The Shift To Hope

We witness the shift to hope emerge within in this precious woman from Samaria. In her encounter with Jesus, she discovers that she is fully known and dearly loved. There are no more secrets which have kept her hiding in shame. She is experiencing love and grace transform her from the inside out. With her own words, she shares her story with her community and her story evokes a thirst in her fellow townspeople. What might Jesus be saying to us through his encounter with this woman?

John 4:27-38 (NIV)
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

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

Give yourself room for the word to affect you. What are you feeling or sensing? Without judgement, gently bring this awareness into your prayer with Jesus. What does Jesus say to you?

When have you noticed yourself making your way towards Jesus? What drew you towards Jesus? Reflect on those times and talk it over with Jesus.

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

 

Counseled By Loving Eyes

Counseled by loving eyes which look upon us with compassion
Eyes which say, "choose life"
Eyes that understand our deepest needs and fears
These eyes are not critical, cruel or cunning
They do not evoke fear of punishment
Rather they convey love, hope and kindness
Because of unfailing love, they delight in us learning to walk in the ways of life.

Turn again to see God's loving gaze upon you.

Psalm 32:8-11 NIV
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
    which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
    or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
    but the LORD’s unfailing love
    surrounds the one who trusts in him.
11 Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous;
    sing, all you who are upright in heart!

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?

Our Thoughts

What do we do with those thoughts which come un-invited? Those oppressive or nagging thoughts which assail us?

As King David brings the song of Psalm 139 to a close, he demonstrates his own progression of self awareness and the contradictions, tensions and unresolved conflicts within his and our own hearts and minds. In the midst of that revelation, we are invited again to re-shift our gaze back onto the One who sees and knows us through the eyes of love. Let us keep turning and returning to God who has the power to transform our hearts, minds and actions, guiding us along the path of life.

Psalm 139:19-24 (NLT)
O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
    Get out of my life, you murderers!
20 They blaspheme you;
    your enemies misuse your name.
21 O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
    Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
22 Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
    for your enemies are my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

For Reflection and Prayer:
What word, phrase, image, or feeling caught your attention as you listened? Bring it into your prayer. Journal your conversation.

Can you name an emotion which you felt as you heard these words? Where do you feel it in your body? Without judging it, can you bring it before God in prayer?

Reflect on your own experience of hatred. What affect has it had on you? How might you bring hateful thoughts into your prayer with Jesus? How does he meet you or speak to you about them?

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?

What Do We Usually Do?

Steeped in this text, we witness the typical form and pattern of life effectively lived apart from God. Thinking they are powerfully in control, the Jewish ruling elite make perfectly executable plans. Pontius Pilate, the appointed governor, leads and decides without pausing to pay attention to his own discomfort and dis-ease with the decision before him. As much as we want to blame all of them for the horrible treatment of Jesus, we can see our own similar patterns of behavior. If we are truly honest with ourselves...

we make elaborate plans without consulting God;

we disregard certain information, often living on autopilot, doing what we always do while not paying attention to the signals of new information, or the prompting of the Holy Spirit within;

we chose to satisfy the "crowd", either consciously or unconsciously, and betray the Still Small Voice within.

Perhaps God is inviting us to consider giving up old patterns of doing what we usually do and allowing the Spirit to do a new thing in us.

Mark 15:1-15 (NIV)
Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.
6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
13 “Crucify him!” they shouted.
14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.


For Reflection and Prayer:
Was there a word, a phrase, image, or feeling that stood out to you as you listened? Bring it into your prayer with Jesus. Try drawing your prayer if you are so inclined.

What do you notice about ‘making plans’ in the text? How do you ‘make plans’? What have you noticed when you invite Jesus to ‘make plans’ with you? Talk with him about it.

Perhaps crowd pleasing, or people pleasing is a temptation for you as you make decisions. How is Jesus guiding you in discernment as you face choices?

Be with Jesus in this story, either at a distance or by his side. Just be with him.

Loving Wholeheartedly

After numerous trickery questions, an honest question is finally asked of Jesus. Answering it directly and simply, Jesus invites us to consider what it means to love with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. How are these related? How can we possibly love God, ourselves or others with such purity of heart?

Let us continue to open ourselves to receiving the love God is willing to pour into our hearts.
God's love comes to us and we are changed.
We love because He first loved us.

Mark 12:28-34 (NLT)
One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”

34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

For Prayer and Reflection:
Is there a word or a phrase that stood out to you as you listened? As you sit with this, what else do you hear or sense from the Lord your God?

What are your first loves? Can you imagine what a change of heart, a reordering of loves might be like for you?

What questions do you want to ask Jesus? Are there any questions that you feel you dare not ask? Why? Dialogue with Him about this. (If you dare!)

How is God pouring His love into you? What helps you receive God's love?

On Our Way...With Jesus Leading The Way

Jesus and his disciples are embarking on their last trip to Jerusalem. A conversation unfolds between them as they journey together.  It is a raw conversation, full of unedited honesty. The disciples must have felt quite loved and comfortable with Jesus to say out loud what they were thinking in their hearts. From a distance, it is easy to judge these disciples as self centered and absorbed and certainly we can see ourselves in them. Yet, Jesus meets each of them in their disconnect and models the wisdom of true servant leadership. He understands that radical honesty is where transformation can begin.

Jesus, our servant leader, journeys with us, tenderly takes us aside, reveals what is to happen (most often, as it is happening), invites us to ask for what we want and calls us together when we are offended by one another. Every action Jesus takes is serving our own transformation into his likeness and building his Kingdom here on earth. He invites us to serve alongside with him.

Listen in on the conversation...

Mark 10: 32-45 (NIV)
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
39 “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

For Reflection and Prayer:
As you listened to or read the text, was there a word, phrase or image which stayed with you?  Be still with them for a while. Ask Jesus about them. Is there more that Jesus says to you?

What do you want Jesus to do for you? What is underneath your desire? Jesus longs for you to know your own heart as well as his heart. How are they intertwined? Have a conversation with Jesus about it.

How have you experienced being served by Jesus? By others? How might Jesus be inviting you to serve with him in this season?

How is Jesus leading you today? How is he collectively leading those who you are with in Christian community together? What is your prayer as you seek to follow his lead?

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?
 

It's Hard To Imagine

Imagine with me, if you will, standing on a high mountain with Jesus and two of your good friends.
    
    Pause…and stay there awhile if you can.

    Okay, now imagine that Jesus turns dazzling white—He transfigures—before your very eyes. Then a couple of His colleagues (Elijah and Moses) from centuries past show up. And, to top it off, a voice speaks from a cloud.

    Pause…Now? I don’t think so.

    It’s hard to imagine being with Jesus that day, let alone honor His request to not speak about it until He had risen from the dead. Risen from the dead? What? I imagine it all seemed quite confusing and frightening to Peter, James, and John, even though they were there to experience it.

    It’s hard to imagine being invited onto that mountain with Jesus, isn’t it? But I believe that He extends a similar invitation today. Can you hear Him? “ Dear One, I see that mountain you are facing. Come, join me there.”

    He is risen. He is risen indeed. And I’m not just imagining that.

Mark 9:2-12 (NIV)
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.  His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?

Questions to consider in your reflection and prayer:
1. As you listened, was there a word, a phrase, an image, or something else that seemed dazzling white to you? Notice what it stirs in you. Visit with Jesus about this.
2. Do you have any high mountains in your life? Name them if you can. Imagine you are alone (or with a couple of friends) there with Jesus. Listen to Him in the quietness of your heart. What is He saying to you?
3. Are there certain shelters you like to put up? Ask Jesus if you have any shelters that you do not need. Listen with Him in the shelter of His presence.
4. What transfigurations, if any, are you seeking with Jesus?

A Soft and Tender Heart

In our listening through the good news of Mark, we listen to the words of Jesus, both the ones easy to hear and the ones we may be tempted to pass by quickly. This text reveals the nature of our hearts.

As I leaned in to listen to Jesus' heart, I heard the following:

Come and hear.
All of you, listen.
Your willingness to come to me,
your willingness to hear me,
your willingness to listen, that is to act on what you hear,
these are the signs of a soft and tender heart.
Let me continue to heal your heart, so that you do not need to act out of a defended heart which hurts yourself and others.
Keep coming to me, hearing and listening to me above the noise of the crowd.
I will transform your heart. You cannot transform your heart, solely of your own will. I am the one who gives you the desire, will and power to obey what you have heard.
Keep coming to me.
Apologize and make amends when you act out of your hard heart.
Return to me. I will make your heart soft.
I love you.
You cannot do this transformation apart from me.
Keep coming.
Keep hearing.
Keep listening

Stop trying to fix the outside and allow me to transform the inside.

Listen in for the voice of Jesus for yourself today. What is he saying to you?

Mark 7: 1-23 (NLT)
One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. 2 They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. 3 (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. 4 Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.)
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.”
6 Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
7 Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’
8 For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.”
9 Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. 10 For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 12 In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. 13 And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”
14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.”
17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used. 18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)
20 And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”

For Reflection and Prayer:

As you listened to or read the text, was there a word, phrase or image which stayed with you?  Be still with them for a while. Ask Jesus about them. Is there more that Jesus says to you?

Reflect on your spiritual traditions, practices and rhythms. Which ones increase greater love and compassion within you towards God, yourself and others?
Make note of the ones that are most life-giving for you.

Are there traditions, practices and rhythms which drain life out of you? What fruit do you notice from them? Bring these into a prayer dialogue with Jesus. Is he inviting you to let go of any particular tradition or practice?

Invite Jesus to look with you into your heart. What do the two of you see? Spend some time surrendering/releasing what you are unable to fix to Jesus. Then turn your attention to where you notice softening, new growth and life. Welcome it. Nurture it. Return to it. God is at work!