Holy Fire Light Saturday 2017

“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” words by Bryn and Sally Haworth Vs. 1

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown:  how pale thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!  How does that visage languish which once was bright as morn!

Psalm 31:9-16

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.  My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.  Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors and an object of dread to my closest friends— those who see me on the street flee from me.  I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.   For I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side!” They conspire against me  and plot to take my life.  But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.”  My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.  Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.

Holy fire saturdayIt is Saturday afternoon. Crowds are waiting, eyes are anticipating, hearts are eager to receive the light or “the Holy Fire” as it has been traditionally called. We are in a place none other than the Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem. You can barely find space for one’s feet to step in. In fact, people seem to be on top of one another, priests, clergy men, believers, locals, pilgrims, tourists and anyone else you can think of. This is no small event: the light is soon going to emerge from the tomb of Jesus.

Traditionally, this is what is thought to happen every year; a miracle takes place, Holy fire comes forth from the tomb in remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus. Many people hold strong opinions about this happening; they firmly believe in their heart of hearts that a miracle occurs every year and the light and fire come out of nowhere as divine proof and reminder that the Lord is risen. Others are more skeptical and allege it is just due to a mischievous human hand!

Now, nothing is impossible for God.  God who said, “Let there be light,” where there was only darkness at the very beginning, is the same God who “gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not,” (Romans 4: 17) can still speak anything into existence, even a fire out of the tomb.  However, this debate is not the point. The point is, whether we have truly experienced this Light in our lives.

What happens to this Holy Fire after it escapes from the tomb and the Holy Sepulcher church?  Well, the light is then carried to Bethlehem and other neighboring towns.  Christians emerge from their homes to “receive the light”; with scouts, parades, colorful balloons, people in fancy dress, and there is singing and dancing everywhere.  It is a festive atmosphere of joy.  Yet, watching these people, I wonder:  “Why are they happy?  Do they realize what this light signifies?”  Do we, as Palestinian Christians in this region, really know what it means to experience and witness the light of the risen Lord in our lives?

Then I think about Saul of Tarsus.  He truly experienced the transforming Light of Christ on the way to Damascus.  The result was a completely changed life, vision and mission.  Paul turned from a persecutor of the Nazarenes, to a Jesus- hero: an apostle to the nations.  Anyone who has seen, experienced, and watched the Light should not settle for less!

This Saturday that proceeds Easter Sunday, is known as “Sabt Innour– the Saturday of Light.”  In a place where darkness seems determined to penetrate, the Light of Christ is the only thing that can shatter any darkness: “The people walking in darkness have seen a Great Light, on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)  Jesus said we are “the Light of the world!”

MACEDONIA-RELIGION-ORTHODOX-EASTERHow are we are reflecting the Light of Christ in our lives?  Are there still dark areas where we have not allowed the Light to shine?  It is easy to experience the euphoria of an event and forget the essence of what we ought to be. Instead, let us examine ourselves, not only through this period of Easter but every day, so that we may be true carriers of the Light God wants to shine into each person’s life.

I grew up listening to and singing, “Shine Jesus shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory, Blaze Spirit blaze, set our hearts on fire.”

Let us pray, Lord, we ask you for your light to fill our hearts beginning in Jerusalem to Bethlehem and around the world today!  We lift up the land that first witnessed the light and pray it will truly “blaze” for your Glory. With the psalmist we add our voice, Lord, “let your face shine on your servants, save us in your unfailing love.”  Amen.

Devotion written by Grace al-Zoughbi Arteen teacher at Bethlehem Bible College.

Photo credit: both pictures are google stock photographs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Friday 2017

“Were You There” words are an African American Spiritual

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?  Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they pierced him in the side? Were you there when they pierced him in the side?  Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Were you there when the sun refused to shine? Were you there when the sun refused to shine?  Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?  Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Philippians 2:5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.   Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

It is that little word “even” in verse 8 which catches my attention as I read this passage again.  For death, like life, brings its own raft of injustices.  Death itself may be the great leveller, but death has many faces.  To sit at the bedside of a woman in her nineties who anticipates with faith and joy her union with Jesus and her departure from the struggles of a long life is as different an experience as can be imagined from grieving the sudden, violent death of a young man through suicide.  In both instances there will be tears and loss, but in one there will also be peace, hope and light, in the other a wild, dark rawness.  The length (or shortness) of life, the manner of death, the preparedness of those around – all these factors profoundly affect how we experience loss and grief.

Jill Baker Good Friday picture 2017The death of Jesus was too soon, too violent, too sudden for his friends and followers – they were plunged into a wilderness of confusion and fear.  Today, Good Friday, we enter into that experience with the disciples as we become a church in the wilderness, a church in grief, a church which recognises and has to encounter pain, violence, loss, injustice.

In that encounter we are awed by what the cross demonstrates.  The God in whom we trust is not a bystander to the pain, violence, loss and injustice of the world today.  God understands the tears and despair of all who suffer today, and in a particular way stands in solidarity with all who suffer injustice.  For God in Christ did not die a “good death” but the kind of death which can speak into the most appalling situations of human tragedy and cruelty for all time, “even death on a cross”.

We should not shrink from this day.  The cross is repugnant, yet, strangely, as Christians we find ourselves irresistibly drawn to it.  “Were you there?” we sing; with the clear implication that we need to be there.  If we claim to follow the way of Christ we must follow him to the cross and learn from this symbol of violence, hatred and bigotry, for it is also the ultimate symbol of humility, healing and extreme love.

At the cross we acknowledge our own powerlessness, to change the course of history… to prevent the death of Christ… to solve the problems of today… but still we linger.  We gaze at the crucified Christ and offer ourselves in humility and wonder to the God who “therefore” demonstrated the power of powerlessness.

Let us Pray, Yes, we were there, Lord, yes, we were there; we know the grief which takes our courage away.  Yes, we are here, Lord, yes we are here where self-pity and apathy are dispelled by your endless love.  Yes, we will go from here, Lord, yes we will go from here to those who cry out for justice, for healing, for peace.  In your name and by your grace alone, we will go.  Amen. 

Devotion written by Jill Baker who will serve as Vice-President of the Methodist Church in Britain beginning June 2017.

Photo credit: a cross stands in the Judean wilderness.  Taken by Jill Baker.

Maundy Thursday 2017 devotion…

 

“An Upper Room Did Our Lord Prepare”

words by Fred Pratt Green Vs. 2-3

A lasting gift Jesus gave his own – to share his bread, his loving cup; whatever burdens may bow us down, he by his cross shall lift us up.

And after supper he washed their feet, for service, too, is sacrament;  in him our joy shall be made complete – sent out to serve, as he was sent.

Philippians 2:5-11,

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

How beautiful are these words of inspiration about the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, it is the pattern of humility that every Christian should desire to follow in their daily life and dealings. This week as we meditate on the sufferings that our Lord and Savior bore on our behalf, when He offered himself as a sacrifice for humanity, we must also remember his amazing humility when he emptied himself, abandoned the eternal glory came to dwell in our midst.

One might think that Jesus in his human form lived as a king on earth; the reality was quite the opposite. Jesus led a humble and a simple life. He never worried about where He would sleep or what He would wear, drink or eat. His ultimate mission was to fulfill God’s plan which is the salvation and redemption of humanity.  Jesus realized that true kingship is to reign over the hearts of people and to be in a spiritual relationship with them; this was the true crown that led him to the cross. This was the joy that was set before him; to bring many people to know God more fully.

footwashingIf we consider the life of Jesus more closely and think about Jesus’ dealings with those who are around him, we ought to continually seek to be transformed to this very image. We see Jesus at times sitting with the sinners, the lowly and the despised. Yet, at other times, Jesus is healing the lepers and the untouchables. Around Him gathered the unwanted and the outcast. Jesus was living in their midst, uttering words of life and restoration to every soul. He declared it frankly, it is not the healthy who need a physician but rather the sick, and that Jesus, himself, did not come to call the righteous but the sinners. Jesus humbled himself to the lowest level and washed the feet of His disciples teaching them and us that whoever wants to be great in our midst, should become a servant first.

In the same manner, there are so many people around us who are suffering and heartbroken. So, for us to be influential in the places and contexts where God has placed us, we have to seek to serve others not to be served, pointing everyone to Jesus whom every knee will bow down to, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.

O Lord our God, help us walk in your footsteps. Teach us to be humble and guide us as we seek to serve you whilst we serve our brothers and sisters. Remind us to think of your suffering as we go through our own suffering in this wilderness. Amen.

 

Written by Michael Arteen, General Board of Global Ministries, serving at the Bethlehem Bible College as the campus minister.

Picture credits:  city of Jerusalem churches by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

relief of washing feet is a stock picture

Palm Sunday 2017 devotion

“My Song Is Love Unknown”

words by Samuel Crossman Vs. 3

Sometimes they threw down palms and sweetest praises sang.  Hosannas and glad psalms through streets and markets rang.   Then “Crucify!” is all their breath, for blood and death they thrirst and cry; for blood and death they thirst and cry.

palm sunday by johnMatthew 21:1-10

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives…..the disciples brought the donkey and he sat on it. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting.

“Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “who is this?”

To people living in the Holy Land today these verses speak of very familiar places. Bethphage today is called Bethany (in Jesus’ time the two names seem to have been used interchangeably). Bethany is however on the opposite side of the separation barrier to Jerusalem and so you can’t walk from Bethany onto the Mount of Olives any more. Each Palm Sunday though crowds process down the Mount of Olives following the path that Jesus trod. It is a walk filled with contradictory emotions. Jesus walks across the Kidron Valley into the city that will soon condemn him and have him crucified. The crowds who cry his praises today will call for his death in just five days’ time.

IMG_8156 (2)The crowds today have to start on the Jerusalem side of the Wall, and many Palestinian Christians who would like to join the procession are prevented from doing so as the Israeli authorities do not give out enough permits for Christians from the West Bank to come to Jerusalem for this festival. Contradictory emotions play once again today.

Jerusalem in the time of Jesus – as much as today – was a city of passion and tragedy. Jesus enters a city occupied by the Romans who were determined that even with the crowds of pilgrims – that the festival would pass off without disorder. Jesus attracted controversy and was condemned by the religious and the political powers of the day. The followers of Jesus today are called not just to walk the path into the city, in their imaginations or in reality, but to follow their Lord, who faithfully went the way God called him.

IMG_8113 (2)While the crowd vacillated between commendation and condemnation we are called to steady, consistent service, following Jesus every day. Not for us the “hosannas” one day and the “crucify” the next, the challenge of Christian living is faithfulness, day by day.

May we learn that lesson again this Easter.

Let us pray, Lord Jesus Christ, teach us to follow you even when you are leading us into passion, danger and conflict. Help us to be faithful through good times and bad. Help us to know at all times that you walk with us, always by our side.

Amen.

Devotion written by Rev. John Howard, Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel, from the Methodist Church in Britain.

Picture credits:

1st Jerusalem today taken by Rev. John Howard.

2nd Palm Sunday crowds of people walking down the Mount of Olives taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

3rd Palm Sunday walking into the Old City of Jerusalem taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

Lent Devotion… 2 April 2017

“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days” words by Claudia F. Hernaman

And through these days of penitence,

and through thy passion tide,

yea, evermore in life and death, Jesus, with us abide.

Psalm 130:5-6

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope.

My soul waits for the Lord,
more than those who watch for the morning,

more than those who watch for the morning.

 

In early February, I was talking to a close friend in Gaza on Whatsapp.  It was late afternoon, and after a day of scrolling through news reports of Israeli rocket fire in northern Gaza and explosive photos that were reminiscent of the 2014 war, I was anxious to check in with friends living in the north east.  Our exchange was as follows:

‘Habibti (my dear), I’ve been following the news today.  Are your family ok?  And the farm?’

‘We’re all fine, alhamdilillah (thank God). It’s just some bombings here and there.  But it seems stable to an extent.’

‘Be safe habibti – it must be so scary.’

‘Habibti – you know God is the only protector.’

God is the only protector.  Everything is the will of God.  It will be as God planned.  Such phrases of deep religious conviction are heard time and again from friends in Gaza and the West Bank.  People living in conditions of unimaginable uncertainty often find faith in God to be their strongest and most reliable tool of survival.  The same friend has recounted many times the stories of how, during the 2014 war, as explosions of Israeli rocket fire were heard all over her refugee camp, she and her family would huddle together in a corner of their apartment and pray throughout the days and nights.

lent 2017 caitlin procterWorking within the frameworks of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law, it is difficult to know how to respond to religious conviction at such a level.  The Geneva Convention and their additional protocols are at the core of International Humanitarian Law, and are supposed to regulate the conduct of armed conflict and limit its effects as far as possible.  Above all, the Convention enshrines protection of those not taking part in hostilities.  As the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so eloquently lays out:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…  Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people…  Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…’

And yet we know that however many violations of such frameworks are committed against the Palestinian people, the political status quo means there is rarely any recourse.  In the darkest days of politics I believe my generation has ever known, not only in the Middle East but worldwide, we are tempted to be hopeless and to believe that situations of violence and political unrest are out of our control. Verse three of this Psalm adds, ‘If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord who could stand?’  Working to extend understanding of the realities of the life experience of Palestinians forms a crucial step in challenging iniquities in the name of a God of justice and peace for all religions.

Let us pray, Lord, Help us to build a politics of hope, in order to let the faith and trust that we find in others open our hearts to diversity and inclusivity, and to believe beyond doubt that love is stronger than hate.  Guide our anger and outrage at the world we see around us not to a state of hopelessness, but to draw from the depths of our faith to see light in the darkest corners of our world;  To cradle that light; that it may slowly shine brighter.

Devotion written by Fiona Smith, Methodist PhD. student from England

Picture credit:  Graffiti at the Gaza port, picture taken by Fiona Smith.

Lent Devotion… 26 March 2017

“My Song Is Love Unknown” words by Samuel Crossman

Why, what has my Lord done?

What makes this rage and spite?

He made the lame to run,

he gave the blind their sight.

Sweet injuries!

Yet they at these

themselves displease

and ‘giants him rise.

The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”

1 Samuel 16 v 1.

camel in desert 2Lent is not just about resisting temptation – it is about repentance, making ourselves ready for the future. The spiritual discipline of Lent, as we look to mature in our spiritual lives will, if it is real, be made clear in the way we lead our lives. There is a sense in which Lent is about preparing for the future, the resurrection life and the salvation acts of God. Samuel Crossman’s great hymn “My song is love unknown,” of which the verse above is verse 4 – ends with the words, “This is my friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend.” The hymn that reflects upon the story of Jesus’ passion ends by affirming the sustaining joy of a future in fellowship with the Saviour.

“Look to the future” is also the message of the biblical passage quoted above. God challenges Samuel no longer to grieve over Saul and his failings, Samuel had seen in Saul a person who could lead and inspire the Israelites – but as time went by his corruption and psychological demise became clear for all to see. Samuel looks back with acute sadness. But God is saying to Samuel look ahead. I am doing a new thing. Christians when gathering together can too often be looking back with a sense of sadness that things are not as they were. But the challenge of mission is to see how, in God’s name, we can change the world. It is therefore always forward looking.

I perceive a palpable sense of hopelessness especially among the young here in the West Bank. Many are finding it hard to look ahead with any sense of hope. It feels to many that they are in a desert, the heat is on, the water is short, the way ahead looks difficult and uncertain. There is a Christian message of hope that needs to be communicated – in the end Justice will triumph, in the end the ways of God will win through. That can though be a very hard message to communicate in the context we find today in the West Bank and Gaza. It is also a very heard message to hear.

As we progress through the weeks of lent, increasingly considering the passion of our Lord in the days leading up to Good Friday, may we be ready to hear the resurrection message of Easter, – nothing is beyond the capacity of God. The God who raised Jesus from the dead is more than capable of resolving the problems that seem intractable to us – even the conflict between Israel and Palestine. May our faith shine forth with hope for all God’s world.

Let us Pray,

Holy God, sometimes it feels as if the problems we face in life will never go away. Some of the political conflicts of the world seem intractable. Yet nothing is impossible to you. Help us to remember that there is always hope when we hope in you. This prayer we pray in the name of Jesus.

Amen.

Devotion written by Rev. John Howard, Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel, from the Methodist Church in Britain.

Picture: camel wandering in the wilderness, taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

“My Song Is Love Unknown” words by Samuel Crossman is in the Methodist UK Hymnal in “Singing the Faith” number 277 vs. 4 or in the UMC Hymnal supplement  “The Faith We Sing” number 2083 vs. 4

Lent Devotion… 19 March 2017…

“My Song Is Love Unknown” words by Samuel Crossman

My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me, love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be.  O who am I, that for my sake my God should take frail flesh and die?  My God should take frail flesh and die?

song found in “Singing the Faith” 277 vs. 1 or “The Faith We Sing” 2083 vs. 1

 

John 4:7-15, 25-26

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)  the Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”  (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.  Where do you get that living water?  Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks rank from it?”  Jesus said to her, “everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ).  “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”  Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

 

Jacob's wellAn encounter with Jesus at a well happened when Jesus took a different path with the disciples, this time they journeyed through Samaritan land… around midday, Jesus stopped at Jacob’s well, hot, tired, and thirsty.  As the disciples had continued on to the village to find food, Jesus asked the woman for a drink.  She must have been stunned that a Jewish man was talking to her and that he asked for a drink.  As their conversation progressed, her life was changed, in ways she could not know.

She asked questions.  She knew her scriptures.  She was convicted by the encounter.  She was brave and courageous.  She responded to the conversation by returning to her village and telling the people about Jesus, could he be the Messiah?  The one they too were waiting for?

Today in the midst of challenges, can we be bold enough to journey with Jesus?  Do we have eyes to see and ears to hear the deeper message?

Jesus is compassion; he did not let cultural norms restrict him from talking to the woman.

Jesus is love; he showed love and respect to the woman.

Jesus welcomed her on the journey in faith to know that our relationship with God is more than a time and a place, but a lifetime.

When the world is placing walls, wars, and obstacles in the path, what can we do?  From places of oppression, occupation and injustice in the world, we, like the woman at the well, do have a voice, because of the encounter.  We can seek the living water.  We are not called to be silent to the truth, but to speak the truth in spirit and in love.

Let us pray:  Lord, we thank you for being available to all of humanity.  Help us to work together in sharing your message of love in spirit and in truth.  May we be transformed in our journey as we seek your living water.  Amen.

 

Devotion written by Rev. Kristen L. Brown, General Board of Global Ministries, Methodist Liaison serving in Palestine and Israel.

Picture credit:  Jacob’s well picture taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

Lent Devotion… 12 March 2017…

“All My Hope Is Firmly Grounded” words by Joachim Neander in the United Methodist Hymnal 132vs. 1

 All my hope is firmly grounded

in the great and living Lord;

who, whenever I most need him,

never fails to keep his word. 

God I must wholly trust,

God the ever good and just.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”   Genesis 12:1-3

IMG_9893As a divine act of Grace, God chose Abraham to live as a man of faith.  God called him out of his family and clan so that in him all the nations would be blessed.  As Christians, our testimony is in Jesus that we find our satisfaction and fulfillment.  “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4: 2).  This faith and belief Abraham had, led him to respond in obedience to God’s call; and this meant sacrifice for him.  He sacrificed his land, people, nation and all his belongings to follow God’s greatest purpose for his life.  He started his journey towards the unknown but followed the Lord with all the faith His mind and heart could muster.

Following God’s call on our lives comes at a cost as well; living in the Holy Land today we know that all too well.  It requires faith in God and how God can transform our lives as we work for the Kingdom.  We may not know where God’s call could lead us, but we have confidence in the One who called us; and confidence that where God leads; God will guide and provide.  Without faith, we cannot please God (Hebrews 11: 6).

Yet after this initial call to go to a different place to serve the Kingdom or to remain in our own physical localities, there remains a greater testimony that we need to demonstrate for everyone; to walk faithfully with the Lord and humbly before those we meet day to day.  Life’s many challenges lure us away from our goal, but as Jesus obeyed the God, we should do our best to do so as well!

For me one of the most moving parts of the scriptures is found in Hebrews 12:2, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

As a follower and a servant of Jesus here in Bethlehem, the life of ministry requires that I keep my eyes focused on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith, without whom I can never accomplish anything good.  Jesus is my goal!  Witnessing to people who live in a broken land, where injustices are so clear around me, I have to remember the example of Abraham:  faith, obedience and sacrifice which will lead to God’s abundant blessings.   Jesus endured the cross and all its shame for us; he knew however, that he could trust his Father.  I pray that the precious people living in this land will experience a great resurrection on every aspect of their lives as they learn to listen to God’s voice day by day!

Let us pray, Lord, help us listen to your voice; give us the courage to respond to your call.  May our hearts be willing to always say, “here I am Lord”, and our mouths ready to speak of your amazing love demonstrated to us on the cross.  Amen.

Written by Michael Arteen, General Board of Global Ministries, serving at the Bethlehem Bible College as the campus minister.

Picture of the wilderness taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown.

Lent Devotion… 5 March 2017

 “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days”

words by Claudia F. Hernaman, UMH 269, verse 3

“As thou dist hunger bear, and thirst, so teach us, gracious Lord, to die to self, and chiefly live by thy most holy word.”

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  (Matthew 4:1)

lent-pics-2017-tina

Enter a caption

Wilderness at Wadi Qelt near Jericho where Jesus was tempted.  Picture by Tina Whitehead.

Temptation and sin.  Perhaps ‘sin’ is not a word or concept that we use much today, but I would suspect that we are all familiar with ‘temptation.’  Television ads constantly bombard us with products to buy that guarantee us a better quality of life; brightly packaged foods lure us away from our resolutions to follow a diet or a more healthy lifestyle.  ‘Opportunities’ to get ahead, to save money, might tempt us to make decisions that may not reflect our values.  Temptation is everywhere!

Some of the temptations we face might seem trivial (Should I have another cookie even though I know it is not healthy?).   But other temptations can be life changing, for ourselves and for others.  What does scripture teach us about dealing with temptation?

In today’s scripture passages, we see two examples of temptation, one in a garden and the other in the wilderness.  In one, the tempter wins out; in the other, the one tempted resists.  The temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden is somewhat troubling.  It seems innocent; they’re tempted to be like God, to know good from evil, to gain wisdom.  What could be wrong with that?  In the wilderness, Jesus has been fasting for 40 days.  He must be hungry, probably wondering how long this will last, or even if he will ever leave the desert.  He is tempted with food and with power.  But he does not give in.

I wonder if his response was as easy as it seems in Matthew’s account.  Was there anguish?  Did he wrestle with whether or not to give in?  It does not seem so here, but then I think of the Garden of Gethsemane and I read of sweating drops of blood as he struggles with, “Let this cup pass from me.”

And then I think of some of the temptations here in Palestine.  A son is in prison and a father is tempted to betray friends and family in order to obtain his release.  A wife has cancer and a husband is tempted to give evidence against neighbors in order to get a permit for her to be able to go a hospital and have needed treatment.  Temptation.  Anguish.  What choice would you make?

And another temptation that is everywhere present here.  The temptation to despair, the temptation to lose hope in the face of everyday realities under occupation.

For me, it is important to always remember that Jesus was fully human.  The anguish that we face, the choices that we are confronted with, were not unfamiliar to him.  He also struggled with temptation, but he trusted in God who is faithful, whose love is unfailing, who forgives us when we fall.  Or, as the writer of Psalm 32 states, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go, I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (vs. 8).  And in verse 10, “.…the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.”

Prayer Lord, we all know what it is like to be tempted.  Sometimes we feel helpless in the face of decisions that need to be made, other times we are just weak.  We thank you that your loving presence surrounds us and gives us hope.  May we look to you in all the decision that we make.  In the name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

Devotion written by Tina Whitehead, United Methodist volunteer in Palestine and Israel.

Ash Wednesday…

Forty days and forty nights

you were fasting in the wild;

forty days and forty nights

tempted and yet undefined.

              Singing the Faith 236 v1

“As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute.”

2 Corinthians 6:4-8a

lent-pics-ash-wednesday-john-howard

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The Key, a  Palestinian symbol of steadfastness, located at the entrance to the Aida Refugee camp in Bethlehem. Many families still have the keys to the homes they lost in 1948.  Picture taken by Rev. John Howard.

 

 

As we begin Lent 2017 we find ourselves in a very different world to the world of Lent 2016.  Election and referenda results have made the world a lot less predictable. Issues which seem to have been taken as accepted ideas such as International Humanitarian Law, Climate Change and even Human Rights, are openly challenged again.  For Palestinians the world is a much more threatening place, with no peace process, a hostile White House and an even more confident Israeli administration making everyday life more and more difficult in the West Bank.

The writer of 2 Corinthians recognizes the challenges of life.  He and those he is writing to have been through it all for the sake of spreading the Gospel, “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments… and sleepless nights.”  His words resonate with the experience of the Christian community in Palestine.  They too have been through “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments… sleepless nights.”  Yet almost all of the Christian community adhere to their faith in the ways of non-violence to challenge the occupation and bring about a more just situation here.  In Palestine it is often known by the Arabic word “Sumoud” which can be translated as “Steadfastness,” or “Endurance,” but speaks of the active commitment of the people to stay where they are in the homes and on the land that they own and that their families have farmed for centuries.

Christians in this part of the world are a witness for those of us who come from very different places.  Often we need greater steadfastness, greater endurance – we can too easily give up on causes that we hold dear when it seems that results are slow in coming.  Lent is a time for self-examination, to face the temptations and to mature spiritually as we address those things within us that undermine the faithfulness of our spiritual lives.

This Lent may we learn more of “Sumoud,” and apply it in our spiritual lives.

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Luke’s Gospel tells of how you set your face resolutely towards Jerusalem though you knew what would be waiting for you there. Teach us that same steadfastness, that we might be willing to tackle the difficult issues where justice and peace are hard to find.  This Lent tech us   “Sumoud.”  Amen.

 

Devotion written by Rev. John Howard, Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel, from the Methodist Church in Britain.