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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.