[#pictureLent] March 18: TIME

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By Cynthia Grout Layton
Pastor - El Mesias UMC
Mission, Texas

First, read John 12:27-33

Time is an interesting phenomenon. Most of us feel like we do not have enough time or that it just flies by too quickly. Others feel that it is either our duty to be "on time" or after all, "better late than never." Time runs our lives and almost all of us wear a watch or check our cell phones frequently to see exactly what time it is.

The fact of the matter is that only God has any control over time. The scriptures tell us that "when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons." (Galatians 4:4) and "at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."(Romans 5: 6) God's timing was and is perfect.

Jesus was born "at the right time" and he gave his life for us "at the right time". I am so thankful that the timing of God does not depend on me - on my readiness or on my willingness. God knows when the time is right and will lead us and guide us into the future if we are only willing to follow.

May God, whose timing is perfect, find in us people who are willing to trust our lives and the time we have to the one who originally invented time. Placing our lives into the hands of the one who created a "time for every purpose under heaven" seems like a good choice for each of us. 

Prayer: O Lord, creator of all things including time, help us to use our time wisely and to trust you with knowing the time for every purpose under heaven. May a good portion of the time we have be spent for the building up of your kingdom. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Discussion/ Reflection Questions:

1. Why is time so important to each of us?

2. How have you seen God's timing at work in your life?

3. What would it take for you to free up more time to work for the Kingdom of God?

[#pictureLent] March 17: FOLLOW

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First, read John 12:25-26

John 12:25-26 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

Take a few minutes to read and re-read the passage above. Read it at least 5-6 times. Try reading it aloud, and to yourself. Read it at different paces, with different inflections.

Close your eyes, breathe deep. What words in this passage stood out to you today? Which phrases caught your attention?

Say those words or phrases a few more times, with a deep breath in between each time. What do you hear God saying to you? 

Then, take a look at the images below. Do any of the images connect to what God revealed to you through today's scripture? Save that image on your phone or desktop today, and let it continue to guide your prayer time throughout the day.

[#pictureLent] March 16: GRAIN

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By Rev. Emily Ann Davis    
First Congregational Church of Crystal Lake
Crystal Lake, Illinois

First, read John 12:20-24

When my husband and I moved into our neighborhood, we knew it had charm. We’re in an old, historic suburb 40 miles outside of Chicago, with an old movie theater, quaint downtown, and streets full of houses from the mid-1800s. But my favorite part happens to be a preschool just down the road. 

Its teachers have a habit of taking their students out for walks fairly often—to visit the village tree farm in winter, take in the sights of budding plants in the spring, to watch the progress of local construction projects that never seem to end. 

Once, out for a walk myself, I came upon them and found that every student was holding a small piece of paper with holes cut through. “These are our cameras,” one child explained. “They are for close-ups when we want to see better.” At which point she wandered off to take a close-up of a bug.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind a close-up of Jesus. Just like the Greeks in today’s story, I often find myself wishing that I could see him well. But he’s a slippery figure—especially in John’s gospel. When we meet him here, he’s never exactly in focus. Instead, he’s a guy talking in parables and abstractions: 

Son of Man. Hour at hand. Fruit and wheat.

It’s the kind of stuff that leaves me scratching my head, rubbing my eyes, and wishing I could get a better look at him. But maybe there’s something to this idea that we need to squint a bit and closer. Especially at the small things. Like bugs. Like grain.

I find that people are searching more and more for Jesus these days—though not necessarily in the church. As people of faith, we need to think about where we might direct their viewfinder; and we should probably examine our own sights while we’re at it, as well.

This Lent, I’m looking all around my neighborhood. And so far, I’m finding him everywhere. In weeds and in wheat, in bread and in wine, along shores and hillsides. But also in the stranger and the marginalized. The looked over and the left behind. 

Every time I lean in for a close-up, I see him. It’s amazing. I’m learning to appreciate things and people I never noticed before. It hasn’t failed once yet.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

1. What have you seen of Jesus in the past weeks? Where have you found him?
2. Is there anyplace—or anyone—that you haven’t looked at yet?
3. What of Jesus might you show to others—in your church, in your home, far beyond? 

[#pictureLent] March 15: OBEY

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By Brianna Jimenez
Children’s Minister at New Covenant United Methodist Church
The Villages, FL

First, read Hebrews 5:5-10

Have you ever played red light, green light? 

Simple enough game…like ‘Simon Says’ but with running. Everyone lines up on one side of the room and the leader stands on the other side and gives the commands. Green light! Yellow light! Red Light! (And not necessarily in that order.)

You wait with great anticipation to hear… Green light! With all the gusto you can muster, you run towards the leader. Yellow light! It’s time to slow down, it’s almost agonizing. Red light! You stop but your body hums with anticipation. When will you hear ‘Green light’? 

What if we were to obey God so eagerly? When God asks us to go we would drop all that our hands hold and run. When God would ask us to slow down, to listen for further instruction, we would strain our ears and listen intently. When God would ask us to be still, despite having other plans in mind, we would stop. 

We would obey the Leader and in each situation, we would follow the command.

We have been given the greatest example. Jesus followed explicitly what God would have him do. He remained obedient to God in all circumstances, situations that included ridicule, betrayal, temptation, silence and ultimately death. Jesus would follow God’s commands that would lead to the cross. As God’s chosen people we are to obey God’s will, and frustratingly that does include times when we can’t anticipate the outcome. It is through our faith in God’s goodness and love that we trust God’s will. Our obedience is borne out of that faith, strengthened through that trust and is how we honor God. 

As we journey through Lent, we contemplate the cross and the implications it has on our lives. Let us consider this…be like a kid in your pursuit of the Prize, push all noise aside and focus solely on the voice that matters growing closer to God’s truth and love. 

Prayer: Lord, have your Holy Spirit fill us. Open our ears to hear your voice so that we may live in your will. Open our hearts to receive guidance. We are thankful for the precious gift of grace and salvation you have given us. May our obedience show our love to you. In your name we pray, Amen. 

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. When was a time in your life when you didn’t obey?
  2.  How does your obedience reflect in your relationship with God?
  3.  In what way can you be obedient to God today?

[#pictureLent] March 14: WORD

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By Nathan P. Adams
Park Hill UMC, Lead Pastor
Denver, C

First, read Psalm 119:10-16

Seek. Treasure. Declare. Delight. Meditate. Delight (again)

On their own, these verbs sound like they might be from one person to a loved one such as a partner, child, or parent. Indeed, as a starry-eyed teenager insistent that I’d met the love of my life (I hadn’t), I’m pretty sure that I wrote a really cheesy love note that contained these verbs. Perhaps you did as well? 

Of course, these verbs aren’t being written in a love note or hastily exchanged texts between teenagers. 

No, we find these verbs as the actions of the psalmist of Psalm 119. They reveal a deep relationship with God and specifically the words of God that is full of devotion, dedication, and intention. They allude to a relationship ultimately filled with trust and hope. 

Scripture is filled with stories of God’s faithfulness to humanity and creation as well as both fulfilled and future promises from God. On its own this might be enough to elicit trust and hope from the psalmist. However, I wonder if there is more to the story. 

My mind wonders to what the psalmist understands and believes about how God has worked directly in the life of the psalmist. Has life worked out the way the psalmist always dreamed it would? Was the psalmist delivered from sickness, injury, or death? Perhaps the psalmist received some good news about a business prospect or regularly enjoys the company of good friends and family. 

Whatever has happened in the psalmist’s life, trust and hope in God and particularly in God’s words oozes out of every part of our scripture today. You can almost picture the psalmist on a quiet hill somewhere reflecting on what God has been up to in the life of the psalmist and in the world. 

This past December as I reflected on my 2017 and prepared for my first Christmas with my new church family, I too found my heart and mind full of trust and hope. My year involved an unexpected move across the country to an unfamiliar place to serve an unfamiliar people. It was one full both of lots of questions and lots of excitement. It was full of lots of verbs! What I kept returning to during that time was how good of a fit my new home, church, and my place in both is and how somehow, so unexpectedly, I was experiencing fulfilled promises of God’s faithfulness, presence, and love. 

I found myself telling friends, family members, and church members of how good God has been, is, and promises to be. I found myself with a renewed sense of both trust and hope with a desire to continue to get to know God more and more. 

One might say I too wanted to seek, treasure, declare, delight, meditate, and delight again in God and God’s word. For God indeed loves each of us and longs for us to return that love. 

Prayer: Thank you God for promising to love me and actually doing so exactly how I am. Help me to take the time to get to know you and your words better and to discover what it is you are doing in my life so that I may share the trust and hope I have in you with others.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. When is the most recent time you experienced God moving and working in your life? How did it make you feel? Did you share it with anyone?
  2. Who is someone in your life that you are completely devoted to? Proud of? Want to get to know better?
  3. What is the most meaningful promise of God revealed in the Bible to you? Why?