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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!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

John 16 - Falling into Jesus' Arms

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”--John 16:33

Drat.  I had really hoped I would sail through this world without much trouble. 

When I was in my 20s, I thought I could outsmart trouble.  I lived my life boldly and bravely, skirting the edges of problems and thumbing my nose at consequences.

Then trouble hit me, full force, flat in the face.  I lamented my predicament. I figured God must not be aware of my struggles.  

Then I read John 16:33.  Just WHY did you have to guarantee trouble, God?

As I've walked this journey for 50+ years, I've begun to understand why. Now that I'm facing cancer, I cling to the reality of this verse. 

Without darkness we would not see light, without depth, no sparkling shallows, without pain, no healing solace, without struggle, no roots of faithful strength. 

In John 16:33 Jesus tells me HE is the only source of peace.  Key words to this verse are:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace."

Being "in" Christ is a lot different than my typical Sunday morning check in.  

I have given my life to Jesus.  I remain in Him and He in me as I struggle through my day.  When I run away from Jesus' presence, however, I get lost in trouble.

What I need to do is fall into the loving arms of Jesus.  There, nestled in the warmth of His love, I will discover the promise of John 16:33:

"But take heart! I have overcome the world."   

WOW! That is the best news of all!  All this stuff the world throws at me is no match for the Savior who loves me!

Jesus overcomes long as I REMAIN IN HIM!  

I should NOT run away from Jesus to my own anxiety, fears and earthly whining. 

Cancer is no match for Jesus.  

In the end,  I know....with Jesus... I can overcome the world.   

Thursday, February 19, 2015

John 15 -- Staying Connected

I woke up this a.m. and read John 15 -- BEAUTIFUL!  

Jesus' imagery of  a vine really pops out at me!  Matter of fact, I wrote a newspaper article about this verse. I'll share it with you below.

First, however, take a moment to pray for God to reveal His personal TRUTH to you.  

Then, read John 15: 5-8 below.

These verses tell us about staying connected to the source of our strength.

When I read this, I realize I need to focus, stick with Jesus and....LOVE.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." -- John 15:5-8

My vine was getting to be a nuisance.  It snaked its way up our brick wall and covered the water spout.  I tried pulling it off and gave up in a huff.  This vine had to go.

I pulled my trusty clippers out and systematically cut each tendril at the base.  Then I got distracted. Weeds called my name and I walked around the corner to the garden.

It did not take long.  Next time I turned the corner, I was shocked to see a mass of wilting vine leaves.  The rootless branches were limp and weak.  They had been disconnected from the life source.  I yanked the vine down with no problem.

Hmmmm.  This vine reminded me of my life sometimes.  I let myself get cut off from Christ.  Then I wilt and wonder why. 

Enter: Jesus. In John 15:5-8,  Jesus tells me HE is the vine and I am His branches.  If I run away to my projects, my schemes, my plans and try tackling my frustrating  problems on my own, apart from my Savior, I wilt.  

It's pretty easy to pull me down on those days.  I lose my color and I'm all dried out on the inside.

John 15 tells me Jesus is my life-giving Savior.  I need to stay connected through prayer, quiet time and Bible study.  Truth be told, if I've cut myself off from Jesus, I'm really not accomplishing much.  

You can't get much fruit from a shrinking vine.

Lest I get discouraged, however, God told me "the rest of the story" in John 15:9-17.  I am forgiven and refueled when I run back to Jesus and experience His love.

What little kid does not want to be loved?  Suddenly, I feel revived. Check out the book of John:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.  This is my command: Love each other. -- John 15:9-17

The vine by my house is gone now, but the stump remains - a reminder of what was once there.  When I hooked up the hose this spring, I noticed something interesting.  

At the base of the vine, tiny leaves appeared. This was not the end of  the vine. New branches were starting. 

God makes it clear: When we stay connected to the One who loves us, new life appears.

I need to fall into the arms of a loving Savior, ask for forgiveness and soak up some love.  Only then will I get the truly important things done.  

Only then will my branches reach out in love.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

John 14 - A Promise of Peace

Man oh man! This Chapter is SOOOO comforting and SOOOO clear!

How can anyone read this chapter and not understand Jesus is God and the only way to get to Heaven, which is a super place??????!!!!

Oh, how I love this Chapter and how clearly Jesus tells the TRUTH!

Setting the stage -- Peter (I always think I am just like impetuous Peter!) has just said he wants to die for Jesus in John 13:37

Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” - John 13:37

Jesus' answer is so sharp and penetrating:

Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! - John 13:38

Well, I would think Peter is feeling AWFUL about this. So Jesus gives him some reassurance as we start

John Chapter 14: 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled." You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”  
                                                                                                                - John 14:1-4

These verses remind me of walking up the hill with my daughter Brynn when she was 5 or 6. She was looking up.

"What you looking at, Brynn?"

"Heaven. God's sweepin out my room up der."

Haha! Love it!

Again, I LOVE how John captures the sheer humanity (and human frailty) of the people around Jesus.
It makes me feel so much better to know those folks did not always understand Jesus! Just listen to how confused the disciples were:

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 
 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” 

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. - John 14:5-9

WOW -- People still don't get this. Jesus says He is the Father -- How can we be confused????

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.  Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it - John 14:11-14

Zowee! Can I really do great things? Jesus says so, as long as I am doing "the works Jesus has been doing"

Also -- interesting -- Read verses 13-14 -- THIS is why we pray in Jesus name!

Does this mean He will always give us what we pray for?

Hmmmm I think sometimes He answers prayer in a different way. This is not always immediate.  We just have to figure out what Jesus is doing...and join Him.

“If you love me, keep my commands." -John14:15

You are pretty clear here, Lord, but how can I do this? I'm pretty weak.  I need HELP!

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and He will be with you forever—  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. - John 14:16,17

Oh....this must be that still, small voice that tells me..."Something is wrong here" or "You should do this..."

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." --John 14:18

I'm so glad I am NOT alone EVER!  I've got a Daddy.  I am NOT and orphan, even when my parents have left this earth!

Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them - John 14:19-21

Judas does not understand why Jesus would not reveal himself to everyone. Remember -- Judas wanted to follow the SPLASHY - POWERFUL leader. He really is disappointed in this humble servant with poor Public Relations skills!

Again, I love the conversations John captures! Remember: HE was there!

Jesus is such a wonderful communicator -- He reassures his followers before all the craziness happens. Did you notice how He tells them he is going?

All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. - John 14:25-26

Thank you, Jesus, for the Holy Spirit! ALSO thank you for the following statement which helps me in so many circumstances:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. - John 14:27

Don't look to the world for peace.

Run into the loving arms of the one who understands you and loves you the most: Jesus.

See you next week in John 15!  Read and be ready!