Our congregation, pastors, and staff write devotionals to help us experience the seasons of Lent (before Easter) and Advent (before Christmas) more fully. They are posted below with the most recent on top and do not post until the season begins.

April 15 | Week 6

Week 6
Jesus Raises Lazarus
Monday, April 15

Prepared by Gabrielle Dion-Kindem

READ John 11:17–36
In preparing this devotion, I used a practice I was introduced to years ago through Pastor Care. It is a Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer called Lectio Divina that has been very meaningful to me. I have enjoyed this practice in small groups and also in solitude. It is a way that I have experienced God’s Word as the Living Word as it helps me to place myself in the story, and it is another way for me to have a conversation with God.

Taking a section of scripture, the practice involves:
Reading (Lectio) – When reading aloud or hearing it read aloud the idea is to listen, not to analyze the scripture, but listening instead for a word or phrase that stands out to you right where you are.
Meditating (Meditatio) – taking time in silence to reflect and meditate on that word or phrase.
Responding (Oratio) – respond by writing and sharing your thoughts with God. In a group setting, you may choose to share your thoughts with others and hear what others experienced.
Contemplation (Contemplatio) – spending time contemplating, soaking in what God revealed to you.

The first phrase that stood out to me from this passage was, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
It made me think of how often I come to God in my disappointment with what has, or hasn’t happened, with an attitude of: “IF You would have answered my prayer (the way I wanted), THEN things would have worked out, THEN I would be happy, THEN_____________.” When I focus so hard on what I wanted, I limit my perspective because it is fixed on me and my assumptions. It becomes so much harder to see another view. I end up putting my trust in my own understanding and in my desires, and I can be left with an image of a God who is more removed and who doesn’t seem to care about my heart’s desire.

I am reminded through this that I want to recognize and release my grip on my way and instead ask God to open my heart to the way to which He is calling me. I want to be open to the perspective that God invites me to experience and grow through. I want to place my trust in Him in all circumstances.

The second phrase that stood out to me was “Jesus began to weep.” It was a powerful reminder to me that Jesus is with us always. He doesn’t watch over us and view our pain from a safe distance, offering platitudes. He enters our pain and embraces us in the midst of it. Five and a half years ago, I was in the middle of a meeting at church with my discipleship group that has been meeting since 2004. There were several who could not attend that morning, so we were a particularly small group. I knew my mother’s health was failing. She lived in Colorado, and I had been going back and forth to be with her. I received a phone call in the middle of our meeting from my sister. I stepped outside to speak with her and received the news that, although somewhat expected, still came as a shock – my mother had just died. I walked back into the room and burst into tears as I shared this news. Each one of them got up immediately and encircled me, arm in arm, and sobbed with me. As it turned out each one of the women who were there that morning had already walked through this pain with their own mother. They knew my pain on a different level. They entered my pain, and the depth of comfort I felt is difficult to put in words. It has left me with a picture of how Jesus entered my pain and encircled me through them and with them. He is always with me. He is always with you.

Do you have questions for God about prayers that have not been answered in the way you hoped? Can you talk openly with Him now about any questions or thoughts you may have?
Take some time today to reflect on a particular situation or relationship in your life that you have been thinking about or struggling with and ask if God is inviting you to a new perspective.

Take a few minutes to sit in silence. Close your eyes and imagine yourself pouring out your loss or your sorrow to Jesus. Imagine Him holding you and weeping with you. What do you want to say to Him? How are you affected by this image?

Is there something, maybe a dream or desire, in your life that you would like Jesus to resurrect?
Talk to God about this remembering that He cares deeply for you.

Use the passage for this week to practice Lectio Divina and see what word or phrase speaks to you. Sometimes it is helpful to read it in another translation like “The Message” to see if you connect with it differently or if something else stands out to you.

April 8 | Week 5

Week 5
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
Monday, April 8

Prepared by Steve Madaris

READ John 4:1-42
Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria raises many questions for us to consider. Some of these questions require an understanding of the culture in Jesus’ day. Women were expected to collect the water needed for the day, but would not go to the well in the middle of the day. That is unless they were social outcasts. The assumption, therefore, has usually been that the Samaritan woman had a bad reputation. This issue is not critical to understanding the passage, however.

It is also noteworthy that the Greek word used in the parenthetical, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans” (verse 9), is a reference to the dietary laws and included a prohibition against the two cultures sharing dishes and utensils with the other, let alone food and drink. Since Jesus did not have a bucket, the Samaritan woman’s surprise at Jesus’ request is understandable. Here is a Jewish man not only talking to a woman who was a Samaritan, but asking for her to give Him a drink from her bucket.

On a surface level, this entire interaction is scandalous, flaunting many cultural norms. More critically, however, their conversation (the longest exchange between Jesus and another individual recorded in the gospels) was clearly held on two levels. The woman thought that Jesus was referring to potable water when He talked of “living water.” She understood Jesus’ request for her to “call your husband” to refer to her legal status, which apparently was single. She was focused on temporal things. He was concerned with eternal matters. Throughout their conversation, the woman expresses confusion and Jesus offers clarity.

The same is true of Jesus’ interaction with His disciples in verse 27 and following. At the beginning of the story, we are told that the disciples “had gone to the city to buy food” (verse 3). They return from purchasing food as requested by Jesus, but He doesn’t eat despite their encouragement. The disciples are confused, but Jesus responds to their preoccupation with His physical needs by explaining the satisfaction received by ministering to the spiritual needs of the Samaritans. Even those who came to believe in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony were confused about the source of their conversion. Clarity came in the two days that Jesus and His disciples stayed in the town, sharing life and meals, and hearing the call to salvation for themselves.

This story (as with every story in the Gospel) is ultimately about the movement from confusion to clarity. God revealed Himself to every person or group of people who encountered Jesus and challenged them to change and be transformed. This week, be open to the Spirit moving you from confusion to clarity.

Read this passage in The Voice translation. You can access this through Bible Gateway (www.biblegateway.com) What insights do you gain from this translation that were less explicitly stated in the NRSV? How do these insights change or reinforce your understanding of the story? In particular, compare the translations of verses 21–24 about worshipping “in spirit and truth.”

The poet Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” The distance between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north is about 120 miles, approximately the same as the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego. In between was Samaria. The Jewish people had created routes designed to intentionally avoid travelling through Samaria. This would be like going through Riverside in order to avoid Orange County to get to San Diego. John writes that Jesus “had” to pass through Sychar (verse 4). Additionally, He was sitting by himself at the well at noon—in the heat of the day—and without a bucket to draw water from the well. The journey’s itinerary appears intentional. Have you every chosen a longer route to your destination on purpose? What prompted that choice? What were the consequences of taking a longer way? Ask God to lead you “in His paths” in order to be available to do His will, even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.

 “Jacob’s Well” is not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. Genesis 33:18-20 describes the purchase of the land where the well was dug. (Read these verses.) According to John’s record in these verses, the well was located in Sychar, a city to be avoided because contact with Samaritans would make Jews ritually unclean. Using imaginative reading of John 4, put yourself in the story. With whom do you identify: one of Jesus’ disciples, the Samaritans who lived in the town, or perhaps the Samaritan woman herself? What are the sights, sounds and smells you experience? Where are you observing the interaction from? How did God meet you? Most importantly, what is God saying to you through your imaginative reading of this passage?
Open the link https://tinyurl.com/belairpres-lent2019 and listen to the folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary’s interpretation of this story. (Note: The album will continue if you do not stop after this track.) How does this song compare to John’s account? In particular, consider the irony of her challenge “And You don’t know everything I’ve ever done!” and her final exclamation “This man must be a prophet!” Jesus neither condemns the Samaritan woman for trying to hide the whole truth nor embarrass her in front of others. Instead He simply accepts the truth that she has spoken while confronting its shortcomings. Are there places in your life where you try to hide the whole truth from God and from yourself? Ask God to let you experience release and freedom like that which allows the Samaritan woman to share her experience of Jesus with other townspeople.

In Matthew 16:13–20 Jesus asks His disciples “Who do you say that I am?” After Peter responds that He is the Christ, Jesus says that this knowledge came from God and orders him not to tell anyone that He is the Messiah. In His trial before Pilate, Jesus responds to Pilate, the Roman governor, by saying that others have said that He was “King of the Jews”. Even Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews is not given a direct answer to his implied question about Jesus’ identity. The Samaritan woman, however, is told unequivocally “I am He” when she asks about the Messiah (verse 26). This is the first “I am” statement in John’s gospel. She is also the first person to whom Jesus overtly reveals Himself. In part, this is because she is not one of His followers, and therefore possibly biased. She also is not a political or religious leader who might try to misinterpret or misuse the revelation. Spend some time reflecting on instances when God has explicitly revealed Himself to you. Thank Him for those experiences and for how He as met you in your life. Then, be bold in your prayer and ask God to be obvious in revealing Himself to you.