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Pastor Cheryl Matthews Report

Dear People of Christ:

During Lent, the prophet Joel declares the Lords invitation: Even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

The prophet Joel shared these words with people who were experiencing extreme hardship: a plague of locusts had obliterated the crops of the land; people and animals were starving; there was no grain, wine, or oil to offer sacrifice to God; the land itself was parched and thirsty. Joel’s prophecy is a biblical rarity in that Joel places responsibility for this calamity neither on the people nor on God. Joel simply describes the barren reality and he names the harsh reality thoroughly. Then, he places this reality side by side with the compassionate call of God to return. Joel is aware that difficult, disastrous, challenging things happen in this life, and it is often not-so-helpful to try to as-sign blame – whether blaming ourselves, others people, or God. Joel, in the midst of great suffering, God calls God’s people to return, “…return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.”

EVERYONE, Joel reminds us, is called to return to the Lord with all their heart, with all they have in them to offer – children and nursing infants, newlywed couples and their celebrating friends and family; leaders and those of low sta-tus – all are called to return to the Lord, to renew their faith, their trust, their dependence upon a reliable God through visible acts of devotion.

Visible acts of devotion are the classic spiritual disciplines of the season of Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday. Several traditional spiritual disciplines of Lent are giving alms or money, acts of mercy, prayer, and fasting. For Joel, such visible acts of devotion were shared together in public assemblies of God’s people –where we confess our bro-kenness and seek to renew our experience of and trust in God.

Through spiritual disciplines, through devotional acts, we find ourselves renewed in our experience of the breathtak-ing, liberating, and energizing love of God – the scandalously generous love that is gracious and free, and available to all that God has made.

Return to me with all your heart, God says through Joel.. Remember that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, says Joel.

Come to God in honesty, intimacy, and vulnerability, says Jesus, and you will be rewarded.

All of us, whether life is going well or whether life is a mess, need a season of renewal in our relationship with God. May your renewal begin this Lenten season.

Work whatever discipline will place you in a good place to receive the renewal God has in store for you – whether you need public, shared practices OR private practices that God alone can see, OR, more likely, a healthy mixture of both.

May you know and feel the abundance of life God so yearns for you and those you love to live, each and every day.

Pastor Cheryl

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