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2014 Lent Devo Booklet

2014 Lent Devo Booklet

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Published by Michelle DeRusha
Walk through the six weeks of Lent with this daily devotional.
Walk through the six weeks of Lent with this daily devotional.

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Published by: Michelle DeRusha on Feb 26, 2014
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Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 2 3 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Come and gather, beneath the tree of life.
Come and gather, beneath the tree of life,
root of wisdom, branch of peace,
fruit of healing and release.
Come and gather, beneath the tree of life.
Beneath the Tree of Life · 2001 GIA Publications, Inc.
Author: Marty Haugen. Reprinted under OneLicense.net #A-705211
Dear Friends,
Te season of Lent is here. We will gather in word, in worship, and by the power
of the Holy Spirit beneath the tree of life. Te tree of life is an image of healing
and hope. It is an image of strength and nourishment. Take this vision of the New
Jerusalem for instance:
 Ten the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal,
flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 
It flowed down the center
of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve
crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. Te leaves were used for medicine
to heal the nations. Rvvvi»:io× zz:1-z (×i:)
I get lost in this vision that gives us hope and not despair when we are faced with
the reality of life across our nation and world today.
Tis devotional booklet is about digging through God’s word to uncover that kind
of hope, the hope that comes through the tree of life. I pray that this resource
will guide you in your personal and Small Group study this Lenten season with
inspiring ideas, thoughtful questions and heartfelt prayers. It brings joy to me
Lent and Easter offerings will support Southwood’s Global Mission work in
Honduras and Tanzania. Over 8¸ people will be serving with Southwood at these
mission sites during zo1¡.
Ash Wednesday Worship
 Wednesday, March ¸ • ¸:1¸ and 6:¡¸ v.r.
 Services with Holy Communion
Lent Worship
 Wednesdays, March 1z, 1, x z6, April z x , • 6:¸o v.r.
 Service with Holy Communion
 Lenten Meal served ¸:oo–6:¸o v.r.
Holy Week Worship
 Maundy Tursday, April 1; • 6:¸o v.r.
 Good Friday, April 18 • 6:¸o v.r.
 Easter Services, April zo • ;:¸o, 8:¸o, ,:¡¸ and 11:oo ».r.
3 Lent Daily Devotions
34 Lent Family Devotions
39 Small Group Questions
Sunday Services at 8:¸o, ,:¡¸ x 11:oo ».r.
¡oz.¡z¸.¸¸11 • sou:n»oooiu:nvv»×.ovo
Mailing Address: v.o. nox zz;6; • Lincoln, ×v 68¸¡z
Physical Address: ¡¸o1 Wilderness Hills Blvd. • Lincoln, ×v 68¸16
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 4 5 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: Genesis 2:4-3:19
Tis is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth. When the Lord God
made the earth and the heavens, neither wild plants nor grains were growing on the
earth. For the Lord God had not yet sent rain to water the earth, and there were no
people to cultivate the soil. Instead, springs came up from the ground and watered all
the land. Ten the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed
the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. (vs. z:¡-;)
“For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” (vs. ¸:1,n)
Such a promising beginning, so much potential in these opening lines. We are
God-breathed, and as we have read so many times, we are created in His image.
Just as He breathed life into Adam, He breathes life into each one of us. Yet we
also know, as we acknowledge on this Ash Wednesday, that this beautiful and
bright beginning so full of hope and promise was not to last. We remember how it
crashed into despair the moment Adam and Eve bit into the serpent’s tantalizing
fruit. And we remember God’s frightening words. We will die. We will return to
the dust from whence we came.
Tough our thoughts turn to darkness, dust and death this Ash Wednesday,
we know something Adam and Eve did not. In spite of our fear, in spite of the
darkness, there is hope. God, through His son Jesus Christ, redeems us. He shines
His light of hope and love upon us always, a light that cannot be extinguished.
Lord, help me remember that Your light always burns bright, no matter what
darkness or dust obscures my sight. Amen.
Read: Genesis 1:26-28
Ten God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us”…So God created
human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female
he created them. (vs. z6-z;)
It’s a notion so astonishing, so mind-boggling, so audacious, it bears repeating
twice: “God created humans in his own image, in the image of God he created
them.” Have you ever really thought about these verses before° God created you
in His image—to be like Him, to act like Him, to love like Him. It seems like a lot
to live up to, doesn’t it° In fact, it seems downright impossible—that we could
live like God and be like God. But it’s not. While we’ll never be (and shouldn’t be)
the omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient God, and while we cannot live like
God on our own accord, with His grace and in His eyes, we are perfect and holy, a
reflection of Him. You may not see yourself, with all your flaws, shortcomings and
sinful inclinations, as an image of God, but in His eyes, that’s exactly what you are.
Lord, it humbles and astounds me that You made me in Your image. Tank
you for Your relentless grace and for creating me as worthy in Your eyes.
to know that as we gather around the same texts, questions, and prayers—these
words become more than words—they become a source of life and an offering of
Tanks to Michelle DeRusha who graciously shares her faith and her gift of
writing with us. Tis year we are excited to feature the photography of Curt
Brinkmann who has such an eye for capturing the beauty in God’s creation. We
are also grateful for the blessing of Deb Paden and Jerry Frahm who have worked
together to design and build the “Tree of Life” that we will gather around in our
sanctuary for Wednesday worship.
Now, we are ready. Come and gather beneath the tree of life!
May you be blessed as you give attention to the reading
and the living of God’s word.
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 6 7 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: Psalm 139
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I
know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret
place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. (vs. 1¡-1¸ ×iv)
Te Bible’s use of the word “fear” often differs from our ordinary definition. Rather
than conjuring images of terror, “fearfully made” in this instance connotes awe
and reverence. David, the speaker in this psalm, emphasizes the awesome and
astonishing uniqueness of each human being on Earth. He reminds us that we
were not dropped randomly into our places on Earth or given a random selection
of skills and gifts, but rather, that we were each made especially for a unique
purpose and plan. We needn’t worry about or compare ourselves to others,
because God created each one of us uniquely and gifted each one of us with a
special set of talents to be used to further His kingdom on Earth.
Forgive me, Lord—sometimes I don’t feel particularly special or unique. I
needed to be reminded today that I am fearfully and wonderfully made by
You. Help me make good use of the unique gifts You have bestowed on me, so
that I may use them for the good of Your kingdom here on Earth. Amen.
Read: Isaiah 64:1-8
And yet, O Lord, You are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We are all
formed by your hand. (v. 8)
Sometimes, as we wrestle for control in our lives, we forget the God-established
order, we forget that we are the created, the clay, while God is the Creator, the
potter. While it’s hard to surrender, to relinquish control, there’s also great
freedom in this—to know that God has formed us and shaped us in His image, to
know that He guides us with a loving hand through the challenges and obstacles
that threaten to derail us on this journey. Tere’s comfort here as well, as we trust
that the Artist Himself has formed and shaped us into the people we are and the
people we will grow to become. And there is great joy and gratitude in knowing
ours is a personal God, a God who cares enough to form each and every one of us
with His own hand.
Lord, I yield to Your loving hands, and I thank You for creating me and
continuing to shape me into the person You envision and the person You
desire me to be. Amen.
Read: John 20:19-23
Ten he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s
sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (vs. zz-z¸)
Tink about this for minute: Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to His disciples
as they sat together on the evening of Easter Sunday, just hours after He had
risen. Te disciples didn’t do anything to earn this treasured gift. Jesus didn’t
require them to perform a certain number of good deeds or even believe a certain
doctrine. He didn’t even require that they profess their faith to Him. In fact, this
very moment came on the heels of their betrayal of Jesus, just three days after
they’d abandoned Him to the Romans and allowed Him to die on the cross. But
none of that mattered to Jesus. He didn’t hold it against them. Jesus simply offered
His disciples peace, twice, signifying that He forgave them, and then breathed the
essence of Himself in the form of the Holy Spirit into them, no questions asked, no
strings attached.
You know what’s even more amazing about this story° Jesus does the same for
each one of us. We all make mistakes. We all sin. We all separate ourselves from
God through our thoughts, actions and words. Jesus knows this about us, and He
loves us anyway—fully, completely and unconditionally. We don’t have to jump
through any hoops, prove ourselves to God, perform a certain number of good
deeds, follow a certain set of laws or rules—we get the gift. Period. In spite of our
past and even our present flaws, we get the gift of the Holy Spirit. Knowing full-
well we will flounder and flail and fall, Jesus trusts us anyway. He trusts us with
this most exquisite gift: Himself.
Dear God, I am humbled by Your generosity and Your infinite grace. You
know my flaws. You know my sins. Yet You lavish the ultimate gift on me,
day after day after day. Tank you for trusting me with the most precious gift
of all, the gift of the Holy Spirit in me, a gift I don’t deserve but still receive.
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 8 9 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Genesis 1:9-13
Ten God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry
ground may appear.” And that is what happened. God called the dry ground “land” and
the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Ten God said, “Let the land sprout
with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing fruit. Tese seeds will then produce the
kinds of plants and trees from which they came.” And that is what happened. Te land
produced vegetation—all sorts of seed-bearing plants and trees with seed-bearing fruit.
Teir seeds produced plants and trees of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.
And evening passed and morning came, marking the third day. (vs. ,-1¸)
Sometimes I read these opening verses in Genesis and God’s response to his
own work—he “saw that it was good”—and I think, “Good° Just good° What
a remarkable understatement! It’s way better than good—it’s great, amazing,
remarkable, astonishing, mind-boggling!” Today, let yourself be awed by our
Earth’s incredible biodiversity. Take a few minutes to step into your backyard
and simply look at the thousands of miracles that abound in the burgeoning life
around you. Celebrate the ripening buds, the symphony of bird song and the
variety of leaves that will soon burst into a canopy of green over your street.
Marvel at our God’s artistry, and then give thanks to the One who created so
much that is not just good, but awesomely, breathtakingly great.
Far too often, Lord, I miss Your incredible gifts. Swept up in the busyness of
life, I fail to appreciate Your creation, the astonishing array of beauty in my
own backyard. Hear me now, Lord: thank You, thank You. Amen.
Read: Psalm 104
You make springs pour water into the ravines, so streams gush down from the
mountains. Tey provide water for all the animals, and the wild donkeys quench their
thirst. Te birds nest beside the streams and sing among the branches of the trees. You
send rain on the mountains from your heavenly home, and you fill the earth with the
fruit of your labor. (vs. 1o-1¸)
“O Lord,” the psalmist exclaims, “what a variety of things you have made!” From
the storks that sing in the cypresses and the rumble of thunder in the sky, from
the starry curtain of the heavens and the roar of a glacial spring, God created
everything on the face of the earth and beyond. Even more, He offers spiritual
sustenance when our reserves run dry. Just as He provides rain on the mountains
and streams in the ravines in this eloquent psalm, He sustains us when we thirst,
He breathes life into our dry, desiccated spirit. Let us rejoice with the psalmist, let
us celebrate God’s great love. “I will sing to the Lord as long as I love. I will praise
my God to my last breath!” (1o¡:¸¸)
Lord God, You are so, so good to me. You replenish my dry, weary spirit. You
comfort me, filling me with hope and joy, quenching my thirst and satisfying
my soul. Let all that I am praise You, Lord. Amen.
Read: Genesis 2:10-14
A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering
the garden and then dividing into four branches.
(v. 1o)
“All the work being done … in this vast
country is but a drop in the ocean,” wrote
Indian activist and missionary Pandita
Ramabai about the seemingly hopeless state
of the many thousands of suffering people in
her native country. “But,” she added, “every
particle added will increase the drop, so it
will be multiplied and permeate the ocean
until it becomes a stream of the living water
that flows from under the throne of God, to
give life and joy to this nation.” What a vision!
A stream of living water, flowing out from the
land of Eden, from heaven, and then dividing
into multiple tributaries that wend their way
around every part of Earth—quenching,
sustaining, replenishing. We are the droplets
in God’s living stream. Together with the
Body of Christ, we help to quench spiritual
thirst by offering hope, we sustain by offering
comfort and compassion, and we replenish by offering love.
Lord, I am but one tiny droplet of water in Your living stream. Help my one
droplet contribute in the way You see fit to further Your kingdom here on
Earth. Amen.
Read: Matthew 6:28-34
And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the
fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? (v. ¸o)
Why do we have so little faith° Because we don’t always trust God. We doubt
Him. We worry He’ll let us down. But think back for a moment to a difficult time
in your past—a time of hardship, fear, sorrow or suffering. Circumstances may
not have turned out as you had wished or even as you had prayed they would, but
through it all, did God abandon you° Did He leave you alone to flounder hopeless
and lost° Te truth is that God is always with you, even when you can’t see him,
hear him or feel his presence. Tis is a lesson we learn time and time again: no
matter how dire our circumstances, God always provides everything we need.
God, thank You for always being with me, even in the darkest, most hopeless
places, even when I doubt Your presence. Amen.
Streams of Mercy
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 10 11 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: Isaiah 55:1-13
Te rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the
earth. Tey cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the
hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will
accomplish all I want to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it. (vs. 1o-11)
Have you ever felt spiritually dry and realized it was because you hadn’t spent
much time with God’s Word° Scripture sustains us in a way everyday life cannot.
Without God’s Word, we wither like drought-plagued plants, we lose direction
and begin to depend on our own selves, rather than on God. If you are feeling lost,
weary, burdened, hopeless, directionless or confused, return to God’s Word today.
It will renew and replenish you, strengthen and guide you. Just as the rain and
snow stay on the ground and seep into the soil, God’s Word will seep deep into
you. Te Word will produce good fruit in you—not sometimes, not occasionally,
but always. Tat’s not an empty, feel-good saying, that’s God’s promise to us.
Lord, thank You for speaking to me so personally through Your Word. Tank
You for guiding, comforting and strengthening me. Amen.
Read: Isaiah 40:12-31
He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak
and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will
find new strength. Tey will soar high on wings like eagles. Tey will run and not grow
weary. Tey will walk and not faint. (vs. z,-¸1)
Have you ever known someone who remained full of confidence, hope and joy, no
matter what hardships befell them° I have, and I can say with absolute conviction
that her hope and joy wasn’t based on earthly pursuits or accomplishments, but
on faith alone—on the knowledge that God was always loving and always good, no
matter what. Despite her terminal cancer diagnosis, she soared high on wings like
eagles, exuding grace and gratitude every step of the way, confident and trusting in
her God. Te truth is, we cannot do this life well all on our own. As Isaiah warns
in these verses, even the most youthful and vigorous of us will crumble to pieces if
we insist on going it alone. I’ve witnessed what happens when a person relies not
on herself for strength, but on God. I know Isaiah’s claim is true: those who trust
in the Lord will find new strength.
Help me relinquish control and surrender to You, Lord. I yearn for You to be
my strength and hope. Amen.
Read: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and
not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it
was not I but God who was working through me by his grace. So it makes no difference
whether I preach or they preach, for we all preach the same message you have already
believed. (vs. 1o-11)
I don’t know about you, but when things are going well for me, I often credit
myself and my own efforts and forget all about God. I love this verse because it
reminds me that God’s abundant and ever-flowing grace is behind everything
good and positive thing we do and receive. All of our accomplishments, successes
and even “good deeds” are the result of God’s blessings and His grace—we can’t
take credit for any of it. It’s not simply my good work, it’s the power of God
working through me.
I appreciate this verse, too, because it seems like Paul might struggle with this
concept of grace a bit. I see him wrestling here, wanting to take credit, reminding
us that he has “worked harder than any of the other apostles,” yet in the next
breath, acknowledging to both himself and us that he cannot, in fact, pat himself
on the back. All the praise goes to God alone. Te next time we feel smugly
satisfied about a job well-done, let’s stop for a moment of thanksgiving to give
credit where credit is due: to God.
Lord, You know my prideful tendency to want to pat myself on the back. Give
me a humble spirit, Lord, so that I will praise only You. Amen.
Read: Genesis 2:15
Te Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. (v. 1¸)
It’s easy to read this verse and assume it applies to Adam only, isn’t it° Sometimes
we let ourselves off the hook, don’t we° We tell ourselves that God intended
Adam as caretaker of the Earth, and since Adam clearly failed, we live in a broken,
fallen world as a result. But take a look at the thirty-one verses in chapter one of
Genesis, and ask yourself this: do you think God dedicated that much effort and
artistry to the creation of the world in order to have it fall into chaos and neglect°
Adam may have failed, but we have a choice: We can pick up the torch where
he dropped it and tend to the abundance of earthly delights. After all, Earth was
created not just for Adam and Eve, but for each one of us.
God, I too am guilty of neglecting Your creation. I take so many of Your gifts
for granted, and I waste so many of Your precious resources. Breathe a new
spirit of appreciation into me, Lord, and help me honor the Earth in a way
that will honor You. Amen.
Tree of Life
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 12 13 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: Genesis 2:16-17
But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the
garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are
sure to die.” (vs. 16-1;)
Despite our best intentions, we disobey God on a regular basis. Like Adam and
Eve, we sin, we separate ourselves from God again and again, even when we don’t
want to. As Paul acknowledged, we want to do what is right, but we don’t. Instead
we do what we hate and what is wrong (Ror»×s ;:1¸). “I love God’s law with all
my heart,” said Paul. “But there is another power within me that is at war with
my mind…Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”
Ror»×s ;:zz-z¡. Te answer, of course, is God. God’s warning to Adam and Eve
sounds dire, doesn’t it° But remember, God didn’t abandon Adam and Eve in the
midst of their sin. Instead, He sought them when they were afraid and ashamed in
the Garden, and he clothed them. Remember this when you stray from God: He
will never abandon you.
Dear God, I am so grateful for the fact that You seek me again and again when
I stray. Tank You for new mercies and never-ending grace. Amen.
Read: Genesis 3:1-8
Te woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked
delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took the fruit and ate
it. Ten she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that
moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So
they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (vs. 6-;)
It didn’t take much convincing by the serpent for Adam and Eve to succumb to sin,
did it° I think most of us can relate. It’s frightfully easy to say yes to temptation, to
say yes to sin. We talk ourselves into it, we justify our wrongdoing, and before we
know it, just like Adam and Eve, we are in deep, without the slightest idea of how
to extricate ourselves. And then, like Adam and Eve, we often try to hide from
our sins, pin the blame on someone else and deny responsibility. Today, let’s learn
from Adam and Eve’s mistakes and take the first step toward a renewed mind and
spirit. Let’s not hide from sin but admit it and own it. Let’s confess our sins to God
and ask Him for forgiveness and grace. God is always ready to redeem, but the
first step begins with us.
Lord, I confess to You these sins today. Forgive me for doing what I know is
wrong. Shine Your mercy onto my brokenness and create in me a clean, new,
pure heart. Amen.
Read: 2 Corinthians 11:1-4
But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted,
just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. (v. ¸)
Don’t be fooled by this verse—our devotion to Christ is not corrupted by chance;
it’s not an unfortunate fluke. Instead, we allow our devotion to be corrupted when
our gaze turns inward, away from God and toward ourselves. Pride goes before
the fall, as Proverbs says. We saw it with Adam and Eve, and we see it in ourselves.
Te moment we turn our attention away from God and inward in pride, to our
own wants and needs, we crack the door open to sin. Te key is to keep our eyes
humbly and gratefully focused on God in thanks and praise: “In everything give
thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Tnvss»io×i»×s ¸:18 (×»sn)
Lord, You know how easily I shift my gaze away from You and toward myself.
Give me the strength to keep focused on You alone. Amen.
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 14 15 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: Genesis 3:8
When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God
walking in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. (v. 8)
Tis passage always frightened me as a kid. I pictured God spying on Adam and
Eve as they disobeyed Him. I imagined their fear and shame and their panicked
urge to hide from Him, hoping somehow to escape His wrath. What I didn’t see,
though, was that God was with Adam and Eve, even in their worst moment. While
He didn’t prevent them from committing their sin (and allowed them the free
will to do so), He didn’t abandon them either. He stayed with them, calling out
for them as they wandered hopeless and distraught in the Garden and providing
clothes to comfort and protect them from their own shame. It’s true, we can’t hide
from God. He sees our every flaw, our every mistake. But we needn’t run from
Him either, because God desires to be with us always, even in our messiest, most
broken state.
God, I am so grateful that You don’t leave me, even in the midst of my
brokenness and sin. You are Emmanuel, God with us, God with me. Amen.
Read: Romans 3:21-31
We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for
everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short
of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are
righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our
sins. (vs. zz-z¡)
It’s tempting to craft a hierarchy of sins, isn’t it° To deem some sins worse than
others, to decide in our own minds who is sinning more egregiously than we are,
to look for relief in the fact that at least we aren’t as bad as “that person.” But these
verses lay the truth on the line, once and for all: no sin is worse than another, no
sinner is worse than another. Brokenness is a level playing field. We all sin, and we
all fall short of God’s glorious standard. And none of us, not a single human being
on Earth, is right with God until we place our faith in Him. We all begin behind
a looming, formidable wall, a wall of sin that separates us from God. Nothing but
His great grace has the ability to reduce that wall to a pile of rubble and dust. Once
we say “yes” to that undeserved gift, the wall shall stand no more.
Lord, remind me of these verses the next time I’m tempted to point out the
sins of another. Remind me that You don’t classify sins, but instead, focus on
lavishing Your grace on us all. Amen.
Read: Romans 5:12-21
Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of
righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because
one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed
God, many will be made righteous. (vs. 18-1,)
I suspect sometimes we look at Adam and Eve and think, “Tanks a lot. I’m paying
for your foolish mistake with my life. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be in this
mess.” While that may be true, I think we tend to focus too much on sin—both
original sin and our own—and not enough on the power of God’s redeeming
grace. While sin is bad, true, grace more than compensates.
I love how Te Message version paraphrases these verses: “Just as one person did
it wrong and got us into all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it
right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into
life!” Adam’s wrong versus Jesus’ right is not simply a black-and-white equation of
one good deed cancelling one bad deed—it’s so much more than that. With Jesus’
one act of righteousness also comes grace, and grace is a gift that gives and gives
and gives. As Te Message explains, “When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands
down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace,
because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us
into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.” (vs. zo-z1)
Lord, I am in awe of Your magnanimous grace, which is so much bigger, and
so much more powerful than my sins. Tank You for giving us Your son Jesus,
who set everything right through His loving sacrifice. Amen.
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 16 17 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: Isaiah 44:1-5
“But now, listen to me, Jacob my servant, Israel my chosen one. Te Lord who made you
and helps you says: Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, O dear Israel, my chosen one.
For I will pour out water to quench your thirst and to irrigate your parched fields. And
I will pour out my Spirit on your descendants, and my blessing on your children. Tey
will thrive like watered grass, like willows on a riverbank.” (vs. 1-¡)
It’s interesting that these words, words so full of hope and promise, come
immediately on the heels of God’s angry, disappointed words in the preceding
verses. Tat’s often how the Book of Isaiah works: God expresses His anger and
disappointment with His wandering, wayward children, chastising them for their
idolatry and neglect, and then in the next breath offers forgiveness, hope and love.
Sound familiar° Such is often the case in parenting: we point out our children’s
mistakes, redirect them toward the right path and then offer forgiveness and love.
God does not withhold His blessing or His love from us. He may redirect us, He
may teach us some difficult lessons about obedience, but like a loving parent, He
always has our best interests in mind.
Lord, I am so much like the Israelites sometimes—stiff-necked, stubborn,
prone to idolatry and wandering. I am so grateful for Your persistence and
patience and for lovingly parenting me as Your beloved child again and again.
Read: Psalm 92
But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.
For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. Tey flourish in the courts of our
God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. Tey
will declare, “Te Lord is just! He is my rock! Tere is no evil in him!” (vs. 1z-1¸)
Do you know an elderly friend or relative who simply shines, vital and exuberant,
with a love for Jesus° I’m not talking about physical vitality—he or she may even
be immobile or confined to a nursing home—I mean a spiritual vitality that shines
like a light from within. Te secret, I’d argue, is the word “transplanted” in these
verses. A person who glows with spiritual vitality has removed him or herself from
the lure and entanglement of earthly concerns and put down roots in God alone.
He or she focuses not on earthly treasures (material wealth, ambition, success and
even physical well-being), but on the treasures that are found in God’s own house:
joy, peace, love, contentment, faith and gratitude. Today, ask yourself where you
are living right now, and consider whether you need to put down new roots in
God’s own home.
Dear God, help me clearly see where I am living these days. Am I firmly
rooted in Your house or am I struggling to grow in a parched and arid land?
Please help me see if I need to be transplanted in order to flourish more fully
in You. Amen.
Read: Psalm 1
Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with
sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on
it day and night. Tey are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each
season. Teir leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. (vs. 1-¸)
I suspect most of us wouldn’t use the word “delight” to describe how we typically
approach the “law of the Lord.” I know when I hear “law,” my mind goes straight
to the Ten Commandments, which remind me of everything I do wrong in my
relationship with God. But let’s broaden the language here for a moment, let’s
think of the “law of the Lord” as God’s Word in general—not only the laws handed
down to Moses in the Old Testament, but the teachings of Jesus and the epistles,
too. What the psalmist is trying to encourage us to do here is to root ourselves
deeply in God’s Word. Not only on Sunday, when we hear Scripture read from
the lectern, but every day, feeding and nurturing ourselves with it, immersing
ourselves in it. Ten, like trees planted close to a river, their roots reaching into
the life-sustaining water, we will grow and flourish, sustained by God through His
Word, finding peace, comfort and even delight.
Lord, forgive me for allowing busyness to get in the way of Your Word.
Forgive me for often placing everything else in my life ahead of taking time
with You. Tank you for prompting me through this psalm to return to Your
Word, which always sustains, nurtures and delights. Amen.
Read: Jeremiah 17:5-10
“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and
confidence. Tey are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep
into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of
drought. Teir leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (vs. ;-8)
When I read these verses I am reminded of Mother Teresa, who, though enduring
long periods of doubt and spiritual barrenness, still impacted thousands of the
poorest and most destitute people in India. How, in the midst of a personal
spiritual wasteland, was she able to continue to act in such great faith° Te answer,
I believe, is revealed in these verses: Mother Teresa trusted in God and made
Him her hope and confidence. And she sustained that trust, hope and confidence
through continual reliance on His Word, grounding herself in Scripture, digging
her roots deeper and deeper into its living water. Mother Teresa wasn’t perfect—
she admitted that her doubt worried her—but she persevered. Her leaves stayed
green, she never stopped producing fruit, and she ultimately found personal peace
as well.
Lord, I want to make You my hope and confidence; I want to trust in You.
Tank You for this reminder to plant myself in the rich soil of Your Word.
Root of Wisdom
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 18 19 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: Proverbs 3:13-26
Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. (v. 1¸) Wisdom
is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold to her tightly. (v. 18)
Tese verses are a subtle but important departure from the ones that precede
them, which remind us not to depend on our own understanding (¸:¸) and not
to be impressed with our own wisdom (¸:;). Te juxtaposition of these two
very different approaches to life is intentional, but both come down to a single
factor: trust. We can either trust in ourselves or we can trust in God. One choice
leads to an aimless, wandering, unfulfilled life, the other leads to joy, satisfaction
and peace. Te choice is ours: will we depend on our own understanding and
be impressed with our own “wisdom”° Or will we find true wisdom, gain true
understanding and experience true joy by trusting in God°
Lord, so often I try to control my circumstances myself. I assume my
own knowledge is sufficient; I make decisions based on my own cloudy
understanding, rather than seeking Your supreme wisdom and Your will.
Please help me surrender to Your ways. Please help me trust You with all my
heart. Amen.
Read: John 15:1-8
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is
severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the
vine; you are the branches. Tose who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much
fruit. For apart from me, you can do nothing.” (vs. ¡-¸)
Tis metaphor of the vine and the branch in the Gospel of John goes on for eight
verses, all of which basically reiterate the same main point: stay connected to God,
for without Him, you are useless. Part of the reason for the repetition comes from
the fact that the Bible originated as an oral tradition—these stories were repeated
and passed on over and over before they were actually written down. Repetition
helped the storytellers memorize the message and the listeners remember it.
Beyond that though, the repetition serves a deeper purpose. We need to read the
message repeated again and again so that it can sink in deep, because the fact is,
we flawed and fallible people stray. Despite our best intentions, we wander from
the Way. We need to hear it said six ways to Sunday: stay connected to God,
without Him, we can do nothing.
Lord God, I am a straying wanderer. Graft me onto You, so that I may produce
good fruit in Your name. Amen.
Read: James 3:13-18
But the wisdom from above is first of all
pure. It is also peace-loving, gentle at
all times and willing to yield to others.
It is full of mercy and good deeds. It
shows no favoritism and is always
sincere. And those who are peacemakers
will plant seeds of peace and reap a
harvest of righteousness. (vs. 1;-18)
When we think of the typical
attributes of wisdom, we might
consider words like knowledgeable,
thoughtful, contemplative,
experienced, discerning. But James’
definition of wisdom goes so much
further, introducing descriptors we
might never have associated with
wisdom: gentleness, peace-loving,
merciful, sincere, fair, yielding to
others and a doer of good deeds.
Te difference between James’
definition and ours is that James
describes “wisdom from above”—a
pure God-centered and Kingdom-centered wisdom, rather than a sullied earthly-
or self-centered wisdom. A person blessed with wisdom from above—a wisdom
that comes from God—is not concerned with self-advancement or even self-
preservation. A person blessed with wisdom from above is not focused on self but
on the other. He plants seeds of peace. She plants seeds of mercy, kindness and
goodwill. God’s kind of wisdom is humble, unassuming and based entirely on love
for the other.
So here’s the most beautiful part about these verses: each and every one of us is
blessed with wisdom from above. Tis isn’t a special gift given only to certain, elite
believers, this kind of wisdom, God’s kind of wisdom, is offered freely to each of
us. We have the choice: we can live by wisdom from above—generously, selflessly,
lovingly, gently—or not. We can choose the freedom of living a life guided by
God-inspired wisdom or the imprisonment that comes with a wisdom created by
our own flawed and fallible selves. Which do you choose today°
Lord, so often I am swayed by the wisdom of the world. As a result, I succumb
to selfishness, envy, bitterness and deceit. Breathe a renewed understanding
of Your wisdom into me today, Lord, so that I may live peacefully, mercifully,
gently, humbly, sincerely and fairly. Amen.
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 20 21 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: Jeremiah 23:1-8
“For the time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will raise up a righteous descendant
from King David’s line. He will be a King who rules with wisdom. He will do what is just
and right throughout the land.” (v. ¸)
Jeremiah is a rather long book that depicts chaos and calamity, war, strife and grief
and cites the myriad ways the Israelites have strayed from God. Yet in the midst
of this brokenness and seeming hopelessness, God announces to His people that
all hope is not lost. He tells the Israelites that He will raise up a descendant from
David’s line, a wise King who will save His people and lead them back to safety.
Tis isn’t a message meant only for the ancient Israelites, you know, God intends it
for us in the here and now, too. We are a people burdened with grief and strife. We
are a people who feel lost and hopeless at times. But unlike the Israelites, we are
blessed with the Light of Jesus, right here, right now—not someday, not in a time
down the line, but today. Jesus is here. Emmanuel. God with us.
Lord, I am so grateful that I know the Truth. Jesus is here, with me, right now.
I don’t need to wait. He has already arrived, thanks be to God. Amen.
Read: Isaiah 61:1-3
Te Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon
me, for the Lord has anointed me to
bring good news to the poor. He has sent
me to comfort the brokenhearted and to
proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed. (v. 1)
Does this passage intimidate you a
little bit° Well it should, because here’s
the truth: the “Spirit of the Sovereign
Lord” isn’t upon the prophet Isaiah
alone. Isaiah isn’t the only one called to
bring good news to the poor, comfort
the brokenhearted and proclaim
freedom for the captives. Te rest of
us are, too. And while this doesn’t necessarily require that we stand on a soapbox
preaching the gospel on the corner of 27
and O Streets, it does mean we need to
do something to spread the word of the Good News. Like Francis of Assisi once
said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary use words.”
Lord, sometimes I simply don’t see the opportunities You give me to “preach
the Gospel,” and sometimes I am simply afraid. God, show me an opportunity
to demonstrate Your love and give me the courage to follow through. Amen.
Read: Isaiah 11:1-9
Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the
earth will be filled with people who know the Lord. (v. ,)
It seems crazy, outlandish and completely over-the-top, doesn’t it° If you’re a little
bit jaded, you might even roll your eyes and say, “Yeah, right. I’ll believe it when I
see it.” Because to envision a world in which there is no pain and no destruction
seems, well, impossible, especially when we look at the state of our world today.
But this is God’s promise to us, His “Kingdom come”—a world of peace and
compassion, understanding and love. A world in which long-time enemies forgive
and unite, a world free of harm, evil and grief. It’s a hard “someday” to imagine,
but this vision becomes even more challenging when we realize that God expects
us to work with Him to help bring this vision into reality right now—His Kingdom
come, His will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. So let’s ask ourselves this: how
can I bring this vision one teeny-tiny step closer to reality° Who do I need to
forgive° To whom do I need to show compassion and mercy° His Kingdom come
on Earth begins today, with us.
Lord, show me how I can help bring Your Kingdom in one small way to my
own tiny sphere today. Amen.
Read: Numbers 6:24-27
“‘Te Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious
to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.’ So they will put my name
on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (vs. z¡-z; ×iv·zo11)
Tis ancient Hebrew blessing was uttered daily over the Jewish people by the
priest just after he completed the sacrifice at the temple, and even today many
synagogues and Christian denominations end their service with this benediction.
Te fact that the “the Lord” is reiterated three times emphasizes that the blessing
comes not from the priest, rabbi or minister, but from God Himself. When God
gave His instructions to Moses, He specified that the blessing of the people would
be done in His name: “Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in
my name, I myself will bless them.” (6:z;) Tis is important. So often we forget
that God, while omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, is also personally
invested in each one of us. He is tuned in to each of us, He knows every one of our
concerns and needs, and He personally turns His face toward each one of us to
shine down His love and grace.
Lord, thank You, not only for being God, but for being my God. Amen.
Branch of Peace
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 22 23 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: John 14:15-31
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the
world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (v. z;)
Have you ever been in the midst of an extremely challenging situation—perhaps as
you have faced a difficult diagnosis or walked with a loved one through a terminal
illness—and felt a sense of joy or serenity wash over you in the middle of it all°
Tat is the gift Jesus speaks of here: the gift of peace of mind and heart that has
the power to overcome any circumstances, no matter how dire. Tat kind of peace
can’t be purchased, earned or even conjured through your own efforts. Tat kind
of peace—the peace that transcends all understanding—is a gift from God. If you
are in a dark and hopeless place right now, pray for the gift of peace, and trust that
God will answer.
Dear God, in our world so fraught with chaos and trouble, peace is the very
best gift of all. Tank You for this precious gift. Tank You for easing my fears
and worried heart. Amen.
Read: Romans 12:9-21
“Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary
people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in
such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace
with everyone.” (vs. 16-18)
Let’s be honest: when we feel we’ve been maligned our instinct is often to respond
with revenge. We want “pay back.” We want our enemy to hurt as much as we do.
But God is wise. He knows revenge doesn’t solve anything. We might feel justified
for a short while, but inevitably we will end up bitter and angry. Te better, albeit
more difficult, response is love and forgiveness. And notice what Jesus says here:
“Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” He’s not expecting us to give a
little bit of effort or a half-hearted attempt, he’s expecting us to give 1oo percent—
all that you can—and not just with the people who are easy to forgive or easy to
live with, but with everyone.
Lord, You more than anyone know how difficult it is for me to respond with
love at times. Please give me the courage and strength to live in peace with
everyone, even my enemy. Amen.
Read: Ephesians 2:11-18
But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but
now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself
has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own
body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. (vs. 1¸-1¡)
Some of you may remember the day the Berlin Wall was torn down in November
1,8,. Constant news coverage depicted thousands of people with sledgehammers
and axes as they crumbled the wall bit by bit, destroying a barrier that had stood
between East and West Germany for nearly 30 years. It was a monumental
occasion and a cause for celebration, not only in Germany but around the
entire world. In place of the wall, a symbol of hostility and war, stood a group of
disparate people now united in freedom.
Te amazing, mind-boggling, awesome power of Christ has the capacity to do
something similar among us, His people. It’s true, Christ’s death on the cross
brought us closer to God as individuals, demolishing the barrier (sin) that kept us
at arm’s length from Him. But even more important and powerful is the freedom
His love and life give us as a people united in the Body of Christ. Christ didn’t
unite just the Jews and Gentiles, He unites all of us, every last person on Earth. We
are called by Him to love His people, and no one is excluded, regardless of race,
lifestyle or faith. Tere are no barriers, no separation—Christ’s love demolishes all
hostilities and all walls.
So today, let’s celebrate the power of God’s love to free us and unite us together in
peace. Let’s celebrate the God who makes all things possible.
Lord, You know where and against whom my hostilities are aimed. Give me
the strength and humility to cross these barriers to unite with Your people in
peace. Amen.
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 24 25 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: Deuteronomy 8:1-18
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools
of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land
of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey.
It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as
common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill,
be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. (vs. ;-1o)
It sounds a little bit like heaven, doesn’t it° But the truth is, it doesn’t always feel
like God has our best interests in mind. Our lives don’t always resemble this
idyllic, heavenly vision described by Moses. But know this: although Moses’
prophecies were intended for the Israelites, we can read God’s promise for us in
these verses as well. Tis is God’s promise to us: He is providing, even when we
can’t see the provision in the moment. Look at the verb tense in the first verse:
“the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land…”—not will bring, but is
bringing. Tis is happening right here, right now, in the present moment. Te
Lord our God is leading us, guiding us, and providing for us. Our job through it all
is to trust Him.
Oh Lord, I do wonder sometimes; I do doubt. I question where You are and
where You are leading me. Tank you for offering me this vision, this hope
today. Tank You for reminding me that You are always providing for me,
even when I can’t quite see the progress myself. Amen.
Read: Psalm 51
Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me
from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of
your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. (vs. 1o-1z)
Tis is sometimes how we think, isn’t it° We are so disappointed in ourselves,
so fed up with our sinning, we fear God will be done with us for good. We can’t
imagine why He’d want to stick with us for the long haul. But here’s the truth: God
will never, ever banish you from His presence, no matter what. No sin is too big
for God. And He won’t ever take His Holy Spirit away from you either, no matter
how terrible your transgression, no matter how far you’ve fallen from His way. Te
day you first accepted God’s love was the day you received the Holy Spirit from
Him, and that was a gift with no strings attached. So take comfort, experience His
ever-present love. Turn your face back to God, and let Him create a clean heart in
Lord, thank You for the gifts of Your presence and Your Holy Spirit in me.
Tank you for Your forgiveness, for showering grace on me day after day after
day. Amen.
Read: Ezekiel 36:25-30
And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out
your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my
Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
(vs. z6-z;)
Te thing about living with and for God is that the process isn’t always perfect.
We still make mistakes. We still sin. A “tender, responsive heart” doesn’t mean
a perfect, flawless heart. But it does mean that in the midst of our failings, we
respond to God. We turn back to Him again and again, and He receives us in
love, again and again. Te key isn’t the inevitability of our failure, the key, instead,
is that God’s infinite grace gives us the opportunity to try again. In spite of our
shortcomings, our new and transformed hearts are open and willing, not distant
and removed, eager to connect with God and His people.
Dear God, please continue to work Your transformative power in me. You
know when my heart turns stony again; You know when I am in need of
softening. Give me a tender heart so that I may turn back to You. Amen.
Read: Ezekiel 47:1-12
Fruit trees of all kinds will grow along both sides of the river. Te leaves of these trees
will never turn brown and fall, and there will always be fruit on their branches. Tere
will be a new crop every month, for they are watered by the river flowing from the
Temple. Te fruit will be for food and the leaves for healing. (v. 1z)
Te vision Ezekiel describes in these verses and in chapter ¡; as a whole is one of
hope, sustenance and provision. Te river is fresh and pure and teeming with fish.
Te trees that line the banks never wither and always produce fruit. We might
read these lines and see a disparity between Ezekiel’s vision and our present,
broken world, but the truth is, God offers this hope, sustenance and provision to
us, too, through His Word, through the Holy Spirit and through His Son, Jesus.
Scripture refreshes and rejuvenates us, like the waters of this holy river. Te Holy
Spirit produces a never-ending supply of good fruit in us—fruit that helps to
sustain and nurture not only ourselves, but others. And Jesus heals us, breathing
hope, solace and joy into our weary souls.
Lord, You have given me everything I need to survive and thrive, even in this
broken world. Your reserves are infinite. You sustain me with Your ever-
present love. Amen.
Fruit of Healing
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 26 27 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: Luke 6:17-26
Tey had come to hear him and be healed of their diseases; and those troubled by evil
spirits were healed. Everyone tried to touch him, because healing power went out from
him, and he healed everyone. (vs. 18-1,)
Te people came to be healed of their physical ailments by Jesus’ touch that
day, but I suspect many of them were healed by His words as well. In the verses
immediately following these, Jesus turns toward the crowd and speaks what we
now know as the beatitudes—a series of statements that turn the traditional
thinking of the day on its head. “Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the grieving,
the outcasts,” he says, “for the Kingdom of God is yours.” What a healing balm
those words must have been to the suffering people who sat at His feet, what hope
Jesus offered the weary and downtrodden that day. Yes, Jesus performed miracles
of physical healing, but His words healed as well, and we hold those same words,
those same promises, in our own hands today. Blessed are you who are poor,
hungry, grieving, maligned. All hope is not lost. Read Jesus’ words and let them
heal you.
Lord, I am weak; I am weary; I am hopeless and hurt. Breathe hope and solace
into me, Lord. Use Your Word to heal me. Amen.
Read: John 9:1-41
“While I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” Ten he spit on the ground,
made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him,
“Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and
washed and came back seeing! (vs. ¸-;)
Why the mud, we might wonder° He’s Jesus, after all. Couldn’t he simply have laid
His clean hands over the man’s eyes and healed him that way° Tis mud serves as
an appropriate metaphor for our journey in faith. Sometimes our circumstances
look worse, at least on the surface of things, before they get better. Sometimes
we need to walk into an even deeper darkness, where our path is obscured and
the end-point is unclear, before we find our way again. Sometimes we even find
ourselves in the gritty, messy, muddy, underbelly of things before we are able to
walk into the light. Jesus used mud on the blind man’s eyes for a reason. Perhaps
it was to tell us that cleansing, renewal and rebirth isn’t always a neat, pretty and
clean process. Sometimes cleansing, renewal and rebirth requires grit before we
get to the glory.
Lord, I’ll be honest: I don’t love the gritty, muddy, messy part of rebirth and
renewal. But I trust You know which path is best for me, even when that path
includes some unsavory, mucky parts. Amen.
Read: Psalm 30
“O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you restored my health. You brought me up
from the grave, O Lord. You kept me from falling into the pit of death. Sing to the Lord,
all you godly ones! Praise his holy name!” (vs. z-¡)
Sometimes we take passages like these a little too literally. We read a verse like,
“I cried to you for help, and you restored my health,” and we think, “My health
isn’t completely restored, I’m not completely cured—why didn’t God answer my
prayer°” We begin to doubt God, or feel like He has abandoned us because our
lives and circumstances don’t seem to accurately reflect what we read in Scripture.
Te fact is, God might not cure all of our ills, even when we ask Him to. But what
He will always do is give us hope, peace and even joy in the midst of the most
difficult circumstances, if we let Him. Our faith in God keeps us from careening
into the pit of despair. Our faith in God keeps us steady, allowing us to walk
forward in holy confidence knowing that no matter what the outcome, He will be
with us.
Tis is indeed reason for singing and holy praise because we know, as this psalm
says, that while “weeping may last through the night, joy comes with the morning.”
(¸o:¸) He will see us through.
Lord, sometimes my grief and suffering feel like more than I can bear.
Sometimes I doubt Your presence and wonder where You are amid the trials.
Tank you for this psalm today, Lord—a reminder that You are always here,
working to restore me, lifting me up from the pit of despair and loving me.
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 28 29 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: John 15:1-26
“When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. Tis brings great glory
to my Father. I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.
When you obey my commandments you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s
commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be
filled with my joy.” (vs. 8-11)
Tese verses seem to imply that we earn God’s love by obeying His
commandments and doing good works, but a careful looks reveals a much more
sophisticated interpretation. God loves us regardless of whether we obey His rules
or not. But, Jesus tell us, obeying God because we want to, out of love for Him,
rather than because we feel obligated to, frees us from burden and allows us to
live truly and wholly in His love. Obedience does not lead to our love for God,
love leads to a desire to obey. When we feel the pleasure of God’s love, the natural
outcome is a desire to obey Him and please Him. Jesus reminds us that He tells
us these things so that we will be filled with His joy—not the ephemeral joy that
comes with worldly
pursuits, but the
unique, utterly filling,
restful, satisfying joy
that comes only from
loving Him.
Lord, so often I stray
from Your love and
go looking for joy
and contentment
elsewhere. Tank
You for reminding
me that only by
remaining in You
will I find the kind
of joy that fills and
completes me.
Read: John 18:1-14
When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron
Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.
Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with
his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some
officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. Tey were carrying torches, lanterns
and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked
them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said.
(vs. 1-¸» ×iv)
As we near the end of this Lenten season we find ourselves back where we began:
in a garden. But this is no paradisiacal Garden of Eden. Tis garden represents the
state of the world after the fall of man: a place of betrayal and evil, brokenness and
despair. It’s easy for us to point an accusing finger at Judas, isn’t it° “He was the one
who betrayed Jesus, not me,” we tell ourselves. But the hard truth is that we, too,
live in this broken world, in this garden of betrayal and sin. We, too, betray Jesus
not once but many times as we turn away from Him again and again in sin. When
Jesus answered the soldiers’ demands with the declaration, “I am he,” he took the
first step toward restoring us to the Father and redeeming our broken world.
Lord God, You sent Your Son not to a place of beauty, but to a place of
brokenness and despair, not to the Garden of Eden, but to the Garden of
Gethsemane. My rescue and restoration is made possible only by Your
beloved Son’s sacrifice. He said “I am He,” and in those words took my sins
upon Himself. Amen.
Read: Mark 14:12-26
As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Ten he broke it in pieces
and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.” And he took a cup of
wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And
he said to them, “Tis is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his
people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. I tell you the truth, I will not drink wine
again until the day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.” (vs. zz-z¸)
Have you ever truly contemplated Jesus’ words in this scene from the Last Supper°
“Take it, my body,” He tells his disciples, and us as well. Tat is literally what Jesus
did for us. He gave us His literal body. He allowed it to be beaten and abused.
He succumbed to hour after hour of physical torture and an agonizing death on
a cross so that we can live in freedom from sin and death. He literally poured
out His blood from gaping wounds on his head and torso so that we can live in
freedom from sin and death. He gave us His body, handed it over without a fight
and said, “Take it, take me. I am all yours.”
Jesus Lord, the magnitude of Your sacrifice for me is beyond my capacity to
comprehend. I feel unworthy and humbled by Your astonishing love. Amen.
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 30 31 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: Mark 14:32-42
He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed.
He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep
watch with me.” He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it
were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out,
“everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want
your will to be done, not mine.” (vs. ¸¸-¸6)
We love the notion of the incarnational Jesus—Jesus as both God and man—until
we read passages like this one. Suddenly the all-too-human side of Jesus is front
and center, and we squirm with discomfort as we witness His pain and suffering
up close. We don’t necessarily like to witness Jesus’s frailty, fear and grief because
it too closely mirrors our own. And perhaps we prefer to think of Him as God,
mighty and glorious, rather than as a human capable of suffering real agony and
distress, because we would rather not face our own role in Jesus’ pain and death
as well. It’s tempting to skirt past the gruesome parts of the Gospels, but the hard
truth is that our redemption is only made possible by Jesus’ suffering. Jesus’ story
encompasses the whole story, the ugly and the beautiful.
Lord Jesus, thank You for enduring so much on my behalf. I don’t like to think
about this part, about Your pain and suffering, but yet I know it is a necessary
part of Your whole story, a story meant to bring me to wholeness. Amen.
Read: Psalm 137:1-4 and John 19:16-18
Ten Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus away. Carrying
the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha).
Tere they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either
side, with Jesus between them. (vs. 16-18)
We began our Lenten journey in the lush, verdant Garden of Eden, a beautiful
place teeming with life and hope, and as we walk toward our final destination this
Holy Week, we find ourselves here, at Golgotha. Unlike Eden, Golgotha is a barren
place—hot, dusty and dry, a wasteland, a place you wouldn’t want to stay for long.
If you Google “images of Golgotha,” you’ll see the place scholars hypothesize is the
spot Jesus died. You’ll see images of jagged, rocky cliffs dotted with scrubby shrubs
and a few scraggly trees—an ugly, empty place. Jesus died here, at the Place of the
Skull, on a cross, a wooden tree of sorts. You might be tempted to call this “tree”
the Tree of Death, it seems to stand in direct opposition to Eden’s Tree of Life. But
even on this Good Friday, a day of darkness, barren emptiness and dread, we know
better. Te cross, Jesus’ Tree of Death, is our Tree of Life.
Lord Jesus, part of me wonders why—why wasn’t there a different way? Why
couldn’t I have been given life without Your pain, without Your death? It
seems ugly and unfair and wrong. I don’t have the answer to those questions.
And so I sit here quietly, on this grave day, trusting in the Father’s way. Amen.
Read: John 19:28-42
Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. Tis
was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified,
there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.
Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid
Jesus there. (vs. ¡o-¡z ×iv)
When Jesus was born he was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger
under the watchful and loving eyes of his parents. Visitors traveled great distances
to celebrate and worship this new Savior and to present lavish gifts of spices,
gold and silver at His feet. Now, thirty-three years later, the description of His
burial is eerily similar to that of His birth. Tis same Savior is wrapped in strips of
cloth once again and anointed with myrrh and aloe. But everything has changed.
Te worshippers and revelers are gone. Te crowds of admirers have vanished.
Jesus has been abandoned by all but a few. We tend to criticize the disciples
for abandoning Jesus and their faith so readily. Yet so often, we do the same.
When darkness descends, our faith falters, our hope wavers. Like so many of the
disciples, we run away from Jesus, deeper and deeper into darkness, instead of
toward Him, the source of all hope and light.
Lord, I shudder to think where I would have been the day of Your Son’s
crucifixion. As much as I hate to admit it, I suspect I would have run away
in fear and hopelessness, too. Lord, strengthen my faith. Give me the hope
and courage required to stand in the darkness, and the faith to know that the
Light will always return again. Amen.
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 32 33 Beneath the Tree of Life—Lenten Devotional 2014
Read: Revelation 22:1-5 and John 20:11-16
Ten the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from
the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On
each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop
each month. Te leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations. No longer will there
be a curse on anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his
servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on
their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps and sun—for the
Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever. (vs. zz:1-¸)
As Christians we tend to focus on heaven. We like to think about what eternal
life with God in a heavenly realm might be like, who we might meet there,
how we might spend our time. Sometimes we even find ourselves yearning for
that heavenly peace and rest. We look to heaven as an escape from our present
difficulties—a place and time when we will be free from pain, grief, loneliness
and suffering. “No longer will there be a curse on anything,” John prophecies in
Revelation, and we admit that it all sounds rather lovely.
In focusing our sights on heaven, though, we miss an important part of Jesus’
command for us while we are here on Earth. Remember how Jesus instructed us
to pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Ty kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in
heaven.” Jesus intended that His kingdom begin on this Earth, not only in heaven
Te truth is, Jesus came down to Earth in human form and sacrificed Himself so
that we could live free from sin and death. Trough His love we are resurrected
with Him, and we will spend eternal life with Him. As these verses from
Revelation predict, someday we will see God face-to-face, someday we will live
free of evil, despair and darkness. Nevertheless, this does not diminish the fact
that each of us has an important role to play in bringing God’s kingdom to Earth
while we are here. We cannot overlook the fact that we can and will see God’s
face here on Earth—perhaps not as clearly as we will in heaven, but here and now
nonetheless, in the faces of our loved ones, our neighbors, the man on the street.
Our job is to seek God’s face right where we are and help bring His kingdom to
Earth. Heaven begins right here, right now, with us.
Today I celebrate Your glory, Lord Jesus. Today I celebrate that You and You
alone have the power to free me from sin and death. Today I celebrate Your
love for me, a love so broad and so deep that nothing can ever diminish it.
And today I also thank You, Lord, for trusting me as Your servant. May I do
Your will in Your kingdom come on Earth. Amen.
Curt Brinkmann lives, with his wife Renee, in a log home near
Firth. He is grateful for the blessings of family, friends and
Southwood Lutheran Church. He is a freelance photographer
who enjoys taking pictures of kids, bugs and sunsets.
Michelle DeRusha, author of this Lenten devotional booklet, has
been a member of Southwood Lutheran since zoo1. A transplant
to Nebraska from Massachusetts, Michelle is married to Brad
Johnson and is mom to two energetic boys, Noah and Rowan.
She writes a monthly column for the Lincoln Journal Star, as well
as her blog, Graceful (ricnviivovvusn».cor).
Bible verses (except where noted) come from the New Living Translation © 2007
by Tyndale House Publishers Inc.
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 34 35 Appendix #1: Lenten Family Devotions
Appendix #1: Lenten Family Devotions
Lent is a good time to set aside time once a week
for family devotions. As a way of remembering the
season and to make it a little more interesting, we
suggest you make a Lenten Devotional Tree with
your family. In each week’s devotion, there will be
an activity that asks you to add something to your
So to begin your devotional time, go outside
together and find a bare branch and use it just as
it is or spray paint it a favorite color. Anchor it in
something (vase, can, ice cream bucket …) and fill
it with dirt or gravel. Find a place in your home
where you can gather to do your weekly devotions,
and put the tree there for the season.
In Genesis we learn that we were all created in
God’s image, yet when we look around, we all look
very different. Which one of us looks like God°
Mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, your best friend or
the lady at the bank … °
“Te Lovo doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward
appearance, but the Lovo looks at the heart.” 1 S»ruvi 16:;n
Hmmm … perhaps the “image of God” doesn’t mean God’s outward appearance,
perhaps the “image of God” is whether we look like God in our heart. Now what
do you think God looks like° Let’s each name one thing that we think God is like.
» God is like a chair because God will always support me.
» God is like our dog, because he will always forgive me.
Each person should name at least one thing that reminds them of what God is like.
You may have to help younger children, but once they understand the concept
they may have several ideas!
After everyone has named at least one thing, each person should choose one of
the images (or a different image that they come up with) and draw it on cardstock.
Color the image and write why it reminds you of God on the back. Poke a hole in
the top, string a piece of thread through it and hang your images on the tree.
Pray this prayer or one of your own:
Tank you God for making us in your image. Help us to know you better
each day so that we can become more and more like you. Amen.
» What are some things we need to stay alive°
» What are some of your favorite foods°
» Do you think God has a favorite food°
» What would God like for breakfast°
» Do you have a lunch box° Or perhaps you take your lunch in a paper bag°
» If God had a lunch box, what do you think he would take in it°
» I wonder if God really does eat dinner°
Get an apple or another piece of natural food (fruit, celery, carrot, peanuts …) and
take a bite of it. Say something like … Tis juicy apple is one of the things God has
provided. It’s sweet and crunchy—a wonderful gift from God. We can eat it as it is,
or we can use it to make other foods. What else can we make with apples°
Do you think God likes to eat apples° We don’t really know, do we° God doesn’t
need food, water, or shelter because he is Spirit. But God knows that we need
things like food, shelter, water, and love. God not only provided all these things for
us, but he has made us a promise.
“God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
Pniiivvi»×s ¡:1, (×iv)
Next time you eat an apple (grape, orange, celery, banana, nut …) remember to
thank God for all he’s given you.
Find a picture of your favorite food in a magazine or draw it on cardstock. Write
the Bible verse from Philippians on the back and hang it on your tree.
Pray this prayer or one of your own:
God, we thank you today for all the wonderful gifts you’ve given us, such
as food, shelter, and each other. Most of all, we thank you for you. Help us
to remember to thank you each day for the many blessings you’ve given
us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Bring a cover such as a blanket or sheet.
Let’s see if we can hide from God. I’ve brought something I think might help us do
that. (Get underneath the cover with the kids.)
Have we hidden from God° Can God see us under here° Why or why not°
We can’t hide from God, he can see us anywhere we go or anywhere we hide.
Remove the cover and read Genesis ¸:1-8.
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they tried to hide themselves from God.
Have you ever done anything bad and then tried to hide° Do you think God wants
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 36 37 Appendix #1: Lenten Family Devotions
us to hide from him when we do something wrong° What does God want us to do
when we do something wrong°
God knows when we do something wrong, but he wants us to talk to him about it
and not hide. God doesn’t want to punish us. God wants to forgive us and help us
change. When we talk to God in prayer and don’t hide, God can help us grow to
be stronger Christians.
Hang a symbol for forgiveness on your tree (key, dove, peace sign, cross …).
Pray this prayer or one of your own:
Tank you, God, for knowing everything about us. Help us talk to you
when we do something wrong so you can forgive us. Amen.
Let’s look at our Lenten Tree.
What’s underneath the ground that supports trees° (roots) What role do roots
play in helping the tree grow° (Tey help bring water and nutrients to the tree,
they also help support the tree so it won’t fall over.)
What does your body need to support it, to help it grow° (healthy food, exercise,
What does your mind need to help it grow° (learning new things, practicing them
so you develop skills and get experience)
It takes commitment and discipline to eat a good diet, get the exercise we need
and continue to learn and develop new skills. But when we do these things, our
body and our mind are much healthier!
A healthy tree produces good fruit. What fruit do we produce when our body and
mind are healthy° (We are stronger, can be more active, feel better physically, feel
better mentally …)
Just like it takes commitment and discipline to eat right, exercise and develop our
mind, it takes commitment and discipline to grow in our relationship with God.
What are some ways to grow in your relationship with God° (Going to church and
Sunday School, talking to God, reading the Bible, talking to others about Jesus . . .)
A healthy spiritual life also produces good fruit. What kind of fruit will we
produce if we love God° Read:
But the Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. G»i»:i»×s ¸:zz–z¸» (×cv)
Draw some fruit on cardstock and write some of the words in the above scripture
on the back of them and hang them on your tree.
Pray this prayer or one of your own:
Tank you God for our amazing bodies and minds. Tank you for wanting
to be in relationship with us. Help us grow a healthy relationship with
you by putting you first when we make choices about how to use our time.
Ask your kids to use facial expressions and hand gestures to show you what
“stressed out” looks like. Have them take turns acting out a few other emotions
as others guess what is being acted out. Ten ask them to show you what “perfect
peace” looks like.
Tere are many things that can cause us to worry, but God doesn’t want us to be
anxious about anything! Isaiah 26:3 says that when we keep our minds focused on
God, we can have perfect peace no matter what else may be going on. What events
are going on in your life that would be less stressful if you put them in God’s hands
and stopped worrying about them°
Cut out a circle and draw a happy face on one side and a worried face on the other
side. Ten put an X across the worried face and write the scripture reference on
the happy face side.
You, Lord, give true peace to those who depend on you, because they trust you.
Is»i»n z6:¸ (×cv)
Hang it on your tree.
Pray this prayer or one of your own:
Tank you God for the peace you provide even in the most difficult times.
Help us trust in you so that we can know true peace. Amen.
Use books or pieces of cardboard to create a “stepping-stone” path from one side
of your living room to the other. Add small challenges along the way, perhaps a
chair to climb over or a narrow “balance beam” made of masking tape. As you
work, talk about the things in life that can hurt us either physically or emotionally.
Some examples are: when you are sick or someone you care about is sick, when
someone makes fun of you, when you get in a fight with a friend, when someone
you love dies (including pets!), having your parent’s divorce … think of what might
apply to your child.
Now place a blindfold over your child’s eyes. Explain that often we can’t see how to
get through the obstacles in our lives. Sometimes our difficulties aren’t something
we can solve by ourselves. Where do we look for help and healing°
Take your child’s hand and guide them along the path. Explain that we can face the
challenges of life because we know that God is with us. God helps us by listening
to us and helping our hearts to heal through friends and family members who
comfort us and help us feel better, and through others in our community who are
trained to help us heal (teachers, doctors, pastors).
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 38 39 Appendix #2: Small Group Questions
God can work through us too when we help others. When we try to understand
how people feel, we can help them. Tat’s what Jesus did. He helped others by
healing the sick, feeding the hungry and loving those that were sad or needed a
friend. We can do the same thing.
Draw a heart on cardstock and write heal on one side and help on the other. Hang
it on your Lenten Tree.
Pray this prayer or one of your own:
Tank you God for sending Jesus to show us that you will provide what we
need to heal us; to help us when we have problems. We pray that we will
trust you to heal us when we are hurting and show us how to help others
when they are hurting. Amen.
Remember, this week there is worship on Maundy Tursday (April 1;) and
Good Friday (April 18) at 6:¸o v.r. On Good Friday, remember to strip your
tree—take everything off of it as you remember the death of Jesus. Ten
on Easter Sunday, April zo, decorate your tree with flowers and leaves and
remember the hope of new life we have in Jesus.
Pass around a closed pine cone. Ask everyone to describe if it feels dead or alive
and why. Set the pine cone on a table and discuss what would happen to it if it
were left there and never planted.
Ask everyone to guess how many seeds are in a pine cone. Pine cones can produce
8oo–zooo seeds! When someone puts one pine cone seed in the ground, it can
produce a new tree. Tis tree makes many seeds that are like the one that was
In a similar way, Jesus was buried, then God created new life through Him.
Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we know that anyone in the world can have new life
through Jesus and can become more like Him.
Look around the room and outside. What do you see that came from a seed that
was planted°
Can other people see the life of Christ in you° How°
If Jesus is the tree of life and you are a seed from that tree that has been planted, in
what ways are you like Jesus°
Hang a pine cone on your tree to remind you of how many lives can be changed
from one seed.
Pray this prayer or one of your own:
Living God, help us grow into trees that will produce many seeds of faith.
Appendix #2: Small Group Questions
Get Started:
» Talk about one trait (a physical feature, personality attribute, hobby or career
path, etc.) that you have inherited from one of your parents.
» Tink about a moment when you’ve felt most alive, most joyful, or when you
feel like you are doing that thing you were born to do—what are you doing°
Catching up:
» Tis week’s theme was creation. God created each one of us and breathed
life into us. What new thought or question did you have during this week’s
» What did Ash Wednesday mean to you this year° God created us and yet our
bodies will return to the earth once again one day. Does this give you renewed
hope in a God whose light shines even in our human darkness°
» In Saturday’s devotion (page 6) Michelle says this: “Sometimes, as we wrestle
for control in our lives, we forget the God-established order; we forget that we
are the created, the clay, while God is the Creator, the potter. While it’s hard to
surrender, to relinquish control, there’s also great freedom in this…” What needs
surrendering in your life° How does this offer freedom°
Bible Study:
» Read z Corinthians ¸:16-z1 together.
» What does it mean to regard someone from a worldly point of view° How is
this connected to Genesis 1:z6-z8° (see Tursday’s devotion on page ¸)
» Paul says you are a “new creation” in Christ. What does this mean to you°
How have you been made new°
» As the “new creation” of Christ we are given a ministry of reconciliation.
What does this look like° Share a story from your life of reconciliation, a time
when you experienced healing, peace, forgiveness, or new life in Christ.
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 40 41 Appendix #2: Small Group Questions
» What evidence is there in your life that you were created in the image of God°
» What characteristics or traits do you hope to pass on to your children or
grandchildren or nieces or nephews or anyone in your circle of influence°
» Where is reconciliation needed°
» Offer a prayer in thanksgiving for the work of God in creating the earth and
creating human life.
» Ask for group members to lift up their own prayer concerns for self, family,
friends or the world.
» Pray that God would use the members of your group as His ambassadors for
reconciliation and new life.
Get Started:
» Tink of a time when you sat in awe of God’s creation. Where were you° Who
were you with° What were you doing°
» Which situation would cause you the most worry: Overdrawn at the bank°
Gained 1o pounds° Son doesn’t make the team° Nobody called all weekend°
Mother-in-law stays two weeks° Business goes “belly up”°
Catching up:
» In Tuesday’s devotion (page 8) we read: He offers spiritual sustenance when
our reserves run dry… He sustains us when we thirst; He breathes life into our
dry, desiccated spirit. When have you experienced such sustenance°
» Read the quote in Wednesday’s devotion by Pandita Ramabai. How is God
using you or your small group to add hope, comfort or compassion to our
» Go back to Tursday’s devotion (page ,) where it said: “Tink back for a
moment to a difficult time in your past—a time of hardship, fear, sorrow or
suffering. Circumstances may not have turned out as you had wished or even
as you had prayed they would, but through it all, did God abandon you? Did
He leave you alone to flounder hopeless and lost?” How did you answer those
Bible Study:
» Read Luke 1z:zz-¸z together.
» How do these verses about worry relate to our theme for the week of God’s
abundance of nourishment and mercy° What does Jesus tell his disciples not
to do° (verses zz, z,, ¸z) Why°
» In contrast, what does Jesus tell his disciples to do° (verses z¡, z;, ¸1) Why°
What will result°
» What does Jesus mean when he says “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give
you the kingdom”°
» What other passages have you found that offer you the hope that God does
provide, sustain and nurture his children°
» One a scale from 1 to 1o (1 = “no sweat” and 1o = “panic”), what is the worry
quotient in your life right now° Why°
» Where are you finding nourishment° How could you ask your group members
to support you°
» Offer a prayer in thanksgiving of a God who so generously provides for us.
» Ask for group members to lift up their own prayer concerns for self, family,
friends or the world.
» Make a list of people who are in need. Lift them up in prayer, asking for God
to sustain them through the difficulty. Ask God how He might use you or your
group members to offer Godly nourishment.
Get Started:
» Who laid down the law in your home when you were growing up° How did
you feel about it° Was it fair, just, andior kind°
» In the course of your life who has extended the most forgiveness to you°
Catching up:
» Week one and two we talked about God’s creation and how God provides for
us. Tis week we turn to our response. Te story of Adam and Eve’s fall is a
familiar one for us. Have you ever thought about putting yourself into that
story° Would you have done the same thing°
» On Tuesday (page 1z) we read: “I love God’s law with all my heart,” said Paul.
“But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind…Who will
free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” Ror»×s ;:zz-z¡
When it comes to sin, do you feel that it dominates your heart and mind° Or
do you feel freedom from it°
» Michelle wrote about pride in Tursday’s devotion (page 1¸). She referenced:
“pride goes before the fall.” Pvovvvns 16:18. What does that proverb mean to
you° Have you experienced this sequence of events° What is the solution°
Bible Study:
» Read Romans ¸:1-11
» In your own words, what does it mean to be “justified through faith” (verse 1)°
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 42 43 Appendix #2: Small Group Questions
» What words in verses 6, 8, and 1o describe what we once were in God’s eyes°
Do you think Adam and Eve felt this way° How does the death of Christ
change that relationship°
» What benefits are ours as a result of being justified by faith (verses 1-¸)° How
are suffering, hope, and God’s love interrelated°
» What is the worst suffering you’ve experienced° What has God taught you
through it°
» Have you ever had a chance to confess your sin before God or before another
person° What did that feel like° Did you feel God’s forgiveness° Or did you
continue to feel bad about the sin°
» Verse 8 says: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What does this
mean to you°
» Ask for group members to lift up their own prayer concerns for self, family,
friends or the world.
» Offer a prayer of confession for the things you have done and the things you
have left undone.
» Bless each other with these words of forgiveness: But now that you’ve found
you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the
delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-
together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin
your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life,
delivered by Jesus, our Master. Ror»×s 6:zz-z¸ (rso)
Get Started:
» What does your garden grow without your help° With your help°
» Who do you consider to be wise° Perhaps it is the person you thought about
when you read Tuesday’s devotion (page 16). Why is this person wise°
Catching up:
» Look back on Monday’s devotion (page 16). It talks about how God lovingly
redirects us. When have you been redirected by God° What did it feel like°
What did you learn from it°
» On Tursday (page 1;) we read about Mother Teresa going through a time of
spiritual barrenness and doubt. Have you gone through such times of doubt°
What has sustained you° What has given you hope and peace in those times°
» Sunday’s devotion (page 1,) talked about “wisdom from above:” A person
blessed with wisdom from above—a wisdom that comes from God—is not
concerned with self-advancement or even self-preservation. A person blessed
with wisdom from above is not focused on self but on the other. What do you
think about this definition° Do you know such a person° How hard is it to
apply that definition to your own life°
Bible Study:
» Read Colossians 1:¸-1¡ together
» If faith, hope and love are the fruit of the gospel (verses ¸-6), then what does
this fruit look like°
» What is “God’s grace in all its truth” (verse 6)° What aspects of this grace do
you see in your life°
» In verses ,-1z Paul prays for these Christians. Make a list of the things Paul
asks God for on their behalf. Is this an ambitious prayer° What on that list
do you hope for in your life° How do we attain those things for which Paul is
» A tree’s roots are what give it stability. What are your personal spiritual roots°
» Paul prays intently for these people. Who do you pray for in this way°
» In the field of your life and those you pray for, are the fruits of faith, love and
hope being cultivated° How so°
» Pray for the wisdom that comes through faith, love and hope.
» Ask for group members to lift up their own prayer concerns for self, family,
friends or the world.
» What problem or concern do you have right now that you need Godly wisdom
on° Pray about that. Give that problem to God and spend some time in silence
listening for his wisdom.
Get Started:
» What is something you believed as a child that you have since abandoned in
» Do you think you felt more peace as a child than you do now° Why°
» What does stress look like in your life°
Catching up:
» Tis week’s topic is peace. We’ve considered how God brings peace into our
lives and how God offers us a vision of world peace in His Kingdom. What
does peace mean to you personally° What does peace look like in our world°
Is this an attainable vision°
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 44 45 Appendix #2: Small Group Questions
» On Monday (page zo) we read about how the vision of peace was for those
Israelites long ago, but also for us too. How easy is it for you to take the
good news from the Bible and apply it to your life today° Do you see Jesus as
bringing hope and peace to us today°
» Return to the questions from Wednesday’s devotion (page z1). Talk about
these questions with your group: So let’s ask ourselves this: how can I bring
this vision one teeny-tiny step closer to reality° Who do I need to forgive° To
whom do I need to show compassion and mercy°
Bible Study:
» Read Matthew 11:z¸-¸o together.
» Why does Jesus say that it is good for the gospel to be hidden from the “wise
and learned”° Why should it only be revealed to little children°
» Jesus invites you to lay down any care or burden upon him. In light of the
cross, what is the significance of this invitation°
» Troughout Jesus ministry, how does he demonstrate peace to both his
friends and enemies°
» Is there a link between our ability to reason and our ability to experience
peace° Is this why little children, mostly free from worry and conflict, are
better able to experience God’s peace° Why or why not°
» What burdens do you need to bring to Jesus°
» Share a time when you felt an indescribable sense of peace.
» Pray for peace in our world. Ask the group to be bold in this prayer.
» Pray for personal, inner peace.
» Ask for group members to lift up their own prayer concerns for self, family,
friends or the world.
Get Started:
» Tell the story of the injury that resulted in your “best” scar.
» As a child, what was the worst sickness you ever had°
Catching up:
» On Tursday (page z¸) our devotion talks about healing: And Jesus heals
us, breathing hope, solace and joy into our weary souls. Tis healing can be
physical, spiritual, or emotional. When have you experienced the healing of
» In Friday’s devotion (page z6) we read this: Yes, Jesus performed miracles of
physical healing, but His words healed as well, and we hold those same words,
those same promises, in our own hands today. Which Biblical words have held
promise and hope and healing for you°
» Saturday’s devotion (page z6) talks about the mud Jesus used to heal the blind
man as a metaphor for the grit and pain we have to go through before we
can really experience healing. Review these words: Sometimes we even find
ourselves in the gritty, messy, muddy, underbelly of things before we are able to
walk into the light. When have you had to deal with the mud before you could
experience the healing°
Bible Study:
» Read Mark ¸:z1-¡z together.
» Of all the people pressing in for Jesus’ attention, two get through to him in this
story—how so°
» What impressions do we get of the sick woman in verses z¸-z6° (Keep in
mind, her particular illness made her ceremonially unclean and unable to have
contact with others.)
» Why do you think Jesus makes the sick woman reveal herself° For his sake° Or
for her sake° How was her faith obvious to Jesus°
» What did the disciples learn about the power of Jesus°
» Of all of the people in this story, who do you most relate to°
» What does it cost Jesus to be involved in your life° What does it cost you to be
involved with Jesus° To be involved with others°
» What is the role of Jesus in healing today° What is the role of faith° Of touch°
» What people have the greatest healing influence in your life° In whose lives
are you a healer° How° In what area of your life will you trust Jesus to heal
» How does the celebration of Easter offer us a new kind of healing°
» What or who needs healing° Make a list. In the week ahead pray for them
» Ask for group members to lift up their own prayer concerns for self, family,
friends or the world.
Get Started:
» Share your high and low from the last week.
» Has experiencing a low ever caused you to grow in your faith° How° When°
What happened°
Southwood Lutheran Church—Lincoln, Nebraska 46 47 Appendix #2: Small Group Questions
Catching up:
» Tis week we’ve read through the last events of Jesus’ earthly life. We’ve also
worshipped God through the days of Holy Week. How are these readings and
Holy Week meaningful to you°
» Re-read the passage from John 1¸ from Monday’s devotion (page z8). When
you practice obedience to God’s word, is it because you want to or because
you feel obligated° Describe a time when you felt an inner joy at being
obedient to God.
» How does Jesus display his obedience to God°
» When have you experienced the garden of betrayal and evil, brokenness and
despair, described in Tuesday’s devotion (page z,)° Have you also felt that
burden lifted° How°
» When you pray “Ty kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in
heaven” what does that mean to you°
Bible Study:
» Read Revelation zz:1-¸
» What new things will be found in this vision of the New Jerusalem°
» Trace the river from its source to the fruit born on the tree of life. What
promises are made°
» Look back to Ezekiel ¡;:1-z, Joel ¸:18, and Zechariah 1¡:8. What promises are
made here°
» What do these same promises suggest about the unity of Scripture and the
completeness of God’s salvation°
» What is the vision for God’s kingdom on earth°
» What bearing, if any, do these realities have on your present lifestyle°
» What does the tree of life look like for you° What does it offer° What does it
ask you to do° What changes when that tree and its river are at the center°
» We bury seeds in the dirt for new life to come from them. What needs to be
buried in your life in order for the vision of the New Jerusalem to take root°
» Give thanks to God for the resurrection promise. Lift up the names of all
those who are still in need of God’s hope, healing and peace.
» Ask for group members to lift up their own prayer concerns for self, family,
friends or the world.
















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