Devotional Readings

Weekly Devotion - Christ's Presence

February 8, 2023 • Pastor Curtis Olsen • Matthew 18:18–20

Scripture: Matthew 18:18-20 18 Remember this: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 And this: if two or three of you come together as a community and discern clearly about anything, My Father in heaven will bless that discernment. 20 For when two or three gather together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. Quote from Leonard Sweet: "If Christ's presence is at work between members of the church, then the outcome will advance the health of the Body of Christ." Reflection: Over the past four weeks, we focused on forgiveness and the need for it in our lives as Christians. For forgiveness to be real, Christ needs to be a part of it. That's why I appreciate this scripture so much! It strikes me that in the middle of Jesus' teaching about forgiveness, he reminds us that "when two or three gather together in my name, I am there in the midst of them." It reminds us how we need to invite God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit into all our interactions. The conversations are more powerful, meaningful, and effective with God's presence. Awareness of God's presence is vital when dealing with conflict. Too often, we let our anger or anxiety overwhelm the confrontation and forget our need for the Holy Spirit's wisdom and grace. Without the Spirit's guidance, we often cannot find patience, compassion, and the ability to compromise. In difficult conversations, I realized there's no way forward without asking for God's help. Pausing for prayer has transformed the interaction during a church meeting, with my family, or with friends. These moments of transformation illustrate how working together with God; we can advance the health of the Body of Christ. No matter the situation, remember God's peace and hope is available when we intentionally wrap our conversations in prayer. Questions: - What are areas of conflict in your life you need to wrap in prayer? - When have you experienced a conversation transformed by God's wisdom? Prayer: Everpresent God, thank you for being present, even if we forget to invite you into a conversation. Remind us to invite you into every encounter. May your Spirit help us start each day with "Dear God" and end the day with "Amen" as a reminder to live each day in prayer. In the Holy Spirit's power, amen.

Weekly Devotion - Forgiveness is a Choice

February 1, 2023 • Pastor Angie Olsen • Matthew 18:21–22

Scripture: Matthew 18:21-22, the Voice Peter: Lord, when someone has sinned against me, how many times ought I forgive him? Once? Twice? As many as seven times? Jesus: You must forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven.   Quotes: "Actually, no one has to forgive—forgiveness is a choice. Forgiveness means that we release our suffering over difficult situations; it does not mean we have to put ourselves back into hurtful situations. Forgiveness means that even though what happened is not okay, you can move on and make peace for yourself." “When we choose forgiveness, we release our past to heal our present.” ― Fred Luskin, Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness   Reflection: Choice … What a powerful word. We make thousands of decisions consciously and unconsciously daily. They can be as simple as oatmeal or bacon for breakfast; and as infinitely complicated as choosing a partner for life. As Christians, we celebrate this gift of free will. Our all-knowing and all-powerful God could have designed us to be robots following a pre-designed script, but instead, our loving Creator offers us the opportunity to respond to this gift with our lives. God could force us to play specific roles, yet instead invites us to respond to love and grace with each moment we choose what to do and think next. Jesus, God with us, says one of the choices we are continually asked to make is forgiveness. He asks us to forgive someone who sins against us 7 x 70 times, which is an absurdly large number, to make a point. Forgiveness matters! We are redeemed and forgiven through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This forgiveness empowers us to make more Christ-like choices. Our Creator is teaching us how unforgiveness in our past stops the fullness of life today. God is saying that when we forgive, we can live healthier lives in our present. It doesn’t mean condoning hurtful and evil action, but it does mean freedom from its hold on your soul. Jesus is offering us something incredible; we get to be partners with God in our healing by choosing forgiveness.   Questions: - If forgiveness is a choice, why is it sometimes so hard to make? - What do you need to let go of in order to allow for the powerful healing of forgiveness in your life?   Prayer: Dear God, thank you for free will. Guide us as we navigate this powerful and challenging gift of choice. So often the need to ask for forgiveness and offer forgiveness is a tough choice for us. Help us choose your will and your way. Please do your powerful, healing work of forgiveness in us and our daily choices. In the Holy Spirit’s power, amen.

Weekly Devotion - I Am the Vine

January 25, 2023 • Pastor Angie Olsen • John 15:5–8

Scripture: John 15:5-8 (The Message) “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples. Bishop Robert Farr: “Growing a garden takes work, just like discipleship takes work.” Reflection: During the Covid-19 shutdown, this scripture became a prayer for me. This version says stay joined with me in intimate relations, and the version I repeated says, “abide in me, and I will abide in you.” Bishop Farr reminded us Sunday that a vine cut from the roots quickly starts to wither and die. This was what my soul was crying out, saying, “stay connected, stay connected.” Even though the pandemic has eased up some (I write that with tongue in cheek after just recently struggling with Covid-19), many life experiences can disconnect us from Christ and others. Overly busy schedules, illnesses, relationship struggles, financial hardships, anxiety over the future or the past, and/or our own self-centeredness. These are just naming a few; you likely have a few to add. It takes intention and work to stay connected to Christ and others. For United Methodists abiding in the vine is essential to who we are and how we live. This life begins with being Christ-centered. This happens through a deeply rooted faith learned through scripture, bible study, worship, serving others, and spiritual disciplines. It means we are connected to the body of Christ, we are grace-filled, and we prioritize inclusively sharing the good news of salvation in Jesus with others. This is a beautiful life. I visualize such an abundant life that we look like a vine full to bursting with grapes. Questions: How are you staying connected with Jesus? How are you staying connected with others in an intentional and Christ-like way?   Prayer: Dear God, let us abide in you, and you abide in us. We long to be deeply connected to you and others. Give us the intention to do the work to be your disciples and to help your love abound in our lives. You are our source, and for this, we give you endless praise. Unite us, Lord, in your grace. In Christ’s love, amen.

Weekly Devotion - Forgiven and Forgiving

January 18, 2023 • Pastor Angie Olsen • Matthew 6:14–16

Scripture: Matthew 6:14-16 (The Voice) "If you forgive people when they sin against you, then your Father will forgive you when you sin against Him and when you sin against your neighbor. But if you do not forgive your neighbors' sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Quote: "We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies." – Martin Luther King, Jr. Reflection: Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) was an ordinary man whose faith-led, justice-seeking focus made him extraordinary. He had a gift for communicating the brokenness and sinfulness in the world with such eloquence and honesty. Yet, thinking about the reality of his life makes his words about forgiveness take on a new level of meaning. He was a man who understood his very existence was considered by some as abhorrent to the point they wanted him dead. Due to his skin color, some saw him with hatred and as less than human. AND YET, because of his faith, he worked to forgive them, his enemies. Though these people wanted to keep him muzzled and under their control, he saw them as worthy of love and forgiveness in light of God's grace. Mind-boggling. MLK's life and today's Matthew 6 scripture remind us of God's high calling toward forgiveness. Sunday, Pastor Curtis illuminated how life as a disciple of Jesus Christ means we are forgiven and forgiving people. It is always supposed to be both/and. Forgiveness is a way of life, a state of being faithful. In the Lord's Prayer, we ask for forgiveness as we are also giving forgiveness. MLK reminds us that none of us are all good or all bad. We all fall short of the glory of God, AND YET God still seeks us to love and forgive. MLK's words echo Curtis' emphasis that love and forgiveness are two sides to the same coin. Without God's forgiveness, we will never feel and embrace the fullness of God's love for us and how beautiful it is to share with others.  Questions: • Each week in the Lord's Prayer we say this about forgiveness, "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." What does this look like in our daily lives? • What do MLK's inspirational words about forgiving mean to you? Prayer: God, we are on our knees again. We need you. Release us from our unforgiveness and resentments holding us back from your complete forgiveness. Open our eyes and hearts to the places in our lives we judge, critique and even hate others. Feed us with your forgiveness and grace so we will live as forgiving, grace-filled people. We now praise you for the power of forgiveness to heal and restore brokenness in ourselves and this world. In the Holy Spirit's power, amen.

Weekly Devotion - Forgiven and Forgotten

January 11, 2023 • Pastor Angie Olsen • Psalm 103:8–12

Scripture: Psalm 103: 8-12 (The Voice) The Eternal is compassionate and merciful. When we cross all the lines, He is patient with us. When we struggle against Him, He lovingly stays with us—changing, convicting, prodding; He will not constantly criticize, nor will He hold a grudge forever. Thankfully, God does not punish us for our sins and depravity as we deserve. In His mercy, He tempers justice with peace. Measure how high heaven is above the earth; God’s wide, loving, kind heart is greater for those who revere Him. You see, God takes all our crimes—our seemingly inexhaustible sins—and removes them. As far as east is from the west, He removes them from us.   Reflection One of my friends cries every time he comes to receive communion. He is overwhelmed by the grace of the moment. When I asked him once what was happening in his soul during communion, he said, “knowing all my imperfections and sins, this invitation to dine with Jesus is incredible. I do not have to earn the privilege of God’s love, forgiveness and healing! God meets me here and hugs me with grace.” Each communion, my hope is to soak in the enormity of what God is offering. As we focus this month on forgiveness, communion is a glorious way to focus on the grace and mercy God offers us no matter what we do, what we think, or where we go. Psalm 103 reminds us how God looks at our sins and struggles. When we struggle with resentments, hurts, grudges and our own unfaithfulness, God is remarkably compassionate, merciful and patient. God’s wide, loving, kind heart is open to redeem us and transform us. When we ask for help, hope, and forgiveness, God faithfully offers it and even forgets our sins. This is amazing grace! In remembrance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we see the extravagant lengths God will go to offer us forgiveness and eternal hope.   Questions to Ponder - Are you carrying a grudge or a personal sin that is weighing you down? What struggles and sins do you need God to heal and forget? - When was the last time you really soaked in the incredible nature of what is offered during communion (grace, connection, forgiveness, healing, hope …)? If you were unable to receive communion Sunday, please contact the church and we will make communion available for you.   Prayer God, open me up to the fullness of your grace, mercy and forgiveness. Help me see anything holding me back from truly living in your love. Help me release grudges and resentments. Help me to ask for and truly receive your healing grace. In the saving power of Jesus Christ, amen.

Week Four - Christmas at the Movies Advent Devotion

December 21, 2022 • Pastor Angie Olsen • Luke 1:46–55

Scripture: Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV) And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant.   Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me,   and holy is his name; indeed, his mercy is for those who fear him   from generation to generation." Theme: Love Movie: White Christmas Movie Song Lyrics: "If you're worried and you can't sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep and you'll fall asleep counting your blessings." Reflection: In White Christmas, entertainers Bob and Phil help sisters Betty and Judy escape a tough situation by getting them quickly to a train. Bob willingly helps until he finds out Phil gave their sleeper car tickets to the ladies. Bob laments the loss of his cozy, warm bed for the night, but two things change his attitude – Betty and singing. When Betty smiles at Bob, he is smitten. Then, in classic musical fashion, they break into song about their Vermont destination and the hope of SNOW. It is a silly, catchy song that stays in your mind bringing you into the dream of a snow-covered white Christmas.  It amazes me how love and grateful singing can change your perspective. When God's angel came to Mary saying she was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, she could easily have become overwhelmed and speechless. Yet, she said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). She sang her thanksgiving for God seeing her value and giving her such blessing. She named God's faithfulness, power and mercy. She praised God for the gift of Immanuel coming into the world to love and liberate all people. God loved her to her core, and this love overcame her fear. She sang with her whole being.  When worry and anxiety arise this season, count your blessings to lift the burden. When you feel pessimistic or depressed, pick a song to praise God for never leaving you. For those of you disgruntled by the snow coming, maybe you can change your perspective by thinking of it as God's grace covering the world. The gift of Jesus is a reminder that love has come to the earth and never leaves. Let divine love soak into your spirit to give you peaceful rest and energy to celebrate Christmas fully. Questions:  • What anxiety and worries can you ask God to help you release? • How many blessings can you list today in 5 minutes? • What negative thoughts can you ask God to help you change into a loving and hopeful perspective? Songs: Contemporary – Miracle of Love, Chris Tomlin, https://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evzoq5ezcqq Traditional – Love Came Down at Christmas, https://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sskkp78kfim Prayer: God, Please ease our anxieties and worries with your merciful care. Empower us to count our blessings and see how you work in our lives. Help us get out of our way and allow you to embrace us fully with your extravagant love.  In Christ's love, amen.

Week Three - Christmas at the Movies Advent Devotion

December 14, 2022 • Pastor Angie Olsen • Psalm 118:24

Scripture: Psalm 118:24 (NRSV) This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Theme: Joy Movie: Elf Movie Quote: “The Code of Elves 1.   Treat every day like Christmas. 2.   There’s room for everyone on the nice list. 3.   The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear. Reflection: Buddy the Elf has a nearly unquenchable joy! The spirit of Christmas lives in him and his whole hope is to share love and cheer with the world. He has no fear of singing loudly off-key; is willing to stay up all night to do over-the-top decorations to celebrate Christmas; and believes in the good of all people. His childlike innocence and wonder at the beauty of Christmas win over even the grumpiest Scrooges in his life. His love and gratitude ultimately help others see Christmas through his joyful eyes. We don’t have to eat non-stop sweets, decorate till we drop, or wear a Christmas costume like Buddy to experience the joy God has for each of us. We can mimic Buddy’s open-eyed wonder at the gifts of this season and his ability to see the possibilities in others. Think back to when you were a child waiting for Christmas morning. This joy is still available to you when you think of the miraculous gift of Jesus.   Questions:            How can you rejoice and treat each new day as a gift?            How can you celebrate the good in someone else today?            How can you open yourself up just a bit more to the joy of Jesus’ birth? Prayer: God, please give us child-like wonder to see the gifts of each new day. Help us see the extravagance of the gift you give us in Jesus. Make us a blessing to others as the gift of your joy overflows through us. In your joy, amen.

Week Two - Christmas at the Movies Advent Devotion

December 7, 2022 • Pastor Angie Olsen • Matthew 1:19–21

Scripture: Matthew 1:19-21 (NRSV) Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Theme: Peace Movie: National Lampoons Christmas Vacation Movie Quote: Clark Griswold said, "It's the Christmas star. And that's all that matters tonight. Not bonuses or gifts or turkeys or trees. See kids, it means something different to everybody. Now I know what it means to me." Reflection: Peace is fragile but resilient. Clark Griswold is the king of high expectations when it comes to his family and the holidays. He is distracted by his need for perfection and is continually disappointed in family, coworkers and things. Occasionally he finds peace, yet it is easily whisked away. When he thinks he can control a rude driver, he terrifyingly drives his family-filled car under a semi-truck. His perfect tree is so big it breaks their living room window. He avoids his messy family by putting up 25,000 twinkly lights that don’t even work during the big reveal. He proudly starts to carve a turkey and it blows up. Unexpected guests, more explosions and no end-of-year bonus make him think peace is impossible. Joseph is betrothed to Mary and likely feels such hope and even pride. Yet, his peace is shattered when it is discovered she is pregnant. As a good and faithful man, he plans to divorce Mary quietly and just get on with his life. He wants peace, but our human understanding of peace needs God to be truly resilient. When the angel comes to show him the way of peace, his fear disappears. He is given the strength to face the gossip and judgment, and he gets to be the earthly father of the Savior. As humans, we want things to go as planned. We want our holidays and really our lives to be a Norman Rockwell sketch and to never need editing or filters to be Instagram/Facebook worthy. Yet, life is messy. We are all imperfect. In our fragility, we can find resilient peace. God offers us peace that is not dependent on our perfection or our expectations but is made possible by the perfect gift of Jesus. Questions: -What expectations are getting in your way of celebrating the real reason for this amazing season, Jesus, Immanuel? -What are you doing to open yourself to the perfect and lasting peace God offers you through the gift of Jesus, Immanuel? Prayer: God, cover us with your grace when our expectations of self and others are disappointed. Help us change our expectations to ones we and others can meet this holiday. Fill us with your peace that is beyond our understanding and is available to us in every circumstance. Let us be instruments of your peace. In your peace, amen.

Week One - Christmas at the Movies Advent Devotion

November 30, 2022 • Pastor Angie Olsen • John 3:2–3

Scripture: John 3:2-3 (The Voice) John: "Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is near." John’s proclamation fulfilled a promise made by the ancient prophet Isaiah, who had said, “There will be a voice calling from the desert, saying, Prepare the road for the Eternal One’s journey; repair and straighten out every mile of our God’s highway.” Movie Quote Cindy-Lou Who says, “But the book does say the Cheermeister is the one who deserves a backslap or a toast. And it goes to the soul at Christmas who needs it most. And I believe that soul is the Grinch. And if you’re the Whos I hope you are, you will too.” Reflection The people of Whoville gave up on the Grinch. They became so wrapped up in the consumerism and sparkle of Christmas, that they forgot what Christmas is all about. It takes a little girl to point them back to the right path. She is the only one remembering the true hope of Christmas. She sees how connection and forgiveness can change everything, even in one as cynical and mean-spirited as the Grinch. She is like John the Baptist. She is a voice crying out in the darkness showing the power of hope to bring transformation. Her willingness to expect the best of her people and her unwillingness to give up on the Grinch changed them all. The Grinch saw the error of his ways (repent for the kingdom is near). The Grinch embraced the hope and his “heart grew three sizes that day.” Questions How can you be a Cindy-Lou Who expecting people to share Christmas hope with those who need it most? How can you be a John the Baptist pointing others to the good news – salvation, forgiveness, hope - of Jesus Christ this Christmas? How does your heart need to grow like the Grinch this Christmas? Prayer God, please help us see others the way Cindy-Lou Who saw the Grinch. Let our lives point others to you with the passion of John the Baptist. Open us up to your hope, so our hearts will grow and be transformed this Christmas. In the hope of Christ Jesus, amen.