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Monday, May 18, 2015

Mourning into Dancing! John 20

Our last session ended with a lot of "D" words and I don't doubt you were wondering:  What will happen NEXT?

Well -- Read John Chapter 20 and rejoice with me!  But first...the sad part.

Things are looking pretty bleak for the followers of Jesus.  They have witnessed Him dying on the cross.

They have followed his body to the tomb and left Him there - shrouded in burial cloth.

Mary Magdeline has come to the tomb on the first day of the week.  It is so early, she is shrouded in darkness.  In a sense, darkness has overcome her.

She is perplexed and frightened to find the stone rolled away from an empty tomb. - Where have they taken her Christ???  She runs to get Simon Peter.

It is very significant that God allowed a woman to be the first to see the empty tomb.  Again, God "shakes up" the order of things.  A woman, the very lowliest of people in the Bible time,  is allowed to make a discovery which would rock the ages!

BUT !  Mary does not understand.  She stands at the tomb crying.

I can relate.  I sometimes forget I serve a triumphant King.  I get discouraged.  I look only at the physical signs around me and forget the awesome "out of this world" gift I hold right here in my hands!

Jesus understands my confusion.  Jesus understands Mary's confusion.  He both of us.

Check it out in John Chapter 20:11-16:

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 

Oh, I can only imagine her joy!  She runs to tell the others:

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. -- John 20:18

Jesus then appears to His disciples.  Mourning is turned into dancing as they realize their Savior has risen!  The words He speaks resonate into their lives.  I can only imagine that He speaks these same words to me today:  

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 
                                                                          -- John 20:21

Oh, thank you, Jesus, for giving me peace, just as you gave it to the disciples.

-- May I never forget the second part of your statement:  You are sending ME.  

John concludes his chapter with a key verse.  I will also close with it.  Thank you for hanging in as we studied the Book of John!  My prayer is that you, truly have experienced verse 31 and have turned mourning into dancing because YOU have LIFE in His name! 

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But these are written that you may believeb that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  -- John 20:30-31

Monday, May 11, 2015

"D" is for.......a look at John Chapter 19

Sometimes....I get discouraged.  My computer pops up with all this bad news about our culture today.

I begin to doubt my ability to deal with all this depressing debauchery.  I despair.  I get distracted.

If  I'm not careful, I get derailed.

A derailed doubter is not of much use.

Then I read John Chapter 19 -- On the surface, one would think this is a downer description. John 19 describes the last moments of Jesus as He allows Himself to be tortured....for our redemption.

First....there comes the flogging:

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face. -- John 19:1-3

Remember Pilot?  - In John 18, Pilot asked, "What is truth?"  Like the culture which screams at me from my computer screen, Pilot has no compass...He has no Savior...yet the Savior is standing right before him. 

Isn't that the way some respond to Christ today?  They do not understand Jesus' message, so they wave their collective fists at Him.  

Hmmm....but Pilot has a nagging sense of fear and, perhaps, yearning, within him.  He tries to appease the crowds by creating a public display of beating, but he really does not want to kill the one he calls "The King of the Jews" :

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” 
                             -- John 19:4-16
Pilot is desperate now.  How many proclaim self-made power to control the prompting of God within their hearts?  Pilot truly does not want to be the one who pronounces a death sentence.  He wants to remain "neutral" when in the face of the Savior.  
But, as Jesus has always said, " you are either for me or against me." Have you ever talked to someone about your faith only to have them react, "Well, that's OK for you....But I don't want to commit."   
11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. -- John 19:11-16

The process of suffering and redemption has been set in place.  The man who held on to no "truth" released the author and perfecter of all TRUTH to be crucified.
Please read the rest of the heart-wrenching description in John 19.  I will not print it here.  Read it and reflect, but do not despair.

"D" is for devil.  I find it interesting that so many words which tend to distract us start with the letter "D".    If I stopped reading John at the end of Chapter 19, I might end up depressed.  

That's right where the devil would like me to be... mired in doubt and delusion. But I will not stop with John 19.  I am a child of the victorious King who broke the chains of death as described in John 20 (read ahead!) and came to offer me....delight.

Sometimes...I get discouraged.  But, because of the reality of John Chapter 19 and the hope and promise of John 20, I need not despair.  When the world around me looks like its up for destruction, My Savior shines through and reminds me, "I am the ultimate TRUTH.  I will win in the end."  

Thanks for hanging in with me through John 19.  Thanks for putting up with my alliteration.  I'm personally going to try to avoid those "D" words in the future.  I, of course, cannot do this in and of my own strength.  

I will rely upon a Savior ... no doubt about it. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

National Day of Prayer - Time for Thanks


Happy and Blessed National Day of Prayer! 

   There’s a fox on the card.  He’s holding a sign:  “Thanks a LOT!” he says. 
   I opened it up.  Surprise.  I hadn’t talked to Deb in a while.  She was just checking in with me.  – She said she wanted to say thanks for me….well…being me.  That’s really not too hard. 
   She included a little blue paper:  “Blessings” was the heading.  Then she listed one to ten with blank slots.  Here was my assignment.  -Time to start thinking.
   Thursday is the National Day of Prayer.  It’s time to do some communicating.  – How about sending some thanks to a God who has blessed us beyond belief? 
   “Wait a minute,” you might say.  “Where are my blessings?” 
     This past year brought cancer to my door.  My dad died.  Three surgeries carried my family into 2015.  Oh, my…I still have blessings.  I want to pray.  I need to pray.   
    Prayer is really like my “Thank You” note from Deb.  I need to check in with God.   I need to say thanks for God being...well...God. 
   I’m picking up my blue paper and talking to God today on this National Day of Prayer.  –Care to join me?
   Thank you, God, for
1.       The glorious place in which I live.  Home, village, country
2.        Time with my husband.
3.        A trip to get Taylor from college
4.       My church family and glorious way they rally around God and His projects
5.       Fresh garden soil. Fresh garden flowers.
6.       Kids Community Bible Study and children I love.
7.       The East St. Louis Christian Activity Center and children I love
8.       Three daughters, two sons, and lots of friends I meet along the way.
9.       God who gives me strength and focus and hope.
10.   Foundation to stand on … hope for tomorrow.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Who Do You Choose? Denial, Doubt and Decisions

Welcome back to our study of the Book of John!  

We are in John Chapter 18, simply titled:  Jesus is arrested.

We're all so very familiar with this account, we may tend to gloss over it.  But I want to focus on three parts of this sad account:  the denial of Peter,  the doubt of Pilate and the decision of the crowd.

In the darkness of the night, in an act of sheer cowardice, the Jewish leaders have captured Jesus.  They proceed to drag him their high priest.

Peter follows the crowd dragging Jesus.  I relate to this impetuous disciple so much!  When Jesus is captured, Peter lets his anger get the best of him. He draws his sword and cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest.

Jesus corrects Peter's mistake.  --How many times must I call on Jesus to correct mine?  

Now the once-bold Peter is slinking around in the shadows of Jesus' captors. He cannot stay hidden for long, however.

"You aren't one of this man's disciples too, are you?"  a servant girl asks Simon Peter.  

Peter speaks before thinking (I can relate!)  "I am not," he replies in a haze of fear and uncertainty.  This would be the first of three times Peter denies Jesus.  

I am Peter in word and deed.  Sometimes I panic and blurt out the first thing which comes to mind. I don't like awkward moments.  Sometimes, I just try to fit in with the crowd, without even thinking about it really.

--How many times have I denied Jesus?  Yikes!  

Don't miss the rest of the story on Peter, however.  God uses cracked pots.  Upon this quaking man in the shadows, God will, in fact, build his church.  

Yes, there is hope for cracked pots when we experience the risen SAVIOR!

After the high priests slap Jesus around a bit, they realize they cannot condemn Him to death.  
They need to drag him to a Roman leader in order to get HIM to do their "dirty work" for them.

Enter: Pilate, the Roman governor. In the early morning hours, the priests drag Jesus toward the Governor's palace.  BUT, interesting enough, they will NOT enter.  Entry will make them unclean to eat the Passover meal.

Geesh!  These priests are, as Jesus has always said, hypocrites! They plot to kill. Their insides are deceitful, selfish, paranoid and evil.

BUT - They are worried about "keeping clean" for Passover.  Oh, brother. What a collection of two-faced leaders!

Pilate comes out to meet them. --Why do I get the feeling Pilate is a weary?

He says he does not  want to mess with Jesus:

"Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law," he says.

That's not going to work for the cowardly priests, who want Jesus condemned to death by the Romans.  

Here is what happened inside Pilate's palace:

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Pilate appears to be annoyed and weary with the situation.  He does not want to deal with Jesus. He's stuck, however, and being pressured by the pesky leaders of the Jewish contingent.  

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Pilate has an earthly perspective. He does not realize he's staring into the face of an out-of-this-world king!

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. 

Pilate's answer is the world's answer.  It sends chills down my spine.  The world does not want a definitive TRUTH to follow.  This is so so very sad.  Pilate represents a world without direction.  No wonder he is so very weary and discouraged! Pilate represents culture today, in a word....empty. 

Something speaks to Pilate's heart, however.  He can find no guilt in the man standing before him.  How can he get rid of this entity who makes him feel unsettled and wary? 

With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.

39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

Here is the out for Pilate....the chance to please the people and get away from the penetrating look of the gentle man brought before him.  Pilate makes the world outside his door an "offer".  

The people are clear.  The people are easily influenced.  The people are pawns in an evil game.  
They give their answer, prompted by the enemy within their midst: 

40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

The devil is still at work today.  He is encouraging the crowds to deny Jesus.  He is whispering in innocent ears.  He is shouting from televisions.  He is teaching in our schools and universities.  

The devil is telling us there is no Truth.  He is wearing us down, making us tired and discouraged.
Let's be on the diligent and faithful, lest we deny Jesus, doubt His Truth and make decisions which will impact mankind forever and forever.  

There are many lessons to be learned in John 18. 

...On to reading John 19.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Joy in the Journey...The Story of the Dogwood

Joy in the Journey

I saw them 65 miles south of Atlanta.
We'd shared the road with palm trees and pine trees and mack trucks since south Florida. Florida surroundings were lush and green and manicured and walled.
North of Florida now, we drove the same road I followed with my father a year ago.
Last year, we sang "King of the Road" and "On the Road Again" and other country favorites.  I called them "cheatin 'n drinkin songs."  My dad laughed at that. I loved to make him laugh.
My car was quiet this year.  Brad nodded off in the passenger seat. Georgia trees were sprouting light feathery green, cut here and there by bare brown branches. Spring was just beginning here.
Sixty-five miles south of Atlanta I saw them.  The dogwood trees were blooming.  Their white promise cascaded down the hillsides.  The flowers brought memories and, yes, joy to my journey.
Dusky gray clouds dimmed the light of the afternoon sky.  The white blossoms created a soft glow, however. This was a comforting light.
I learned long ago about the dogwood tree.  It's one of the first to bloom in spring, often coming on the heels of Easter.
Long before green leaves emerge,  velvet white of four distinct petals push through.  The petals form a cross.
At the tip of each petal, a touch of reddish brown pierces the white.  The petal curls back at the pierce as if recoiling from pain.
The center of the flower is distinct.  A circle of thorny yellow and brown creates a crown. The crown is at the center of the cross.
In the cloudy afternoon, the white crosses shimmered.  In the shower of white,  songs I had lost came back to me.  I reconnected with joy.
Joy is an inside job.  Unlike happiness, which is rooted in what "happens" to us, joy is hinged to a Savior, a cross and love which washes light over a dull life.  That joy gives us a hope and a future no matter what "happens" to us.
Even death is not an ending for believers in the cross.  Even pain takes on meaning when we understand the gift.  Jesus gave us that gift.
Sixty-five miles south of of Atlanta I was reminded of joy.  As my car skimmed brown hills patched  with vibrant white, I smiled.
 I discovered joy on my journey home and, in the silence of my car, I sang.  

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Up Front For Easter

McDonalds think they have it figured out.  
I pulled up to the drive-thru today. A cheery voice practically shouted at me with enthusiasm:  
“Welcome to McDonalds!” the metallic voice chirped. “Buy a fillet extra value meal and get a second fillet for a dollar!”   

The voice continued talking before I could reply:   “What can I make for you today?”    T he enthusiastic voice audibly clicked and went silent.  
A new, slightly weary voice came on the line.    
“What would you like?”  the beleaguered voice said.  The young man was trying to sound cheerful, but I could tell it had been a long, hectic shift.  

I gave my order and started thinking.  I often live my life like the recorded voice in the McDonalds drive-thru.   
On the outside, I may be perky and enthusiastic, but my insides are a little weary.  Life has been a long, hard shift and I’ve forgotten who to run to for peace.   
Enter: Jesus and the promise of Easter. 

Jesus is the essence of God's love come to earth for weary souls.  He knows our true identity and loves us long after the recording winds down.   
Sometimes I think we’re all broken people trying to pretend we're not broken.  We turn on the recording and sound perky. We mask our insecurity with laughter, loud talk or even quiet self-confidence.

Truth be told, when we face real life issues, like pain and sorrow and disappointment and death, we need  help to fill the God-shaped hole in our hearts.   
Enter: Jesus and the promise of Easter  
Some people try to fill this hole with temporary things: Money, jobs, relationships, kids, food, drink and, yup, even good works.  

Others try to fill the hole with militancy. They scream “Show me your approval" and  "Make me feel good about myself or I’ll sue you!” The problem is, they still feel empty and they don’t know why.   
Enter Jesus and the promise of Easter.     

Some people try to fill the hole in their hearts with a victim mentality. They fill up with self pity and stagnate, waiting for someone to give them what they think they deserve..    
Enter: Jesus and the promise of Easter.  

When we give Jesus our lives...He fills our holes.  He fixes the broken.  He gives self-worth to the insecure and victory to the victims.
It's as simple as choosing to believe in Jesus and the promise of Easter.
McDonalds may think they have it figured out --  provide a perky recording to mask the human frailty of its workers.
God had a better idea:  Provide a Savior to bring frail humans back into the presence of His empowering love.  
I think I'll let Jesus fill my hollow places.  No recordings necessary. It only takes a moment...a let Him in. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

John 17 - A Savior in a World of Challenge

Oh, friends, the time is just flying - taxes, finances, work, church, challenges!  I have missed looking at John!  Tonight I uncovered John 17 and want to write about it.

John 17

Read through John 17.  Jesus  is really prepping his followers for his departure.

John brings in Jesus’ words which certainly clarify His role on earth and our ability to be saved through HIM.

Check out the first verse and see how Jesus gives us salvation and eternal life:

 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.  
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.  I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.  -- John 17:1-5

I looked up the word, “glorify” in my trusty dictionary. I love this definition:

Glorify: “to honor; extol; to give glory to, as in worship”

When I read on, I felt like Jesus was talking to God about me.  I know He is referring to His disciples and followers, but read the rest of the chapter as if He is talking to God about YOU.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, 
and to see my glory, the glory you have given me 
because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, 
I know you, and they know that you have sent me.  
I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known 
in order that the love you have for me may be in them 
and that I myself may be in them.” -- John 17: 24-26

The words of Jesus calm me and let me know -- Jesus is asking God to cover me when I am in the trenches of this world.

That’s a good thing to know.

God can only protect me if I am reflecting Him in the world.

Jesus is also saying HE will supply us with the love we need and also be IN us… when we invite Him.

I don’t know how people face the problems of this world without Jesus.

I’m so glad Jesus helps us -- He brings meaning to suffering and focus to confusion.  He equips us for this crazy world with His LOVE!

I LOVE Him and pray you do, too!

Have a wonderful week!