  May we use our strengths to reach out to pull one another up, no matter how many times it takes.

Let us continually take a pause in our day, then go within to seek the Spirit of Christ in prayer and release what is past. Then we can truly live in the wonder of the moment and enjoy life.

Know that we love you and are wrapping a warm quilt of prayer around you.

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

-Rev. Marta Wheeler
St. Paul Benson, Omaha

mwheeler@greatplainsumc.org

Leviticus 19:18

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Today’s Devotional

I’ve been holding my toilet paper like it was treasure.
I’ve been holding my breath in this uncomfortable mask.
I’ve been holding judgement over some crazy politics.
I’ve been holding my tongue over my strong opinions.

But there’s one thing I just can’t hold anymore.
I can’t hold this grudge, against you.

You and I don’t always see eye to eye. Some of the things you’ve done or said have certainly rubbed me the wrong way. You stepped on my toes along the way, and even ruined a couple of days.

But this grudge, it’s weighing me down.

I suppose this planet is big enough to put some distance between us, but that seems silly. I guess we could meet out in the parking lot and fight it out, but that seems even sillier.

You aren’t my enemy. You’re just my grudge. And as I look around the bizarre world these days, I see people glaring at each other suspiciously, sometimes with animosity. It’s as if society has broken down, and people can’t be civil anymore. People have forgotten how to forgive. People have let grace slip away.

Or maybe that’s just me. After all, that’s what you see when you look at the world through the lens of a grudge. And that’s not how I want to see things. That’s not how I want to behave. Certainly, that’s not what God has in mind for you and me and all of humanity.

Maybe I’ve let all the pressure get to me. Maybe I need to just chill out. Maybe I need to forgive, to acknowledge my own shortcomings. Maybe I need to extend an olive branch.

Who knows? Maybe you have no idea I feel this way. But this change of heart is for me as much as it is for you. I’ve been holding on to this for a while now.

That’s it. That’s all. For the sake of my sanity, and for the sake of the world, I need to let go…

and let God.

-Rev. Mitch Todd
Wamego UMC

mtodd@greatplainsumc.org

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
    God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
    see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.Selah

Today’s Devotional

I grew up in a busy family where one had to account for daily activities within the home setting. We were always early birds as we worked in the fields, doing house chores and schoolwork during the semesters. There was little time for quiet time and selfcare because of the business of the work that had to be accomplished everyday within the family setting.  I was often tired and as an introvert, yearned for silence within my soul. I was mostly consumed by regular schedules, internalized the anxiety about the future, and was never still before my God. There was so much noise within my soul, and I wrestled to hear from God alone. Honestly, I desired God’s presence in my life at a tender age but could not figure out how to capture God fully within the faith journey. Truth told, my parents played a pivotal role in molding my faith, yet still I was overloaded with worry, aches and pains of my childhood experiences, and lack of knowledge about God.

One day I decided to walk to the local church to clean. I truly did a wonderful job cleaning and dusted the pews and decorated the sanctuary at my home church. After cleaning, I took a Bible from the pews and read (Psalm 46:10-11) and was deeply immersed in verses which saidHe says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

That was a turning point in my destiny as I seized the heart of God.  I repeatedly recited the verses regularly as I felt them speaking to my soul. I remember saying, my soulhear the word of the Lord, be still and know that he is God. He is God by himself. I sat before him in intense silence and listened attentively to his voice. I felt his sweet powerful presence and acknowledged him as my God. He touched my inner person smoothly as I was silent before him. I spent some time with God in that stillness and he took away my burdens, pain, heartaches, brokenness, and assured me he was God. This was my first experience to be still before God.  To this day, stillness is my go-to “place” when I intentionally seek God’s holy presence.
 
Two things I have learned from the power of stillness are that: stillness is a primary source of increasing my foresight and discernment. The more time I spent in God presence the more I have deepened and widened my horizon in focusing on the vertical side of God. Stillness encourages me to center more on him than anything else within or around my physical realm. He is God and there is none other. Inner stillness is a place that our hearts can speak without our minds running off the road or elsewhere. Discernment is deeply rooted in capturing this awesome God in fullness.
 
Secondly, the voices that rage around us are diminished as the Holy Spirit flows within our souls. In a busy world that is constantly changing, outer silence is always achievable, but one can reduce its detrimental effects by gaining more strength in inner silence. The mind wrestles with issues of life and can be overwhelmed. But the truth is that when our minds finally surrender life burdens before God, inner stillness reigns. This then gives us the opportunity to reset the buttons of our lives under the guidance of God. I have discovered that because I learned the value of inner stillness, I am conditioned to respond differently to the hassles and bustles of life often. I am better able to consider higher choices of personal peace, happiness and everlasting joy which propel my strength. In order to be “still and know” we must be still enough to listen. Therefore, stillness is a primary source of closeness with God along life’s spiritual journey.  
 

-Rev. Ever Mudambanuki
United Church of Bennington &
Solomon Yoked Parish

emudambanuki@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

O God of divine silence speak to our inner soul in the stillness of your voice. We sit in silence and long to hear your voice and to know you more as we continually call upon you name. Holy Spirit quieten the voices around and within us. Amen.

Hebrews 6:3-5

And we will do this, if God permits. For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,

Today’s Devotional

The other day I was eating an apple. An ordinary, insignificant thing in and of itself. But I noticed that the taste of the apple was not a single taste. It was a blend of flavors – here sweet, there tangy, and over here quite tart. I suppose that the apple was not fully ripened when it was picked for there to be so many different qualities about it. But all the flavors, drawn together, made eating the fruit a pleasure.

It occurred to me that we are much like that apple. Some days of our lives are sweet while others are sour. Life may be best when the blend of days becomes a sweet/tart experience that allows us to appreciate the goodness of life.

The writer of Hebrews says that when we have tasted the heavenly gift, we “become partners with the Holy Spirit.” So, what IS this heavenly gift? I suspect it is many things to many people – and perhaps even several things to one person.

In these days of unrest and dis-ease in our world, I look around and I see a world that has many “flavors” to be tasted and shared. Every person – known and unknown – has something to share that can make the experience of our sheer existence better. If we do not taste the fullness of life that comes from the offerings of many different people and views, we miss out on what I believe must be the taste that God provides in the heavenly gift – the taste of a world where unity in diversity is possible, where partnership with the Holy Spirit is the norm, where hearts are changed and never turn away.
–Rev. Robbie Fall, RE
Hutchinson, Kansas

Prayer for Reflection

Open our hearts, O God, that we may see and fully taste the gift of heaven you offer in the lives of all your children and, especially through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Mark 1:21-28

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Today’s Devotional

“Because I’m the mom and I said so!” I wonder how many times I used this phrase when my children were young. It was not our preferred method of relating to our girls. However, when I was tired or frustrated or distracted it would pop out of my mouth. A few times it needed to be used, but only for emphasis and safety.

I was exerting my authority, my power. This was the kind of power that demanded obedience. No excuses because that is what the rules required. The kind of authority the scribes could claim in today’s Scripture passage.

The audience was accustomed to witnessing power being used and to following what it required. Sometimes that authority was applied with a heavy hand; at other times it was exerted in calm, rational, other-focused ways. Was it compelling authority? What gave the authority its power? Was it an authority that created a desire to comply? Did it make one want to follow?

That’s the kind of power Jesus displayed, the type of authority he had. When Jesus used that power in today’s reading it astounded folk. It went beyond their expectation or imagination. The results were amazing and palpable. The authority was not concrete, visible, or tangible. It was not encoded in a book somewhere. It came from a Mystery. At the heart of that Mystery was Love. At the heart of the Mystery was God. The power led folk into deeper places. In those places they wanted to obey and respond. As they responded they were filled with new hope and great joy. The listeners found themselves encircled by that Mystery. Perhaps, each realized in his or her own way, that life could be transformed as they allowed themselves to be filled with that Mystery.

As each was filled with this magnetic and hope-filled Mystery he or she may have realized that he or she could be a conduit for the power as well. Allowing Jesus’ words and actions to fill them would lead to their own empowerment. Then each would be propelled out into the world to spread caring and peace, to offer hope by espousing and working for justice, and to bring the world a few steps closer to God’s dream of a reign of righteousness. We can each be a recipient of this kind of compelling power. As we open ourselves to it, each of us can be pushed out into the world ready to act in a manner that we do best. May it be so. 
Rev. Dianne Tombaugh
Retired Deacon
Wichita, KS 

dtombaugh@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Holy God, Open our hearts to the needs of the world. Use us to respond in ways that bring the world nearer to your intention. Show each of us our unique part in this work and help us to do our part. In the name of the one who taught and acted with power. Amen

Sirach 17: 1-14

The Lord created a human being
out of earth,
    and he returned that human being
    into it again.
God gave human beings a set number
of days and a fixed time,
    and he gave them authority
    over the things that are upon the earth.
God endowed them with strength like his, and he made them according
to his image.
God made all living beings afraid of them, so that they might exercise dominion over the animals and birds.
God gave them the capacity to plan,
a tongue and eyes,
    ears and a mind for thinking.
God filled them with common sense,
    and he showed them
    good things and bad.
God put awe for him in their hearts,
    in order to show them the greatness
    of his works.
So that they might tell of the magnificence of his works,
    they will praise his holy name.
God placed knowledge before them,
    and he gave them a code for living.
God established an eternal covenant
with them,
    and he showed them his decrees.
They saw the majesty of his glory
with their own eyes,
    and they heard his glorious voice
    with their own ears.
God said to them,
“Beware of every injustice,”
    and he gave each of them commandments concerning
    their neighbor.

Today’s Devotional

Over the years I find myself turning to the Apocrypha from time to time. The words are rich and always invite me into another level of reasoning and experiencing. This passage I come to many times. Today I am going to share bits of this passage with you and just some random thoughts.

The Lord created a human being out of the earth, and He returned that human being, into it again. (v.1) Simple dirt. We all started out on the small playing field, dirt. Equal rights, no one person better than the other. No title before a name to prove we’ve made it to another level. True equality. And we humans have stirred the dirt and made it muddy for personal benefit.

He gave them authority over the things that are upon the earth. (v.2b) God gave us the authority to care for all of creation. So, we build houses on ground that disturbs the land (dirt). We use products that affect the quality of our air, water, and dirt. Hmm, we sure haven’t used that authority very well.

God endowed them with strength like His, and He made them according to His image. (v.3) It is great to know that we are created in the image of God – and that He does not make mistakes!

God gave them the capacity to plan, a tongue and eyes, ears, and a mind for thinking. God filled them with common sense, and He showed them good things and bad. (vv.6 &7) Plan – we can all do it, it may take some of us longer, and it is ok to use resources to help us along the way. A tongue and eyes – both can cut like a knife and wound the spirit of another individual. Both can also share kindness and compassion for another person. Sometimes I think we don’t think enough! It is difficult to use our mind for thinking while in the noise and chaos. We need time for reasoning, in the stillness and quietness, to hear from God. Time for us to have a good laugh – God filled them with common sense. (v.7). Most days I think common sense has just flown out the window with the Kansas and Nebraska winds! As a child we begin to learn what is good and bad. I remember my mother telling me the iron was hot and not to touch it – well, you can guess what I did.

God placed knowledge before them, and He gave them a code for living. (v.11) God said to them, Beware of every injustice. (v.14a) One look at the Ten Commandments, to love God with all of who we are, and love our neighbor with unconditional, Christ-like love, provides us with a code of living. Oh … if only everyone lived that way! What would happen if we saw each other as a unique individual, created in the image of God? Maybe, just maybe, then we would truly be equal to one another, all people would live a life of justice – maybe we would truly be brothers and sisters in Christ.

May these random thoughts bring us comfort, make us think, and challenge us.-Rev. Hollie Tapley
Disaster Response Coordinator

htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Thank You, Father, for creating and knowing everything about us. Forgive us for when we put self ahead of You. Forgive us for failing to live our life as You desire us to. Thank You for Your patience with us as we miss the mark of our code of living. Renew us, mold us, fill us, and use us. Amen.

Psalm 8:1-5  

O Lord, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
    to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
    and crowned them with glory and honor.

Today’s Devotional

Our daughter and her husband are stargazers! They love looking at the night sky, observing and identifying stars and constellations while also scheduling watches for nights of meteor showers and comets. Months ago, they bought a powerful telescope which has energized their passion of stargazing.

On a recent visit to their home, we spent an evening looking at the night sky through their telescope. I was overwhelmed with awe looking at the sky through the magnified lens. The moon, looking so close, had clear cut craters and shadows that brought me joy. Observing this year’s Christmas star – the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn – filled me with awe as I saw the rings of Saturn which is 746 million miles from earth. Identifying the moons of Jupiter expanded my definition of seeing the moon. And looking at twinkling Sirius, the closest star to earth at 8.6 light years away, reminded me of a joyful childhood song: “Twinkle, twinkle little star.” Then our son-in-law reminded us some of the night sky objects are many millions of light years away. I stood there in a backyard in Wichita Kansas sensing how great and majestic our expanding universe is. And how small I am.

In that moment I remembered the words of Psalm 8: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” 

So, here’s a thought. During this year of 2021 when earth’s residents cope with a worldwide pandemic and we in this nation live in a divided, fearful and at times violent society – might we do well to look up once and awhile at the night sky! For it can be an awe-some, wonder-full, majestic experience. Which in turn will give us perspective to see that the Universe is much bigger than us and our problems. It’s humbling as we can sense the power of David’s words formed in an affirmation and a question when I look at your heaven … what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

Let me suggest the next time we see the night sky, let’s be awed by its vastness, humbled by our smallness, yet affirmed by our greatness as earthly human beings created and loved by God. The same God who continues to create the nighttime sky is also mindful of us with creative, caring energy. Thanks be to God!-Rev. Rick Saylor
Retired Clergy, Kansas City, Missouri

Prayer for Reflection

Do an outdoor night sky prayer, simply being still and looking at the night time sky and repeat the words of Psalm 8 “when I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them.”

Psalm 62:5-12

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
    he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
    pour out your hearts to him,
    for God is our refuge.

Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
    the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
    together they are only a breath.
Do not trust in extortion
    or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
    do not set your heart on them.

One thing God has spoken,
    two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
    and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
    according to what they have done.”

Today’s Devotional

For the past few weeks, I confess, I have been without motivation. I didn’t even get Christmas cards out this year which for me is unacceptable. I have had all this extra time at home, and I expected to accomplish so much. Rooms to paint, cupboards to clean, closets to organize, floors to wax, woodwork to varnish, books to read, to speak nothing of my responsibility to Lay Servant Ministries.

But while sharing my guilt and shame with friends, I have discovered many other people are suffering from the same malady. I don’t know if it is the political climate, COVID-19, isolation, unresolved conflicts of my church, or a combination of many of these issues. Regardless of the cause, I am very disappointed in myself. The Joy of Advent has come and gone, and the New Year brings hope and so many blessings.

The Psalmist says it best: “God is my Rock and my Salvation in whom my soul finds rest.” It is time for an attitude change. With strength and compassion from the Lord, I choose to be Joyful. It is time to pray for my enemies, support justice in my neighborhood, share God’s love with those who will listen, and walk humbly with my Lord. “I choose to be Joyful” is my breath prayer for this year.

If you are struggling as I am, I hope you find peace, compassion and grace in your life as you look to the future. I decided to trust the Lord to lead me where I am best equipped to share His love with others. My breath prayer will remind me of the trust I have put in the Lord. “Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love.”
-Mary Feit
Lay Servant Ministries Director

marykfeit@windstream.net

Prayer for Reflection

Holy One, even in our darkest hour, your love remains steadfast and your power reins forever. We are so grateful. Guide us when we struggle to comprehend your power and trust in your plan. We pray in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

1 Corinthians 10: 23-24

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

Today’s Devotional

I have a wishbone that sits on my windowsill. Do you remember breaking a wishbone? It was usually at Thanksgiving and came out of the Thanksgiving turkey. If you held the larger piece, it was supposed to bring you a wish.  I am the youngest child in the family and the wishbone never broke my way when I shared it with my siblings, but always when my mother held the other end. Why would that be? If you look closely at a wishbone, one side is usually a little bit thicker than the other. The person holding the thicker side would better their chances of being the “winner” of the wishbone wish.  My older siblings knew this. They also knew that the person who pulls the hardest usually ends up with the short piece. My mother also knew this, but she used the wishbone differently. She set it up for ME to win.

The wishbone on my windowsill is there to remind me that God’s way is for the stronger to set the stage for and help the weaker to be successful. It is also a reminder to be the one who holds steady and not be the one who pulls things to a breaking point. My prayer for you this year is to be strong in your faith, strengthen those who are weak, and be one who works to unite rather than pull apart.
-Mary L. Brooks
Five Rivers Lay Leader; Lay Servant Director

marylbrooks6401@msn.com

Prayer for Reflection

Mighty and powerful God, keep me humble and remind me to be kind and helpful to those who are weak, as you are kind and helpful to me. Help me be a supporter and encourager rather than an exploiter and divider. In Jesus name. Amen.

Psalm 86

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
    for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
    for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
    abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
    listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you,
    for you will answer me.
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
    nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
    and bow down before you, O Lord,
    and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
    and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
    you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
O God, the insolent rise up against me;
    a band of ruffians seeks my life,
    and they do not set you before them.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and be gracious to me;
    give your strength to your servant;
    save the child of your serving girl.
Show me a sign of your favor,
    so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
    because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

Today’s Devotional

The Psalms usually don’t speak to me.

I’m not certain why. It may be my utter lack of talent when it comes to poetry. It may be that I really struggle to understand such kinds of writing separated from the context in which they were written. I mean, I can understand Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” and “The Road Not Taken.” But while I appreciate the beauty of the writing, the poetry provided by such other greats as Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are usually lost on me. The Psalms, unless I know where they fall within the history of the Old Testament, have proven difficult for me to fully comprehend,

As a result, I normally shy away from the Psalms, but on this historic day, when we inaugurate a new president after a tumultuous election season and an attack on the legislative branch of our government, I found myself drawn to the Psalm from today’s lectionary options.

Psalm 86 is a prayer attributed to David seeking God’s deliverance from enemies. And in particular my eyes focus on verse 11. I like the way the New Revised Standard Version puts it: “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.”

We’ve certainly allowed ourselves to be divided, haven’t we? We start with people of goodwill arguing for what they think is the best course for the country on myriad issues. But then the whole system unravels. We allow people to use things beyond our control such as skin color to devise a hierarchy that God never intended. We turn a blind eye to matters of justice because to address them might just cause ourselves some discomfort. We dehumanize our political adversaries.

We get so caught up in politics that we forget that Jesus sits on the throne regardless of whomever wins an election.

I may not understand much about poetry, but I usually can identify wisdom. And I find a lot of it in the plea for God to teach us the way so that we can walk in God’s truth. And I understand what the psalmist means when asking for an undivided heart.

On this day of transition for the U.S. government, may we all pray for an undivided heart so that we can be unified in our devotion not merely to a government of this earth — though that government may be precious to all of us — but to God’s Kingdom both now and for an eternity.
 — Todd Seifert, director of communications
tseifert@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

God of all the ages, in your sight nations rise and fall and pass through times of peril. Now when our land is troubled, be near to judge and save. May leaders be led by your wisdom; may they search your will and see it clearly. If we have turned from your way, reverse our ways and help us to repent. Give us your light and your truth, let them guide us; through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of this world, and our Savior. Amen. (“A Prayer in Time of National Crisis,” United Methodist Book of Worship)

Matthew 5:13

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

Today’s Devotional

As I write this, it’s lightly snowing in Topeka.

We’ve avoided several of the snowstorms that the rest of Kansas and Nebraska have already had this season, and there are predictions it may all be melted tomorrow.

Yet the first thing I said to a co-worker and to our property coordinator this morning was “Do we know where the salt is?”

Salt, we have discovered over the centuries, is one of the best ways to break up and melt ice. It’s a diverse and versatile product.

In Jesus’ time, it was used to preserve meet and keep food from spoiling.

As a farm boy, I dropped many a salt lick in the field for cattle to consume (the all-knowing Google tells me now that it helps cattle perform several vital processes, including water regulation).

Fourteen years ago this week, at an arts journalism fellowship I was attending, one of my mentors called me an “old salt,” which I didn’t know at the time was a criticism or a compliment.

And, of course, I can’t have my French fries without a shake or two (if my doctor is reading this, it’s truthfully a low-sodium blend).

We call those who are good, level-headed types “the salt of the earth,” which emanated from the Gospel. Valued workers used to be called “worth their salt.” Yet those who go overboard are described as being “too salty.”

By telling us about the salt of the earth, Jesus wants us to stay dedicated to Him and to God, lest we lose that saltiness.

But I’m wondering if, through the millennium, the salt analogy means we should also be adaptable, versatile and up for any challenge? Ready to be put to use for anything – just like those miraculous bits of salt.–David Burke, content specialist
dburke@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Dear Lord, let us be salt for you – flavoring life, melting troubles and savoring outcomes in your name. Amen.

Mark 1:14-20

After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.

Today’s Devotional

Come follow Me. Right now. At that very moment. Every time I read this passage it is those three phrases that I repeat over, and over, and over. My calling into the ordained ministry is as fresh on my mind today as it was in 1986. I had known since age 12 that I would be the ministry – I knew it yet didn’t want it. I had a life filled with sports; I was set as far as I was concerned. One Sunday night, as I was sitting on the back pew during worship – everything changed. It has been a journey for sure, yet I wouldn’t change God’s call on my life for nothing in the world.

It only took me 26 years to decide to follow Jesus. The words right now and at that very moment were not a part of my vocabulary. Each time I read this passage I am amazed at the immediate response from Simon, Andrew, James and John. I missed out on a lot of years of ministry because in my mind, only church staff were the ministers. They were paid to do it! (I know many of you have thought that or still think that.) It was not until I took Disciple Bible Study (after seminary) that I caught it.

What I caught was – Jesus is calling every single one of us, no matter of our age. Not everyone is called into the ordained ministry, yet everyone is called to follow Jesus. We are called because it takes every one of us to be intentional about transforming our communities, states, nation, and world for Jesus Christ. That is what being a disciple is all about!

Discipleship must be intentional if we are going to make a real difference in our communities and elsewhere. Intentional means that when Jesus says, Come follow Me, we respond right now, at that very moment. The work of a disciple is life-changing! It’s anything that we do in our daily lives that is done with God’s love as the motivation to make change in our world, with the emphasis of sowing the seed of the gospel by what we do and/or say. If we desire real change in our communities, state, nation, and world, then we must answer the call to be and to make disciples.

I cannot help but believe that when Jesus says Come follow Me, if our action would be right now, at that very moment, instead of waiting for someone else to answer the call, we would truly live life with all people equal and united.-Rev. Hollie Tapley
Disaster Response Coordinator
htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Teacher, thank You for Your call upon our lives. We are a changed people because of Your love and gift of grace. Remind us, that the call is now our call. Remind us that we are ones to be and make disciples. Amen.

Romans 16:1-16 

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

Today’s Devotional

We American types love to celebrate the lone wolf, the independent hero, the self-made man [sic]. We remember the names of the generals, the CEOs, the explorer who planted the flag. We conveniently forget the foot soldiers, the countless employees, the partners, the colleagues and sherpas. Even in the church, we have our lone-wolf heroes, not the least of which is Paul.

But here in Romans 16, we have this litany of proof that Paul did not accomplish his great mission alone. He acknowledges Phoebe, a deacon and his benefactor. He says that Prisca and Aquila were not only co-workers in Christ; they risked their very lives for him. He lifts up his dear friends and cherishes their fidelity: Ampliatus, Stachys, Apelles. He names all the women who have “worked hard” (like we do) so that the gospel could flourish: Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis. He humbles himself before Andronicus and Junia (another woman!), calls them apostles, and says they were in Christ even before him. This is just some of the list.

I am not immune to the lure of wanting to be the solitary hero. Even though it is tempting sometimes to think that my work is just between God and me, I know that I stand on the shoulders of Paul and Phoebe, Andronicus and Junia, John and Charles, Sojourner and Richard, Fanny and Georgia. In my time, there are countless contemporaries who challenge me and encourage me. I do nothing without myriad colleagues and friends and church-family members who labor by my side.

This is incredibly good news. Because last I checked, we are part of God’s dream to make this world like the kin(g)dom of heaven … and we have a long way to go. Transforming this world is a lot of work, but we’ve got the Holy Spirit and one another.

Thanks be to God we do not have to journey alone.–Rev. Chris Jorgensen,
Omaha Hanscom Park UMC
revchrisjorgensen@gmail.com *Devotion originally published 1/15/2020

Prayer for Reflection

Gracious and generous God, thank you for the family, friends, and colleagues you have given me. Help us to support one another as we do your work in the world, and multiply our work in ways we cannot even imagine. May it be so. Amen.

John 13:34-35

I give you a new commandment, that you loveoneanother. Just as I have loved you, you also should loveoneanother. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for oneanother.”

Today’s Devotional

When I was a seminary student at Saint Paul School of Theology I took an intensive course called: Theology, Civics and Civility. The course was taught by the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver, who at the time was the Senior Pastor at Saint James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, MO. Today, Cleaver is a member of the House of Representatives representing the state of Missouri.

This course challenged us as students to ponder the intersections between theology, civics and civility. As well as those intersections between the church, the political landscape and secular culture. As part of the course work we as a class had to draft and adopt a list of Rules of Civility. Our conversation as we took on this project as a class was passionate, yet respectful. Our hope was to hammer out a list that would shape not only our own conversations but those of the faith communities we were serving.

As we transition from the season of elections to the season of governance I thought it might be helpful to all of us to revisit the list of Rules of Civility this class developed. 

Rules of Civility

Shortly after the turn of the 18th Century, a young colonist by the name of George Washington developed what became known as the 110 Rules of Civility which were based on and borrowed from Jesuit educators.

President Washington used these principles throughout his life to guide his disciplined style of leadership. These 110 hand written rules heightened his successful Presidency and contributed to the shape of the Office of President.

We the students of the Theology, Civics and Civility course at Saint Paul School of Theology, believe that civility in the tradition of Washington, can spiritually transform society. Toward that end and because of a commitment to human dignity and Creation, we offer our 25 best suggestions as the following Rules of Civility.

Let others go first
People have names, use them
Consider everyone’s point of view; all voices have something to contribute
Avoid generalizations and blanket statements
Debate should end when the meeting is over — keep conversation in the room
Consider your responses before acting — practice prudence
Be conscious of one’s surroundings so as not to impose on others
Be proactive in hospitality
Acts of lying, cheating, stealing, coveting are uncivil
Speak the truth in kindness when expounding a grievance
Use language that uplifts rather than language that degrades
Listen carefully to the words of others before distracting yourself with your own response
If you take initiative take responsibility
Be willing to laugh at yourself and smile often
Let insults go unheeded — Never kick a SKUNK
No fingers pointing regardless of what finger you use
Endeavor to raise standards rather than lower them
Share all you can without resentment
Make sure everyone understands the rules and customs that will be followed
Play well with others — everyone gets a turn
Challenge uncivil behavior
Respect God’s creation all life depends on it
Recognize your own self worth and the value of others; we are all Children of God
Pursue Physical, Emotional and Spiritual health and Wholness
EVERY RULE HAS EXCEPTIONS
 –Rev. Kurt Cooper
UMCMESU Campus Minister
kcooper@greatplainsumc.org

*****

Arriving at the oceanside we run

to the beach to breathe in rhythm

Uniting breath with the

Perpetual ebb and flow.

Salty air fills our lungs.

Before the sun rises over the horizon

We are on the sandy shores

Retrieving shells and driftwood

Amazed at starfish and the

Feel of sand between our toes.

As the sun rises over sparkly Mother Sea

The man with the giant rake smooths

Fine sand on the beach

And the ripples disappear

Leaving behind a show of tines.

Now we call the Divine Rake to come

Into our lives and smooth

Out the rough and toughness of life

To rescue us from that which

Seems more than we can bear.

As the solar rays stream down upon the sand

We soak up the light and are re-charged

For the days ahead

Surrendering to the gifts

of restoring, healing breath.

Hidden from us in the interior of the States,

is the tide never ceasing

Healing, ebbing, and flowing.

Resting and rolling waves breathe

Peace and healing harmony.

Today’s Devotional

As a diversion strategy my husband and I have been “planning” a trip to Hawaii. It’s not that we will fly over the ocean for five hours during a pandemic, but it’s lovely to think of where we might stay and the activities we might do.

The news of this past week has been so difficult that we need to take a break and think pleasant thoughts. Bringing a sense of calmness are thoughts of lying on the seashore, soaking up the sun, jumping in the waves, swimming with the turtles, listening to the music that ebbs and flows with the tide, and spotting tremendous whales with their calves from a distance.

Life, similar to the sea, is not always calm and can be brutal during a storm. During these times it brings peace to pray from the passage entitled “Jesus Calms the Sea” from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

From The Message we read:

Luke 8:22-24 One day he and his disciples got in a boat. “Let’s cross the lake,” he said.

And off they went. It was smooth sailing, and he fell asleep.

A terrific storm came up suddenly on the lake. Water poured in, and they were about to capsize.

They woke Jesus: “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

Getting to his feet, he told the wind, “Silence!” and the waves, “Quiet down!”

They did it. The lake became smooth as glass.

25 Then he said to his disciples, “Why can’t you trust me?”

They were in absolute awe, staggered and stammering, “Who is this, anyway?

He calls out to the winds and sea, and they do what he tells them!”

This past week we were in a frightening storm and have pleaded with God in a similar way, “Master, Master, we are going to drown!” And in the storm, Jesus calms the sea. Not just for the people in the boat who are pleading, but for everyone on the Sea of Galilee.

May we be people of hope who, in the midst of fear, trust in God and pray for a miracle. We pray that the healing Spirit of Christ will be upon us and all obsessed with anger, fear, and hatred.

May we trust and be grateful enough to sing along with the morning sparrow’s song and know that we are safe and cared for. May we fish below the ice and find clear waters flowing deep and wide.

Shalom to you my friend.

Rev. Marta Wheeler
Saint Paul Benson, Omaha
mwheeler@greatplainsumc.org

Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
    worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
    and strips the forest bare;
    and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Today’s Devotional

I know the Psalms are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I find myself drawn to them. I don’t know if it’s the poetry aspect of them that draws me near, or the words attributed to David, but they resonate with me.

As I looked at this verse and read it over in various versions, we hear the power ascribed to God that we can’t really say we see regularly in today’s world. The imagery of the voice of the Lord breaking cedars, stripping trees bare, calling down flames and floods. This vengeful God that even I like to ignore. That Old Testament God bending the people to his will and punishing those in his path.

But the end of this Psalm reads like a request:

May the Lord give strength to his people. May the Lord bless his people with peace.

As I think of these words in the light of recent events a small part of me wants to see that raging, vengeful God come down and straighten things out around here. Throw a lightning bolt here, toss a few flames out over there in a holy scare them straight. Pay attention! What are you doing?

But I read those last lines again.

May the Lord give strength to his people. May the Lord bless his people with peace.

I learned a long time ago that if you ask for strength from God you may get more than you bargained for. In order to get stronger, you have to work your muscles, you have to make them tired and push them. The situations I’ve asked God to deliver me from he’s often put me in the center or required me to do the work and make my way through them. He’s been beside me the whole time, but it wasn’t fun and it wasn’t easy.

Peace is often achieved the same way. It doesn’t just happen. Work goes into the whole process. Hard work, work that frankly we’d rather not do and likely have been avoiding. But that is what it takes to get to that peace we say we want.

So, in these strange days may we lean into God’s strength and blessing knowing we need to rely on God’s strength to do the work of the blessing. The only way is through, and it will be hard. We will lose heart, become exhausted, frustrated and feel alone but we need only rely on His strength and He will give us the tools and gifts to do the work. Sometimes those tools will be talents, maybe the gifts are found in others. But the only way to peace is through.

May the Lord give strength to his people. May the Lord bless his people with peace.
-Lisa Soukup
Communications Administrative Assistant
lsoukup@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Heavenly One, we tread a dark path at present. We are so divided and everything seems so divisive. Help us to find the tools and gifts in ourselves and others, to make our way through. We know you are beside us and light the way for lasting peace.

Isaiah 51:14

The oppressed shall speedily be released; they shall not die and go down to the Pit…

Today’s Devotional

I’d love to have a pit crew. Like they have at the Indy 500.

Driving around in 200 circles (500 miles) can be interesting, but the real action is on pit row. As drivers pull off the track, the crews jump into action. Changing the tires. Refueling the tank. Wiping off the windshield and anything else that needs to be done. In three seconds.

A pit crew can accomplish more in three seconds than most of us do in an afternoon. Now that’s precision. That’s coordination. That’s support. Can you imagine what it would be like to have your own personal crew like that?

I could use one. Since turning 50, my health hasn’t been great. Nothing life-threatening, but it seems like rarely a week goes by when I’m not making a trip to one doctor or another. I’m on so many different kinds of vitamins and medications that I’ve given up trying to pronounce them all. For the first time, I find myself pondering my own mortality.

Interestingly enough, when folks talk about mortality in the Bible, they talk about The Pit. Many ancient Jews had no belief in the afterlife other than some watery, shadowy, sleepy realm called Sheol. This restless place was where you went when you died, and it’s referred to many times in scripture as The Pit. I would much prefer eternal paradise to eternal insomnia, but I have no plans to visit either destination for a good long time.

Now that I think about it, maybe I already do have a pit crew. They’re the ones that keep me running. Doctors, counselors, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, nutritionists, these and many other professionals are all part of my pit crew. My circle of friends, my extended family, they’re on the crew, too. Colleagues, church family–all these folks are waiting in the wings to provide support and keep me going. Now that I list it out, I see I’ve got an enormous pit crew. They’re not always three-seconds fast, and they aren’t always certain what to do, but these folks — many who don’t even know each other — are here for me.

When I think about it like that, I’m less inclined to complain about the next appointment on my schedule. Were it not for all the tune-ups these folks provide, I’d be a wreck. I’d be parked out at curve number three, trying to figure out how to change a tire.

-Rev. Mitch Todd
Wamego First UMC
mtodd@greatplainsumc.org
 

Prayer for Reflection

God, thanks for my pit crew, keeping me out of The Pit. Thanks for the folks who’ve kept me running all these years. I’ve got a good many laps ahead of me, so I’ll keep the pedal to the metal…

until I see the checkered flag.

Acts 22:2-16

When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

“‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

“‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

“A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

“Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

Today’s Devotional

Now … there’s your sign!! Paul certainly had an amazing and unexpected encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road. I wonder what his travel mates thought when all of a sudden Paul is talking to Jesus, and all they can see is the bright light surrounding Paul. Paul is asking questions so surely answers were required. They hear Paul asking the questions, but they do not hear the answers given by Jesus. Was it the WAH … WAH…WAH sound we hear the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons speak in? Or, maybe a rushing, twirling wind sound. The Bible tells us they could not understand the sound, but they did hear one. What did they think caused Paul to be sightless when moments before they were dashing down the road, on a mission from the Pharisees to go to Damascus to persecute these radical Jews who called themselves followers of Jesus? How could their “Holy Mission” come upon such calamity and their leader be struck in such a way that his sight is taken away? They must have been faithful companions because they proceeded to do as Paul directed and continued on the road they were traveling. I wonder if they wanted to turn around and go back to Jerusalem? Surely more danger awaited them down the road…after all, look what happen to Paul!

Now we find Paul sharing his testimony in Jerusalem. He shared with the Jewish mob his credentials as a Jewish citizen and spoke to them in their language about how he, an imprisoner and murderer of Jesus’s followers, came to salvation and was healed from the hatred he had for those he had persecuted.  His sins were washed away in his Baptism. He was chosen by God to witness all he had seen and heard to all people.

We today, are chosen to share the Good News with all people. We too are called to share our testimonies of faith so other can see the work the Lord has done in our lives, and what is possible for their own. At the beginning of each New Year, we are called to remember our Baptism. In our church we have celebrated our Baptism by going to the baptistery fount, dip our fingers into the water, and then place the sign of the cross on our foreheads. We are given a stone to keep with us to remind us of this recommitment to the Christ who saved us. We are refreshed in Jesus! We are called to use the gifts and talents he has given to each of us and BE the BODY of Christ in our homes, church, community, and world.

–Pam Bilyeu
Lay Leader Lyndon UMC, Lyndon

Prayer for Reflection

Father God, in this year of COVID, we may not be able to gather together to be a part of a reaffirmation celebration, but Lord you are always present with us. Refresh our hearts now. Forgive us of our sins, and bring to our remembrance our Baptism, made possible through the sacrifice made by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Send us out such as You sent out Paul and help us to be BOLD witnesses to help bring others to your saving grace. Amen

Luke 6:27-31

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Today’s Devotional

In my last article Dec. 30, I pointed out how the COVID-19 pandemic has earned all the negative descriptions awarded to it and has effectively become a universal adversary and enemy. Imagine someone who has committed a crime against you or your family. Imagine noisy neighbors who cause you and your young family strife and sleepless nights from drunkard parties and such and you cannot afford to move. Imagine people who discriminate against you for your religious or political beliefs, your race, national origin, and anything else you can think of. I am asking you to stretch your minds to imagine those members of society you just know you would not find common ground on anything; those are the enemies and adversaries.

Digging deeper, the Luke passage above compels us to love these people, even pray for them and turn the other cheek despite their having reigned havoc on our lives. I bet you are looking for some exceptions or some fine print that say otherwise. There is not. This is a mandate to love our enemies. The obligation even goes beyond that and requires us to be concerned about whether the basic hierarchy of needs of our enemies such as food, shelter and safety are met. You can agree that there is a high degree of difficulty in reconciling the emotions around loving our enemies. Disobeying God’s instruction, his mandate for us damages our relationship with God. God broke the wall which existed between us and Him by sending his only Son Jesus to reconnect us back to him through his birth, death, and resurrection. What is our contribution to Him if we cannot support or follow the directives to love our enemies as he loved us, as unworthy and sinful as we are?

Jesus taught his audience and followers to love their enemies: “But to you who are listening I sayLove your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Matthew 5:44-45) Jesus teaches us not to be against our enemies but to do good regardless. As much as we pray against the negative effects of coronavirus, Jesus reminds us of a resolution in this new year to pray for our adversaries. It is a difficult and painful thought to kneel down and pray for our enemies when we reflect on the hurts, disappointments, injuries caused, and the impediments thrust our way by them. Jesus calls us to do good to those who hate us, perhaps for no reason, to speak blessings to those who cause heartaches and sleeplessness nights to us regardless of the circumstances. There are no exceptions, no fine print, no disclaimers. 

After reading the teaching and the instruction to loving our enemies, I can imagine some stuffing cotton balls into their ears and do not want to hear such because it is a difficult proposition to follow. The Holy Spirit always reminds us that we too are adversaries to those we regard as enemies. The best way to absorb and apply this teaching is to realize that we ourselves are not perfect. We could easily be thorns in other people’s sides and they too must learn to love us.

God wants us to connect with one another and exist in harmony, peace, and love with one another on this planet. God destroyed the hostility among us when prophet Isaiah said: “6The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6) It is unbelievable to perceive oneness without contention within these living animals. If the lamb, leopard would sleep with their prey, goat, and the rest of the mentioned animals, we can all strive to practice what Jesus said, loving our enemies and doing good to those who hate us. Lastly the saying, “What goes around comes around is fulfilled in Jesus’ words: “31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12) We all play a pivotal role in our daily living, doing good to all people. If we mistreat people, it will come around us one way or the other along life’s way. Therefore, our obligation is to follow the master’s word to: “Love our enemies and pray for them.” Above all we pray against all things that cause hostility among us.” (Matthew 5:44)-Rev. Ever Mudambanuki
United Church of Bennington and Solomon Yoked Parish

emudambanuki@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

O God we have failed you so many times and grieved the Holy Spirit through our sins. We have hated instead of loving. Teach us to pray and bless our enemies in our faith walk. Amen!

Mark 1:9-11

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Today’s Devotional

Today we mark the Baptism of the Lord. In many congregations this is a time for services in which we remember our own baptismal vows – or maybe even with an actual baptism.

Any time I can preside at a baptism I am filled with joy. When I retired a couple of years ago, I assumed my days of baptizing were over. So, imagine my joy when my niece asked me to baptize her daughter a few months ago!

And today, I find myself leading a worship service in which we will be remembering our baptismal vows. I didn’t expect to be doing this again, either. But I have been serving as interim pastor at my home church for the last couple of months while the appointed pastor has been on maternity leave. This service is a little different than any such service of remembrance I have done in the past, thanks to COVID-19. Like most Great Plains churches these days, we are only doing virtual worship, so how do you make this happen? As with many other celebrations these days, with a little imagination.

But more important than the “how” is the “why” in this remembrance. Why bother? United Methodists believe that baptism is a “once only” sacrament – unlike Holy Communion, in which we rehearse the Last Supper frequently. Consequently, it is easy to forget the promises made when we are baptized. Yet the questions asked at baptism are central to how we practice our faith. Do we renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of the world, and repent of our sins? Do we accept the freedom and power that God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression? Do we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, putting our whole trust in his grace?

In baptism we follow the example Jesus gave us. In our Christian walk we strive to follow Jesus’ teachings – all of which encompass the very things covered in the baptismal questions. I believe it is a good thing to renew our baptismal vows on a regular basis – simply to remind us of whose we are and what he asks of us.
–Rev. Robbie Fall, retired elder
Hutchinson

Prayer for Reflection

Holy God, help us remember – not just once a year, but every day – that we have promised to trust in the grace you offer through your Son and to follow where he leads us. Amen.

Although we know nothing yet about 2021

There is hope for healing.

Heard in the voices of fun-loving girls

falling backwards into the snow

laughing uncontrollably.

Unprovoked giggling is contagious

hopeful and beautiful!

There is hope for healing and transformation.

Heard in the voices of children as they say,

If I were a Magi bringing

 gifts to Jesus I’d bring peace,

love, hope, and joy. We’d all sing, “We Three

Kings of Orient Are.”

How grateful I am for youthful smiles and songs.

 Being silly is a sign of

Being in the moment and

not fearing the upcoming future.

Grateful we are loved by God.

Isn’t that what really matters?

Today’s Devotional

Last week New Year’s Eve was celebrated all over the world. Fireworks were blasted into the dark night, songs were sung, and poems were penned. Millions of memes were posted.

Yet admittedly, I was not yet fully in the spirit upon hearing Auld Lang Syne. People expressing their thrill that 2020 was over wasn’t making sense to me. It’s just a date on the calendar, what has truly changed? Is it the rolling over to 2021 that is so different? Saint Paul’s New Year’s Eve “Wesley Covenant Service” had begun the work of recognizing and releasing any residual fears from 2020. Those things that provoked fear and caused irritation within me. Even though something had shifted in my heart during the season of Advent, not all had gone out the window.

Now that we are in the season of Christmas, how will the transformation and letting go, and being part of the building of the Kingdom of God continue so that the New Year truly is welcomed in and celebrated?

It happened this past weekend when people brought boxes and bags of pantry items that were collected while participating in the Reverse Advent Calendar. Members of the youth group and the Mercy and Justice Team retrieved the items from people’s vehicles and will deliver them to Together this week.

In between drop-offs, there was time to build a tiny snowman, sing camp songs like “Father Abraham”, attempt snow angels in the crisp snow, and loosen ice along the edge of the curb. There was time to talk about the Joseph of Genesis and to record a Dyno Kids video. Hot cocoa warmed cold bodies on a thirty-degree day and our hearts were warmed by those who brought pantry items, and gloves and hats with a smile.

We are partway through the first week of January 2021. We trust that this year will be better and that we’ve learned new ways of “being” in 2020. We trust that the ways we’ve practiced being quiet in God’s presence will not simply be a 2020 fad; but will continue while going down the different road as present-day followers of Jesus Christ.

Be assured that there will be times we embrace 2021 and times we do not. As Ecclesiastes 3:5 informs us, there is a time for embracing and a time not to embrace. Have confidence that we will continue to embrace each of you in our hearts, and pray for the time when it is safe to embrace you with our arms once again.

The Light and Peace of Our Savior be with you,

Rev. Marta Wheeler
Saint Paul Benson, Omaha

mwheeler@greatplainsumc.or

Psalm 72

Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the needy,
    and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
    and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

May he have dominion from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May his foes bow down before him,
    and his enemies lick the dust.
May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
    render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
    bring gifts.
May all kings fall down before him,
    all nations give him service.

For he delivers the needy when they call,
    the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
    and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
    and precious is their blood in his sight.

Long may he live!
    May gold of Sheba be given to him.
May prayer be made for him continually,
    and blessings invoked for him all day long.
May there be abundance of grain in the land;
    may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
    may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
    like the grass of the field.
May his name endure forever,
    his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him;
    may they pronounce him happy.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.

Today’s Devotional

This is the second time in recent months that I have reflected on this Psalm and its meaning for us today. This Psalm was likely written and prayed upon the King of Israel, possibly Solomon. In December, I reflected upon this Psalm as a call on us personally to care for the poor and oppressed. But in this season of public leadership transitions in the United States, I also think this Psalm provides a blueprint of what the Bible describes as an effective leader, both in terms of substance and form.
Scholars describe several different typical types of leadership: Transactional, Transformational, Democratic, Autocratic, Bureaucratic, Laissez-Faire, or Charismatic Leadership. (You can easily find descriptions on the internet). Each of these types of leadership can be “effective” depending on your definition of “effective,” and we each have strengths that lead us to one or more types of leadership.

But today’s Psalm describes another type of leadership: Servant Leadership. The Center for Servant Leadership provides this definition: “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid,’ servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

The Psalmist does not pray for the king to achieve fame by force of arms or by power of personality, but by delivering “the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.” The Psalmist observes that a biblically effective leader saves the lives of the needy from oppression and violence.

As Christians, we especially recognize this model of servant leadership. Jesus did not lead by using his power to force others to his will. He did not lead by asking what the most popular viewpoint would be. He consistently led by example—by caring for the poor and standing up for the oppressed. He ultimately gave his life for all of us, the perfect example of Servant Leadership.

Although this lesson is applicable to all sorts of leaders (civic, organizational, church), as we have new (and returning) elected leaders taking office at the state and federal level in the United States, I am praying for them specifically. Their work in our polarized nation is daunting and difficult to be sure. But for leaders who are looking for a biblical model of leadership, today’s Psalm provides a plumb line for decision making.-Randall Hodgkinson
Associate Conference Lay Leader

randall.hodgkinson@yahoo.com

Prayer for Reflection

God of Grace, watch over our elected and appointed leaders at every level and grant them your Wisdom in their work. Help them to see and respond to “the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.” Through such servant leadership, help them to bless ALL nations in you. Amen.

Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
    worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
    and strips the forest bare;
    and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Today’s Devotional

Have you ever been traveling and turned on the local newscast to watch a newscaster out in the field broadcasting a live weather event? We can watch a hurricane blowing in and there stands someone with a raincoat and microphone telling us it is raining. Or locally we know the surge of adrenalin for storm chasers when the conditions are right, and the clouds may form into a tornado at any moment. The camera pans to ominous rotations of darkening clouds. Most of us in the Great Plains Conference area know the spring weather conditions may require us to find shelter quickly when warnings are issued.

Psalm 29 gives us a sense of God within the storm. This storm is moving inland to the Mediterranean Sea to the Lebanese Valley, and south into the wilderness of Kadesh. But the psalm is not about the weather resulting from the storm but about God. God as above the storm and all are praising God. God as the loudest crack of thunder! And all the people shout with acclamation of praise “How great Thou art!”

We celebrate the Epiphany by the joy of finding the Christ Child because of the star pointing the way. Yet evil ever lurks ready to change the joy in a moment. The Magi were warned not to report back to Herod and went home another way. What is it that is causing our own fear this season and our hesitation to offer full and loud praise to God? Is COVID-19 hampering what might have been a wonderful season if only everyone could be together? Are conversations of hope for the new year complicated by the debate of accepting a vaccine? Will we become complacent with fatigue of 10 months of altered activities and gatherings?

It feels as if we can put on our coats, boots and hats and stand on the corner telling everyone what is happening with the rains, wind and thunder (virus, fear and fatigue). Or we make a choice about finding God in our lives instead of fear. God moves in amazing action if we are open to looking for God. The final line of the Psalm is “May the Lord bless his people with peace.” Might we all stand on the corner and proclaim the Good News that Emmanuel is among us and we have hope and strength for 2021. What will you broadcast in your corner of the world for in this new year?

Deepest shalom to you and yours in 2021.            –Rev. Jo Mead, pastor
University United Methodist Church,
Wichita

Prayer for Reflection

Holy God, give us courage to proclaim your good news in times of bounty and times of want. Give us strength to love our neighbors with grace and mercy. Give us eyes to see the needs around us and the desire to change the world in the storm knowing you are with us today and always. Amen.

 Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
        by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
            because from you will come one who governs,
            who will shepherd my people Israel.

Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

Today’s Devotional

Today is the end of Christmas – what a downer. Only 12 days in the Christmas season, one would think that our time of celebrating the birth of Christ would be longer than that! May as well accept it – the season is over. Time to take down the decorations and store them for several months. But … before we do …

Today is Epiphany. It is today that we ponder the Magi’s story as they followed the star to bring gifts to the Christ-child. The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. (v.9) Wonder what they felt as they arrived and set their eyes on Jesus, the Christ-child? We know they fell to their knees and honored the baby, yet what was stirring in their souls? What changed for the three kings at that very moment at the revelation before their eyes?

On this gift-giving day, I encourage you to celebrate the Christ-child by answering these questions.

  1. What actual gift do I bring to Jesus today?
  2. How am I noticing and living into the revelation to God?
  3. During the 12 days of Christmas, where did the star lead you?
  4. In what new ways are you being invited to grow in your discipleship and faith?

This is a wow day! It’s a party day! Let’s celebrate the revelation of God as a human being in Jesus Christ. Now that is an Epiphany!!
-Rev. Hollie Tapley
Disaster Response Coordinator

htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

God, we are so grateful for Jesus. Thank You for this small child, who calls us to follow Him. May we remember that it all began in a manger. Amen.

Isaiah 60:1-6

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Today’s Devotional

These words from the Prophet Isaiah reach out to us from the distant past and pull us into the very present journey that we find ourselves telling and sharing each year over the course of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. The story we tell is of a particular family and their very specific child; the characters that we encounter along with them are at this point well known to those who have attended a children’s pageant or have found themselves following the cycle of scriptures for the liturgical year.

This specific biblical narrative, while singular, is accompanied by additional stories. These include memories of our own families, hopes for a new year, and dreams we have cherished in our hearts but not yet spoken aloud. Isaiah’s words lift up themes of the journey from this story: God’s faithfulness, the dream of a shining light gathering people together, an abundance of gifts so great it is as if to come from the sea.

Too often, we are discouraged from remembering our dreams of hope, abundance and light. Perhaps they seem impossible, not worth the mental space to tease out the “what ifs” or discarded because they are viewed as a distraction. And yet the prophet speaks to us and we remember, “the Lord will rise upon you; God’s glory will appear over you.” The “you” of the scripture speaks to us as individuals who are part of a global community of faith, and we remember in this day before Epiphany that we are a people who are called not just to dream but to listen to dreamers and prophets, and to search for God where others have given up hope. We are a people called to share the Good News we have witnessed, in spite of and in the midst of difficult times.

As we welcome the words of Isaiah and the arrival of the Wise Ones, how will we make space for dreams and dreamers, prophets and prophesies? How will we choose to share the good news that we have already witnessed?-Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede
St. Paul Omaha

sahlschwede@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

God of dreamers and prophets, we lift our eyes to you and see your faithfulness. Help us to respond to your call upon our lives so that we might be a living witness to the good news we have already seen.

Click here to see Stephanie’s snowdome devotion on the Three Kings. 

2 Peter 2: 1-3

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

Today’s Devotional

These past few days, I’ve been contemplating how the birth and teachings of Jesus have been distorted in the ages since Jesus came to earth. We sing cherished carols about no room at the inn and a baby who doesn’t cry. We have manger scenes with wise men and camels around the manger. So much of what we cherish at Christmas cannot possibly be true. One of my favorite recent Christmas songs is “It Was Not a Silent Night” and for anyone who has given birth or been present at a birthing, the song is so relevant. No doubt, Mary was not silent as she struggled with birthing pains, nor was Jesus a baby who never cried. The wise men were not present with the shepherds either.

Likewise, it seems that the good news message has become so twisted that it’s easy to see why non-believers would turn away from the God we love. The scripture above seems to come to life before our eyes, as we see religious leaders espousing a message that surely must make God angry. The perversion of the Gospel message rings so similar to the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, that I can’t help but think that we may be on the threshold of a new day. Our communion ritual includes the phrase “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again”. Perhaps this is the time we have been waiting for. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.-Mary L. Brooks
Five Rivers Lay Leader & Lay Servant Director

marylbrooks6401@msn.com

Prayer for Reflection

Savior of the world, we’ve made a mess of things again. Help us restore your message and shed the light of your love to a world grown cynical by our heresy. Come, Lord Jesus, Come

Isaiah 60:1-6

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
    they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
    and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
    your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
    the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
    the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
    all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
    and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Psalm 72:1-7

Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the needy,
    and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
    and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

Today’s Devotional

“It kinda looks like God hugging someone,” said Owen, my 7-year-old grandson. I responded, “That’s exactly what I’ve always thought!”  He was holding up, very carefully, the puzzle nativity his mother had selected the previous day from our collection.  She had asked for one of our nativities for Christmas.  Wow!  It was supposed to be a gift to her.  In reality, it was truly a gift to us, her parents — that she wanted one of our nativities. 

We had brought three with us to her house and the one she chose was one that nests Mary, Joseph, and the Baby the furthest in, then a section that becomes  a “stable,” and finally, the piece that appears to be God’s loving arms reaching around the whole scene.  Made of fine wood, it was given to us by a church secretary about 40 years ago. It was precious to us.
Wait!  There is one other piece. It is always wrapped separately.  It was made to come off, for storage.  It fits down on a little nail at the top of “God.”  It is the star.  We had to have the star.  A crucial piece.  Whew!  It was there!

Today’s scripture in Isaiah highlights the importance of that star.  “Arise, shine; for your light has come”.  What an energizing sentence.  Verbs, action words.  It seems to demand getting up and going.  The structure of this Nativity suggests that the Light to which reference is being made is part of God, of those encircling “arms,”  Isaiah mentions, too, that the Light is part of the glory of the Lord.

The energy of these words create new hope for the world.  Verse 2 refers to the thick darkness covering the earth.  Much was happening in the world at the time of the prophet that created darkness.  Today, at the very start of 2021, the world once again seems to be covered with great and suffocating darkness.  We need the glowing Light of this Epiphany star to dispel the darkness.  As we are energized by the star we are empowered to move forward into the new year in order to break up the darkness and to spread the Light.

Psalm 72 makes it clear that the Light breaking through the darkness requires that justice for the poor happen and freedom from oppression occur.  Righteousness, prosperity, and peace for the people are what the source of the Light desires deeply.

As 2021 gets underway, let us gaze on the Light.  We need to include in our “resolutions” acts that widen the hole in the darkness.  We are called to resolve to live, pushed out into the midst of the darkness, in ways that consider the neediest in the world, ways that promote  justice, that expand righteousness, that lead to adequate prosperity for everyone, and that create peace.

Let the Light surround you as you choose your resolutions.  Let those resolutions lead to a 2021 in which more people are aware of the Light, the great Love in their lives.
-Rev. Dianne Tombaugh
Retired Deacon
Wichita, KS

Prayer for Reflection

 Holy God, Help us to feel your caring, loving arms surrounding us and pushing us. Light the way to the actions we need to take, throughout the year ahead, to help bring about your Peace. Amen

James 3:13-18

Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.

Today’s Devotional

A sense of wisdom. It is hard to come by on a day like today.

Christmas and New Years are now in our rear-view mirror. My Advent Wreath might represent our collective energy level. New Year’s Day is barely behind us, and we can probably still feel fatigue from celebrating a few hours later than usual a day ago. Our collective candles may be burning low. Like the lingering effects of New Year’s Eve, we are reminded that our experiences in life never leave us without some sort of wisdom. Wisdom that can be used somewhere along the way. Wisdom is hard won knowledge that envelops us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

James, who wrote the wisdom book of the New Testament, invites his readers with a rhetorical question: “Are any of you wise and understanding?” And I’ll paraphrase from here, If you’re wise, live with humility like you really learned something from what you’ve been through! That is wisdom from the heavens above. Do not live selfishly, taking advantage of every situation for your own benefit. You are living a demonic lie. A lie that only embraces unbounded ego- creating disorder all around you and chaos in your relationships.

Instead- live with great patience, humility, gentleness, and fairness. If you start with these things, then you will sow seeds that create gardens of justice and seasons of jubilee. Wisdom such as this is a glimpse of heaven on earth. 

Friends let us live with the wisdom that comes from above! Let us live with the hard-won wisdom that tells us to follow Jesus wherever he leads us this year. With faith in God and trust in Jesus, may we lean on the direction of the Holy Spirit to search for wisdom from above. Wisdom that is won in a relationship within the church. Wisdom that is won when we are scattered outside the church building sowing seeds of justice, love, and service. Wisdom that is won when we show great patience with one another. 

Finding wisdom and understanding that comes from the heavens is not fast or easy work. It is a journey. But it is always worth it. Let us begin this journey together.
-Reverend Nathan D. Stanton
 Director of Congregational Excellence,
Connectional Ministries and New Church Starts

Prayer for Reflection

God of wisdom and justice, let us take on attributes of wisdom from above. Let us be people of great patience, humility, gentleness, and fairness, in how we live today. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. 

1 Peter 3:8-13

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:

Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.

For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:

Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.

For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.

And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?

Today’s Devotional

The beginning of this year was so exciting to many as we anticipated the best throughout  the year. No one knew the various packages we would each receive along the 2020 lane. We began new adventures and different experiences have befallen us. The takeaway for 2020 is COVID -19 pandemic and how it has impacted the whole globe. Even children now know that there is Coronavirus and that face masks have become a commonplace part of our wardrobe.  Even the phrase social distancing may be added to the dictionary with a defined new meaning highlighting the modified use personal space.

One take away from the above might be using the knowledge gained from the COVID-19 experiences to enhance our hygiene practices we might have taken for granted: washing hands regularly, applying personal space differently and keeping our immunity systems protected by good dietary habits.  Indeed, we  expectantly await this coming  new year to usher relief, hope and we are leaning on our faith that the newly implemented vaccine programs will support  remediation from this pandemic. But we need some intakes for the new year even though we wrap this year with this strong, vibrant faith. What does this mean to our Christian walk?

Experience remains the best teacher in any life circumstance. These experiences might be positive or negative. It is often said failure to learn from our experiences is a guarantee to failure. Within the devotional scripture, Apostle Peter has something to say about intakes for the brand-new year ahead of us. He reminds us that we Christians are different. We have something strong to depend on so much so that even COVID-19 cannot extinguish the flame of hope and faith and our dependence on our lord and savior, we have a powerful Got on our side. Many times, we have been pressed and squeezed from the head to the feet and from the right and left sides of our bodies but as soon as we remember who out God is, we feel relaxed and relieved. The Bible says: “If God is forus, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:33) So, Peter gives us the intakes for the journey ahead.

He lists five elements that should characterize any group of believers, which help us to resemble our Lord Jesus Christ.  Each element has its uniqueness and blends with the rest. Peter wants us to intake the spirit of one mind or oneness as we pursue the goals of making disciples of all nations and  winning souls for Jesus Christ. No matter what is happening in our lives, we are reminded to practice having the mind of Jesus Christ. Our purpose has to be ingrained with the mind of Christ, who fulfilled his assigned purpose of bringing humanity back to God.

Peter encourages us to intake and practice compassion, thus being responsive to others. We are indeed each other’s keeper. I teared up one day while watching the news as the COVID-19 numbers kept on escalating in our nation. My sympathy was deepened as I thought about families who have lost their loved ones during this devastating pandemic. It is saddening and disheartening to watch people dying like flies every day. This calls for empathy, to be in somebody grieving’s shoes. As believers, we feel for others who are walking on the terrain of grief through the coronavirus. The intake here is to pray for our fellow man, to mourn for those who mourn, to comfort the grieving, to pray for healing for those inflicted by disease, to offer help for those wo need help as much as we can.  To indeed have care and compassion for the least of these.

He inserts within our hearts love which always glues us together. Thus, seeing and treating each other as brothers and sisters loved so dearly by our God. Love covers a multitude of all sins. In this season of advent as we await the birth of Christ through God’s demonstration of his love to us, we are reminded of the intake of giving love unconditionally to our neighbor, to engage in some form of sacrificial and not obligatory giving.  The world will know we are Christians by our love. Therefore, we intake the love for God, self, and neighbor.

As we practice love, we add gentleness in our daily living by being consequently and affectionately sensitive and very caring for others. We are living in a decade where we must exercise tenderness to the less privileged, orphans, and all people around us. Humility does it all within our Christian walk. We learn this from the epistle writer Peter. So here the once rash, argumentative domineering, and arrogant Peter bore witness to a life of humility. This is our intake too for the journey that lies ahead of us. 

Humility enables believers to resemble Jesus, who humbled himself to the point of death on a cross for all sinners. God’s eyes are on us in our Christian living: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” (I Peter 3:12-13). These last verses compel us to practice godly lives for our God is holy. Therefore, let us intake the five elements into the new year. God is always on our side. I wish you all a prosperous New Year 2021.
-Rev. Ever Mudambanuki
United Church of Bennington and Solomon Yoked Parish

emudambanuki@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

O God we have gone through much suffering this year and pray for your comfort, healing, and release of all afflictions.  Help us to enter into the new year wrapped with love, compassion, humility, sympathy, and like -mindedness. The Holy Spirit helps us to practice these divine virtues constantly in our daily walk with you. Amen

Luke 2:25-38

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Today’s Devotional

The nativity reclamation project began about twenty years ago with the quest for souvenir snowdomes. At that time the Omaha Salvation Army stores had a policy of holding back all donations of Christmas decor. On a morning in December the accumulation would be placed on tables in plastic bags for a treasure hunt. Souvenir snowdomes were often thrown into bags of Christmas flotsam; as a result, we came home with both snowdomes and bits of other people’s leftover Christmas: keepsake bells, homemade ornaments, angels with broken arms. I found the orphaned nativity pieces especially interesting; it seemed wrong for them to continue to exist without their friends, so I combined the extra angels, shepherds, Mary’s to create a new nativity scene.

This nativity has now replaced the matching sets, and it changes from year to year. As a result, I think often about who we include when we tell the stories of Jesus as a child. In today’s scripture, the lectionary Gospel lesson for this past Sunday, we meet two characters who arrive in the narrative too late for our conventional nativity scene yet give the story of the incarnation continuity as we move from our celebrations of Christmas into considering what it means to be a Christmas people all year long.

This year especially, I think it is helpful to hear Simeon and Anna remind us from their positions of faithfulness, wisdom and life experience that the idea of the incarnation is “really real,” not a story for a single season. In the incarnation we find a story that takes us onward into a new year and invites us to do so with hope for us all. In a year when we have a heightened awareness of the limitations of human knowing, this reminder that we believe in a God who journeys with us is both an important theological underpinning and a very real comfort. Perhaps the nativity scene isn’t complete until we add Simeon and Anna, who remind us that we are part of the story every time that we remember the incarnation, look for God in the world, and share the Good News.
-Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede
Saint Paul Benson UMC
sahlschwede@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Incarnate God, help us to see you in the world around us, listen for your words, feel your embrace and channel the wisdom of Simeon and Anna that we might share the message of your love wherever we go.

Follow Stephanie’s continuing snowdome series for Advent here

Luke 2:22-40 

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Today’s Devotional

Before the baby Jesus even speaks a word, his ministry of hope begins.
There were two people in the temple that day. A man and a woman. Simeon and Anna.

Simeon was a very righteous and devout man. He loved God and was very faithful. God had made Simeon a really interesting promise. God promised him that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah. A really exciting offer for this God-fearing man. But was it too good to be true? How long would he have to wait?

Then two tired parents and a small baby walked into the temple. Simeon approached them asked to hold the baby. As he looked into the baby’s eyes he realized, if God kept this promise, surely God can be trusted to keep every other promise. He was filled with hope.

Then there’s Anna, the woman in the temple. She was very old. She had been married when she was younger, but her husband passed away after only 7 years of marriage. She had hopes and dreams of what her life would look like, but with her husband’s death some of her dreams died too. She lived as a widow for the rest of her life. 

Then two tired parents and a small baby walked into the temple. Anna overheard Simeon talking about the baby. As she looked into the baby’s eyes she realized; God has not forgotten her. She was filled with hope.

For those who are waiting and those tired of waiting, hope is here.-Rev. Leandra Esler
Associate Pastor, Omaha Water’s Edge
lesler@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

God, Thank you for being a God that keeps all promises. Give us hope in the waiting.
Amen.

Psalm 111

Praise the Lord!
    I thank the Lord with all my heart
    in the company of those who do right, in the congregation.
The works of the Lord are magnificent;
    they are treasured by all who desire them.
God’s deeds are majestic and glorious.
    God’s righteousness stands forever.
God is famous for his wondrous works.
    The Lord is full of mercy and compassion.
God gives food to those who honor him.
    God remembers his covenant forever.
God proclaimed his powerful deeds to his people
    and gave them what had belonged to other nations.
God’s handiwork is honesty and justice;
    all God’s rules are trustworthy—
        they are established always and forever:
        they are fulfilled with truth and right doing.
God sent redemption for his people;
    God commanded that his covenant last forever.
        Holy and awesome is God’s name!
Fear of the Lord is where wisdom begins;
    sure knowledge is for all who keep God’s laws.
        God’s praise lasts forever!

Today’s Devotional

One look at the sunrises and sunsets in the great plains, and you are giving witness to the magnificent handiwork of God.  What a wonderful way to begin and/or end a day by seeing such glory.  Do you ever give much thought to what happens between the sunrise and the sunset? How do we use the time following the gift of the sunrise?  Author and Pastor Tim Keller said, Work has dignity because it is something that God does and because we do it in God’s place, as His representatives.  The gift of the sunrise is our wake-up to get to God’s work of being the church!  God has given us the chance to make a difference and to make this world a better place. 

Work has dignity – so let’s get at it.  Our virtual world has brought challenges, yet at the same time, we are connected to more people on-line, than we are when we are in person.  On Sunday’s, I greet others from my House of Worship via Facebook chat, then as I’m watching other services from various places, I “check-in” on chat.  Very often I will have 2 or 3 individuals from that House of Worship, reply and welcome me to their service.   During our Zoom meetings and trainings, we are with more people from around the conference and often around the United States.  In our virtual world, we still need to get at it!

Every email we write, every call we take or make, every text we send, all provides us with the means to live our work dignity and to make a difference.  Being the church is more important now than it ever has been – and it has always been extremely important.

If we work with dignity, and work to make this a better place to be, then as we view the sunsets, we can reflect on day and give thanks.  The sunsets draw us to the close of a day, and as we view the sun setting, we are reminded that it’s time for a different routine.  If you have family, it’s time to connect in ways differently than during the day.  For me, being single, it’s a time for quietness and also a different routine than the day.  It’s time for rest and renewal, so that as the sun rises the next day, we are ready to work with dignity for the changing of the world.

Sunrise – sunset, and all that is between – a time to make a difference in our world.-Rev. Hollie Tapley
Disaster Response Coordinator

htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

From the rising of the sun, to the setting of the sun, God may we be the church.  Empower us to work with dignity and to bring change and make a difference.  Amen.

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.



Today’s Devotional
This year for Christmas I am lucky enough to have Christmas eve and the day after Christmas off of work. Ever since the semester has ended I have been keeping myself very busy and stressed between my retail job and the new position I have at school. While also stressing about next semester plans, money, getting gifts for people, and so on. With all of this it is safe to say that I have had much of a break during this year’s Winter break. Because of this and also the fact that I get to spend a decent amount of time at home with my family for Christmas this year, I have decided to leave my work behind for a little while. And by leave behind I mean literally leave it behind.

While I am away from Emporia and back in my hometown with my family for a few days I will be leaving everything I have that could possibly make me want to work while I’m at home. This means leaving my laptop behind so that I cannot create, read, or respond to any emails, and so that I can’t allow myself to do any research or digital organization. I will also be leaving my iPad in Emporia so that I can also not reach my emails, and so that I cannot let myself do any work for the school on my Procreate app either. In addition to leaving these devices behind I will also be shutting off my email notifications on my phone (since I am not ready to be without it for that long). I will also probably have almost all of my notifications off.

I am doing this, not only to force myself to take a break, but to also make sure I am giving my family and friends the attention they deserve this holiday season. I am always making myself so busy and I never let myself have a break, I feel like I have to always be working on or towards something. This way of thinking often leads me to neglect the ones I love. Leaving my gadgets behind and turning my notifications off will hopefully let me spend some much needed quality time with my loved ones.

The only items I will be bringing home with me this Christmas are:
Clothing – mostly Christmas sweaters
Phone – because I’m 20 and can’t stand the thought of doing a two hour drive without Spotify The Land of Stories:
The Enchantress Returns by Chris Colfer – something light and easy to read
Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today by Adam Hamilton – getting a head start on the UMCM winter reading
Laundry – that I’ll beg my lovely mother to do for me
Presents for my family – wrapped with more love than skill
I hope my writing today can inspire someone else who feels like me to put the work down and just relax. I know that it is easier said than done, but come on! It’s Christmas! Your loved ones need more than work does.

I also hope that everyone has a safe holiday season, wear your mask, keep your distance. Things have been very crazy this year but 2020 is almost over and we can all hope for a better 2021. Remember to turn off notifications and tune into the world around you. Have a blessed holiday season!
Merry Christmas!!
Laney Smith
Emporia State Campus Ministry

Luke 2:4-20

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Today’s Devotional

Sometimes to understand a passage better, I imagine how it might have taken place. I did that in preparation for this devotion and below is what I came up with:

The time had come for the Christ Child to be born. Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem and because there was no room at the Inn, they could not find decent lodging. So, they stayed in the stable along with cattle, sheep, and donkeys.

The smell of hay and manure lingered in the air. But after a long journey, Mary and Joseph were grateful for a place to spend the night. If they were looking forward to a pleasant night’s sleep, they were going to be disappointed. Mary said to Joseph, “It’s time.” And soon the sounds of livestock were mixed with the sounds of a woman giving birth.

Out in a nearby field, some shepherds were watching their flocks. A fire was burning to provide warmth and light. The sky was clear, and the air was crisp and cool. The shepherds were on the alert for predators, paying attention to the sounds of sheep in trouble.

In that era and culture, they were symbolic of an unwanted and undesirable people. Because of their contact with sheep and manure, they were regarded as unclean and therefore restricted from worshiping in the temple. Even if they could wash before going to worship, they had to work or were too far away. Because they could not worship, the religious elite regarded them as heathens. But the religious elite enjoyed eating mutton and wearing clothing made from wool.

Shepherds were only one class of heathens. Also included were tax collectors, Samaritans, and anyone else who did not measure up to the religious elite’s qualifications for purity. But on this night, there was room for the heathen shepherds. An angel from on high had come to them to announce the birth of Jesus. The sky was painted with glorious angel light. The shepherds were not accustomed to such sights. They knew it was uncommon for a human like creature to hover in the air. They were terrified. “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see I am bringing good news of great joy for all the people…’”

It sounded too good to be true. For as long as they had been shepherds, they had been excluded. The angel continued: “to you is born…” There it was again, inclusion instead of exclusion. To them, someone had been born. But who was this person? The angel said something about this person being a “Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Could this be the Messiah, which the prophets had foretold? Could deliverance from the Romans be at hand? No, how could a child lead an army to rid the land of the Romans? This Messiah was going to be different from what everyone was expecting.

Next the angel was joined by a host of angels. The sky was exceedingly bright with angel light. It was as if the sun had risen. The angels started to praise God. “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” It sure seemed God favored shepherds and other heathens. Their exile had come to an end. There was now room for them in God’s house. It was time to rejoice. So, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

Meanwhile, back at the stable, the Christ Child had been born. There were no royal garments to receive him; only his mother’s lap and the hay on which she lay. We’re not told about any heavenly celebration, which occurred in the stable that night, but there must have been a heavenly multitude of saints and angels present to rejoice. We can only imagine the sights and sounds that were witnessed by Mary and Joseph. Even the cattle, sheep, and donkeys must have known that something extraordinary had happened.

The shepherds hurried to the stable. Like the three kings would later do, they followed the star, which shined above the stable. They marveled at the lack of pomp and circumstance, which normally would accompany the presence of royalty. But they could sense a holy presence.

So, they entered the stable as if they were entering a palace. Soon, they spotted Mary and Joseph and taking a few more steps, they saw the newborn king. Perhaps still feeling the need to keep their distance from all things holy; they did not get too close. So, from a reverent distance, they told Mary and Joseph all about what they had witnessed. Then they felt the loving presence of the newborn king. It seemed he was beckoning them to come close. They were moved with feelings of great joy. But being men of rough and tumble stock, they did their best to hold back their tears. However, when the child looked on them with eyes so pure, they broke down and knelt in humble praise. In their hearts they knew, there was room for them. This newborn king had torn up the “no vacancy” sign and replaced it with a “welcome” sign.

Like I said at the outset, this is a product of my imagination. Who knows how the events of that first Christmas Eve occurred. But in my imagination, I have a pretty good idea. May you all be blessed this Christmas. The Christ child is a gift for everyone.-Rev. Scott Hannon
Retired Elder
Wichita, KS

shannon@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

God, during this Christmas, we celebrate with a feeling of loss. The burden of avoiding being infected by COVID-19 has encouraged us to celebrate differently. Help us to receive your gift of the Christ child with joy and thanksgiving. It is his name that we pray. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary TextWhat is this fragrance softly stealing?
Shepherds! It sets my heart astir!
Never was sweetness so appealing
Never were flowers of spring so fair! 
What is this fragrance softly stealing?
Shepherds! It sets my heart astir!

-17th-century French traditional Noël (carol)



Today’s Devotional
It’s a lovely old French carol that is little known in America.  In later verses it tells the story of the birth of Jesus as it is laid out in Luke’s gospel.  It speaks of the wonder, the radiance, the sound, and the fragrance of that night.

There are fragrances that permeate Advent for all of us.  What is the fragrance you most associate with this season of preparation?  The scent of evergreen?  Or is it the rich smell of spices used in holiday baking?  When I think of the preparations for Christmas in my childhood, I recall the fragrance of peppernuts or sugar cookies, fresh from the oven.
This year, many of us are coming to associate other fragrances – not so pleasant as those in our memories – with all aspects of our lives, including this season of preparation.  The scent of bleach and antiseptic sprays just don’t say Baby Jesus to us!

Yet those happy memory fragrances don’t specifically say Baby Jesus, either.  They speak of traditions close to home.  The smells that really speak of the birth of Jesus are the earthy scents of a stable – cows, a donkey, sheep, straw, and dung. 

And yet – there was another fragrance that surrounded the birth of Jesus.  I am sure that the fragrance Mary breathed in was that wonderful new baby scent that every infant has.  And, perhaps, since this was the Son of God, there was the very smell of heaven, of God’s presence about that child.

What fragrances surround you right now?  Perhaps they are the ordinary smells of an ordinary day – but this time of year they can take on a life of their own.  We can get bound up in expectations for the holiday season that are not realistic.  Yet they give us a sense that something good is about to happen.  And something good IS about to happen.

Each year, as we prepare our homes – and, I hope, our hearts – to welcome Baby Jesus into the world once more, we are also preparing for the return of Jesus and the completion of God’s realm.  Long before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed in chapter 60, verses 1-3, “Arise! Shine! Your light has come, the Lord’s glory has come upon you.  Though darkness covers the earth, and gloom the nations, the Lord will shine upon you; God’s glory will appear over you.  Nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning radiance.”  When Jesus returns God’s grace and peace will be over us all – and we will know such sweet fragrance!                                                                                                –Robbie Fall, Retired Elder Hutchinson, KS rfall@greatplainsumc.org
  
Prayer for Reflection
As we draw near to the celebration of Christmas, Lord, remind us that the sweet fragrances of our holiday were not the reality of that night so long ago.  Yet in a world filled with fear and turmoil, something good happened that night.  Remind us, as well, that something good still happens each time we welcome your Son into the world – and that when Jesus returns your realm will be complete.  Come, Lord Jesus.

Luke 1:46-55

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Today’s Devotional

Last year I did an Advent sermon series on Mary’s Magnificat looking at the themes of justice and joy. Spending so much intentional time with this text opened it up in new ways for me. I came to deeply appreciate how Mary embodied both deep joy and an unwavering commitment to justice. I learned to cherish anew how both joy and justice are needed to truly follow Jesus.

I decided to rewrite or paraphrase the Magnificat in my own words for this time. I think it may resonate this year, too.

A Magnificat for Advent 2019

And Mary said,
“I celebrate God with every ounce of my being!
With gladness and joy
I praise God who surrounds me
with love and light.
Something about who I am pleases God
And I consent to God’s plan.
For years upon years, folks will tell my story
Of how God is working
In and through me
In and through this child
Enwombed within me Holy is God
Holy are God’s ways.
God’s grace is poured out
On the entire world
On one and all
Year after year
Century after century
Millennium after millennium
I know God’s power
I see evidence of God’s handiwork
All around
God shakes up
Realigns
The thoughts of the proud
Offering insight and wisdom
Fresh ways of understanding
God is the great leveler
Bringing down and
Lifting up
Filling the empty
Emptying the full

Until there is true equitability
Between the destitute and the wealthy
Between the classes
The genders
The races
The ages
The abilities
Resources for each
Resources for all
Possibility for all
Possibility for each.
God remembers all the promises
They made to my ancestors
God remembers who I am
Who you are
Who we are
Created in
Their image
God remembers all that has been
And all that may be.
Thanks be to 
God Now and forever more. -Rev. Mary Kay Totty, Dec. 3, 2019
Seward UMC
mktotty@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

God of Mary and Elizabeth, God of Joy and Justice, work in our hearts this day that we might renew our commitments to work for justice; and that we might embrace joy. In the name of Jesus, the Star Child, Amen.

Matthew 5:9

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.

Romans 12:17-18

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Today’s Devotional

Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. This fact raises many questions. What is a peacemaker? Do you believe you are a peacemaker? What is peace? Is peace just the absence of war, or is it more? Did Jesus expect us to merely not bear weapons against others or is there more to this commitment?

I believe there is more to it. We are expected to not retaliate against someone who, you believe, has wronged you. As Christians, we must live at peace with everyone as we are all children of God. Regardless of race, gender, political or religious beliefs, sexual identity, age, and physical or mental challenges, we are called to be at peace with all children of God. To do this requires action. It is not a passive commitment.

Perhaps examples of a peacemaker means sticking up for a friend, or listening to others for what they need to say, or restoring a difficult relationship, or advocating to others without fear of what others may think. Or maybe it is encouraging others, providing a warm meal to the hungry in your neighborhood, or facilitating discussions in your church that focus on mission

Mother Teresa said, “Every act of love is a work of peace, no matter how small.” We may ask ourselves what am I doing or could be doing to help bring God’s love and joy to others; a child of God peacemaker?

To be a peacemaker we need to find compassion, joy, and love in all people not just the avoidance of conflict. We can change how we look at life and recognize the value of peace. At this time of anticipation of the arrival of the most valued symbol of peace and love, the Christ child, let our hearts and lives be filled with peaceful images and action.-–Mary Feit, CLSp
Director of Lay Servant Ministries
Great Plains Conference
marykfeit@windstream.net

Prayer for Reflection

Great God, father and mother of us all, help us to recognize opportunities to become peacemakers. Strengthen the work of the Spirit in our lives to make us agents of your love. Amen.

Luke 1:38-39


Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,

Today’s Devotional

During this Season of Advent, I find myself at the end of the day, as the house quiets, sitting in my living room with the lights off and resting in the glow of tiny white lights on the tree. A time for reflection and grace. A sense of peace in the stillness fills me and comforts me.

For several years now, I’ve been drawn to Mary and her experience in the story. After being “troubled” by the angel Gabriel’s greeting and having her question about conceiving answered, she has said “Yes” to an unplanned pregnancy and giving birth to a little boy who will become a great man, the Son of God.

It seems like she said “Yes” without really thinking about it. The protective Mom in me is triggered … Did she consider all the consequences? What about the uncertainty, fear, judgment from others? And what about this Holy Spirit thing? She is so young and naive. In the midst of my own anxiety for her, I’m also in awe of her faithfulness, willingness, and trust.

If you’re like me, I been in situations where I’ve heard an invitation and responded with a Yes. And, then . . . reality sinks in and I start “thinking” about it, “Oh my word, what have I just said YES to.“ Yet, for Mary, it wasn’t just a “Yes” to chairing a committee, visiting the homebound, teaching a class, or being called into a vocation of ministry. Mary was preparing to be the Mother of the Son of God!

Although, I have to wonder if Mary, too, wasn’t overcome with her own doubt and questions about what she just said, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to our word.” (Luke 1:38) Luke tells us in verse 39, she “went with haste” to be with Elizabeth. On the surface, I’ve thought Mary went to be with Elizabeth for three months to escape ridicule or even was “sent” away by relatives. On deeper reflection, Elizabeth may have been just who Mary needed to be with. Perhaps, the angel Gabriel mentioned Elizabeth’s situation as a nudge to Mary to reach out to Elizabeth. Perhaps Gabriel knew she would be needing a trusted spiritual companion in her doubt. A safe space and time to share her fears without judgment and to be vulnerable and honest? Was it Elizabeth’s availability and presence that grew Mary’s willingness to open herself to all of what God was asking of her? Was it Elizabeth’s listening that moved Mary into her Song of Praises for God and the vision of transforming the world through her Son? The Gospel of Luke tells us she stayed with Elizabeth for three months. Not a surprise given the great work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these two women. This wasn’t a weekend visit type of thing.

In our own trying times with a global pandemic, political upheaval, and societal norms shifting; Mary and Elizabeth are powerful teachers for us. They persevered in their faithfulness, they embraced their interconnectedness, they held space for one another as they listened to their God. They said “Yes” to the Holy Invitation.

–Terri Storer Lincoln First UMC Certified Lay Servant Certified Spiritual Director tstorer@neb.rr.com

Prayer for Reflection

Gracious God, we sit with Mary as she prepares and welcomes this new baby boy into the world. Open our senses to hear your whispers, to respond to your invitations and nudges. Open our minds and hearts to make space for others, to create safe spaces for sharing from a place of vulnerability. Guide us to listen in the silence and trust the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. May your tiny white lights shine brightly in all seasons holding us in peace and comfort. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16
When the king was settled in his palace, and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “Look! I’m living in a cedar palace, but God’s chest is housed in a tent!” Nathan said to the king, “Go ahead and do whatever you are thinking, because the Lord is with you.” But that very night the Lord’s word came to Nathan: Go to my servant David and tell him: This is what the Lord says: You are not the one to build the temple for me to live in. In fact, I haven’t lived in a temple from the day I brought Israel out of Egypt until now. Instead, I have been traveling around in a tent and in a dwelling. Throughout my traveling around with the Israelites, did I ever ask any of Israel’s tribal leaders I appointed to shepherd my people: Why haven’t you built me a cedar temple? So then, say this to my servant David: This is what the Lord of heavenly forces says: I took you from the pasture, from following the flock, to be leader over my people Israel. I’ve been with you wherever you’ve gone, and I’ve eliminated all your enemies before you. Now I will make your name great—like the name of the greatest people on earth. I’m going to provide a place for my people Israel, and plant them so that they may live there and no longer be disturbed. Cruel people will no longer trouble them, as they had been earlier, when I appointed leaders over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. And the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make a dynasty for you.

Today’s Devotional
I love beautiful churches! Lovely Lane Chapel located at Epworth By the Sea on St. Simons Island is one of my favorite little churches to sneak into and just sit and enjoy the stillness. There is nothing fancy about it. Just a small worship space. As I travel around the Great Plains Conference, looking for old country churches is what I enjoy. If the walls could only talk and tell the stories of sermons preached, hymns sung, prayers lifted, and the noise of friends and family just being in community.

The house of worship – it is where we meet God, right? I mean, we go to be in His presence, right? Hmm – yet there are so many other places that I find God, and soak in His presence. Go to my servant David and tell him: This is what the Lord says: You are not the one to build the temple for me to live in. In fact, I haven’t lived in a temple from the day I brought Israel out of Egypt until now. Instead, I have been traveling around in a tent and in a dwelling. (vv.5 & 6).

Hang in here with me now – – I’m calling an audible. I think I just saw permission for us to begin a Fresh Expression ministry! Did you catch it – I haven’t lived in a temple … until now. I have been traveling around. The very presence of God is not just in our beautiful buildings! It’s OK for us to gather in a coffee shop, at the park, via Zoom, and any other place we might be. It’s OK for us to gather and share the Word with one another – wherever we might be. Now that is exciting!

Fresh Expressions – where is God calling you to plant the gospel and build relationships? You have permission.

Rev. Hollie TapleyDisaster Response Coordinator
htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Thank You, ever present God for giving us permission to get out of the building and be the church. May we hear and obey our mission of transforming our community, state, nation, and world for Jesus Christ. Amen.

Matthew 12:22-32

Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see. All the crowds were amazed and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.” He knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Today’s Devotional

Criticism can be defined as the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. There are two types of criticism, negative-destructive or positive-constructive criticism. We face criticism from all fronts during our lifetime. There are people who, even when they are not subject matter experts, feel a need to provide unsolicited critique of the work or actions of others. Often, these “critics” offer the worst type of criticism, much like condemnation and negativity which can be hurtful or does not add value to what is being criticized. 

Constructive criticism on the other hand, is the type of criticism that helps a person to grow or the situation to improve. It adds value to the subject at hand.  People who want to grow and improve often seek out feedback from others: “What could I have done better, differently?” These critics are often objective and focus on both sides of the coin: Where you have done well and where you need to improve. This way, one has examples of how they might do things differently. An older school of thought subscribed to the notion of not telling people how good they are as they thought that that was not helpful. Children and young adults, especially, need to hear positive feedback as that helps generate creativity and give them something to feel good about in their work.  
Projected criticism is an emotional, negative reaction to something one has said or done. For example, if someone rants about how irresponsible you are, it may be that you something which emotionally threatened them.

Projected criticism is simply a projection of a person’s psyche. It is the result of envy, insecurity, or anger. It says more about the person giving the feedback than one receiving it. Often such feedback is ignored for lack of value.

In our Scriptural context the scenario correlates with the Projected Criticism Syndrome. Our Lord Jesus was fully anointed, performing mighty miracles. This is evidenced by Matthew when he says, “Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:22-23) This miracle laid the foundation of projected, emotional criticism towards Jesus. They even associated him with “the prince of demons.” Jesus on the other hand, turned the tables on them and provided them with constructive feedback explaining that it was by the Spirit of God that he cast out demons.

I see the scripture applying to our lives when we are faced with criticism, negative or positive. When we are confronted with negative criticism, we should not take it personally, rather be graceful and gracious. Take the opportunity to respond to the critics as a teachable moment, providing positive feedback just like Jesus did in educating the Pharisees about where his strength to cast demons came from. God’s power enabled Jesus to do mighty works. We are his servants in this great vineyard. We can manage criticism through the power of Holy Spirit. Stay positive and blessed.

-Rev. Ever Mudambanuki United Church of Bennington-Soloman Yoked Parish
EMudambanuki@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

O God teach us to manage all forms of criticisms in our walk of faith. We pray for strength, courage, and wisdom in managing criticism in every aspect of our lives. Help to learn from Jesus’ strategy on managing his critics. Amen

Today’s Lectionary Text

John 9: 1-17


As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”

Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.

The man’s neighbors and those who used to see him when he was a beggar said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”

Some said, “It is,” and others said, “No, it’s someone who looks like him.”

But the man said, “Yes, it’s me!”

So they asked him, “How are you now able to see?”

He answered, “The man they call Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes, and said, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

They asked, “Where is this man?”

He replied, “I don’t know.”

Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.

The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”

Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because he breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided. Some of the Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind again: “What do you have to say about him, since he healed your eyes?”

He replied, “He’s a prophet.”

Today’s Devotional

As Jesus walked along, He saw a man who was blind from birth. (v.1). Those of us who can see like to think that we are seeing! As we go along our daily lives, we do look at many things, other people, and the beauty of creation. While we can see, we are also blind.

Yep, you read correctly – we are blind. Blind to really seeing what is taking place right before us, in our lives, communities, states, nation and the world. When we do not wear a mask and physical distance from others, we are blind to the 183,000 deaths in the United States, of which 450 of those deaths are from Kansas, and 400 deaths from Nebraska. As United Methodists we agree to do no harm and prevent further damage. When we continue to allow government policies that only benefit white people to continue, we are blind to equality for people of color. It’s easier to stay blind, to continue to be like the blind man in our passage. If we are blind then we don’t have to get involved, right? Wrong!

Jesus spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (this word means sent). So, the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see. (vv. 6b & 7). We are at the time in these disasters where we need for Jesus to spit on the ground, form the mud, and smear it over our eyes. It doesn’t stop there. We need to hear His voice as He tells us to go and wash in Siloam. Afterwards we need to embody the name of the pool of water and go as we are sent to make a difference. We say we are on a mission to transform lives for Jesus Christ. There is no way we can transform a life if our eyes are still covered in mud and we refuse to go into the pool of water to clean away the mud.

Now is the time – jump into the pool of healing – let the mud fall from our eyes – then, and only then are we able to be that disciples, who lives like Christ.

-Rev. Hollie Tapley Disaster Response Coordinator htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

Holy Trinity, we claim to be made in Your image. We claim to be Christ-like. Claiming does not provide healing or action. Forgive us, for we have not allowed You to wash the mud from our eyes. Forgive us … forgive us. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text
Exodus 2:11-15
One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?” He answered, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses.But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well.

Today’s Devotional
Anger has two facets, positive and negative. Anger is an emotion entrenched within humanity, generally because of something untoward that happens to us. Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ stages of grief illuminates anger as the second stage in grieving a loss. In one of my previous lives before becoming a minister, I worked as a counselor I encountered a young woman whom I will call Sheila. At the age of 8, Sheila suddenly lost her mother Miriam from a seizure. Sheila could not believe this and was devastated. Following the death of her mother, her aunt took Sheila and her little sister in. While thinking about writing on the topic of anger, Sheila came to my mind. Sheila’s anger stood out to me in a way that emphasizes that anger must be dealt with, otherwise it can be very destructive not only to the one who carries the anger, but to those around him or her. Sheila had mourned her mother in silence and never displayed her emotions to her aunt or those around her.

The anger of losing her mother enveloped Sheila’s soul and life. She could not comprehend why God would take her mother. She asked herself, “Where is God in this world of grief? Why is God silent when I suffer at the hands of my evil aunty?” Sheila was so consumed by this anger that she hated everybody. She ended up needing intervention therapy to overcome her anger. This was the time I encountered her; helping and supporting her through managing her long-standing grief. Her anger was deeply rooted in her not having dealt with her mother’s death. It took time and many sessions to get Sheila to acknowledge the root cause of her anger. One lesson from Sheila’s hidden anger was that when one is passive or too aggressive, it backfires strongly. Sheila and I worked through identifying her triggers and outlined steps to help and support her while dealing with her prolonged grief.

Indeed, many stories could be told concerning anger. The story in our scriptural context highlights Moses’ anger to his opponent, an Egyptian slave master. Moses had encountered many endless and unbearable life challenges. The enslavement of the Hebrew people was a thorn in his flesh even though he lived in the palace. I imagine Moses told others about the life he lived as a baby for three months, placed in the Nile River, his adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter, and experiencing the luxuries in the palace while his Hebrew brethren suffered the pain of slavery. There must have been an upsurge of Moses’ hidden anger as portrayed in the text. “11One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people.” Moses, a Hebrew by blood, could not watch the abuse levied on his own people through slavery. He murdered the Egyptian abuser to protect his own native brother.

Well, honestly Moses committed a murder because of the hidden anger. He could not hold back his emotions and acted aggressively and ruthlessly. Can you imagine the courage he had to kill the Egyptian and bury the body in the sand right away? Additionally, imagine how he felt as he fled to Midian when he was identified as a murderer. One would agree that this was the darkest side of prophet Moses’ life. These are the consequences of anger. Anger can be very destructive and consume the one who carries it.

The scriptures speak to us too in many ways. We may have our “Moses moments” when we express our emotions. We may have tangible negative emotions in our speech, writings, teachings, and even preaching. Hidden anger is very destructive and destroys the soul.

Consequently, there is a need to manage our anger. We have various backgrounds and rooted stories which cause hidden anger. I am reminded about Jesus’ anger in the temple courts. “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. (Matthew 21:12-13)

For the longest time in his ministry, Jesus saw the filthiness, the selling of doves, and money exchanging happening in the temple. Jesus’ anger was vented during Holy Week when he whipped the money changers and turned the tables upside down. One would regard this as “Jesus’ righteous anger.” What would we then call Moses’ hidden anger? Well, I would call it “justified anger.“ Truth be told, anger has its facets and must be managed well. We must be careful of the hidden anger!
-Rev. Ever Mudambanuki United Church of Bennington Solomon Yoked Parish
EMudambanuki@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
O God, we confess strongly our negative emotions inhabited within our hearts. Teach us to be angry and not sin. Renew our hearts and minds to manage anger and impart the virtue of self control in us. Amen
 
Today’s Lectionary TextActs 10:17-34

 Peter was bewildered about the meaning of the vision. Just then, the messengers sent by Cornelius discovered the whereabouts of Simon’s house and arrived at the gate. Calling out, they inquired whether the Simon known as Peter was a guest there.While Peter was brooding over the vision, the Spirit interrupted him, “Look! Three people are looking for you. Go downstairs. Don’t ask questions; just go with them because I have sent them.”So Peter went downstairs and told them, “I’m the one you are looking for. Why have you come?”They replied, “We’ve come on behalf of Cornelius, a centurion and righteous man, a God-worshipper who is well-respected by all Jewish people. A holy angel directed him to summon you to his house and to hear what you have to say.” Peter invited them into the house as his guests.The next day he got up and went with them, together with some of the believers from Joppa. They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Anticipating their arrival, Cornelius had gathered his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in order to honor him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Get up! Like you, I’m just a human.” As they continued to talk, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them, “You all realize that it is forbidden for a Jew to associate or visit with outsiders. However, God has shown me that I should never call a person impure or unclean. For this reason, when you sent for me, I came without objection. I want to know, then, why you sent for me.”Cornelius answered, “Four days ago at this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon, I was praying at home. Suddenly a man in radiant clothing stood before me. He said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayers, and your compassionate acts are like a memorial offering to him. Therefore, send someone to Joppa and summon Simon, who is known as Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, located near the seacoast.’ I sent for you right away, and you were kind enough to come. Now, here we are, gathered in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has directed you to say.”Peter said, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another.

Today’s Devotional
We are in the midst of a disaster. A disaster not producing natural destruction, but destruction of the human being. We have COVID-19 and Multi-Symptom Inflammatory Disease (children to young adult) happening to people all around us. There are ways to lessen the effect of these two diseases. Data is kept, charts are posted, and we can follow the course of watching cases continue to rise in our conference.

The other disaster, one that data and charts are not being shared on daily basis is racism. Racism is taking a toll on human beings, on all humans. We should be just as concerned with the damage of this disaster as we are other disasters. Just like a natural disaster, COVID-19, and MSIC, how to deal with racism belongs to the community. Community means you and me!

Growing up in the ‘60s, I saw the news and heard about how my brothers and sisters in Christ were being treated, yet our dinner time conversation was around how all people are created in the image of God. We had people of color in our home, and we went to their homes. We dined together. Even though I knew what was happening in the state of Alabama and beyond, that knowing did not become a part of me. I was taught that all people are the children of God, and that is how I have always treated everyone. The racism taking place, the pictures, news stories from this summer have rocked my life. I am so disheartened that individuals treat others the way pictures and stories have shown.

Now, here we are, gathered in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has directed you to say. Peter said, I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. (vv.33b -34). Church (people of God) – we cannot wait for others to fix our disaster. We cannot wait for government to make the much-needed change to policies. Now is the time for us to be the change.

Will you be the change?

-Rev. Hollie Tapley Disaster Response Coordinator htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Creator God, Who made humanity in Your image to reflect the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, may we strive to hear Your words, it is good, very good. Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Exodus 2:15b-22
When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses.But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”

Today’s Devotional
We’ve all had a chapter in life when it seems things just weren’t going our way. When Moses settled in Midian, he had to wonder when his fortune was going to turn around. He went from living in the court of Pharaoh to living on the run. And as the cliché says; no good deed goes unpunished. He ended up there for trying to do the right thing.
 
He had killed an Egyptian. But Moses was defending a Hebrew who was being beaten. He’s called out on it because he steps in to break up a fight between two Hebrews. Moses has done nothing other than seek justice for people who were being victimized, and now finds himself a stranger in a strange land.
 
This doesn’t stop him from continuing to stand up for those who are victimized. He defends women who are having their flocks driven away from the well. But this time, his good deed isn’t punished.
 
Something does go his way. He finds himself welcomed to a meal after stepping in on behalf of the priest’s daughters, which leads to a wife and a son.
 
We know God will soon call Moses to stand up not for one person, or seven, but for God’s people who are enslaved in Egypt. Before he encounters God in the burning bush, he is already starting to do what he will be called to do. Moses doesn’t see the ups and downs of his life as part of God’s plan, but God is working in God’s time.
 
I believe our lives can be that way. Even without moving away, we can feel like we’re a stranger in a strange land. Losing a job, a relationship ending, an injury or a serious illness may disrupt our lives; then we’re not even sure why we’ve ended up in this new and foreign situation. But if we continue to live as we’re called to live as children of God, and we continue to listen for the ways we’re called to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, I believe we can find the clarity and purpose Moses later finds.
-Pastor Michael Turner Topeka Grace and Big Springs
michael.turner@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection
Ever present God, in those days when we feel lost and wonder where we are and why we are here, help us remember to listen for your voice. And as we hear your voice help us use our gifts to respond to your call with wisdom, strength, and courage. Amen. 

Today’s Lectionary Text

Job 6:1-4, 8-15, 21 

Job responded:

Oh, that my grief were actually weighed,
    all of it were lifted up in scales;
    for now it’s heavier than the sands of the sea;
        therefore, my words are rash.
The Almighty’s arrows are in me;
    my spirit drinks their poison,
    and God’s terrors are arrayed against me.
 Oh, that what I’ve requested would come
        and God grant my hope;
    that God be willing to crush me,
    release his hand and cut me off.
I’d still take comfort,
    relieved even though in persistent pain;
        for I’ve not denied the words of the holy one.
What is my strength, that I should hope;
    my end, that my life should drag on?
Is my strength that of rocks,
    my flesh bronze?
I don’t have a helper for myself;
    success has been taken from me.

Are friends loyal to the one who despairs,
    or do they stop fearing the Almighty?
My companions are treacherous like a stream in the desert,
    like channels that overrun their streambeds,
That’s what you are like;
    you see something awful and are afraid.

Today’s Devotional

Wet sand – I do not think there is anything heavier! Ask any of our ERTs who have carried shovel after shovel of wet sand up basement steps after a home has been flooded. In our passage, Job, in defending his anger, says that his grief is heavier than the sands of the sea. (v.3). As a kid, we would cover one another up with sand, just leaving the head out. Some of us (I confess) would use buckets of water to pour over the sand. We did not know any better, we did not know that our play was actually very dangerous. The weight of wet sand can suffocate the life out of someone.

Job is weighed down, and his words are bitter and harsh. He is downright mad at God, and Job’s words are not calm nor passive. Can’t you hear Job as he yells “My God, my God, why have You left me?” Job is anything but patient. If you were ever covered by wet sand, do you remember attempting to get up? Do you recall the struggle? It is like wrestling with someone else. At first, you must begin to move your arms and legs to start loosening the sand around you. Finally, you will break free, yet it takes work.

Job feels completely alone and helpless, while he is attempting to get out from under the wet sand. He turns to friends for help. He just wants them to look at him and listen to the truth of his pain. He wants his friends to tell him what he has done in his life to deserve such pain and burden. Job is wanting his friends to help him to get out from under the heavy wet sand.

For Job, the struggle was real. Our struggles are real. The weight of the wet sand seems to get heavier and heavier at times. Like Job, if we can keep our endurance during the struggle, we will break free. The endurance, the patience to hang in and keep wrestling will lead us to a powerful encounter with God. We will come out a little sandy, yet free and changed.

–Rev. Hollie Tapley disaster response coordinator htapley@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

God, during our times of being covered and weighed down with wet sand, help us to hold on to our endurance. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text

Psalm 18:2-32


The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
    so I shall be saved from my enemies.

The cords of death encompassed me;
    the torrents of perdition assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called upon the Lord;
    to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
    and my cry to him reached his ears.

Then the earth reeled and rocked;
    the foundations also of the mountains trembled
    and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
    and devouring fire from his mouth;
    glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens, and came down;
    thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub, and flew;
    he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness his covering around him,
    his canopy thick clouds dark with water.
Out of the brightness before him
    there broke through his clouds
    hailstones and coals of fire.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
    and the Most High uttered his voice.
And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them;
    he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen,
    and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O Lord,
    at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.

He reached down from on high, he took me;
    he drew me out of mighty waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
    and from those who hated me;
    for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity;
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
    he delivered me, because he delighted in me.

The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his ordinances were before me,
    and his statutes I did not put away from me.
I was blameless before him,
    and I kept myself from guilt.
Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
    according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

With the loyal you show yourself loyal;
    with the blameless you show yourself blameless;
with the pure you show yourself pure;
    and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
For you deliver a humble people,
    but the haughty eyes you bring down.
It is you who light my lamp;
    the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
By you I can crush a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.
This God—his way is perfect;
    the promise of the Lord proves true;
    he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.

For who is God except the Lord?
    And who is a rock besides our God?—
the God who girded me with strength,
    and made my way safe.

Today’s Devotional

I recently bought a new car and I will admit it is too fancy for me. I have never owned or driven anything with so many features and I am trying to learn them all. One of my favorite features so far is a light on my side mirrors. Anytime there is a car in my blind spot it flashes at me to let me know there is a car there.

Perhaps you have this feature in your car and know how useful it is. I think even when we are off the roads, we also need a flashing light in our personal lives. We need to find our blind spots: those ideas or experiences of others we do not see. In my drive to seek justice and compassion, I often fall short and miss what is going on around me. I am so focused on my path and the journey I am headed on I forget about the others around me. It is so easy not to check our blind spots or simply want to ignore them.

However, God calls us to check those blind spots. God is there as a flashing light saying, “Look over here!” “Look toward your neighbor and see them!” “Look to what is going on the world and hear the voices which are crying out!” Sometimes we must look beyond our own path and experiences to see more.

I love the flashing light on my car because it helps keep me safe. But I also have the choice to take the warning or ignore it. So, are you checking your blind spots? Do you see the flashing light of God? And how will you respond?

-Maddi Baugous Pastoral Intern First United Methodist Church Omaha
maddi.baugous@fumcomaha.org

Prayer for Reflection

God of light. At times we ignore the things we cannot see. Give us your eyes and perception to see beyond, so that we might see those around us, and keep each other safe. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text

Hebrews 13:16

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Today’s Devotional

Stanley called me a couple of days ago. I did not know who Stanley was. He said that he is my neighbor in Pitkin, Colorado. He is a man that moved into a house in Pitkin last summer. We visited two or three times. He said, “I drove by your house this morning, and I have been watching for your vehicle, but since there has not been one, I thought that I should check on you.” Stanley is going to be a great person to have as a neighbor.

 When we do something loving and neighborly, I believe that God finds it pleasing. I have come to think about what a response to our pleasing God would look like.

Hebrews 13:16, “Do not forget to do good and to help one another, because these are the sacrifices that please God.”

It is wonderful that we have a personal and intimate relationship with our God. I must admit that I find this mysterious and hard to put into my systematic theology. Does God smile when She is pleased? Since we do not believe in works righteousness, what happens? There must be something that happens when we please God. I do not get a reward for helping someone in need. I choose to describe the mystery as “God’s nod.” Just a nod in our direction recognizing the thing that we have done that pleases Him.

I John 3:22, “We receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.”
Rev. Garry Winget Retired Elder Wichita, KS gwinget@greatplainsumc.org

Prayer for Reflection

O Lord we seek to please you, so lead us into our world where we are needed to be the instruments of your grace. Amen

Today’s Lectionary Text
Ezekiel 36: 33-38
“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. They will say, “This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.” Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Once again I will yield to Israel’s plea and do this for them: I will make their people as numerous as sheep, as numerous as the flocks for offerings at Jerusalem during her appointed festivals. So will the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

Today’s Devotional
I love to hike. One foot in front of the other for as long as it takes. I found a trail this summer that I just had to walk. It appeared treacherous but oh so challenging. Actually, I was afraid to hike it alone because it looked very demanding. I could find no one to go with me, so, in defiance of it all, I decided to boldly hike it alone.
 
As I started the journey I prayed for courage and safety. As I prayed, I realized I wasn’t alone at all. The Lord was with me and kept me safe. I felt His presence and talked to Him occasionally to make sure He was still with me.
 
The trail became even more difficult than I imagined. This world created by God is so magnificent, awesome and immense. I can’t take it all in. It was so high yet also so low. It is difficult to imagine the glaciers, the ocean, the volcanos all used to build these gigantic monuments for God and then the rain and wind and earthquakes to tear it down
 
Perhaps our world goes through these cycles, periods of building up and then times of tearing down. The question begs: Where are we today? Building up or tearing down?
 
We build with science, education, vast resources, and the love of God. Strong communities take care of the poor and marginalized.
 
We tear down with systemic racism, angry politics, and a pandemic virus. People filled with hate, bigotry, anger, and greed. Where are we Lord? Building up or tearing down?
 
With Faith and Love, I hope we are at a turning point. Have we learned enough from the tearing down that we can begin to build back up? Rebuilding our communities, churches, nations, and the world. Can we build the world that God intended?
 
Are you with us Lord? I am with you, always.

 –Mary Feit Great Plains Conference Director of Lay Servant Ministry
marykfeit@windstream.net 

 Prayer for Reflection
Dear Holy One, we are filled with despair, sadness, anger and frustration with the world today. We praise and honor your Holy Name and the magnificent world you have created for us. Forgive our lack of faith and replace it with hope. Help us to rebuild the world you intended. In Jesus precious name we pray. Amen and Amen.
Today’s Lectionary Text
Psalm 124
If the LORD had not been on our side— let Israel say— if the LORD had not been on our side when people attacked us, they would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
 
Today’s Devotional
Often, we do not realize how close we are to danger, harmful situations, serious illness or even death. The Lord protects us in various ways. His grace is abundant. His love is sustaining. He even sent His Son, Jesus Christ to the earth to live with the people, show and teach them the ways of God then the ultimate sacrifice of death on the cross was made. Yet, the resurrection of Jesus to defeat death has given us the opportunity for eternal life. 

As David gave credit to the Lord for saving him and his people as stated in Psalm 124, we should give God acknowledgement for saving us. David is known for seeking the Lord and God made Himself known to him. God is always open to us. Why should we wait until we are at harm’s way or even in a near-death situation? By giving God the credit for guiding and directing us in all that we do, where we go and the words that we use, opens the door to the blessings of the Lord. 

This is our life that God has given us. Let us look to Him for all things. Not depending on ourselves, but His grace. Yes, we should continue to strive for the very best through our prayers, our family and our work. Never forgetting that God is our protector, our defender and His Son is our savior. With the leading of the Holy Spirit, we are so blessed. 
 –Brad Zimmerman Pastor, Bucklin UMC

Prayer for Reflection
Dear Lord, let us always remember that you have saved us from death and have given us eternal life through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s Lectionary Text

2 Corinthians 10:12

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense.

Today’s Devotional

I’m sure every individual in my generation has heard this same idea countless times. For some reason, people are obsessed with labeling social media as this life-consuming unnecessary past time.?However, if being a science major has taught me anything it’s this; if you want to save a sick tree, you have to start at the root. 

I don’t think social media itself is a bad thing. I purpose, the root issue that makes social media such a problem, is it encourages the act of comparison; an evil that’s been around since biblical times. 

To put it succinctly, comparing yourself to others separates you from God and puts earthly desires as a priority. Teddy Roosevelt said it best, “Comparison Is the thief of joy”. The Apostle Paul has quite a bit to say about the dangers the follow comparing yourself to others. In his letter to the church in Corinth, (2 Corinthians 10:12) he says?“For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, they are without understanding.” 

In a letter to the church of Philippi (Philippians 4:11-12), he writes “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things, I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” 

But more importantly, every individual is loved and cherished by our heavenly creator, just the same. Do not rob yourself of joy by focusing on things that don’t matter.?Freedom from comparison and a sense of peace in whatever situation we find ourselves in is only possible by putting God back as the focus of our lives. 

Kate Basore  Emporia State Campus Ministries kbasore12@gmail.com