Get off the condemnation train

Thoughts on John 3:16-21

It seems like we’re on a train, bound for condemnation because we don’t want to walk through the decontamination room, and rid ourselves of the death that clings. You are the way to get off the train. You are the process that eliminates death. You don’t wish me to die, you came to bring me life. If only I believe. It’s like the Jews in Hitler’s Germany, if they had believed the evil was building they might have fled the country and not suffered under his demented plans. Lord, increase my belief. Thank you that you do not condemn me; you’re cheering for me, coming toward me with light. As I face the light my condemnation falls behind me like a dark shadow. Thank you and amen.

A Receptive vs Acquiring Gospel

Thoughts on John 3:1-8

We all know about NIcodemas coming to you under cover of night, out of fear, they say. Or maybe he thought he’d have a better chance at a private conversation at night, out of the public eye. At any rate, he was testing you. Not testing as the Pharisees were later to do, trying to trip you up, but legitimately checking you out. He called you Rabbi and acknowledged your wondrous deeds proved God sent you.

You throw him a curve ball with the born again talk. According to his way of thinking, entering the Kingdom of God was done through keeping the law and offering the correct sacrifices. But you are describing a receptive means of righteousness, not an acquiring one. Nicodemas’ attempts at righteousness was playing catch up; trying to return to the state of innocence experienced by Adam and Eve in the Garden. You describe union with the Kingdom as accomplished by starting over, becoming like an infant who is born not of it’s own plan or control, but because of the joining of its parents. Spiritual birth happens not by trying hard, but by letting love create and carry me. The grace is found in being dependent upon my loving parent, there is no grace in relying upon my best efforts to earn your love.

Come Holy Spirit, blow into and through my life. Leave evidence of my spiritual birth as I work, talk, and write this day.

When you give up and go fishing

Thoughts on John 21:1-14

I said I’d die for you and then I denied you. I ran to the tomb on the news that you were raised and found it empty. I was in the room with the other disciples during the times you appeared, and I wasn’t singled out, I was just one one the few. Mary got your special engagement, even doubting Thomas got your one on one attention. Me, I’m just one of the crowd. Before you died you called me Peter, the rock, the one on whom you’d build your church and now, we barely have eye contact. Maybe my denials put me out of favor with you and your plans. I give up. Before you came along I was a great fisherman, if I’m not going to be a player in your game, I may as well go back to Galilee and resume my fishing career.

Dammit, I used to be a good fisherman, but I’ve been at it all night and not even a nibble. And this clown on the beach is telling me to fish on the other side of my boat. I’ll do it, so I can prove the clown a fool.

What! A boatload of fish! This seems familiar. Once before when I did what I was told by someone who didn’t know a sardine from a talapia, I pulled in so many fish the nets almost broke.

Of course, goody two shoes, John, is the first to recognize you. And then I look more closely and I see it is you. Without thinking I’m out of the boat and swimming to you.

We exchange no particular words at this time, but I am quick to do as you ask. I bring you the fish, and allow you to feed me. You are sending me a message. This haul of fish was meant for me alone. It’s almost a reenactment of the miracle you performed on the day you asked me to follow you. Your message penetrates my thick skull. I am one of the crowd and at the same time special to you. This satisfies me. Thank you.

How frequently I assume my screw ups disqualify me from your grace. How often my ego expects to be singled out, elevated, paid attention to. How regularly I assume I can manage on my own, take care of myself. Lord, you let my insecurities, my ego demands, my false self carry out it’s patterned habits but you do not abandon me to them. You wait on the beach, giving words of life and encouragement, when I pay attention I hear your particular message, our secret code word for the love we share. Running to you, obeying you, letting you feed me is sufficient. I am content. 

Addendum: Dear Friends, perhaps you can relate to my prayerful musings. Maybe like me you assume God is unhappy with you; or get your feelings hurt when you are overlooked; or you attempt to control your life out out of anger or just plain old forgetting that God is God and you’re not. My suggestion to you is to hear God’s voice of love speaking to you in a very unique way. Run to Jesus, sit with him and let him feed you. Blessings.

Join the joyful doubters

Thoughts on Luke 24:35-48

It’s the evening of first day of the week, the disciples are still together, wondering about the reports of an empty tomb and sightings of you, when suddenly you appear in their midst. Startled and frightened is an understatement. At first they thought you were a ghost, like they were experiencing a Folie à deux. You gave them more credit than they deserved. You seemed surprised that they were troubled and doubting. All along you had been telling them the truth about what would unfold to accomplish your mission: suffering, dying, rising on the third day; you had given them enough information so that they might have expected your resurrection. Their doubts proved their disbelief. Patiently, you give them hands on evidence proving that all you had told them about yourself and your plans for humankind were true.

The scripture says “they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered.” Joy and doubt were vying for prominence in their hearts. You, alive, talking to them, showing them your wounds – this was too good to be true. Yet here you were, asking for something to eat.

And now you give them a new identity, a new purpose, “You are witnesses of these things.” A witness, one who reports what they have seen or experienced.

Lord, I count myself one of these joyful doubters. Like them, I’ve heard you tell me the truth about who you are and who I am, what power is yours and how you share it with me, what purpose is yours and how you need me to help bring it about. This is reality and your intention for me. You patiently allow the truth to sink into my thick head, giving me proof after proof of your power and your love. Like them, joy and doubt compete for my heart. Help me to align myself with joy and belief. Thank you and amen.

Whether you are a Mary or a Gardener

Thoughts on John 20:11-18

Where in my life do I feel like Mary? Standing outside the tomb weeping? Dreams have died?  Hope is lost? Despair has set in? I can’t think of any area of my life so disheartened. So I will sit and allow the HS to awaken my sorrow. Nothing comes to my awareness. So thank you for that, Lord. But I know there are many who weep with Mary. So caught up with sorrow that your figure and voice are unrecognizable. Teach me how to help them hear you call their name.

  1. Dare to ask why. Lord, make me bold like the angels, recognizing and validating the other’s sadness or suffering. This takes a lot of selflessness on my part which I resist. To inquire after another’s heart means I will have to attentively listen to their response. This takes time and presence and I admit, I hoard my time and attention. Lord, grant me the grace to love well enough to ask why and remain emotionally connected to the ones you love.
  2. Ask questions that uncover the pain. Jesus, you asked the same question the angels did and then you went one layer deeper, “Whom are you seeking?” Lord, help me help people know that the alleviation of their pain is found in you. They may be crying over a loss of health, a difficult job, unruly children, all valid reasons to be sorrowful; but restored health, a new job or well-behaved children will not ultimately erase the source of their sadness.  Lord, teach me to gently point them to the who they seek, not the what they seek.
  3. Speak to them the personal words of Jesus. When you called her by her name, she recognized you. Attune my heart to hear the words of love and comfort you want to communicate to the one you love, and have given me to love in your place. This is risky! Disguise yourself as a gardener in me, let me be the channel, connecting you with the one you love. I need to get out of the way, there is no room for pride on my part. My job is to listen to the other and to you and by faith offer the love your Spirit prompts. A little scary.

Addendum: So for the Mary’s out there. Know the Lord knows your sorrow and is near whether you recognize him or not. He may show up through your best friend, or by reading this post. Listen for your name.

Legitimate, but unnecessary fear

Thoughts on Matthew 28:8-15

The Mary’s went to the tomb, just to be at the place where the one they loved lay buried. The shock of an earthquake, the fright of an angel descending, the power of the rolled stone, the awe of an empty tomb, the hope of their loved one’s resurrection being true, the job of passing the message on to the other disciples, no wonder they quickly departed with fear and great joy.

They obeyed and you met them. There’s a lesson here for me. When given a word or a work to accomplish by the Holy Spirit, I am to set to the task. The work will arouse fear and joy within me, as any God-given assignment should. Fear because the work is beyond me, I will need to depend upon you to get it done. Joy because I get to do it! You’ve chosen me to be your hands and mouth, what a privilege.

I’ve found this principle true regardless of the size of the task. I’m a city mouse transplanted to the country and the idea of planting a garden ignites great fear and insecurity within me; I don’t know what the heck I’m doing, I could do it all wrong.

I am called to capture your work with my words, again fear and insecurity; I don’t have anything worth saying, it’s all been said before by much more eloquent and wise people.

IMG_4529In both situations joy emerges as I obey. The delight in clearing a space of weeds, so daffodils can emerge; the satisfaction that comes from pushing the publish button on my blog; all I’m responsible for is to do as I’ve been asked, the fruit is your job. My garden and my heart are transformed through such obedience. I remind myself that joy is a fruit of the spirit, it cannot be manufactured, only grown. Tend your garden, dear Jesus.

You met the Mary’s with the words, “Do not be afraid.” My fear at the assignment is legitimate, but not necessary. When doing what you’ve asked of me, in partnership with you, there is no need for fear. I cannot fail, I cannot be defeated, I will not be shamed. I can confidently go about the business I’ve been given. Heck, you turned death into victory. It is not beyond your ability to transform my attempts at weeding and writing into things of beauty and truth. So be it.

Thank you and amen.

 

Were you there….?

Thoughts on John 19:17-30

In John’s account, you sort of fade into the background of the scene. In the foreground are Pilate and the chief priests, the soldiers, and the witnesses.

Pilate had to state some reason for your death, so he wrote out the political crime you were accused of committing: “King of the Jews.” In your death, even before your resurrection, the chief priests were bested. Infuriated, they demanded the title be changed. But unknowingly, Pilate became the voice of God, Jesus died to be King of the Jews. And King of all.

The soldiers, oblivious to the deaths they were administering, looked to take advantage of what little worldly possessions you left behind, your clothing and your tunic. Maybe they thought it might be worth something one day, who knows. Oh Jesus, I don’t want to be like the soldiers, mindlessly crucifying you, while benefitting from your death; taking your grace for granted by choosing sin.

The witnesses, the women who loved you and the disciple you loved. Even the pain of dying couldn’t diminish the care you take for humankind. Giving Mary and John to one another proved your great desire to comfort, support and unite the ones you love. You take individuals and make them a family, proving your divinity. Thank you, Jesus.

“I thirst.” You were dying, your physical body needed a drink, proving your humanity.

John’s account is the gospel story in miniature: God’s overarching omnipotence, Pilate was your tool; my abundant need of your grace, blindly gambling in the light of your sacrifice; and your transformation through love.

I live in the shadow of the cross.