Whether you’re just looking for answers to spiritual questions,
have begun (or re-started) your spiritual journey,
or have been on your faith walk for many years,
we’d like to help you continue to
wrestle with your questions, find answers, and grow.
The following are some resources to assist you in your spiritual growth.
Word for the Week
Scripture Text: Matthew 3:13-17
I recently heard someone say, “The first step is the most important step.” And while there is great truth in the statement, for most of us, most of the time, we might better say, “The next step is the most important step.” After all, most of our lives take place in the midst of the journey.
Sunday’s Gospel Lesson from Matthew 3:13-17 tells the story of a “next step” for Jesus. It’s his first recorded step as an adult toward his ministry, but it’s his next step in his journey toward our redemption that began long before. In the passage, we read that Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan River and that John tried to argue Jesus out of it, saying Jesus ought to be baptizing him. But Jesus answered, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” This isn’t a necessary next step for Jesus, but it is the right one.
Do you ever find yourself wrestling with what the right next step is for you? As was the case for Jesus, the right next step isn’t always a necessary one. It isn’t always one that those around us think we should take. The right next step may even be one people we respect try to talk us out of.
While we cannot know what our next steps should be with the kind of righteous certainty we imagine Jesus had, there are things we can do to improve our decision making:
We can pray, talk with God about our choices, ask God for wisdom and leading.
We can bounce our options and the steps we are considering off people we respect, knowing of course, that as was true for Jesus, the responsibility for making them and dealing with the results are ours to bear.
We can pay attention to our gut, to the inner leading of the Spirit, to the wisdom and insight God has been developing in us through the years.
Finally, though, we can only take our next steps with a sense of adventurous faith, trusting that God is with us, that God can direct and redirect us, and that ultimately God can and will work everything in our lives together for good, even our mistakes and sins.
One of the things that is so encouraging to me about this next step Jesus took in being baptized is that God the Father and the Spirit met him, blessed him, and encouraged him as he took it. “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water…” the heavens were opened to him, he saw the Holy Spirit descend and alight upon him in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” While this is truly a remarkable, one-time event, it is also the kind of thing that happens repeatedly whenever we take our next steps of adventurous faith. God opens heaven more fully to us, allowing the experience to be one that knits us more closely to him, strengthens us by his Spirit, and confirms more fully our true identity as beloved children of God.
As we celebrate Go Sunday this weekend at Salem, our Outreach Director Shelli Streeper, will share about one such step of faith she took in response to God’s leading. It was a step that took her far outside of her comfort zone, but as she took it, she found God used it to transform her life, encouraging and equipping her for greater things ahead than she’d imagined. This is often the case. There are important things we need to understand about ourselves and about God, things that can transform our lives, but they are things we cannot know until we go, until we step out in faith to follow God’s call.
On Go Sunday, we reflect on Jesus’ step in being baptized and joining his hands and heart with ours, may we prayerfully consider what our next steps can be in 2020. We will be highlighting the various mission opportunities available in the coming year and hope many will feel led to take advantage of these experiences to grow and serve. There are, of course, many other opportunities both at Salem and beyond. Wherever it is that God leads you, I pray that you will go. I guarantee that as you go, you will discover more fully than ever how great God is, how great God’s love for you is, and how great God’s good purpose is for your life.
God of new beginnings, whose steadfast love never ceases, whose mercies never end, whose mercies, in fact, are new every morning, I praise you! Thank you for this New Year and the opportunities ahead for me to get to know you better, to learn to trust your love more fully, and to join with you in your good and gracious work in the world. Empower me by your Spirit to go where you lead me, to do whatever it is you call me to do, and to love you and my neighbors in thought, word, and deed; through Jesus Christ my Savior and Lord. Amen.
Verse to Memorize:
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17
Some Things to Try:
Read/recite this week’s suggested verses out loud and notice what catches your attention. Repeat this process, taking time to be still and listen. Talk with God about the verses, asking God to shape your attitudes and guide your actions.
Read this week’s passage (preferably out loud). Be silent for a few moments and talk with God about what stands out to you, what ideas or questions come to mind. Read it through again, then sit still and ask God what his word is for you.
As you look to the year ahead, pray about what step of adventurous faith God may be calling you to take in service to others.
Further Suggested Readings:
Copyright © 2020 Word for the Week a devotional resource of Salem Covenant Church
This devotional offering will typically be based on the Scripture text for the upcoming Sunday’s sermon. While the weekly devotionals will be titled a Word for the Week, that last word might more aptly be spelled “weak.” For all our necessary and sometimes unnecessary attempts to be anything but, acknowledging our weakness and our need for God’s help is crucial. As Adam and Eve learned, though there are a great many things we can do, becoming gods is not one of them. We are not immortal, nor as powerful, wise, and wonderful as we sometimes like to pretend. Like Adam and Eve when they stepped out of the Garden, we find ourselves living in an unimaginably immense universe, one full of forces and challenges that, for all of our incredible abilities, have the capacity to impede, overpower, even annihilate us. We are vulnerable.
The Cross Walk
Spiritual Disciplines for the Lenten Journey
Lent is the path along which Christians have walked in preparation for Easter through the centuries.
It is a pilgrimage that Christ’s followers take knowing that when our hearts and lives are more fully ready, the depth and power of Christ’s death and resurrection can be experienced and lived out more fully.
With this intention, all are invited to commit to walking differently for the next 40 days.
Choose one or more of these disciplines and allow them to reshape the Lenten season for you.
Inward and Personal Disciplines:
- Spend at least 30 minutes in solitude (alone and silent) each day.
- Read a book for inner growth.
- Keep a journal of prayers to God, personal reflections, thoughts based on Scripture readings, and/or questions, etc.
- Make a list of people with whom I need to be reconciled. Pray for them and let Jesus guide me in my thinking, feeling, and acting toward them.
- Choose to de-clutter some part of your life (a room, a relationship, a commitment, a plan, etc.). Clean out some things. Simplify some things.
- Other promptings:
Outward and Social Disciplines:
- Plan to visit a “shut-in” neighbor or church member weekly.
- Write a letter of affirmation and gratitude once a week to a person who has touched my life.
- Begin to recycle waste from my home and workplace.
- Give blood and recall the cross.
- Say “NO” to something that is a waste of money and time.
- Other outward and social promptings: _____________________________
As a way of being accountable, I will either:
- Share my intentions for Lent with my fellowship group, Bible study, or ministry team at its next meeting, or
- Share my plan with at least one other person and share with that person my experience of Lent during Holy Week.
Rooted Devotional Exercises
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.
Rooted: be still and be rooted in the Lord.
Open your heart to God: give God praise; invite God’s Spirit to cleanse and fill you.
Open God’s Word: invite God to transform and guide you as you listen to his Word.
Talk with God: share your heart and mind with God, giving thanks for his love.
Enter: look to the day ahead, thanking God for his presence, power, and guidance.
Dedicate: commit yourself to God.
Remember: thank God for three things that made you smile today.
Embrace: breathe deeply and let God embrace you with his presence and love.
Share: cast your anxieties on the Lord, entrusting your cares and concerns to him.
Thank: give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love and faithfulness.
PRAYER AND SHARE (around the table or whenever there is opportunity)
What was one high and one low from today?
Where have you seen God at work? What are you grateful to God for today?
What is something you learned today?
Take time to give thanks to God and pray together.
What is something that surprised you or made you wonder today?
(based on what we used on the Ecuador Mission Trip 2016)
Back to the Basics
Back to BASICS Devotional Guide
BE STILL: Be still before God. Breathe deeply. Be present to God, as God is present with you. (Psalm 46:10)
ADORE: Offer praise and thanksgiving to God. (Psalm 100)
SHARE: Talk with God about the people and things on your heart and mind. (Psalm 62:8)
INVITE: Ask God to speak to you as you look to the Scriptures and listen for his Word.(2 Timothy 3:14-17)
COMMIT: Dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to God and to living out God’s call in your life. (Romans 12:1-2)
A Way to Listen
Listening Prayerfully to the Scriptures – Lectio Divina
Let anyone with ears to hear listen! Mark 4:9
Lectio Divina is an ancient method of listening to the Word of God. For centuries, people of faith have used this method to prayerfully open their hearts and minds to God’s Word. It can be practiced individually and/or together with others in a group and is a great way to seek insights and applications from the Holy Scriptures.
Key to the experience is trusting Jesus at his word when he said, Ask and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. (Luke 11: 9-10) With this in mind, when you open the Bible, ask God to speak to you and trust the Holy Spirit to help you hear God’s Word for you as you seek it. Before reading the Bible passage each time, pray for God to open your heart to the Scriptures.
Here is the basic format:
1. Read the passage; ask God to speak to you and then sit quietly before God for a minute; then share with God (and others, if you are in a group) a word or phrase that stood out to you.
2. Read the passage; ask God to speak to you and then sit quietly before God for a minute; then share with God (and others, if you are in a group) the images, feelings, and thoughts that struck you (Lord, I was struck by …; I felt…; I saw or heard …).
3. Read the passage; ask God to speak to you and then sit quietly before God for a minute; then share with God (and others, if you are in a group and feel comfortable sharing this) what you hear as God’s Word to you (Lord, I hear you telling me to …).
4. After the previous steps, you may want to read through the passage one more time and then sit quietly for another five to twenty minutes (this can be a time for centering prayer or other types of prayer).
Further ideas to deepen your experience:
- In either your first or second time reading through the passage, read it in the larger context in which the passage is situated.
- Before reading through the second time, take time to study the passage. For example, look at the footnotes related to it in a study Bible or read what a commentary has to say about the text.
A Way to Pray
Long ago, Jesus offered what we now call The Lord’s Prayer as a guide to his disciples in answer to the question of how to pray. Many have found it helpful both as a prayer that can be prayed briefly while saying the words thoughtfully and as an outline for longer times of prayer. What follows is a quick overview of how I use the Lord’s Prayer in my own time with God each day.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. (Praise and thanksgiving) I reflect on who God is, how great God is, and how thankful I am to God. Often I reflect on what affirming God as “Our Father” says about who I am, who is in my family, how I ought to act in general, and how I should relate to others in particular.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Petitions) I pray for God’s blessing; I pray for God’s rule as King to become a reality in fullness for all. I bring before God the various people, places, and things that are on my heart. I pray God’s good purpose be done in and through me, my family, our church, and beyond. I can pray no greater prayer for anyone or anything than this.
Give us this day our daily bread. (Petition for provision) I ask God to provide what I need and what we need. I acknowledge in faith that God does provide all I/we need and ask for help in receiving the nourishment offered, especially as I take time to listen to the Scriptures.
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. (Confession) I confess my sins to God, including my struggle to forgive others who I feel have wronged me. I pray for those I am having a hard time with, for those I suspect may be having a hard time with me, and for our relationship together.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Prayer for guidance) I pray for guidance, away from and out of destructive pitfalls, and toward and along the life-giving pathways of God’s loving purpose.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. (Praise and commitment) Although these words may not have been part of Jesus’ prayer as recorded in the Bible, many have found them meaningful through the years, myself included. As I conclude my prayer with these words, I am reminded that my aim, my hope and my confidence are in God and God’s purpose, power, and glory.
And this is the boldness we have in him that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we have obtained the requests made of him. 1 John 5:14-15