When Fear Wins the Day

As painful as it is to hear the details of Jesus’ trial and witness the injustice of the entire process, Jesus seems to want us to understand how fear operates in real life and real systems. When we are guided by fear in our choices and decisions, truth can become blurry and we can be easily deceived. Perhaps our question for today is, do I know when I am being guided by fear or guided by love? How do I know the difference?

John 19:7-16 (ESV)
The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

12 From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

For Prayer and Reflection:

Was there a word, a phrase, or an image that stood out as you listened? Linger there awhile with Jesus.

Place yourself in the story. Where are you standing? What do you see? What do you smell? What else do you sense? Notice any feelings that surface and follow it deeper if you feel led.

Consider encountering Jesus within the question, “Where are you from?”

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Fear, Shame and Denial

How many sermons and bible studies have called us out on denying that we know Jesus? Yet heaping shame upon our denial only serves to keep us stuck and entrench us further. As we learn more about the impact which trauma or the threat of a traumatic experience has upon our body, including our brain, we learn that denial is an autonomic response to a traumatic event. Let's shift the focus here to wonder. What might it have been like for Peter to witness 200-600 armed Roman soldiers come to arrest Jesus? Can we stay with Peter by the fire and offer compassion to a brave disciple who is grappling with his fear? What comfort might he need from Jesus now?

John 18:12-18 (NLT)
So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up. 13 First they took him to Annas, since he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest at that time. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had told the other Jewish leaders, “It’s better that one man should die for the people.”
15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, as did another of the disciples. That other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. 16 Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. 17 The woman asked Peter, “You’re not one of that man’s disciples, are you?”
“No,” he said, “I am not.”
18 Because it was cold, the household servants and the guards had made a charcoal fire. They stood around it, warming themselves, and Peter stood with them, warming himself.

For Reflection and Prayer:
Was there a word, phrase or image which caught your attention you as you listened to or slowly read the text? Quietly reflect on it in your prayer with Jesus. Journal your conversation.

What feelings – either comfortable or uncomfortable - are rising up in you as you listen to this story? Where do you feel what you feel? Refrain from judging the feeling and gently bring this awareness into your prayer with Jesus. Listen for how he meets you in these feelings.

Savor any consoling words or pictures as you quietly rest in God’s compassion for you.

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Our Own Betrayals

Amidst the pain of betrayal in this passage emerges the knowing of a place of intimate trust which Jesus shared with his father and closest friends. This garden was his place of prayer, his safe place, his vulnerable place. Within this cocoon of intimacy, Jesus bravely faced his betrayer - his friend. This can be a painfully hard passage to enter in our prayer. Perhaps the invitation is to simply trust that such a place exists for us too in our prayer. 

John 18:1-11 (NLT)
After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. 2 Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. 3 The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove.
4 Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.
5 “Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) 6 As Jesus said “I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! 7 Once more he asked them, “Who are you looking for?”
And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
8 “I told you that I am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” 9 He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.”
10 Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. 11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”

For Reflection and Prayer:
What did you hear as you listened to the text? Did a word or phrase stand out in particular? Meditate on this word, phrase or picture. Is there more God wants to say to you?

This passage might guide you to reflect on your own experience of betrayal including times when you have betrayed yourself. What do you notice inside of you as reflect? How do you most need Jesus to be with you in this moment? Take some deep breaths remembering that God’s Spirit breathes in you. Be very, very gentle with yourself and simply ask for what you need.  You might hold your own hand, or lay your hand upon your heart in your prayer as an extension of compassion towards your pain and need.

Savor any consoling words or pictures God gives you. Simply rest in God’s presence.

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What If...You Did Not Fear Rejection?

What will you choose if you do not fear rejection? Would you be free to choose life? To believe the evidence of renewal you see? The work of God's outstretched arm? Pay attention this week to the subtle places where you notice your fear of rejection. Be kind, gentle and non-judgemental of this fear. Welcome it and allow it to tell you it's story. Bring it into your prayer.  Talk it over with God. Listen for God's response to you. Allow Jesus' words to soak into your spirit:
"I don't reject you"
"You are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you"

John 12:37-50 MSG
All these God-signs he had given them and they still didn’t get it, still wouldn’t trust him. This proved that the prophet Isaiah was right:
God, who believed what we preached?
Who recognized God’s arm, outstretched and ready to act?
First they wouldn’t believe, then they couldn’t—again, just as Isaiah said:
Their eyes are blinded,
    their hearts are hardened,
So that they wouldn’t see with their eyes
    and perceive with their hearts,
And turn to me, God,
    so I could heal them.
41 Isaiah said these things after he got a glimpse of God’s cascading brightness that would pour through the Messiah.
42-43 On the other hand, a considerable number from the ranks of the leaders did believe. But because of the Pharisees, they didn’t come out in the open with it. They were afraid of getting kicked out of the meeting place. When push came to shove they cared more for human approval than for God’s glory.
44-46 Jesus summed it all up when he cried out, “Whoever believes in me, believes not just in me but in the One who sent me. Whoever looks at me is looking, in fact, at the One who sent me. I am Light that has come into the world so that all who believe in me won’t have to stay any longer in the dark.
47-50 “If anyone hears what I am saying and doesn’t take it seriously, I don’t reject him. I didn’t come to reject the world; I came to save the world. But you need to know that whoever puts me off, refusing to take in what I’m saying, is willfully choosing rejection. The Word, the Word-made-flesh that I have spoken and that I am, that Word and no other is the last word. I’m not making any of this up on my own. The Father who sent me gave me orders, told me what to say and how to say it. And I know exactly what his command produces: real and eternal life. That’s all I have to say. What the Father told me, I tell you.”
I say whatever the Father tells me to say.”

For your reflection and prayer:
As you listened, was there a word, a phrase, an image, or something else that stood out to you? Notice what it stirs in you. Have a conversation with Jesus about this.

Consider the context and tone which you are hearing this text in. Who has God revealed his powerful arm to? Who has seen God’s power? How have you seen God’s power?

Slowly savor any consoling words or images which God gives you in this time of prayer. Simply rest in God’s presence with them.

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When Jesus Gathers Us Together

Today's text touches a longing often buried deep within us. It's a longing to be gathered into one with Jesus and others, especially those who are scattered and removed far from us either physically, emotionally or spiritually. Jesus keeps showing us through real presence and relationship how to become one. He gathers together with us on the edges of our own wilderness and desolate places to stay with us and simply be with us, his disciples.

John 11:45-57 (ESV)

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation,52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
54 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.
55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.

For Reflection and Prayer:
1. If there was a word, a phrase, or an image that sought your attention as you listened, stay with it and listen deeper with Jesus.
2. If you noticed any place of tension, or some other sensation, in your body as you listened, gently follow it with Jesus.
3. Does an “Ephraim”, a place you can walk openly, come to mind? How does Jesus seem present to you there?

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When Love Looks Like Delay

I am drawn into this intimate family scene involving Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus. How profoundly they must have known and trusted the love of one another that the women sent word to Jesus of their brothers' dreadful sickness. What must it have been like for these women and the very sick man to wait for days for Jesus to 'care enough' to come and respond to their urgent need? I can feel the angst and helplessness they likely felt - waiting, hoping, trusting that Jesus would come. Did they feel ignored, betrayed, or abandoned as they waited and watched their brother slip away? This passage invites us to get very real with God as we identify and name our own places where God does not seem to respond to our urgent need. Be gentle with yourself as you bring those times into your prayer with God. Notice how God's compassionate love meets you. If it is overwhelming to be in this place of need, gently return to a safe and loving place you have experienced God's presence before. Allow that memory to strengthen you into the permanence and steadfastness of God's love.

John 11:1-10 (NLT)
A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. 2 This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. 3 So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”
4 But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” 5 So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6 he stayed where he was for the next two days. 7 Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”
8 But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”
9 Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.”

For Reflection and Prayer:
What did you hear as you listened or read the text? Did something particular catch your attention? Bring it into meditative conversation with Jesus.

Give yourself room for the word to affect you. What are you feeling or sensing? Gently bring this awareness into your prayer with Jesus.

Rest in quiet trust in Jesus’ loving presence. Savor any consoling words or pictures given to you.

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Where is Here?

After the abundant provision of food, enough to feed a large town or small city, the disciples give up on waiting for Jesus to return to the shore. Encased in darkness, they set out upon the lake to get to where they need to go. Eventually they battle a raging storm. It is here that Jesus announces his presence. His poignant words prompt us to consider, "where is here"?
Where is here:
   - this storm?
   - this fear?
   - this darkness?
   - this trying hard?
   - this reality?
Questions like these can give us clues, yet ultimately, we each need to ask for ourselves, "Jesus, where are you here, in this?" This dialogue becomes our prayer.

John 6:16-24 (NLT)
That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. 17 But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. 18 Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough. 19 They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, 20 but he called out to them, “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” 21 Then they were eager to let him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination!
22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the far shore saw that the disciples had taken the only boat, and they realized Jesus had not gone with them. 23 Several boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the Lord had blessed the bread and the people had eaten. 24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went across to Capernaum to look for him.

For Reflection and Prayer:
Was there a word, phrase or image which caught your attention you as you listened to or slowly read the text? Quietly reflect on it in your prayer with Jesus. Journal your conversation.

Was there any particular emotion which emerged as you listened to the scripture? Talk it over with Jesus in your prayer.

Using all of your senses, place yourself in the story. Who are you and what are you witnessing or experiencing? Write out the story in your own words, allowing the story and conversation to be your prayer.

Savor any consoling words or pictures as you quietly rest in God.

Our Hiding Place

The place we go to hide can become the place where we become found by God and find God for ourselves. It is a place where we can be seen and known with love and compassion, including the parts of ourselves we most want to hide from. As you find a quiet moment to listen to the words of Psalm 32, give them room to soak in like a softly falling rain.

Psalm 32:1-7 NIV
1 Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
    whose sin the LORD does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.
3 When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the LORD.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.
6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
    while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
    will not reach them.
7 You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance.

For Reflection and Prayer:
What did you hear as you listened to the text? Did it stir up a feeling within you as you listened?
What do you hear about God in this passage?
What do you hear about yourself in these words?
What is your prayer that emerges from these words? What might you ask God to do in you?

The Keeper of the Vow

Many of us, along life's journey of learning to trust, surrender and follow God make our own vows to God. Over time we discover, if we are truly honest, that we cannot fully keep our vows. The good and amazing news is that God, the Maker of the New Covenant is the one who is fully able and willing to keep the vows made to us. Our God will remain faithful to us.

He keeps every promise forever...Psalm 146:

Psalm 56:3-4, 8-13NIV

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
4     In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?

8 Record my misery;
    list my tears on your scroll—
    are they not in your record?
9 Then my enemies will turn back
    when I call for help.
    By this I will know that God is for me.

 10 In God, whose word I praise,
    in the Lord, whose word I praise—
11 in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can man do to me?

12 I am under vows to you, my God;
    I will present my thank offerings to you.
13 For you have delivered me from death
    and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life.

For Reflection and Prayer:
Is there a word or phrase which stands out to you as you listen to the text?

Reflect on the fears which may reside in your heart. Bring them into conversation with Jesus. What does he say to you?

How have you experienced God to be trustworthy? Where might you desire to trust God more fully?

Journal or make a record of the vows - the promises God has made to you.

You Will See Him

Finally. Gloriously! We witness Jesus rising from the dead. He is alive! New life has come out of death. This is Good News! Christ is victorious over death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (1 Tim. 1:10).

What a revelation to those faithful, humble women who were the first witnesses to Christ's resurrection. And they are told something mysterious, "you will see him". These words are truth and sustenance for us today. Where has Jesus gone ahead of us? Where is he bringing new life out of death?
Jesus, open our eyes to see you.

Mark 16:1-8 (NLT)
Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. 3 On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.

5 When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, 6 but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. 7 Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

8 The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened.

For Reflection and Prayer:
What phrase or word spoke to you as you listened/read?

Be with the women who discovered the tomb was empty. What do you notice?

Where do you see the risen Jesus having gone ahead of you? Where would you like to see him? Bring this into prayer with Jesus.

Is there something you want to say to Jesus about this passage?