New Lent email devotionals available at Bible Gateway

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Looking for some Lent devotional reading as Easter approaches? Our sister site Bible Gateway has just launched two new email devotionals centered around Easter: a read-through-the-Gospels Bible reading plan and a Lent devotional email. Both begin on Ash Wednesday (March 9) and run through Easter, and both are aimed at helping you focus on Jesus during the Easter season.

Take a look—and if you have a favorite Lent/Easter devotional to recommend, let us know in the comments below!

What is the “voice” of Easter for you?

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Easter is a joyous holiday when we celebrate Christ’s triumph over sin and death… right? Or is it a sad holiday in which we mourn the weight of sin and squint to see Jesus holding a light at the end of a long tunnel?

It seems odd that one holiday would evoke such different emotions, but it’s something we’ve all probably seen. For me, Easter is a time of happy anticipation of freedom from sin. But for one of my close friends, Easter is a sad annual reflection on mortality and the distant-seeming hope of resurrection—the effect of a loved one’s death during the Easter season years ago.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that each of the major holidays (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving) tends to evoke a particular mood in me. Our experience of each holiday is shaped by the events and emotions that we associate with them—for some people, Christmas is a time of lighthearted joy, while for others it is somber or even depressing, depending on their life circumstances.

Easter is an especially powerful holiday because, more so than Christmas or Thanksgiving or the other events we commemorate throughout the year, its story spans the entire range of human emotion. Reading the Gospel accounts of Easter is a turbulent, almost punishing experience; it shifts from joy and triumph to pain and fear, through despair and doubt, and then finally to victory.

That up-and-down journey is nicely laid out in Back to the Bible’s Twelve Voices of Easter, which I highly recommend as a daily audio devotional during these final days before Easter.

Which of these emotions and voices most embodies Easter for you? Is Easter a somber time in your life? Is it marked by joy and happiness? Are there particular events in your life—the death of a loved one; a marriage; a childbirth—that influence the way you approach Easter?

What are the emotions and voices of Easter for you?

Share your thoughts!

Today’s devotional: the long hard wait for Easter

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

We’re well into Lent, but Easter remains several weeks away. Does it ever feel like Easter approaches at a glacial pace?

At A Slice of Infinity, Margaret Manning observes that Easter certainly does “take its time” in arriving—and that God tends to unveil his plans and purposes at a measured pace very much at odds with that of our frantic, always-busy modern lives. She contrasts our frenzied schedules with the pace of God’s revelation in the Bible:

The lives depicted in the Bible couldn’t be more different from our hurried lives. More importantly, and perhaps to our great frustration, the God revealed in the biblical stories is rarely in a hurry. Abraham and Sarah, for example, received the promise of an heir twenty-five years before they actually laid eyes on Isaac. Joseph had a dream as a seventeen year old young man that his brothers would one day bow down to him. Yet it was countless years and many difficulties later that his brothers would come and kneel before him, asking for food. Moses was eighty years old—long past his prime of life—when God appeared to him in the burning bush and called him to deliver the children of Israel. David was anointed king by Samuel as a young boy tending his father’s flocks, long before he finally ascended to the throne. And Jesus spent thirty years in relative obscurity, not involved in public ministry, and only three years announcing the kingdom and God’s rule in his life and ministry.

From our perspective, it is difficult to understand why God wasn’t more in a hurry rushing to accomplish the plans and purposes, not only in these individuals’ lives, but also in the plan of redemption. The Messiah was prophesied hundreds of years before he actually arrived on the scene. We cannot help but ask why God seems to move so slowly?

Read the full devotional at A Slice of Infinity.

“Why does God move so slowly?” “How long, oh Lord?” They’re familiar cries, uttered by people waiting for an answer to a desperate prayer or wishing that God would resolve a problem sooner rather than later. But the Bible—and the long slow march to Easter—can help us to understand God’s deliberate timing, and the value of patience and contentment. The promise of Easter may be a long time coming—but it will arrive!

Today’s devotional: it’s a wonderful life!

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

What does the classic Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life have to do with Lent and Easter? The movie (which ends happily) illustrates the despair that sets in when dreams are lost—when the harsh reality of life dashes our hopes for the future. According to this Slice of Infinity devotional, the journey toward Easter presents Christians with a similar dose of cold, hard reality:

“It’s a Wonderful Life” offers all who enter into its narrative a chance to look into the chasm between many cherished ideals and the often sober reality of our lives. This glimpse into what is often a gaping chasm of lost hopes and abandoned dreams offers a frightening opportunity to let go. Indeed, facing the death of ones’ dreams head on forces a moment of decision. Will we become bitter by fixating on what has been lost, or will we walk forward in hope on a path of yet unseen possibility?

For Christians, the journey through Lent offers a visible and living reminder of the fact that life entails death; it cannot be circumnavigated or avoided. Those who follow the path of Lent are presented with a similar decision: will the giving up of aspects we believe essential to our vision of a wonderful life lead us to bitterness or to hope? The discipline of Lent often reveals hands grasped tightly and tenaciously around ideals that must give way to new realities. Author M. Craig Barnes suggests that the journey away from our own sense of what makes for a wonderful life is actually the process of conversion. “It is impossible to follow Jesus and not be led away from something. That journey away from the former places and toward the new place is what converts us. Conversion is not simply the acceptance of a theological formula for eternal salvation. Of course it is that, but it is so much more. It is the discovery of God’s painful, beautiful, ongoing creativity along the way in our lives.”

Read the full devotional at Slice of Infinity.

What should we do when we’re confronted by the hard truth of sin and its terrible consequences? Easter offers us a choice: we can wallow in despair, or we can put our hope and trust in the message of Jesus Christ. Which of those two roads are you traveling along this Easter season?

Today’s devotional: what Jesus’ suffering means for us today

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

As Easter approaches, many churches and individuals are revisiting the Gospel accounts of the suffering and death that preceded Jesus’ glorious resurrection. Is the torture Jesus experienced just part of the story, a historical event along the route to Easter? Does Jesus’ suffering mean something for us today?

Margaret Manning writes at Slice of Infinity about what the atonement means for us today, finding a parallel with the efforts of some Native Americans to make sense of the suffering their ancestors experienced:

A chance meeting at a church gathering introduced me to a ministry in my local area that works with urban-dwelling Native Americans. Most are homeless and many struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. Like me, these individuals are far removed from the Trail of Tears. But like me, this organization wonders what meaning to assign to a tragic past. Clearly, we carry the events of our past into our present lives. In some cases, painful hurts and histories have ongoing repercussions. Cycles of violence, addiction, and despair are shaped, in part, by the meaning assigned to these past events. Therefore, this ministry seeks to reassign new meaning to difficult pasts through reconciliation and forgiveness.

In the same way, as we look at the atonement of Jesus, we can either view it as an event that happened in the past that primarily impacted our individual, vertical relationship with God, or we can see that the justice of God on our behalf enjoins us to do justice on behalf of others. We can live the atonement as a way to give meaning to the past that is redemptive for the present. Recognizing both our need for forgiveness and the need to offer forgiveness, we give meaning to those who need atonement today. Not simply an act of injustice perpetrated against Jesus, the atonement brings life, as surely as it binds us to give life to others.

Read the full devotional at Slice of Infinity.

Looking to spend more time in Scripture during Lent?

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Many Christians mark the season by making a spiritual commitment that helps them focus more on Jesus Christ: giving up a habit or luxury; reading a daily devotional; or doing volunteer work.

One simple but powerful way to prepare for Easter is to spend time in the Scriptures. Our sister site has just put a Lent daily Bible reading plan online to help—it walks through all four of the Gospels between today and Easter, so by the time Easter arrives you’ll have read the entire account of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection.

If you’ve not made a Lent pledge before, daily Scripture reading like this is a great place to start (and involves a relatively light time commitment). Take a look at the Lent reading plan and see it helps you focus your thoughts on Jesus as Easter approaches!

Are you giving up anything for Lent?

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

The liturgical season of Lent begins next week on Ash Wednesday. Lent commemorates the final weeks leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, and many Christians mark the season with a spiritual commitment or by giving up a habit or behavior for the duration of Lent.

Examples of Lent commitments I’ve seen include giving up television, reading through a particular part of the Bible, volunteering at a local food kitchen, and many others. Whether it’s trivial or epic in scale, the point of such a commitment is to focus attention on the person of Jesus Christ.

Are you doing anything to commemorate Lent this year?

Share your thoughts!

Perspectives on grief during Lent

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Grief is a terrible, personal experience—everybody goes through it at some point in their life, but it must be processed by each person individually, personally, and privately. Your experience of grief is different than mine, and vice versa.

Grief has been on my mind this week. Not because I’m grieving myself right now, but because two prominent online writers have been chronicling with heart-wrenching openness their experiences with death, loss, and grief. Both accounts are worth reading, and highlight the ways that one’s spiritual worldview affects the way you process the unspeakable pain of losing a loved one.

The first is a series of articles by Meghan O’Rourke (a critic at Slate) journaling her experience of grief after the death of her mother. O’Rourke’s essays are fascinating and moving. While she doesn’t spell out all her religious befiefs, she seems to be writing from a generally agnostic perspective.

The second such account can be found in the ongoing blogging of Amy Welborn, a popular Catholic blogger whose husband died unexpectedly earlier this year. I’m amazed at Welborn’s ability to write so eloquently and publicly about such a painful experience, but I’m glad she’s doing so: her accounts of her family relationships, church interactions, and personal faith in the aftermath of her husband’s death are profoundly insightful. Her account is spread across many blog posts, but many of them can be found here. See in particular her post about what it means for her to “give something up” for Lent after her loss, and another about learning when and how to share “the cross you bear” with others.

Both accounts are worth reading, and as Ross Douthat recently pointed out, they make for interesting counterparts: one approaching death from a secular perspective, the other from the perspective of Christian faith. As Lent continues, and as we think and pray about the grief, loss, death, and hope that marked Easter, it seems appropriate to ponder these things.

(For more resources to help you through grief and loss, see the grief page at

What would happen if you turned off the TV for a month?

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Have you given something up for Lent? We’ve talked a bit about the common practice of choosing something in your life—a habit, a particular type of food, etc.—and voluntarily foregoing it during the weeks leading up to Easter.

Among my own circle of acquaintances, two things seem to come up frequently as things to give up during Lent: unhealthy food (soda, fast food, etc.) and television.

I’ll leave the food topic alone for now (and I should note that not everything people choose to give up for Lent needs to be “bad” or unhealthy); but the practice of giving up TV is something I’ve also seen written about a lot online. (And feel free to substitute another entertainment medium—your iPod, video games, online video, etc.—for “television.”)

Most of us have from time to time had the feeling that we invest too much of our lives in passive entertainment, to the detriment of our spiritual and personal growth. If the idea of going cold-turkey on your TV sounds weirdly intriguing, here are a few resources to help you think it through:

If you read through these resources, you’ll notice something important about them: the point of these efforts is not to arbitrarily cut TV out of your life, or to feel holier-than-thou because you don’t watch American Idol, or to rob your life of fun. It’s not about banning TV in your house forever, or making you feel guilty for watching your favorite show. It’s about becoming more aware of the way you use your time throughout each day and week.

It’s an experiment you can try any time of the year, not just during Lent. How about it?

Digging deeper into the Bible over Lent

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Over the last two weeks, we’ve pointed out several Lent-related devotionals and Bible reading plans. But are you looking for something even more in-depth? If so, the Quotations Bible Study might be what you’re looking for.

The Quotations Bible Study is a Lent Bible study that narrows in on specific Bible quotations each week. Each Wednesday a new Bible study is posted online, along with study questions to help you dig deeply into the Bible text. Answers to the questions are posted on Fridays. (The study is already into week 2, but the study’s once-a-week pace should make it easy to get caught up.)

One thing that makes this Lent Bible study particularly interesting is that it doesn’t focus just on the Gospel accounts. The weekly Bible studies will take you all across the Bible, from the familiar Easter story to obscure-but-relevant parts of Deuteronomy. It’s a nice reminder that the Easter story—God’s great act of salvation—is truly a story that spans the entirety of Scripture and human history. If that sounds intriguing, give Quotation Bible Study a try!