Not Guilty

Not guilty echos forward into eternity. A prophetic voice foreshadows what it to come. Our Abba and his Son look upon us and declare “Not Guilty”. There is to be no more blood shed to atone for sin. That way is done. And it is done now. What might it be
like to live “Not Guilty” today?
- free of guilt and shame?
- of not being enough?
- of messing up or making mistakes?
- of taking out our anger laced fear on others?
- of finding someone to blame?

John 19 contains the reality of great suffering. Please be gentle with yourself as you pray through these texts. Christ is with you.

John 19:1-6 (NLT)
Then Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. 2 The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. 3 “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.

4 Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” 5 Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!”

6 When they saw him, the leading priests and Temple guards began shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

“Take him yourselves and crucify him,” Pilate said. “I find him not guilty.”

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?

Place yourself in this conversation. Who are you? What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What do you want to say to Jesus? What does he in turn say to you?

This can be a painful passage to pray with. Invite Jesus to minister to you in your pain or just be with him in his pain. Together you are sharing in his suffering and he in yours.

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The Intimacy of the Supper Table

Even in our hurried, disconnected culture today, sharing dinner with someone remains an act of intimacy. The host shares what is his or hers to give and the guests receive with gratitude, the food, drink, hospitality and conversation offered. The dinner table creates the possibility of being known. The dinner conversation between Jesus and his disciples unfolds with this very purposeful invitation to be fully known. We can feel the ache Jesus might feel as he gives each disciple freedom to choose how to respond to this gift of intimacy. Some choose to lean and linger while another chooses to flee and hide. We are given this same opportunity to choose intimacy today.

John 13:18-30 (MSG)
“I’m not including all of you in this. I know precisely whom I’ve selected, so as not to interfere with the fulfillment of this Scripture:
The one who ate bread at my table
Turned on his heel against me.
“I’m telling you all this ahead of time so that when it happens you will believe that I am who I say I am. Make sure you get this right: Receiving someone I send is the same as receiving me, just as receiving me is the same as receiving the One who sent me.”
21 After he said these things, Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. “One of you is going to betray me.”
22-25 The disciples looked around at one another, wondering who on earth he was talking about. One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder. Peter motioned to him to ask who Jesus might be talking about. So, being the closest, he said, “Master, who?”
26-27 Jesus said, “The one to whom I give this crust of bread after I’ve dipped it.” Then he dipped the crust and gave it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. As soon as the bread was in his hand, Satan entered him.
“What you must do,” said Jesus, “do. Do it and get it over with.”
28-29 No one around the supper table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that since Judas was their treasurer, Jesus was telling him to buy what they needed for the Feast, or that he should give something to the poor.
30 Judas, with the piece of bread, left. It was night.

For Reflection and Prayer:
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.
Place yourself in the story as one of the disciples. What do you notice?
If you noticed any place of tension or of ease in yourself as you listened, imagine leaning your head on Jesus’ chest and communing with him there.

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When We Want To Truly Hear

When we want to truly hear we can ask any question and give ourselves permission to wait for the answer. Mysteriously, God's Spirit in us helps us know when we hear that answer. We can wonder what those temple guards heard Jesus say, which compelled them to refuse a direct order from the chief priests. Who were those guards guarding?
This recorded dialogue offers us a front row seat to observing a religious system. It is teeming with a mixture of sublime, subversive and controlling questions. Notice the questions and the freedom surrounding them. Stay curious and allow the conversation to intersect with your own life and story.

John 7:45-53 NLT
When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46 “We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded.
47 “Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. 48 “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? 49 This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”
50 Then Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. 51 “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.
52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Search the Scriptures and see for yourself—no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”
53 Then the meeting broke up, and everybody went home.

For Reflection and Prayer:
What caught your attention as you listened to the text? A word, a phrase, an image? Have a conversation with Jesus about what you heard.

Was there a particular feeling you experienced as you listened to the story? Bring that feeling into your prayer. How do you need Jesus to meet you in that feeling?

This text is full of questions. What do you notice about them? How do they affect you?

Be still and savor any consoling words or pictures in your prayer with God.

Our Exodus Story

As we continue to pray with the Psalms through Lent, this one is of particular significance. It is the hymn of the Exodus, traditionally sung or spoken before the Passover meal of remembrance. Psalm 114 invites us to remember our own Exodus story, those places where God saw our oppression, came to our rescue and delivered us to a place of sanctuary. Perhaps this story is still unfolding in your life. Take courage and ask God for what you need. Our Deliverer is surely coming.

Psalm 114 NLT
When the Israelites escaped from Egypt—
    when the family of Jacob left that foreign land—
2 the land of Judah became God’s sanctuary,
    and Israel became his kingdom.
3 The Red Sea saw them coming and hurried out of their way!
    The water of the Jordan River turned away.
4 The mountains skipped like rams,
    the hills like lambs!
5 What’s wrong, Red Sea, that made you hurry out of their way?
    What happened, Jordan River, that you turned away?
6 Why, mountains, did you skip like rams?
    Why, hills, like lambs?
7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
    at the presence of the God of Jacob.
8 He turned the rock into a pool of water;
    yes, a spring of water flowed from solid rock.

vs. 8 references: Exodus 17:6, Numbers 20:11

For Reflection and Prayer:
What word, a phrase, image, or feeling affected you as you listened to the text? How did it affect you? Bring this into your prayer with Jesus.

Remember and reflect on your own Exodus experience. Take time to journal and record your story as a remembrance. What did God do for you? What oppressive place and ruler did God deliver you from? Where did God bring you to a place of sanctuary?

How does this Exodus still affect you today? How is God teaching you to draw forth water from the rock? From rocky places? Where or how does God lead you to springs of living water for each day?

How do you like to celebrate your Exodus?

Sounds of Freedom

Again this Christmas, we celebrated the coming of Jesus and we remember again the purpose of his coming: to restore us back to God. In this Psalm, we are given a front row seat to hear the voices of a people who are freed from captivity and brought back home to God. Let us find our own voice within this crowd and join the cry for freedom.

Psalm 126 (AMP)
When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion (Jerusalem),
We were like those who dream [it seemed so unreal].

Then our mouth was filled with laughter
And our tongue with joyful shouting;
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
 
The Lord has done great things for us;
We are glad!
Restore our [b]captivity, O Lord,
As the stream-beds in the South (the Negev) [are restored by torrents of rain].
 
They who sow in tears shall reap with joyful singing.
 
He who goes back and forth weeping, carrying his bag of seed [for planting],
Will indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

Footnotes:
Psalm 126:4 I.e. the remaining exiles.

For Reflection and Prayer:

What word, a phrase, image, or feeling caught your attention as you listened? Bring it into your prayer with Jesus. Journal what Jesus says in response to you.

How have you experienced being restored from captivity?  Reflect on your experience; either your lifetime or this past year. Bring your reflections before God in prayer.

Perhaps your longings reveal a desire for new freedom. Ask God to give you courage to listen and discern what they may be revealing. Ask God to meet you in your longings.

Does a spontaneous response arise within you to God? To sing or dance or make music or write or any kind of art form? What ways of expression of worship flow from your marvelous design?

Liberation Comes

Isaiah reminds us poignantly that the "tidings of comfort and joy" proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds includes the promise of physical and spiritual liberation. This promise of freedom extends to all people: the poor, the brokenhearted, the captive prisoner, and the mourner.

Can we possibly imagine and join with Jesus in the liberation of our own hearts and those of our families, our neighborhoods, our cities?

Come, Lord Jesus. Come. Revive us again.

Isaiah 61:1-4. 8-9NLT
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me,
    for the LORD has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
    and to proclaim that captives will be released
    and prisoners will be freed.
2 He has sent me to tell those who mourn
    that the time of the LORD’s favor has come,
    and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
3 To all who mourn in Israel,
    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
    festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
    that the LORD has planted for his own glory.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins,
    repairing cities destroyed long ago.
They will revive them,
    though they have been deserted for many generations.
8 “For I, the LORD, love justice.
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants will be recognized
    and honored among the nations.
Everyone will realize that they are a people
    the LORD has blessed.”

For Prayer and Reflection:
What phrase or word shimmered as you listened to or read the text? Bring it into prayer with Jesus.

Reflect on your experience of liberation described in the text. Is there something you want to say to Jesus? Journal your conversation.

What rebuilding projects have you seen God do in your life or would like to see?

Extravagant Love

In these three seemingly unrelated short passages, Jesus offers us a glimpse into his observations and dialogue in the Temple, just days before his arrest. If we take a step back, we can see how Jesus holds the tension of contrasts and witness him untangling motives from actions.
Where does God's extravagant love compel us to action? And what does that loving action look like to God? and to the world?

Mark 12:35-44 (MSG)
While he was teaching in the Temple, Jesus asked, “How is it that the religion scholars say that the Messiah is David’s ‘son,’ when we all know that David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said,
God said to my Master,
    “Sit here at my right hand
    until I put your enemies under your feet.”
“David here designates the Messiah ‘my Master’—so how can the Messiah also be his ‘son’?”
The large crowd was delighted with what they heard.
38-40 He continued teaching. “Watch out for the religion scholars. They love to walk around in academic gowns, preening in the radiance of public flattery, basking in prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every church function. And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless. The longer their prayers, the worse they get. But they’ll pay for it in the end.”
41-44 Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”

For 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.

What do you notice about Jesus in this passage? Is there anything about him which increases your desire to draw closer to him? To lean and listen in?

How do you feel about Jesus seeing you, observing you, knowing your motives? Can you have a conversation with him about how you feel? What does he say to you in return?

Take a moment to savor with Jesus, a time when his extravagant love compelled you to action in ways unseen or misunderstood to the world.

God's Great Desire for our Good

Jesus uses hyperbole (exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally) to make the point that what is a sin pattern in our life can steal, kill and destroy us. It also can be a hindrance to others, affect our peace and cause us to feel we have no worth or meaning.

We know that cutting off a hand, foot or gouging out an eye doesn't get to the inner life issues that can keep us caught in a sin pattern: addiction, resentments, fears, shame, and hiding. Maggots and fire suggest decay and destruction as a result. The imagery reveals that this is a really big deal to God.  Instead of destruction, God wants to give us life in abundance, freedom and joy. God desires that we be fully engaged in life and that we become a source of life to others.
   
So how do we get rid of it? Let God be God. Give up trying to control it yourself. Invite God to give you the power to do what you cannot do on your own. Get honest with another. Confess, name what is going on, and trust another to come alongside you who will accompany you through the healing process into freedom and restoration.

MARK 9: 38-50 NLT
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”

39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.42 “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck.

43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. 45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.

49 “For everyone will be tested with fire. 50 Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.”

For Reflection and Prayer:
•    What did you hear as you listened/read?  What stood out to you? What seems to be just for you in these words?

•    Jesus uses radical language to emphasize dealing with sin in one’s life. What is Jesus really inviting?  What has this been like for you?  Painful? Convicting? Life-giving? How would you describe the process that you have experienced? How has sin crippled you?

•    What is your source of saltiness?  What keeps you going, nourishing and preserving your desire for God?
 

When Faith Meets Jesus

It’s a wonder, isn’t it, how available Jesus makes Himself to us? — to all who move toward Him in faith.

In this passage, the dust on Jesus’ sandals speaks the truth of His weariness, and yet when a Greek (Gentile) woman, desperate for her little girl to be freed from an impure spirit, falls at His feet and begs for His healing touch, He listens and responds by driving out the demon.  His authority met her unbridled faith in Him and “She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.”
According to Jewish law this Gentile woman was an “outsider,” but not according to Jesus. She called to Him as her Rabbi, and He answered her, bringing freedom to her child.

His ears are open to the prayer of any who call upon His name in faith. This woman approached Him in her own unique way. How do you tend to approach Jesus?  What do you notice when you do? Does any particular word or image come to mind regarding your encounter with each other?

“Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the presence of faith.”  (author unknown)

 Mark 7:24-30 (NIV)
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.  He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.  In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet.  The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.


For reflection and prayer:
1. As you listened to the passage, were there any words, phrases, or images that stood out to you?

2. Try to imagine what it would be like to not be able to keep your whereabouts a secret? Dialogue with Jesus about this mutual experience.

3. This Greek (Gentile) woman of faith came to Jesus by falling at His feet and begging. What are some of the ways that you come to Jesus? How does He seem present to you in these encounters? What do you notice about His posture toward you?  And yours toward Him? Are there any word(s) or image(s)  that capture this for you?