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February 25, 2024–Lose Your Life?

Cee Mills, Burlington, NC

Warm-up Questions

  • What’s the biggest thing you have sacrificed in order to get to do or have something else?
  • What’s the biggest thing you have gained by being a follower of Jesus?

Lose Your Life?

The idea of losing is counter to what American culture defines as good. When you think of sport teams, contests, or any effort you make, the idea of losing is the opposite of what you expect or want.

I remember the first time I played an organized sport. All of us had a lot to learn and were not proficient at scoring or keeping the other team from scoring. We were young and, honestly, did not care. We were happy to be with our friends and our coach was always smiling. He used to say all the time that showing up was winning.  It was not until I got to school sports teams that I learned about defeat. 

I often wonder what life would have been like if showing up as winning had been the posture of school sports. It’s hard to imagine that in a world so preoccupied with keeping score, measuring performance, and having the most – the most points, the most talents, the most money, the most beauty. I am truly grateful that early on I had a coach who was beyond scores and cared about the more important thing – showing up. Whether we double dribbled, shot the ball in the wrong basket, or fell down and cried – he cheered us, encouraged us, and celebrated us for being there.

Discussion Questions

  • What are some of your early experiences around winning and losing?
  • Who in your life has encouraged you not based on your achievements but just for showing up?
  • How can you encourage others for showing up? 

Second Sunday in Lent

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Romans 4:13-25

Mark 8:31-38

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Jesus is now in his public ministry. He tells anyone who will listen about the suffering he must undergo.  Jesus speaks of rejection and being martyred. He prophesies about his resurrection. 

I’m sure it was hard to hear. He insults the religious and governmental leaders. He seems to invite disdain and death. It gets so bad that one of his closest disciples, Peter, pulls him aside and demands he stops speaking this way. He wants Jesus to stop; Jesus is speaking of things Peter does not want to happen. He rebukes Jesus.

Jesus turns right around and rejects Peter’s words. The words of Jesus are hard, but they are the way to salvation. Even though Peter is his close friend, anything that is not part of God’s plan must be rejected. Jesus goes so far as to name the source of this rejection of God as Satan – because only Satan would reject the Word of God, even if it is hard. So, Jesus rebukes Peter.

Jesus then turns towards the crowd and explains the cost of following him. If the people there want to be comfortable and safe then this path is not for them. If they want to decide what gets shared and how it gets shared and with whom it gets shared – they are following the wrong one. 

They need to be willing to lose friends, status, family, and their very own lives for the sake of sharing God’s Word in truth, because that will restore the relationship with God. Jesus asks them to choose whom they will follow and lets them know one choice pleases God and the other does not. One choice follows God, and the other does not. If they want to follow God, they need to know that Jesus will not only have to say these hard things, but also follow this hard path, so that the world might be saved. 

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Peter pulled Jesus aside?
  • When Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!” how do you think Peter felt?
  • What was God trying to convey to Peter in this exchange?
  • What does God convey to today’s disciples when Jesus asks, “…what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

Activity Suggestions

  • In small groups of two to three, talk about the ways you face the challenges of doing things the Jesus way in everyday life. Share times you were successful and times you were not. Share how you can follow Jesus’ example. (For example,  patience with a sibling. Focus on your own faults and how people showed you patience. Write sticky notes to encourage you to be patient.) 
  • Jesus is trying to get the disciples to understand his reason for coming to earth. On a sheet of paper, tell the story Jesus shared in verse 31 in 20 words or less. Then share your story with three friends.

Closing Prayer

O God, we thank you for the many brave sacrifices you have made for the sake of the world. Help us to see our lives as a gift to you and to be willing to follow you wherever it takes us. Help us to be willing to let go of anything that hinders following you. Amen.


February 18, 2024–Dealing With Highs and Lows

Joshua Serrano, San Carlos, CA

Warm-up Question

Who is your favorite celebrity and why? 

Dealing With Highs and Lows

There is an interview popping up on different social media sources between Brad Pitt and Adam Sandler. Pitt recounts a story he heard about Sandler. 

In the story, Sandler was in college at NYU and had been taking acting classes. His theater professor took him out for drinks one night, but it wasn’t to tell Sandler what a great job he was doing. The theater professor was trying to let Sandler down easy, telling him that he didn’t have the ability to act. He didn’t think Sandler would make it in the acting world, so he told Sandler that he should pursue a different line of work. 

That, however, did not stop Sandler from pursuing his dreams. 

Adam Sandler went on to make some of the most iconic comedies of the 90s and early 2000s. His movies have made a total of $2 billion dollars in cumulative sales. That is not to mention that his current personal net worth is $420 million dollars. 

During the height of his success, Sandler was at a bar one night with his friends. He spotted his old professor from NYU. Sandler brought him back to his group and introduced the professor to his friends, saying, “This is the only professor ever to take me out for a drink.” 

In recounting this story, Brad Pitt was amazed by the kindness and humility that Sandler showed in a moment he could have used as an opportunity to point out how wrong his professor had been. 

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think that Adam Sandler responded the way he did?
  • What would you have done?
  • Reflect for a moment on when you experienced criticism or doubt. How did you respond?
  • How would you define humility?

First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 9:8-17

1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:9-15

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Our Gospel reading contains two major events in the ministry of Jesus. The first is his baptism and second is his temptation. One seems to be such a high and the other was a low in his life. 

Jesus was baptized by John in the river Jordan. We know from an earlier scripture reading that John was baptizing people for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Yet Christians claim Jesus was sinless. In Mark’s gospel there is no answer as to why Jesus was baptized. We are left to try to make sense of it ourselves. 

Something miraculous happens at his baptism.  The heavens open, the Spirit descends like a dove on him, and a voice says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  What an experience that must have been — to hear the voice of God! 

What a highlight of his life! But things take a turn rather quickly. In the next moment, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to endure temptations for over a month. 

Moments of crowning glory are followed by trials of anxiety, self-doubt, pride, or the temptation to judge ourselves and others too harshly. And after his baptism, Jesus was tempted like you and me! There are so many things that tempt us, yet I find great comfort in the fact that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are tempted. He was truly human and he was truly God.

It’s important to remember that, like Jesus, we will have highs and lows in our life. It is remembering that we are beloved children of God that matters. 

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Jesus was baptized? What memories or mementos do you have of your baptism? Do you have any stories, pictures, or videos of it?
  • Why do you think Jesus was tempted? Do you think that Jesus’ experiences of temptation help us relate to him more?

Activity Suggestion

On a blank sheet of paper write down today’s highs and lows. Then write down some prayers for each of the things that have been challenging and each of the things for which you are grateful. Feel free to share it with a friend. Or, just keep it and remember that Jesus is with us every step of the way. 

Closing Prayer

Merciful and gracious God, your son endured highs and lows. Help us to follow his example, and express gratitude when things are going well and come to you in faith when we are facing challenges. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen. 


February 11, 2024–Affirmation

Rachel Larson, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Questions

  • When you are complimented for something you’ve done, how does that feel?  Why?
  • When you are criticized, how does that feel?  Why?


A dictionary definition of “affirm”:  “to offer (someone) emotional support or encouragement.” 

I received a letter from a member of the congregation I served.  In it she thanked me for my ministry, complimented something I had done, and said she was happy that I was her pastor.  Though I don’t remember exactly what she wrote, I do remember the feeling I had.  I felt happy and encouraged—proud that I was a pastor, looking forward to the day ahead.  In short, I felt affirmed.

On another occasion I received a note that expressed a member’s displeasure and disappointment in my work.  I remember how debilitating it felt.  I felt sad and discouraged.  It made me question my talents and calling.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you suppose it is so difficult for some to offer affirmation?
  • What have you said to another that was affirming?
  • Have you noticed any change in how you view others by finding something to compliment and affirm in them?

Transfiguration of our Lord

2 Kings 2:1-12

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Mark 9:2-9

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

The story of transfiguration tells of Jesus and his disciples Peter, James, and John— perhaps his closest friends—ascending a “high mountain apart.”  The mountain is not designated.  In Scripture, however, mountains signify a place where God is often present.

While there, Jesus’s appearance changes.  His clothes become dazzling white—perhaps an indication of God’s presence.  Then Elijah and Moses appear, talking with Jesus.  Elijah represents the prophets and the prophet who will point to the appearance of the messiah; and Moses, the law giver, the man who leads God’s people to the promised land.

Peter is so stunned, he blurts out that maybe it would be good to build booths, or shrines, to commemorate the occasion.  The gospel writer comments that Peter and the others are so terrified they do not know what to say.  

While all of these components of the story are important, and offer lessons for the readers, the most significant part of the story comes next.   A cloud overshadows the mountaintop and God speaks to those assembled there:  “This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him.”

When God finishes speaking, only Jesus remains.  Elijah and Moses have vanished.

In the story of Jesus’ baptism, God affirms to Jesus that he is God’s son and beloved.  In the transfiguration story, God affirms to the disciples that Jesus is god’s son and beloved. As one theologian has written:  “By listening to Jesus, we learn who he is and who we are.”

The stage is now set for Jesus’ journey to the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem.  

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Peter wanted to build booths on the mountaintop? 
  • Why does the gospel writer say about Peter, “for he did not know what to say, for they were terrified?” 
  • What do you think God wants to accomplish in this encounter?
  • How do God’s words of affirmation assist Jesus in his ministry?

Activity Suggestions

  • With a friend or two, take sheets of paper and each of you write down what you admire/like about the other(s).  What are their best gifts?  Then share what you wrote.  Is this easy or hard to do?  Why?
  • Read aloud the Old Testament text from 2 Kings.  Summarize in one or two sentences, what it tells us about these prophets and God.  What is the purpose of Elijah’s appearance in the transfiguration story?  What is the significance of his and Moses’ disappearance?   

Closing Prayer

Good and Gracious God, we thank you for our Savior Jesus.  Help us to listen to him.  And help us to remember daily your affirmation of us in our baptisms.  May we seek the good in all that we meet.  Amen.


February 4, 2024–Healing Touch

Scott Mims, Virginia Beach, VA

Warm-up Question

Who are some of the people who have the most positive impact on your life?  What do they do that is so meaningful?

Healing Touch

Give someone you know a hug!  In case you missed it, January 21 was National Hugging Day. First celebrated in 1986, NHD was primarily created to encourage family and friends to hug often (and consensually) with one another.  A vast amount of research has shown the importance of human touch when it comes to our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, which is one reason why the isolation of the pandemic has had such negative impacts on so many people.  

Studies show that positive physical contact is a basic human need that, among other benefits, can strongly convey a sense of being accepted and cared for.  A hug can help us feel less stressed and even boost our immune system. Remember, however, that not everyone experiences touch in the same way, and so it is always important to ask first and exchange consent.


12 — the number of hugs required by humans every day to be healthy. 

32% — the percentage of stress that is dispelled with a hug. 

20 seconds — the average time of a hug. 

4 — the number of hugs needed for survival. 

8 — the number of hugs needed by humans every day for maintenance. 

10 seconds — the hug time that leads to biochemical reactions in the body that boost health.

Discussion Questions

  • Take a look over the “National Hug Day By the Numbers.”  What do you think?  Do any of the statistics surprise you?
  • Do you feel hugs are an important form of expressing emotions and support among friends? Why or why not? Share a personal experience where a hug made a positive impact on your day.
  • Where do you stand?  Are you a “hugger,” reserved about your personal space, or somewhere in between?

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 40:21-31

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Mark 1:29-39

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Our gospel this week picks up where last week’s reading ended, just after Jesus has astounded everyone at the synagogue in Capernaum.  Not only has his teaching carried an authority unlike any they had heard before, but this authority has been further demonstrated by his freeing a man from an unclean spirit.  Now leaving the synagogue, Jesus joins his four disciples in the home of Simon and Andrew, where he is told that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick.   

Jesus, never one to shy away from broken bodies or broken spirits, goes to her and takes her by the hand and lifts her up.  This is not healing from a distance, but a connection with his loving touch.   Having been made well, she begins to serve them, demonstrating not only the kind of humble service Jesus calls those who follow him to do, but, in fact, embodies himself. (Mark 10:45)

Of course, it isn’t just Simon’s mother-in-law who is healed.  That evening, just as the Sabbath is ending, virtually the whole town turns up at the door.  They bring to Jesus all who are sick and oppressed by evil spirits.   And, as in the synagogue, Jesus continues to expresses his authority.  He overcomes the forces of sickness and evil.  In their place, Jesus gives wholeness and healing.  One can only imagine the excitement this causes, and it soon becomes clear that the people of Capernaum would very much like for Jesus to be their “hometown healer.”  

So, when Jesus slips away in the early morning darkness to pray, it isn’t just his companions who hunt for him; everyone is out looking. However, Jesus’ mission is not centered on just one town.  He has come to proclaim the good news of God’s gracious reign to all the world, and to make this good news both real and personal.  And so, our reading ends with Jesus leaving Capernaum to preach, heal, and cast out demons throughout the whole region.

So, how might we connect these stories with our own lives?  Certainly, we hear a lot about Jesus healing people and delivering them from the power of evil.  Jesus, however, was not simply a “wonder worker.”  The healings and exorcisms are a part of his larger message.  Along with his teaching and preaching they proclaim the truth of God’s love and power.  Not only does Jesus continue to bring healing and wholeness into our lives today, but, as those who live on this side of his resurrection, we are reminded that, despite the fear and despair we can so often experience, our world has already been claimed by God’s loving authority in Jesus.

We also see the importance of prayer and the power of human connection and touch. Prayer was a priority for Jesus.  Behind all of his public activity, his preaching, teaching, and miracles, lay Jesus’ total dependence on God. And so, even in all the busyness, Jesus makes the time to center his life in prayer.  Prayer remains one of the most important ways to connect our lives to the living presence of God who, through the power of the Spirit, has promised to guide and encourage us.  Prayer is also how we can “lift up” one another, especially in times of stress, sickness, or need. When accompanied by such simple gestures as a hand on the shoulder or a quick hug, our prayers can convey God’s love both powerfully and personally.

Discussion Questions

  • When you look at what Jesus does in this passage, what does it say about his priorities and mission?  How might his actions inspire or encourage us in our lives today?
  • What is your own experience with prayer?  How would you define “prayer,” and what role does it play in your life? Do you ever find comfort or guidance through prayer?
  • Do you think God answers prayer?  Why or why not?

Activity Suggestion

Prayer Partners

Have participants pair up with a prayer partner and ask them to share at least one intention or prayer request with their prayer partner. It could be something they are grateful for, a personal struggle, someone they know who needs help, or a goal they are working towards. Emphasize the importance of creating a safe and non-judgmental space for sharing. 

Once each person has shared, have the pairs take turns praying for each other. Invite them to keep it simple and not to worry about being formal or fancy.  Perhaps model this beforehand.

When everyone is done, spend a few minutes reflecting on the experience.  How did it feel to pray for someone else?  To have some pray for you?  Are there other people or concerns that your group can lift up in prayer?   

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious God, touch our lives with your loving power.  Where we are hurting, heal us.  Where we are broken, make us whole again.  Where we are anxious and fearful, give us your peace.  When we feel lost and unsure, guide our steps.  And when we feel down, lift us up. In Jesus’ name – Amen.


January 28, 2024–I Swear

Eric Luke, Saint Paul, MN

Warm-up Question

When you get overwhelmed, where do you turn (or what do you turn to) to regain your focus?

I Swear

It’s a common television courtroom image to see a witness raise their right hand, put their left hand on the Bible, and  swear an oath to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” This tradition goes back generations and is intended to indicate the individual’s degree of commitment to the truth when making their oath.

It’s common, as well, for elected officials to place their hand on a Bible when taking the oath of office. At U.S. presidential inaugurations television announcers often comment about the historical or family significance of the specific book used by the president.

On Tuesday, January 9, 2024 the Saint Paul, Minnesota made history, becoming the largest U.S. city to swear-in an all-female city council. At the ceremony one photojournalist noted that the seven women sworn into office used six different books, only two of which were the Christian Bible.

While the Christian Bible is not required, due to the separation of church and state, it has been a common choice of elected officials in the United States, signifying what grounds them as they step into an important role. The book choices these leaders made when they were sworn-in make a statement about what grounds them as individuals. It tells a bit of their own stories and indicates to their constituents what will guide their decision making as they step into the busy life of public office.

Discussion Questions

  • What is one guiding principle that you follow in your life? Where does that principle come from?
  • If you were elected President, what book would you put your hand on at your swearing-in ceremony? What would other people think about that choice?
  • What book would you not want an elected official to use for a swearing-in ceremony?  Why?

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

In the first chapter of Mark’s gospel Jesus’ ministry is just getting underway, and already we get an indication of Jesus’ busy pace. After getting a few followers to “sign on” as disciples, Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit and then they go to get food and rest. 

No sooner does Jesus enter the home of Simon and Andrew than they find Simon’s mother-in-law ill with a high fever. After Jesus heals her fever, she shows them hospitality, and that evening the house is filled with all of the cities’ sick and demon-possessed people.

The next morning, while it is still very dark, Jesus gets up and goes to the wilderness to pray. For Jesus, prayer is conversation with God, the way to stay focused on what God wants him to do. 

By getting up early Jesus can be fairly certain that he will find the quiet and solitude he needs to connect with God. There will be no demands to make conversation with the disciples. Simon’s mother-in-law won’t have breakfast on the table and tell Jesus to eat before leaving the house. In this early hour, before the world is awake, Jesus finds what he needs to stay grounded and focused on the task at hand.  

When the disciples find Jesus we might expect that their announcement, “everyone is searching for you,” would cause Jesus to turn back to town to appease the requests of the crowd. But Jesus is focused.  Filled with this conversation with God about where Jesus is needed, he tells the disciples,  “Let’s go to the neighboring town.”  

Finding that alone time and praying with God keeps Jesus focused.

Discussion Questions

  • If you could ask Jesus about the time he spent alone with God, what would you want to know?
  • When and how do you find time to connect with God?
  • What makes taking time to connect with God challenging? When is it easier?
  • Have you ever asked a friend or family member when they find time to connect with God? If not, what would it take for you to ask them so that you could learn from their practices?

Activity Suggestions

Keep a prayer journal. On a piece of paper or in a notebook, write down the date and the things that you pray about when you connect with God – it can be a word, a  phrase, or a full sentence which helps you remember. As you make this list over several days or weeks, look back to see if there are regular themes in your prayers.  Are there places where you feels your prayers have been answered? Show gratitude for the answered prayer. Consider how the themes of what you pray for might be influencing how you live your life. Does paying attention to your prayers make you want to make changes in your life?

Closing Prayer

God of the busy, God of the silence, thank you for your presence. Be with all who hunger for companionship. Stay near those who desire solitude. Speak your words of guidance and wisdom for each day of our lives. Help us listen to those in need and guide us in wisdom around in each word we speak. Guided by your Spirit, let it be so.