Can written words expose hidden, heartening truth?

I contributed the following on Good Friday to the 2019 “PictureLent” daily devotional series, written primarily for adults. PictureLent is a ministry of the Rio Texas and the Michigan Conferences of The United Methodist Church.

Each day’s devotional is based on a word found in the Lectionary scripture, which for Good Friday was John 19:14-22.

My word was “Write.” Here is my devotional. I hope that you find meaning in it. May Easter be a restorative time for you.



The daily word is “write”?? Where does that word show up in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion?

A slow re-reading reveals the answer:

Pilate wrote a sign and put it on the cross. It read: ‘JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS’   (John 19:19, ICB).


Showing the placard on the cross above Jesus' headDid you know that it was customary at a crucifixion to attach a placard above the condemned person, with their name and their crime?

This makes sense. Romans performed crucifixions in public locations as a deterrent.

To ensure that everyone could read an edict, it was composed in the three major languages of the time—Hebrew (Aramaic), Greek, and Latin. Those observing would want to know what sorts of activity to avoid!

Written words proclaim Jesus’ identity: The King of the Jews.

John’s gospel reports that this phrasing caused consternation among the Jewish Temple leaders, who protested to Pilate. They didn’t want Jesus labeled as their King, giving the impression that this claim was in fact acknowledged.

They told Pilate: “Don’t write, ‘The King of the Jews.’ But write, ‘This man said, I am the King of the Jews’” (verse 21b). Pilate’s answer: “What I have written, I have written!” (verse 22).

It was as if Pilate issued a proclamation of the gospel: Here is your King!

Follow this thought: Perhaps Pilate was constrained by the size of the piece of wood. What if he had a bigger piece? There could have been so much more to write! But Pilate was also limited by his understanding. With our post-Easter view of the situation we would add more, writing:

Here is your suffering King. (But see how this means he understands your suffering?) Don’t worry, death will not be the end; it will be a new beginning! You can live free from the hurt and pain of your past! You are forgiven! All is grace. Welcome to the new you!

What words do you wish could be written about who you are – this new you?

Undertake another exercise with me: Imagine you have died. (Don’t worry; it was painless.) Your family and friends have gathered together to write your obituary. In the manner of Pilate’s defining epithet, what would you like them to write—not what do you think they might write about you—but what truths do you long to hear?

For me, I would hope they could write:

Creative Carol, a survivor, a life-long learner, one who embodies a meaningful picture of Jesus for others, who bravely points out God-present, and always with us.



Many of us lack healthy self-worth. Today, let the cross change you!

Who do you aspire to be?

Me with 'who I am' words written on a clipboard

Surprise: God already sees you that way!




A Short Prayer:
Nurturing God, the words that you use to describe us are so different than the ones we use on ourselves! On Good Friday, when darkness and death take center stage, may we be reminded that our old ways of thinking can change. Help us to see ourselves with the same delight and expectation with which you see us. Amen.

An Action Challenge:
For friends and family that you encounter today, consider what sign would be placed over their head.
Name a positive trait you see in them. Tell them about it.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:
1. Who is Jesus to you? What would you write on the sign above Jesus’ head?
2. Do the obituary exercise. (Don’t worry about the exact sentences; just write key words.)
3. Write some of these better-feeling thoughts about yourself on a piece of paper. Take a selfie holding your new words. Share on social media tagging #pictureLent

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Photo credits…
Placard above Christ by Luciano Ramos Solari from Pixabay, released under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Public Domain.
Selfie with defining written words, copyright from my archives.

Family Lenten activities, part 2

Lent is the 40 days (minus Sundays) leading up to Easter. A long, long time ago Lent was the period in which new converts to the church prepared for baptism. They learned about what it meant to be a Christian before becoming a member of the church community. It was basically “spring training” for disciples!

baseball - spring training!

Lent is a great time for your family to take a serious look at your calendars. It’s all about focus. Is there time for being a disciple of Jesus? For including Christ in your lineup? (An hour a week at church isn’t enough!)

Time Out. Talk about…Ask…A speech bubble
What can our family do? We’d like to spend some of our time together warming up our faith.


Last week I had given you ideas for family activities to try out during Lent. If you missed that it’s here. (These activities are not time-sensitive.) It seems only proper to provide more activities to help everyone be a “utility player!”

Ready to “take the field” for Lent?

  • Practice gratitude: Set up a place for praises. In a noticeable location, place a stack of papers and a pen near a basket or a bowl. (Or post a list on the refridge; or give everyone their own journal.) Encourage everyone to draw or write about things that make them grateful. Once a week, ponder your collection. For more ways to transcribe thanksgiving, visit here.
  • Celebrate: Life is a precious gift from God! Work in the habit of celebrating this in some small way, every day! Perhaps start off your day in song (“This is the day” would be a good choice. I often woke up my kids with this one.) Or perhaps change the words to the Superman table grace, adding in “Thank you God, for giving us life.” Re-writing this could be a fun, dinner table activity!
  • Serve others: pick one way to offer your time to someone else from this incredible list. (Includes ideas such as creating “snack packs for Ronald McDonald residents” but did you know they are still collecting pop tabs?
  • Practice solitude: First introduce the concept of breath prayer. Then, designate a signal for when it’s time to gather back together. Next, for an age-appropriate amount of time send everyone to opposite corners of the house. When the “time-out” is up, discuss your experience.
  • Give something up (Fasting): Rather than fasting food try giving up a word. How about the word “no” – try it and see what happens! (Remember that an alternate for the word no can be “let’s think about that.”)
  • Prayer: Make time for prayer every day. Visit here for ideas.

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Photo credit:
Spring Training by Michelle Riggen-Ransom, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

How can your family prepare for Easter?

I recently learned something new:

The 40 days of Lent is a tithe of the year.

40 / 365 = 0.109589041096

Lent is indeed pretty close to one-tenth of the year!
(I had to prove it to myself by doing the math. Broke out my trusty abacus.)

These 40 days (not including Sundays) before Easter, is a time when we traditionally prepare our hearts and minds for the awesome truth of Easter; a day that is so special that it deserves ahead-of-time forethought.

A tithe is one-tenth of something, traditionally thought of as one-tenth of one’s income given to support the church and other charitable organizations. In this case we are talking a tithe of time; taking time-out to think about the meaning of Easter.

Of course it’s not possible for most of us to spend all day, every day during Lent, contemplating Easter. What can your family do to intentionally put God at the center of your life – say for about for 10 – 15 minutes a day?

Here are ideas for your family’s Lent experience. Try one (and repeat daily)!
  • Ask questions: Agree to spend 12 minutes a day with your family discussing this month’s Bible story. For March/April 2019 use these discussion questions as a guide, or dig deeper into the reading-the-Bible-a-bit-a-day plan for the story of Holy week.
  • Experience God in nature: Go for a walk outside. To give your walk some focus make it a discovery walk (to notice one new thing) or a smelling walk (what smells come to your attention) or a prayer walk (pray for everyone whose house you pass).
  • Journal through Lent: Leave an open notebook on the counter with a pen handy. Ask everyone to jot down or draw instances where they have seen God at work in their daily life. Review the entries over dinner.
  • Bless your child(ren) and yourself! Read about this way to enrich your child’s life here. For blessings to choose from check out here.
  • Give up something: Can you fast from using anything dependent on electricity? Can you turn off the phone, the TV, the refrigerator? (Hey, it’s only for a short time. As long as you remember to turn it back on!) Eat dinner by candlelight. Tell stories of past Easter celebrations.
  • Add something: Silence. Can everyone agree to be silent for a set amount of time? (Okay, age appropriateness may come into play here.) Ask everyone to think of when they experienced beauty. In their mind return to that particular scene. Study it in silence. Talk about it afterwards. Where was God in your picture?
  • Improve upon your “silence” experience by having everyone chip in to create a “sacred spot” in your household. What visual reminders will enhance this place? A cross here, scripture written on an index card there? Allow touching and rearranging and additions and subtractions.
  • Serve others some happiness: Look for opportunities to be the difference in someone’s day. Compliment janitors at work on how nice the building looks, how you appreciate the work they do. Whom else can you thank?

How will your family prepare to take in the full meaning of Easter?

Need more Lenten family activities? The list continues here.

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Photo credits…
An old-fashioned way of calculating by Leo Reynolds, licensed under Creative Commons (BY NC-SA 2.0).

How I survived All Saints’ Day with help from an impenetrable fog

The day’s first light disclosed a thick, soupy fog. My initial thought:
Drat! Another bleak, dreary day; so common in autumn around these parts.

The weather matched my mood.

A foggy day on the lake

How appropriate, I thought, for this to be my window-view…

On the day we celebrate “All Saints’ Day” in church – an event that I wasn’t sure I could handle.

But then…

(surprisingly)… upon closer scrutiny of the dark greyness…

I discovered…

amiable beauty in this somber landscape!

Curious coloration.
A softness to edges.
An almost mysterious misty-look.
Peaceful.

So what is All Saints’ Day (United Methodists? Celebrating Saints?)
and how does it relate to an impenetrable fog with uplifting elegance?

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First, All Saints’ Day…

  • Actually occurs on November 1st but is celebrated on the first Sunday in November.
  • Got started for the Western church, around the 4th century, initially honoring those who had died, who had led holy, laudable lives for Christ. (Think of the capital-S-real-stuff Saints.)
  • Later expanded to include everybody – dead or alive! Anyone who has shared their faith; who has leveled the path before us. Often referred to as the great cloud of witnesses.
  • For United Methodists, “saints” are different than those in the Roman Catholic tradition. In the FAQ about what United Methodists believe, it clarifies our tenets on this matter.
  • Includes in particular remembering those who have died in the past year who were members of the congregation, and… well… those who were close to you who have recently left this earth.

The latter point ties the fog to the memory of saints.

I lost both my parents this past summer. Five weeks apart. I wasn’t ready to face (again) a remembrance of so-close, lost saints. (Are we ever?)

It has been hard. Sort of like being in a deep fog.

But then I remembered… As he receives the Ten Commandments, Moses goes up the mountain and “approached the thick darkness where God was.” Exodus 20:21.

Darkness can contain the presence of God.

The fog this morning was a reminder. In what could be seen as dreary darkness, when I looked closer, I found reason to give thanks for beauty. God was with me in my darkness.

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Photo credits:
An as-it-was, un-retouched photo from my archives. Shared at Flickr; licensed under a Creative Commons (BY NC-SA 2.0).