Lent Reflection: ‘Restore us, O God’


Psalm 80

In this psalm the people of Israel complain to God about their situation: their country has been devastated by enemies and Israel is in bondage. The people pray to God that he change his attitude from anger to concern and save them. But I have a particular focus on this text.

Lent is a time of reflection. We’ve all heard that before. And during Lent we are all taught to recognize our sinful nature. But sometimes we don’t know why that’s important. Sometimes we’re not taught or don’t understand why being sinful people is not a good thing. And if we’ve assimilated to the popular culture, we may not even recognize that we need a Savior. Jesus becomes a nice guy who did some nice things that we should try to do too, like Gandhi only older. But the psalmist knew differently, even before Jesus. The psalmist said “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?” You see, the psalmist writing hundreds of years before Jesus recognized that we normally live in broken relationship with God. He knew that we needed to be saved. And you’ll notice that he knew something else here. Because of our broken relationship, because of our sinfulness, God does not always recognize our prayers.

The truth is that we know this from our own experiences with other people. Have you even been on the outs with someone and then tried to talk to them? It doesn’t usually go well, does it? At best it’s awkward and at worst they just ignore you. And if you’ve been on the other side of that exchange you know that you’re probably not going to hear anything the other person wants to say while there’s still that brokenness between you. Broken relationships need healing before any kind of effective communication is possible.

So as we approach holy week, maybe it’s time for us to heal some broken relationships. If we’re separated from God then we need to confess our sins and seek forgiveness. And, if we’re separated from other people in our lives then we need to seek them out and seek reconciliation. Let us head into the celebrative week of Easter with renewed bonds of relationship with God and with one another.

Grace and Peace!

Don Stevens is the pastor at Central United Methodist Church in Point Pleasant Beach and has taught and been the guest speaker at camp. Photo by camp alumnus Kenny Kinter, Kenny Kinter Photographer.

Lent Reflection: Whatever you bury inside, buries you


I heard Dr. Janet Maccaro say on a network show, “Whatever you bury inside, buries you.” She is the author of A Woman’s Body Balanced by Nature. Sounds like a book every woman should read. A woman in balance. A nature-balanced woman. A woman I know very well, comes immediately to mind. I’m planning on ordering this book for this woman. Her name is Sue. And she is me. 🙂

You might think of your year in seasons like, winter – spring – summer – fall. This sugar-addict-turned-holistic-attempting-dried-fruit-nut, used to categorize my year this way: Valentine candy hearts, Girl Scout Cookies, Easter peanut butter eggs, candy corn and Christmas cookies. That’s my definition of the seasons. And since I’m aware of my insatiable desire for sweets (no matter what it is), I bury all the reasons why I have such an addiction to begin with: Sugar tastes good. It’s an instant fix, an instant high with a deadly future.

I haven’t completely deleted all sugar from my so-called diet or way of life, but I’m not eating nearly as much as I used to. There’s an irony in this process too. While not giving in to my palate’s desires while guarding the intake of “sweet,” I uncover some unfinished business in my spiritual and emotional reality. How can this be? How in the world can something so simple as deleting sugar expose a raw nerve or a discovery about my inner self.

Health professionals are in agreement: Sugar is in just about everything you eat. It covers up anything that (on its own) doesn’t taste good. Keeping that in mind, it takes great discipline to read labels, to learn what foods (natural or not) are low in a glycemic index, and to keep the sugary processed stuff out of your mouth. I’m not an expert but I read labels and I also see the huge difference in my body and disposition when I just stay away from the sweet stuff.

“So, what is this really about, Sue??”

  • I deleted the sugar (the fluff, the addiction, the cover-up) to find that there’s no replacing what the power of the Holy Spirit can do.
  • I deleted the sugar (the trends, the competition, the rat race) to find out that God is more concerned about what my real motives are.
  • I deleted the sugar (the pride, the need to be right, the controlling spirit) to find out that my knees need to bow daily to Him and not the intoxicating toxin called ego. All along it’s been the sugar of my own gospel that’s been hiding all this stuff.

It’s a good thing to overcome an addiction. Don’t get buried in a sugar bowl.

Ironically, I speak and sing for events around the country called “Chocolate & Chuckles!” (I eat the strawberries!) And my latest album is called Sweet Life. But the real teaser and twist to it all is – nothing, absolutely nothing – is sweeter than a real relationship with Jesus Christ. Now that takes the cake… No cover up here.

Sue Duffield is a musician, speaker and humorist based in Nashville. She is an alumnus of Delanco Camp and has performed at Camp Meeting. This post originally appeared on her blog.

Lent Reflection: He’s Good At Bread


Mark 8:14-21

The disciples are often given a bad rap when we talk about them today. We might say, “Oh, those disciples…they still don’t get it.” Sometimes it scares me how much I emulate their negative characteristics.

Mark 8 has been so heavy on my heart for the last few weeks; our pastor preached on it in a sermon about hardened hearts. If you grew up in the church, you have likely heard many examples of hardened hearts, beginning in Exodus with Pharaoh and the plagues. During our pastor’s sermon, I remembered writing a paper on the Hebrew meaning and exegesis of “hardened hearts” while in college; however, I was not prepared for where Jesus (or Pastor Mark) was going with this.

In Mark 8, after Jesus had finished listening to the Pharisees’ arguments, he and his disciples got into a boat. And, the disciples had forgotten to bring bread, but somehow there was one loaf left in the boat (sometimes it seems that bread was all people ate in the Bible!). Jesus, as he often does, speaks symbolically and warns his disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.” (Note: “yeast” as talked about in scripture, often refers to evil or symbolizes corruption.) The disciples then talk among themselves and say, “Ohhhh…Jesus is saying this because we forgot the bread.”

Jesus says to them, “Why are you still talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?”

Do you not remember?

He continues, “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” (12).
“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” (7).

Our hearts may not be hardened like Pharaoh’s, but if we do not trust the Lord to provide, this is a form of hardening our hearts. I like to think I am sensitive to God’s voice, but I, admittedly, get tripped up over bread. The anxious, ever-calculating part
of me wants to MAKE sure there will be enough bread.

And in my anxious moments, when I am prone to shut out God’s voice because I’m worrying about bread, I hear, “STOP WORRYING ABOUT BREAD. I’M GOOD AT BREAD.”

Yes, indeed. He is so good at bread.

Sara Ralph is a licensed counselor in Pennsylvania and a graduate of Eastern University and Asbury Theological Seminary. She has been a camper at Camp Meeting and volunteered at various camp events.