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Lent Day 33 – April 8/22

Mark 14:27-42

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  He took Peter, James, and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that, if possible, the hour might pass from him.

 “Abba,[f] Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon”, he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?  Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

At the bottom of the Mount of Olives, there is a church built beside a beautiful garden filled with olives trees. It’s called the Church of the Agony. History proves to us that the location of the garden is correct because that’s where the city olive press was during the 1st century, and in Hebrew Gethsemane means Olive Press. So, the church is built on the grounds of the olive grove connected to Jerusalem’s Gethsemane. It was those grounds that Jesus went to pray before he was arrested. 

The first picture is of the Church from the Mt. of Olives. Is the Olive Grove that was next to the city’s Olive Press. Picture 3 is the Crown of Thorns altar – this is the actual bedrock from the area where Jesus will have prayed. 

In our Scripture focus today, Jesus has come to the garden to pray. He says to his best friends, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He knew that weight of what the next 24 hours held for him and his time here on earth. Surely, he knew that part of the agony was that he would experience God’s silent response to his cries from the Cross. But during the prayer time, Jesus knew the value of having friends near when going through times of great sorrow.

If you’ve ever walked through a crisis, or through the dark days after the death of a loved one, you’ll know how valuable the support of others can be. I remember the days after my mom’s death.  It was the hardest season I’ve ever had to walk through.  But, in that hardness we were reminded of just how beautiful the Body of Christ can be.  

Every congregation my dad served in his ministry was represented.  People supported him.  We had friends and folks from our congregation praying for all of us, and some came to just be supportive during those days.  It really was incredible and made such a difference in the cloud of grief we were experiencing.  It was a valuable lesson in being supportive and in how to care for others.

We can learn 2 things from this encounter and Jesus’ request:

1 – Don’t hesitate to ask for your friends support when you are in crisis. It’s not a sign of weakness, but a flare in the dark for help as you walk through these moments.

2 – Be that friend. The request for your company may not be convenient or even comfortable, but it takes courage to even ask, so honour that. Your presence will be calming, your help can make the burden lighter. Offer to pray with them, or just sit quietly if that’s what they need. It’s hard, but silence can be comforting and healing.

Ask God for courage to be in either role, to be able to ask for help or to respond when you are needed.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 32 – April 7/22

Mark 14:1-26

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Today’s encounter with Jesus has Jesus back in Bethany, not far from the Mount of Olives, and just two days before Passover. Outside of the teaching at the Last Supper, the final Passover Meal Jesus had with his followers, this is the last time in Matthew Jesus is once again able to tell us how to respond to Him and his love.

One of the things that stands out for me most is the response of the Disciples. They have shared life and learned at the feet of their Rabbi for 3 years. They have heard his teachings and watched as he healed and turned the 1st century world rules upside down. Yet, this unnamed woman comes in to where Jesus is and not only washes his feet (a beautiful act of hospitality) but anoints him with perfume. And the first thought these men have is the cost of her offering.

How like us they were! We see things that others choose to do with their money and resources, and we think of all the “better” things that could have been done with it. We don’t consider the heart and sacrifice behind people’s actions and offerings. We can know the Scriptures, be ready for Good Friday’s sadness and the celebration of Sunday, but still miss the call to see people’s hearts first.

There is always a back story to someone’s decisions. Let us look for the motivation first and the result or cost second. It may truly not be a wise choice, but if we look just at the surface, we’ll miss the big picture. Maybe, we’ll even miss the God moment. 

Watch for the ways we can honour Him in deep and sacrificial ways. He wants us to give him all of our lives, not just the leftovers or the parts we won’t miss. What’s the perfume you have to bring to the Saviour today? Will you anoint him with it, concerned about the cost? The choice is yours, but only one choice will gain the pleasure of The King.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 31 – April 6/22

Mark 13:21-37

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.  It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

 “Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

In our passage, we find Jesus talking about his second coming.  He shares what to expect, with warnings.  Five times in this short exchange, we are told to be attentive.  To not be deceived by those claiming that the Messiah is here or is coming.

This means we must not fall into complacency or to accept the words of people who make us feel good or tickle our ears.  We must be discerning in the messages we are hearing and watch for the signs Jesus tells us will happen. It means work and alert minds.  It’s much easier for us to settle into a comfortable life and just carry along.   We can get caught in the news, in others’ opinions, without thinking through what we know to be true.  As St. Ignatius said, we need to “ask for the grace to seek God in all things.”  He will show us what He needs us to see.

Jesus then tells a parable – one of those earthly stories with a heavenly meaning.  He is the householder and when the ascension took place, He left his servants – you and me – in charge of his affairs.  Each of us with our own tasks to accomplish.

What is my task?  What is your task and what are our roles in this world?  We may feel that we’ve figured it out or it may new a very new thought for us.  We also need to watch for signs and confirmations from God that our roles and tasks may change after seasons in our lives.

We are charged by Jesus to “stay awake, because (we) do not know when the master will come back…”. How do we accomplish that?  We keep in touch with those around us by each day, doing our best to live lives that show God’s love and compassion to the world around us.  We live with honest and integrity – not always an easy task.  We forgive others when it would be easier to nurse the grudge.

And all of this happens when we stay connected to the “homeowner” in prayer.  God hears and answers.  The simplest and most profound prayers happen when we are able, through His eyes, to be aware of His active presence in our moments, every single day.  By responding to His promptings, we are able to help others be prepared as well.

Try this today, “O Lord, help me to recognise you and respond to you in love through every person and every experience of this day.”

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 30 – April 5/22

Mark 13:1-20

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”…

When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out.  Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!  Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

Our passage today has Jesus once again telling his disciples about coming events.  This time it is regarding the beloved Temple.  His words are hard for the disciples imagine, let alone understand.  Yet, not 40 years after he spoke this it all game true.  Rome destroyed Jerusalem, the Jewish people who weren’t killed escaped and went into the mountains – occupying abandoned fortresses.

One of my all-time favourite books is “The Dove Keepers” by Alice Hoffman.  Based on the writings of Josephus, it chronicles the survival of the remnant who made it to Herod’s desert fortress, Masada and how that occupation ended with everyone’s death before the Romans could take them captive.  3 women escaped the massacre and it’s their account that Josephus recorded.

As we look back into this history – Jerusalem was destroyed, just as Jesus warned them would happen.  But 2,000 years later, in a very built up city that has never not been inhabited, archeological discoveries are being made all the time.  They give light to the lives that had been lived for centuries.  Pots, coins, bells from priestly clothing, jewellery, foundations of houses, even ashes from fires that were extinguished by falling walls in that siege have all been discovered.  It’s a city that rebuilt, and thrived after unimaginable tragedy. The views all around the city are glorious. (I could go on at length about the finds, but I won’t – you’ll just have to come to Israel with us when travel is safe to do so!!)

What about us today?  I think this hard passage, combined with our 2022 understanding of history, reminds us that life will bring us devastating circumstances.  Things will happen that will bring our well built plans, resources or health to the ground in heaps of rubble.  But, as long as God still wakes us up in the morning, He’s not done with us and the rebuilding will begin.

It will be hard and some days you may wish He wouldn’t wake you up.  Know this, you are more treasured by God that the Temple was, and He will redeem it all.  You will likely have to sift through the rubble, and it may feels like tiny wins and all too much work to see restoration, but wins are wins, and He will be in them all with you. Then, when the rebuild is completed you will be able to look back and see all that God has done and all He has brought you through.  I promise – the view will be glorious.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 29 – April 4/22

Mark 12:35-44

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

The author J. Ellsworth Kalas, in his book “Strong Was Her Faith”, describes this scene this way.  His understanding and challenge is a good one for us to consider.  He writes, “Suppose one of the men who came to the temple that day was worth the equivalent in our culture of one hundred thousand dollars.  That isn’t an unreasonable figure by any means.  And suppose he gave ten thousand dollars.  If I had been a supervising priest at the setting, I would have been delighted and impressed.  but as Jesus viewed things, such a contributor would trail far behind the Mighty Window.  Specifically, by giving then thousand dollars out of one of his hundred thousand, he has given ninety thousand less than the widow!  He still has ninety thousand left, and she has nothing.  That’s why Jesus was so impressed by her gift.  She had given ninety thousand dollars, so to speak, more than the rich man!  How do you out-give someone like that?  Do you see why I call her the “Mighty Widow”?

“And do you see why I envy her?  Between you and me, I tithe my income; I’ve done so since I was then years old.  And in truth, now I give more than a tithe.  But I do so from a place of comparative comfort.  I have a pension program.  We live in a lovely home- not ostentatious, but with enough bathrooms to bless my sense of privacy.  We can eat out.  The Depression-bred-boy who still occupies the back of my mind gets uncomfortable when the bill is large, even though I can afford it; but the point is, I can afford it.  To be honest, I wouldn’t know how to begin to compete with this Mighty Widow.  I know, I know” She lived in a different world from ours, a decidedly simpler world.  But having said that, I must go on to say that this widow compels me to do more than I’m doing.  After all my rationalizing about the difference in our two worlds and times, she nevertheless shames me into giving more than I’m giving.

“Leaven was fermented dough.  As such, it was seen as being ritually unclean, and of itself unappealing.  But when given a chance to do its thing, it made a flat piece of dough into an appetizing meal.  Such was the widow: easily dismissed by a culture that found her a burden, lack the natural appeal of the self-sufficient.  But she, Jesus said, gave more than them all!  There was an ugly flatness to the comfortable giving of the well-to-do, but a blessed bounteousness to the widow’s mite.  I hear the master saying, “She’s my kind of people.  Of such is the kingdom of heaven.””

I want to be Jesus’ kind of people…you too?

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 28 – April 2/22

Mark 12:13-34

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Have you ever had a teacher make a point so profoundly that it has stuck with you?  I love those moments of learning.  Whether a point of clarification or giving words to a concept I’ve been struggling with, the moment is almost electric for me. 

I remember the day I first heard Reggie Joiner speak at children’s ministry conference, 20+ years ago.  He said all the things I had been thinking about how we help families raise Jesus followers.  It confirmed what was in my heart, and it has been the foundation for my vision of ministry all these years.

As the exchange in our passage today happens, Jesus has been having confrontations with the religious officials.  The tensions in Jerusalem and especially the Temple have been mounting.  I can only imagine what Jesus expected when this man spoke up to ask a question.  “What is the most important commandment?” From any other official, this would have been a set-up, a change to catch Jesus in their definition of blasphemy.  But not this time.

When Jesus responds with the 2 verses that make the Shema, the daily prayer that faithful Jews still pray: “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord your God is one.  Love the Lord with all you heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength.”  And then He added, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  

This young man replied with understanding and agreement.  Jesus responds with encouragement (and likely joyful surprise), by telling him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God”.

Do we live as if we are “not far from the Kingdom of God”?  Do we understand the fullness and difficulty to truly uphold these greatest commandments?  John Wesley provided a wonderful description of how one might obey these great commandments: ‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can’.

Good advice, no?  Go and love your God and your neighbour today!

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 27 – April 1/22

Mark 11: 27 – 12:12

But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’  So, they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

 “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.  Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
      the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes?”

Stories.  To tell them well is an art form.  A preacher friend is a master storyteller, and I could listen to him preach for hours.  Jesus’ oft used method of teaching was stories. For his first listeners, it was most effective. Today’s story is told in Jerusalem, and specifically in the Temple courts.  He begins to talk about a man who planted a vineyard.  The man left the vineyard in the care of others, but the people who worked for him had no respect for the owner’s representative.  So, he then sent his last option – his son.  

Jesus often was not so obvious in his parables; the analogy was not often so clear to the listeners.  But this time, he knew his life was ending and there was still so much he had to teach them about God’s Kingdom and how to live in relationship with Him. This time, the chief priests, teachers, and elders knew they were the murderous tenants.  What had been a low simmering anger burst into a flame, and they began to truly look like the subjects of the story Jesus had just shared.

It’s not comfortable to realized you precisely like the person in a tale of caution.  It’s convicting and it doesn’t feel good to have our shortcomings or failures pointed out to us.  We are still behaving like the tenants.  We reject the words of the prophets, the teachings of those whom God has gifted to illuminate His Word to us.  We choose to ignore the teachings of The Son.  We live as if His death and resurrection mean nothing.

This Easter, make the decision to not be like the tenants in the parable.  Learn from His teaching.  Glean from His wisdom.  Let Him be your Saviour and forever friend.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 26 – March 31/22

Mark 11:1-25

On The Steps 

“The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.”

The Temple, we’ve not actually been to the temple mount. It’s a Mosque now, and not available to those who of a different faith – save a few hours each day. But the Temple was HUGE and getting to the worship areas involved climbing many steps and going through many sections. The section we are stopping at today is one of 3 areas of Jerusalem we know with certainty that Jesus walked there. 

It’s a treasured part of our time in Jerusalem. To sit on the steps leading into the Temple, to spend time on the very stones that Jesus will have walked on to enter into worship. He may well have stopped on them and taught, and in our passage today, reclaimed sacred space for God’s purposes. The stairs are irregular, with both original and replaced stones, which forced the faithful to pay attention as they ascended the alternating wide and narrow steps. It also prevented a hurried approach to the Temple, which would be tempting with the thousands of people here. Just think of all the bustling social interactions, the throngs chatting, the buying and selling, and the meeting of family and friends. It would have been a major event. Such an uneven pace up these stairs hopefully forced time for personal reflection on the solemnity of approaching God and leaving the noisy crowd behind. This very spot was the main entrance for the common man to enter into the Temple. There were 2 sets of gates at the entrance, both are still visible in the wall at the top of the steps. While sealed with stones in the Arab/Crusader times, the outlines of the arches are still visible.

It was necessary for people coming to the Temple needed to have animals and birds for offering sacrifices. Often, it was impractical for them to bring those offerings with them, making purchasing necessary. So, those who sold them made purchasing easy. Then, fully in human nature, some merchants chose to take advantage and created quite the inflated market with unfair prices and practices. No doubt, their behaviour prevented some travellers and faithful worshippers from entering into The Temple. That in turn will have prevented them from being able to come before God, for forgiveness or blessing. That will have made Jesus the angry teacher we read of in this passage. Mark notes that this behaviour caused the chief priests and teachers to fear him. I wonder if it was because of the sharp conviction they felt at his correction and righteous anger.

The question must be asked, would Jesus need to cleanse our “temple steps” if he were to arrive at our churches today? I fear the answer is a highly probable “yes”. We place expectations and restrictions (no, I’m not talking about Health and Safety issues for the prevention of COVID!!) on people attending. Do they dress and behave in suitable ways? Do they know the right people, sit in the right spot, know our Scriptures well enough, etc.?

It breaks my heart when I hear of someone who attended a church and was made to feel so unwelcome that they never went back. I know of instances that have seen folks criticized for their attire, or hair, or behaviour of their children. These responses can prevent the subject from being in God’s presence and among God’s people.

May we who are the Body of Christ, be willing to welcome in whomever wishes to worship with us (when number restrictions allow us to do so). May we not put blocks in their way, and may we not fear the teaching of God’s truth. And may we ask forgiveness for the times when we have been like those Jesus challenged on the step

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 24 – March 29/22

Mark 10: 17-31

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is[b] to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Today’s picture was taken in 2019 at the entrance to The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  One must bow to enter – fitting as you enter the holiest site in that city.  They call this doorway “the eye of the needle”.  A strategic entrance built to keep invaders out, it was specifically designed so that a rider on a camel could not enter.  It had nothing to do with absurd word picture we westerners have created. You know, the one of a camel trying to walk through a sewing needle.

The rider, trying to enter into the city, will have needed to dismount and unload their camel in order to get through the very narrow opening.  In Jesus’ time, there were these such gates in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Damascus, and Bethlehem.  

Knowing this historical context, Jesus’ statement to the rich ruler makes much more sense, a does the ruler’s response.  Jesus had just finished to telling the man to, “sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  I suspect He already knew the answer the man would give.  He knew the man wouldn’t be able to dismount the camel, so to speak.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells people that they cannot serve 2 masters.  “You cannot serve God and money”, He said.  We live in a world that tells us that the more we have, the more we need.  Enough is never really enough.

God doesn’t tell us that having money is bad – it’s what we do with it, and how it controls our decisions.  Are we driven to always have more, or to tightly hold onto what we have?  There might be a camel we need to dismount in order to truly enter the Kingdom of God.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 22 – March 26/22

Mark 9:41-50

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward. ‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die, nor their fire go out. For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is a good thing, but if salt has become insipid, how can you season it again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.’

The world is obsessed with love.  “Love changes everything” is the title of a song from the musical ‘Aspects of Love’. It is love that makes the world go round despite the efforts of the musical Cabaret to convince us that it is “money makes the world go round.”  The world offers us a variety of definitions of what love looks like.

Jesus gave us a new commandment, to love one another just as He has loved us. That is a hugely difficult example to live up to.  He loved people enough to call them out of their sin, and into a life of freedom through forgiveness.  Then, the forgiven one is to go forward and share that love.  If anyone gives even a cup of water to another in the name of Christ it changes everything. 

But, if we do things that cause those with a weaker faith or no faith at all to stumble, He gives some pretty dramatic instruction, and condemnation.   His suggestion of bodily amputation is not literal.  But rather, we are able to stumble over many things in our life and we need avoid those things.  We can cause people to stumble through bad teaching, bad behaviour, judgemental conclusions, exclusion from our gatherings…

‘A cup of water…’ Even in small actions we contribute to shaping the society and civilization we live in. Do we take time to shovel the neighbour’s plowed in driveway?  Do we take time to sincerely ask how the grocery clerk is doing?  Do we willingly pay the tax, even when offered an “under the table” discount for cash?  Does our behaviour discourage those young in their faith to question if it’s worth it?

If we have the salty seasoning of Jesus’ spirit in us and stand up for the just rights of God’s ‘little ones’, we will enjoy peace of mind. It’s not as easy as it sounds – human nature has not wired us that way.  Ask God to show you where the obstacles to sharing love in your life, through your hands, your actions, your words.

We are all “little ones”, and Jesus’ concern is for the faith of all who are His followers.   We all can use a “cup of water” in His name.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 21 – March 25/22

Mark 9:30-37

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

“Children should be seen not heard”, right?  Nowhere is this more evident than in a worship service.  Picture it – a mom has moved heaven and earth just to be able to bring her family with a very young little, but make it she does and she slips into a pew at the back.  Smiles abound.  Who doesn’t love a baby in church?  But those smiles soon turn to glares and scowls if that teeny-tiny fusses.  How might that make the mom feel – certainly not welcome.

I have often told moms and congregations that there is no better sound to confirm that a church is alive, than kid noise.  It brings a wonderful smile to my face.  I’ve missed our littles in worship for these past 24 months.  They need us in their lives, and Church, we need them.

Jesus himself tells us that whoever welcomes a child in His name, welcomes Him.  In another part of the Gospels, he tells the disciples that we must come to faith like a child – fully trusting and with honest, unjaded faith.

Church analysts tell us that we are one generation away from the death of the church as we know it.  I think that might be optimistic.  It may well be that Covid has helped speed that up, families worship at home and the church truly is no longer the center of people’s social circle.

How welcoming are you to children – in the store, on a plane, in church?  Remember, we as fellow sojourners are the first way a child will encounter Jesus.  We care for them because we know Him…most people in a little’s circle love them because they are related.  A child learns how to see their world by watching the people around them.  Are you showing them that God is welcoming of their presence, noise, behaviours?  After all, He loves you despite all of yours.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 20 – March 24/22

Mark 9: 14-29

One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk.  And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.[d] So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”

Jesus said to them,[e] “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.

“How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.

He replied, “Since he was a little boy.  The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”

 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”

 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

This encounter is the very thing Peter wanted to avoid by staying on the mountain top he was on in our focus yesterday.  Yet, here they are -in the depths of real life, and the disciples are unable to help this young boy and his father.    Perhaps, one of the reasons was one of the important details Mark shares – the demon has rendered the boy mute.  

First century Jewish leaders believed that for a successful exorcism the one casting out the demon needs to be called by name.  This could not have been the case with this boy.  Yet, Jesus calls it out and the boy is healed – thanks to the father’s cry to Jesus.

This story in Mark is telling us very clearly that all we need to bring is the little faith that we have, with all its doubts and limitations. We are met by Jesus just where we are.  Here we find a distraught parent and a very sick child. But the disciples are also ‘sick’. From beginning to end this story highlights a major theme for Mark: the importance of faith in Jesus. Life involves struggles and difficulties that sometimes leave us feeling powerless. 

Cry to Him, “Help my unbelief! May I never under-estimate the power of prayer.” Jesus listens to the deep desires of those who come to him in their need. He recognises faith and encourages it. Take time to express yourself to Jesus and ask Him to strengthen your faith.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 19 – March 23/22

Mark 8:34 – 9:13

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!”

You know a big thing is going to happen when a mountain is introduced.  Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the 10 commandments, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Jesus’ temptation…

This moment becomes another defining one for the 3 disciples.  Jesus has taken Peter, James, and John up to this mountain top and they witness the most amazing thing.  Jesus transfigures.  His clothes become “a dazzling white”, Mark tells us.  Matthew’s account describes His face shining as well, much like Moses’ did when he spoke with God on the mountain.  Can you imagine what must have been going through the minds of the disciples, as they watched their Teacher speaking with Elijah and Moses?

Then a cloud appears.  In scriptural imagery, the cloud speaks of the presence of God. Consider the cloud that covered Moses on the mountain as he conversed with God and the pillar of cloud that accompanied the Israelites through the desert. From within the cloud comes the voice of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” And then, everything is suddenly over and they see “only Jesus”. The Jesus of everyday life, looking similar to anyone else. 

Peter wants to build 3 tents so that everything can stay just as it was.  Sometimes, after we have a “mountain top experience”, we want to stay in that moment.  But life doesn’t happen there, life happens in the valleys. 

This moment on the mountain gets us to look forward  – either to the resurrection of Jesus or the glory of the second coming. Peter’s reaction also gets us to look forward to life with God, so that we will say in eternity, ‘It is good for us to be here’.

In prayer we can rest at times and just be glad, happy, and content to be with Jesus, in his presence and in his love. The transfiguration was for the benefit of the disciples, for their faith and confidence in the lasting glory of Jesus at bad times. It can be the same of each of us in prayer, still today.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Bread of Life – Do You See It?

Lent Day 17 – March 21/22

Mark 8: 1-21

“Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

He said to them, “Do you still not understand?””


Can’t you just hear the exhausted tone in Jesus’ voice.  The disciples have been with him through the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 (and that was only the men in attendance, the true number will have been higher).  They have seen the miracles He’s been doing, and now 4,000 men and likely their families have been fed with bountiful supply from just a few loaves again.  But they still don’t get the true significance of who they are doing life with.

Here Jesus puts no less than nine questions, one after the other, to his disciples. The disciples were all Israelites who knew the story of how the Lord their God had fed their ancestors with manna in the desert. Yet they do not seem to have grasped the implication of the miracle they had just witnessed nor the divine identity of the One putting the questions to them.

Finally, Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand?”. Jesus told us that he is The Bread of Life”.  I wonder how often, when I can see God’s hand and provision in my life, would Jesus pose the same question to me.  It truly is a spiritual muscle we are not great at exercising.  Two books that have truly changed my life are from a couple of authors I respect so much – “One Thousand Gifts”, by Ann Voskamp and “Wonder” by Margaret Feinburg.  Both of these ladies help the reader to see God’s blessing (His bread or Manna) and intervention every day.  

It can’t be a one and done process.  You need to seek it out, to reflect on the day and truly see where God has drawn near.  It may have been that moment you were able to hold your tongue, or an incredible sunset.   This routine of reflection is one of the Spiritual Disciplines known as “The Examen”.  A time to spend with God and ask Him to help you see where God was near and where you were far from Him during the day.  You may choose to journal these, or simply use them as point of prayer and praise.  If you struggle with reflecting on these yourself, make use of a Spiritual Director.  (I can recommend a good one if you’re searching…)

Sometimes, we simply don’t want to see that the events in our life are not thanks to God’s Hand.  Let this be your prayer today:“Lord, break down the walls that press in on my small heart: let me believe that you are the Son of God, and that in company with you I truly live. Help me see that you yourself are the ‘bread’ which I need to stay alive. Help me to hang all my hope on you.”

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 16 – March 19/22

Mark 7: 24 – 37

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.[b] 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.

 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.””

This passage is a story about parts of ordinary life – someone hard of hearing, with poor speech, disabilities that challenge us. Notice too, that people had brought those with afflictions to Jesus.  

This was not like the “through the roof” friends, who lowered their friend who couldn’t walk down to Jesus.  But Jewish society will have responded the same to these folk who couldn’t speak or hear.  Afflictions were seen as unclean weaknesses.  Often, they were assumed to be caused by the sin of the individual or even of their parents.  They will not have been welcome in any kind of gathering, but caring friends brought them to the Healer.

If you ever had a speech impediment or the difficulty of deafness, you’d know the distress it can cause. Jesus was distressed at the suffering of this man. Jesus cares in his heart. Religion is about the ordinary. The gospel of Jesus doesn’t fudge that issue.

Most of Jesus’ life is about the ordinary and is lived among people who are sick, depressed, worried about the future, hiding their shame of the past, losing faith, and getting it back. People who lose a loved one in death, or who are involved in family misunderstandings, hungry and thirsty people etc. Imagine Jesus touches your ear. He clears resistance and you hear love, for the touch of Jesus on your ear is the touch of love, of life, of new hearing. His touch on the tongue gave the life of new speech and new freedom to a stammering man.

As Mark’s Gospel progresses, we see that Jesus is on the move again, like a shepherd searching for his stray sheep. All he wants to do is to heal, and we need healing. Thought we are often deaf to his calls, and we are often mute when we should be witnessing to the Good News. 

Of you are a Jesus follower, when you made that decision your ears and tongue were blessed, so that you could hear God’s word and praise God. Today, may the Lord renew the gift we have given and may we have none of it left unused.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 15 – March 18/22

Mark 7:1-23

“Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 

As I read this passage, I’ve got to admit that the first part describing the handwashing reminds me of these past 2 years.  We’ve had to learn how to wash our hands all over again.  The difference is that we wash because it helps keep us healthy, the pharisees do it because of how tied they were to the law.

Very often we live by tradition, (be it how we celebrate Christmas or how we expect our Sunday to structured), which provides continuity with the past and creates a sense of community. Yet sometimes the living tradition can be replaced by fossilised traditions which end up distracting us from what is essential in our beliefs. We once served a church where the biggest ministry team was the history team.

This is what Jesus criticized in his fellow Jews: you think you are good people by observing all the traditions about external things without caring about their spirit. This deserves the harsh judgement of Isaiah, “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” 

This is shocking stuff! Jesus, no stranger to controversy, wipes aside mere adherence to the externals rituals of the law. The Pharisees’ version of religion warped human life and stunted personal growth. Jesus protested against hypocrisy that abandoned the commandments of God in order to cling to ‘human traditions.’ 

Jesus tells us that it’s what come from our hearts that defiles us, not what we put into our body. Keeping all of the Jewish dietary laws do not make us righteous.  Our hearts, and what we say and do reflective of our relationship with Him.  When we are in right relationship with God and are followers of Jesus, the world should know that through how we treat them, and how we speak to and treat others.

We need Jesus to shine his light on our hearts to that we can see the quality of our worship – personal and corporate.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 14 – March 17/22

Mark 6: 45-56

“Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land.  He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them,but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed,for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

Sometimes, things come into our lives (good or bad) like a strong wind in a storm.  It rocks our very foundation, and we lose our footings.  Jesus’ disciples knew this sensation – and on this day, they knew it all too well.

Most of the 12 were fishermen, and it seems that they were out getting a late- night catch.  But a storm blew in, and from where He was praying, Jesus could see the whole thing.  Not surprising.  You don’t need to be very far up the hillsides that surround the Sea of Galilee to be able to see the whole thing.  (Picture the sides of a teacup, and that’s essential the shape of terrain here.) Note the phrasing here: note the contrast between the disciples “in the middle of the lake” without Jesus and Jesus “alone on the land”, gone up on the mountain to pray.   The crowds had dissipated, and they had returned to the work they always knew, and Jesus had taken time to talk with God, the Father.

It’s in Jesus’ response to their cries that they learn that they are not forsaken, that the Lord watches over them unseen. We should never be afraid of any danger, knowing that Jesus watches over me with loving compassion.  When the apostles cried out something happened. It seemed to be like that with them – they were able to let their fear and terror out, and let Jesus know how they felt and their danger. Most of Jesus’ signs and miracles happen when someone or a group asks with the heart. He is no magician, easy gift giver. We interact with Jesus through faith. 

When we really ask for something, something always happens. What do you really want to ask Him for in prayer? What storm in life needs calming? In your life or in another’s? We know and believe that no prayer is unheard but that something good happens in our life when we speak to Jesus from the heart.  Either things will change, or we will.  Are you prepared to let either of those things happen?  Call out, He’s ready to be with you.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 13 – March 16/22

Mark 6:30-44

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.”

Remember when we could have people visit, and have meals together? It feels like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? Even this past summer, it felt so strange to be able to gather, but all the while keeping our safe 6 feet. 

I love to host people, to feed them and fellowship together. At the same time, we love to be the recipients of gracious hospitality. In the community we serve, we are blessed with people who, when we can do it safely, share this gift. Excellent company, conversation, and enough food to feed a small army! It makes for wonderful times and memories. As a hostess, one of my greatest concerns when entertaining is that the food will run out. So, I always make more than I know we need, but no one goes away hungry.

Today, we are visiting along the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. It’s home to a Byzantine monastery that was established in the late 1930’s with the purpose of caring for the site and caring for Pilgrims and is the traditional site commemorating the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The earliest building was known to be here was from the writings of a 4th century Spanish Nun. That building was reconstructed in the 5th century and then destroyed by during the Persian invasion in 614AD. The ruins were buried under sand and dirt until 1932 when a number of the Byzantine walls and beautiful mosaics were uncovered. The current building was restored in 1981, and the floor you see here is expertly crafted new mosaics that incorporate the original 5th century remains.

What this site helps us remember (we don’t know the exact location, like at Capernaum or Magdala, or many sites in Jerusalem) is the day that so many were gathered to Jesus teach, and time got away on them. 5,000 is the number we know best – but that would have only counted the men. There will have been wives and children in the crowd too, and all of them very hungry. By this point in Jesus’ ministry, the disciples have seen just what he is capable of. Still not in full grasp of who they were serving, the disciples come and ask Jesus what they should do. The people are hungry, and they’ve no food. Mark doesn’t mention the boy (as other gospels do), but here the disciples find five loaves and 2 fish. When Jesus tells everyone to sit down, he takes these bits of food and “gave thanks and broke the loaves”. Mark goes on to tell us that everyone ate until they had been satisfied.

It’s a story we’ve heard in church many times, and it’s a story I’ve heard taught with terrible theology…but that’s another day. Today, notice that Jesus took what was presented to him, gave thanks and the people had enough. Let that be your takeaway. We don’t have to be fully equipped to feed people, to care for people, to teach people. God still performs miraculous things with just the bits that we have. When we give thanks for those bits and offer them to His use, there is enough. In the words of the Brothers at Tabgha, “…there is enough, even more than enough. Sometimes we think we have very little, when in reality we have plenty.”

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 12 – March 15/22

Mark 6:7-29

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

I don’t know about you, but as I head out the door to work, I like to know that I have everything I made need with me.  Because of this, I carry a backpack each day.  At times it’s quite heavy, but I know that nothing will happen during the day that will find me caught without necessary things.  It’s not quite as compact as the culture of “Everyday Carry” but it’s a similar concept.

As I read today’s passage, the instructions Jesus gives his disciples in this passage are an alarming contrast.  “Wallet, keys, phone…” Many of us have a mantra we recite as they leave home, to ensure we are ready for the day. Jesus sends us out with less, inviting us to trust, to be ready to engage with and respond to the world around us.  What if I lived like that every day?

We head into the world around us with so much more than needful things though, don’t we?  We leave the safety of our homes with our attitude – be it good or bad.  We carry our sadness or our defensiveness with us, and that is often reflected in our interactions.  And then, we with our reactions meet other people who are also carrying around their own issues.

I recently had an interaction with someone that at first, I felt quite accused.  But, as I quickly prayed and took a deep breath, I realized that she was simply on the defensive in anticipation of a reaction she was not going to get.  I did not respond as she expected, and her anticipated conflict never materialized.   Many people allow themselves to become defensive and protective, aware of slights and insults. Jesus invites his followers to shake off and leave behind acrimony, resistance, and unfriendliness. We ask Jesus to help us to keep our eyes on him and his heart rather than letting our hearts be restricted or narrow.

Had our interaction gone the direction she was obviously expecting, would I have been able to simply walk away?  I’d like to think so, but I can’t be sure.  It’s not in our nature to do so.  But Jesus’ wisdom for his disciples in this passage is to do just that. No pouting, pleading, or demanding – simply walking away.  It’s a rather peaceful option, isn’t it?

Our behaviour is often the Gospel we present to people.  So often, Christians are seen as confrontational, angry, and known for what they oppose than what they believe.  These instructions today are good and wise.  If people welcome you, share your life with them, if not, walk away but do so without insulting or harming them.  Good advice for these times.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 11 – March 14

Mark 5:35 – 6:6

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing[c] what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

(This encounter happens as the woman (from Friday’s reading) is still realizing the full extent of her healing.)  Jairus could have just walked away. He could have turned from Jesus after he heard his daughter was dead. But he didn’t. When Jesus said, “Do not fear; only believe.” By what can only be God’s intervention, Jairus did! He went with Jesus! 

Faith goes with Jesus no matter how unbelievable it may seem at the moment. Just as Abraham hoped against hope that he would be the father of many nations, so Jairus hopes against hope that Jesus has something more for him. That’s the kind of faith He still longs for us to know; the kind of faith that saves.

When Jesus arrives at Jairus’ house, the mourners are there. The girl is dead. Everyone knows it. She’s not mostly dead. She’s all the way dead. Can’t you just feel the tension in the house when Jesus says in verse 39, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping,”.   His point is totally lost on them. They laugh at him. But he knew what he was saying. Death to Jesus is no unconquerable enemy. 

Watch as the scene changes…He enters the room, takes the child by the hand, and says to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And she gets up immediately. She is healed. She eats, proving she’s really alive. This is no illusion. 

When his little girl died, did Jairus’ faith die with her? Biblical faith is more than trusting Jesus for physical healing. Biblical faith is trusting Jesus for resurrection healing. Jairus was looking for a quick fix to his crisis. Jesus was directing a lasting hope, a resurrection hope. Jesus will ask more of us than we may want to give, but He’ll give more than we could ever imagine. 

Every circumstance in your life, in God’s hands, becomes a building block of faith in Him. He is faithful, and he will never fail you, no matter what the circumstances may say. “Do not fear; only believe!”  

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Shine brightly

Lent Day 8 – March 10/22

Mark 4:21-34

He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

No matter what news you follow, these days there is much to have an opinion about.  And depending on the source of that news, they may well include statements from people who are Christ followers.  I have to admit, their statements are often not helpful to the cause of the Gospel.  Then, when the newsmaker is a leader in The Church, and their actions are problematic, it breaks my heart.  

In reality, it’s not just leaders in the Church that the world is watching, and it’s not just people who are seeking ratings or readers for their news outlet.  People watch to see our reactions all the time.  We are people of the light – that light being Jesus.  When you read these passages about light, you cannot overlook the fact that we are light, and that we have a responsibilityto walk as children of light. This means that goodness, righteousness, and truth ought to characterize the way we live our lives as believers.

Friends, we are to shine the light of God’s kingdom to the world in which we live. We benefit our world only when we live as light. How are we respond to each other, to the situations we are finding ourselves in, do you shine the Light through you in your interactions? Let Jesus love show through your actions and interactions this week, this season. 

Years ago, I was on my way to a concert in Atlanta. I chose to take a cab from my conference site to the concert hall. My cabbie was a gentleman who had come to the U.S. from Africa and was telling me about the challenges of life there. As our conversation continued, he realized that I didn’t treat him like most of the people he drove. Then, looking in the rear-view mirror, with the most wonderful smile on his face he said, “You must know my Jesus”. With tears in my eyes, I assured him that I did, and we carried on our chat.

May I always treat people in a way that tells them I am a friend of Jesus before they have to ask…may you shine that light before people have to ask you. Live out the answer to Jesus’ prayer. More than ever, people need to know God, and to see Him in us.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 7 – March 9/22

Mark 4:1-20

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

I have never been a farmer.  I have lived in farming communities and have been fascinated to watch the process of seeding huge sections of acreage.  I can’t imagine how the farmers did that job before the advent of driveable machines.  The seeding is a precise action these days.  Laying to down in specific patterns, so as not to waste any of the future crop.

For centuries, the crops were seeded by hand.  It was not a neat process.  Jesus knew that his first hearers would have understood this.  The action was a slinging of the seed.  More than was necessary was flung across the ground, trusting that some of it would take roots and provide a harvest.

Jesus wasn’t giving a lecture on attaining better yields of grain.  His parable (an earthly story with a Heavenly meaning) was teaching us how to share the Good News of God’s Kingdom.  So often in the church we try to use neat, and precisely “planted” moments.  

This picture of seed slinging reminds us of a very important part of sharing the Message.  We are not responsible for people’s reaction.  Some will ignore it, some will refuse to hear it, some will receive it but be quickly distracted by new “shiny” things.  But some will hear, respond and become Jesus followers.  We cannot know who will respond, we are called to share the news and let God do the rest of the work.  

Today, go and be a sloppy seed slinger.  Share the Good News of what Jesus means to you and pray that some of the seed will take root and grow into a new harvest for the Kingdom.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Lent Day 6 – March 8/22

Mark 3:20-35

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Currently, 8 of the top 100 Billboard songs come from the movie “Encanto”.  It’s the latest release from Disney, and the music was written by Lin Manuel Miranda (the same mind that gave us “Hamilton” and “Moana”, among others).  The center of the movie is a young girl, Mirabel and her place in the family, Madrigal. 

Like every other family, they have troubles.  One of their biggest issues is how they “don’t talk about Bruno”.  Bruno has a gift, and while he speaks truth, it greatly upsets the rest of the family.  His ability to see into the inevitable future has caused so many problems that Bruno has removed himself from the tight knit family, and they have lived as if he doesn’t exist.

We all have that one (maybe more than one?) relative we think lives outside of our understanding of reality.  Today’s passage shows us one more way Jesus understands our lives.  He has been travelling through the Galilee.  It’s still quite early in His ministry, and His fame is growing.  But His family, not quite sure about what is happening to the boy they watched grow up, is sure that something is wrong with Him. 

The house where He was teaching was full, and the crowds tell Him that his family is outside to see him.  Jesus doesn’t stop what He is doing and go.  Instead, He says, “Who are my mother and brothers?”  This surely will have confirmed His family’s theory that He was out of his mind – how could he not know them?  In that moment, Mark tells us that Jesus looked around the gathering and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Friends, when we make the decision to become a Jesus follower – we are adopted into the larger family.  Even with all of its bumps and bruises, the family of God is a beautiful thing.  I’m so glad we are in it together!

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Withered No More

Lent Day 5 – March 7, 2022

Mark 3:1-19

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 

We live in a society that tells people that life has to be perfect.  We are to have things all figured out, to have our live put together in a neat little package.  It couldn’t be further from the truth!

Life is messy.  It comes with bumps and bruises, broken hearts, mistakes, and failures, all mixed in with the joys, wins and triumphs.  It’s hard to present the broken or bruised side of ourselves.  It makes us seem weak and vulnerable, and that is truly uncomfortable.  

Jesus knew that, and in this encounter He’s at the synagogue (we don’t know which one) on the Sabbath.  A man with a shriveled hand as there, and Jesus’ opponents were watching.  Watching to see if Jesus would do something to break this Holy Day.  So, in front of the accusers, Jesus invites the man to come forward.

Now, in those days, physical flaws were seen to be as the result of sin and would typically mean that the afflicted individual was pushed out of the community.  This man would have been brave in even coming into the Synagogue, and now he’s being singled out!  Can’t you just feel how awkward and embarrassed he was feeling?

The tension in the room heightens, as Jesus asks those gathered, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”  Their stony silence works to make Jesus angry, and he takes this stand – “Stretch out your hand.”  Complying, he does so and is healed.

I love this passage.  Not because of the miracle, but because of what Jesus doesn’t ask the man to do.  The direction was not to stretch out both hands, but to offer to Jesus that which needed healing.  You see, Jesus doesn’t want to take from our lives that which is whole, that which is good, that which is as God designed it.  No, He asks for that which is broken, that which is less than in our lives, that which the world sees and shames us.

Offer Him your “hand” today.  Bring Him the very things Society tells you to be ashamed of, He longs to make you whole and restored.  To take that which you feel ashamed of and make it beautiful.  In doing so, you show the world that God is still in the business of making things whole and perfect again.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Keeping the Sabbath

Lent, Day 4 – March 5/22

Mark 2:13-28

25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Sabbath keeping.  It’s a concept so important that it made it into the top 5 of God’s Big 10.  The fourth commandment is to keep the Sabbath holy.  What that looks like has been debated for millennia.

When I was quite young, we had a family at our church who did nothing – truly nothing – on Sunday other than church.  No T.V., newspapers, games, homework, crafting, etc.  I was never in their home on a Sunday, but I think they either slept or just sat and look at each other.  Now that I’m older, I realize just how little joy there must have been in their home on those Sundays.  I’m pretty sure, that stance brought little enjoyment of the God they were following.

When travelling in Israel, I am always amazed at the strict following of Sabbath rules.  It is most obvious in the Hotel, and inevitably, when we are leaving to head home.  The elevators run on autopilot, so that no one has to work by pushing the buttons!  They stop at every floor, even if there is no one there to get on or off that level.

Jesus reminds us in this passage that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  God gave us the directive for us to take a day of rest each week.  It’s an important part of the life rhythm He designed.  Sleep each night restores the brain and body and Sabbath each week restores our soul.  It’s a time for us to draw near to Him and to renew that connection. 

When we take a Sabbath, it’s not a sign of weakness.  I know some pastors who never take a day off – and for them it’s a badge of honour.  It is no such thing.  We honour God when we follow the design He set before us.  Sabbath lets us live from it, not for it.  A weekly break gives us more energy to do what the coming week holds.  If we live for it, we spend so much time focused on what we cannot do, as opposed to what we get to do.

When’s the last time you took a true Sabbath.  A day where the only appointments on your calendar are you, your family and God?  If you’re not sure, put that on your calendar now.  Stop reading and block out a day.  Enter into true Sabbath and experience the blessing God had in mind when he told us to keep it!

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Shh!

Lent, Day 3 – March 4/22

Mark 1:40 – 2:12

43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead, he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

Social Media has certainly changed how we share news, hasn’t it?  Something exciting or heartbreaking happens, and the first thing we do is pull out our phone.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to stay up to date with friends and loved ones.  Right now, I’m a part of a group on Facebook that keeps us up to date in regards to a serious health situation.  It’s a way to stay current without having to bombard folks with phone calls and questions.

Imagine you are the leper that Jesus healed in our focused passage today.  You’ve been diagnosed with a disease that keeps you from your family and community.  Your body develops sores and your sense of touch disappears as your limbs slowly disintegrate.   Then this man, who heals with just a word or a simple touch, gives you your very own miracle.

“Don’t tell anyone this.  Go straight to the priest and offer a sacrifice as testimony”.  In today’s terms – Keep this to yourself, instead, go and praise God in worship.  Let that be how you share your joy.

I’m sure if this healed man were alive today, he would have it up on Instagram and Facebook before he’d taken another step.  It’s just how we do that these days.  What if we took Jesus’ direction to heart?  What if, when something significant happens to us, our first action become praise?  If it’s something that burdens or breaks us, could we offer broken hallelujahs first?  How would that change our understanding of just what God is doing with and through us?

Then, once you and God have had your time of praise and/or prayer together, bring in your support system.  Every system needs its own base or foundation.  Don’t let yourself build the sidewalls of support of external congratulations until that Rock of Faith is securely in place.  Worship – in your favourite chair, in the car, on your face on the carpet, by a lake… – is never the wrong way to begin our thanks (or pleases) to God.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Alone

Lent, Day 2 – March 3/22

Mark 1:21-39

35 “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

There is so much we could talk about today in this passage.  Jesus confronts a demon in church (wouldn’t that be quite the morning!)  He left the synagogue and “as soon as” they had, they went to Peter’s mother-in-law’s house.  Today’s first picture is taken from the steps of the synagogue, and you can see how close his house was.

The scenes, however, end with Jesus taking some needed quiet time to pray.  Mark tells us that He went to “a solitary place” to pray.  To spend some focused and much needed time with His Father.  It’s one of my very favourite places in the Galilee.  While much of the shore has been built up with churches commemorating Biblical events, the shore behind Peter’s house is much like it was 2000 years ago. 

It’s an awesome moment to be able to sit here.  Usually, the day has been busy and we’ll still have more to do, but for 30+ minutes we can all spread out and just be.  Quiet and prayer are restorative.  For many of us (raised hand here…) quiet time is uncomfortable.  Silence seems eternal and awkward.  But there is a deep life lesson in this one simple verse.

Jesus, having completed miracles, was spent.  He had given of his powers, and needed to recharge.  So, He goes off by himself and communes with His Father.  He withdraws from the crowd in the house, and he prays.  This, friends, is the best way to recharge your batteries when ministry and life have drained us.  Quiet and prayer.  Time to not just offer our shopping list of concerns, but to be in holy conversation with the Creator of the Universe.  To be still enough to hear and feel His answers.

Carve out some time today (if not today, but this week) to be quiet.  To simply be in the presence of God Himself and to chat.  Your words don’t have to be eloquent, they just need to be real and honest.  Recharge your batteries – it’s never a bad use of your time!

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

A 40 Day Walk Through Mark’s Gospel

Ash Wednesday – March 2/22

Mark 1:1-20

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

This Lenten season we are going to journey through the book of Mark.  It will take us all 47 days, (that’s 40 days plus the Sundays), beginning today and our final day will be Easter Sunday.

As we begin, we meet John, Jesus’ cousin.  He is preparing his listeners for the coming of the Messiah.  Part of what he is doing is baptizing them and calling for their repentance from their sins.  On this particular day, he is continuing his preaching, when his cousin arrives at the river.

Mark tells us that as Jesus was coming out of the water, the heavens opened and as The Spirit descended a voice was heard.  That voice, being God the Father, pronounced that Jesus was His Son, and that He loved him.

When children are learning to talk, we take time to introduce them to new things.  To be certain that the learn the right names for those new things, so that they know how to recognize them and call them by the right word.  A child who has never seen a bird, isn’t able to just call that winged creature a bird- they have to be taught. 

The people of Israel had never seen a Messiah.  They had ideas about what he would look like, and certainly were sure about what he would do.  But this man who was related to John had come from a backwater community – Nazareth.  Surely, there was nothing special about him!

Imagine their surprise when the very voice of God spoke and introduced His Son to the world.  Other gospels used the phrase, “This is my Son”.  He made Jesus’ identity very clear to us.  

Just as a point of theology, this incident is the first place where the Trinity is referenced.  “Just as Jesus [ the Son] was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit [the Holy Spirit] descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven [ the Father]: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

That same Son is the One we will follow to Jerusalem and the Cross over these next 7 weeks.  If you’ve never met Him, this is a very good place to start.  God himself tells us who we are meeting.  His Son, the one who was promised by the Old Testament prophets.  The One who was with God at Creation, and the One who makes it possible for us to have eternal life.  He’s a personal, forever friend of mine, and wants to be a forever friend with you, too.  This Lent let’s get to know Him better, together.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

A Tapestry of Light – Kimberly Duffy

Cholera, Colonialism, poverty, and class disparity – all the makings for a great uplifting novel, no? Kimberly Duffy has managed to pull off a story of faith, determination and grace encompassing all of these things. It was a novel I couldn’t read quickly, because I didn’t want to miss anything.

Set in 1886 Calcutta, we meet Ottilie Russel. She is greiving the loss of her parents, while caring for her brother Thaddeus and her grandmother. She is filled at beetle-wing embroidery (look up images of this – it’s breathtakingly beautiful!), to assure a pittance of money still comes into their home.

Her life quickly gets more complicated when a few events align. A stranger arrives to inform them that Thaddeus is actually heir to a British title and lordship, and her grandmother falls victim to the same illness that took her parents. Never could she imagine how challenging life would be when she agrees that she and Thaddeus will go to England.

Sometimes a book falls into your hands, and it parallels issues in your own everyday world. As I was reading this, the first hidden realities of the horrific residentials schools in my our country started to come to life. The discovery of 215 children buried in unmarked graves is causing us to face the disarming decisions our forefathers made in the name on civilizing our nrew country.

The characters were so well portrayed, that I’m sure their conversations were based in reality and not just a work of fiction. The truth of 19th century classism hit such a nerve, that I had to do some introspection to see if I still hold some of those attitudes.

While a great work of fiction, I think that this is a timely read – especially for those wrestling with the reckoning facing our communities in these days.

“Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.”

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2021 in book reviews

 

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Waiting – Lent Day 40

Matthew 27:62-66 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

Can you hear the stillness?  It’s the day after the crucifixion, and all of creation is holding its breath.  Didn’t he say he’d be back on the third day?  The disciples are still in hiding, some have gone back to their boats in Galilee.  Pilate was certainly hoping that any uprising Jesus seemed to be leading would just go away.  The soldiers remembered what he had said, so in order to prevent anyone stealing the body to support this ridiculous claim, they placed a seal on the stone of the tomb and posted a guard.

Waiting.  It seems like we are in a holding pattern, here in our part of the country, for the second Easter in row. We aren’t supposed to see loved ones, we are waiting for vaccine to be delivered and administered.  Waiting for numbers to fall, and ICUs to return to normal patient admissions.  Waiting for God to do a miracle.  Waiting, waiting, waiting.  It’s not something most of us do well.

It’s our final stop on this Easter Journey together.  No pictures of the tomb (spoiler alert – it was empty!)  We’ve never made it into the Aedicule, but really the tomb was only borrowed for the weekend, and because I believe Jesus walked out of it, I’ve never been disappointed to see the actual spot.  For pilgrims who make this trip along the Via Dolorosa and the complete Stations of The Cross, we are all in that waiting period.  Before the ascension, Jesus promised that He would come back – and so we wait.

Our picture today show’s centuries of markings by piligrims stopping to let people know they had been there in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Rather like the Inukshuks that dot our northern highways.  I have repeatedly said, over this last year, that Jesus needs to come soon.  Until that happens, I and millions of other Christians wait for his return. He’s left us our instructions on how to live, and what our task is in the meantime.

Good Friday is a hard day, but I think waiting in the silence of Holy Saturday is a day to lament.  We grieve with his followers who were sure it was all over, the ministry, the promise, the new way of life.  But…

Sunday’s coming, and because we are an Easter people, we know how the story ends.  Don’t miss the chance to sit with the weight of sadness in the waiting, and then sing and shout your Hallelujahs tomorrow!

Friend, thank you for reading along with us.  Our planned pilgrimage for last year was cancelled, and there is no reset date at this point.  If you would like to know more about how you can bring your Bible to life and experience God’s Story in the land where most of it happened, please let us know and we’ll be in touch about when we will be returning to Israel.  We’d be honoured to have you join us.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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I Go To The Rock – Lent Day 39

Good Friday

John 18-19 So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

When you visit Israel, you notice that there are rocks – everywhere. It’s a country made of rocks, some are big, some are quite tiny, but they are there all the same. You see rocks that were once palaces, and rocks that held ancient manuscripts that confirm the authenticity and accuracy of our Bible today. You see shelters in crevices of rock, you stand on a rock where Peter declared who Jesus is, and you see where cities were built on top of cities using rock. And in Jerusalem, the rocks continue to tell their stories. I think they are my favourite ones of all.

Not because of their beauty or display, but because of the part they played in the most important act in History. Our pictures today take us on a part of that day long journey.

The week began with Jesus riding a donkey down the Mount of Olives, along the rocks that made the pathway through the Kidron Valley and up Mt. Zion.  Then he cleared the rocks we still see today at the steps of The Temple.  He met his friends at the rock-hewn cave that held Jerusalem’s olive press and prayed in the rocky garden grounds.  Later that night he was taken to the “recently” discovered stones that were Caiaphas’ Palace. Next were the cells used to hold prisoners awaiting their trial before the Court, and where Jesus was likely held before being taken to Pilate the next morning.

We’ve seen the flight of stairs leading down to the city, just one of the 3 places in Jerusalem we know that Jesus walked.  This was on his way to Pilate for sentencing. Today’s stone is, while not our final picture, so important to our remembering this week.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built by Constantine’s mother in the 4th Century.  She had consulted with tradition and with those that knew the city well.  What makes it hard for people to picture, is that this site that holds Calvary and The Empty Tomb is within the city walls.  What we forget, is that the power-hungry Herod need his city to be more impressive, and what better way to do that than to expand the city walls.  This meant enclosing that holy hillside into the newly staked boundaries.  That happened before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. So, yes we have historical and archaeological proof that we have the right spots for Golgotha and The Tomb.

It’s dizzying with all the people, incense smoke and winding stairs.  It looks nothing like the garden we’ve pictured the tomb to be in, but there it is.  And the awe that you experience is profound – perhaps more so as you reflect on where you’ve been!

Our final picture, while not the end of the story is such an important one, it’s the very rock of Calvary. It’s the bedrock of Golgotha, the hill where Jesus hung and died for you and me.   You see, in archeology you can’t go deeper than bedrock.  It’s the foundation of everything. And this glassed-in section of bedrock is a part of the hillside where The Cross was in place.

The walk along the Via Dolorosa is distracting.  It’s busy, noisy with so, so many sparkly things to catch your attention and wallet.  But the closer you get to the church, the more focused you become and you don’t even realized you’ve been climbing a hill the whole time.

And then, you’re there.  You are about to enter the building that houses the holiest sites in all of Christendom.  The two places that are the very reason for the celebrations this weekend.

Here’s how a very dear friend described it, and our journey to find it, after our first visit there: “We get distracted by it all. We lose our focus. It stops making sense. Until. Until. Until we remember to look past it all, and return to the foundation, the cornerstone, the bedrock of our faith. The Rock we call Jesus, and what he did for you, or me, for all the hurting world, the world God loved so much that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes, that whoever builds his life on that Rock will never die. Friends, let’s put our distractions aside. Let’s regain our focus. Let’s build our lives and our church on the Rock, on the Bedrock of our faith, on the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. No other foundation will ever survive, no other foundation will do.” That’s the Rock that held the moment that changed everything.

May you go to that Rock anew today, and then…then I’ll meet you in the garden!

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Just A Small Detail – Day 38

Matthew 26:47-56. Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51 With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

When Pilgrims arrive at the private Garden at Gethsemane, it’s simply beautiful.  It’s a quiet refuge in the city and allows for prayer and worship away from the thousands of people waiting to go through the Church of the Agony.  Its view is the one we saw earlier in this journey of the Eastern Gate.  It’s easy to imagine the idyllic setting the night of Jesus betrayal and arrest.  But those quiet and lovely notions are far from the reality of what would have occurred.

We know that Jesus and his friends had been praying, having left the rest of 12 after the Passover dinner in the rented Upper Room.  Peter has been told of his coming trio of denials and Judas was told of his actions to come that very night.

We know that the location of the site of Gethsemane is historically correct, because history and archaeology know where the Olive Press on Mt. Zion was.  The cave that people will have sought shelter in is still there and is now a sanctuary for worship.  The gardens are the remnants of a huge olive grove.

It’s so easy for us to sanitize and clean up the hard and rough reality of the events of THAT Thursday and Friday in Jerusalem.  The peacefulness of the time in prayer will have been disrupted by the oncoming marching and aggressive sounds of the Roman Soldiers.  These men were trained to intimidate and control any situation they were in.  Even if the arrest went smoothly, the ensuing event in our Scripture passage will certainly not maintained any semblance of order.

Picture the scene, a Roman Battalion (as many as 600 men) plus a crowd of onlookers, looking for Jesus.  When they find him, it just Jesus and 4 of his closest friends.  He steps forward and is arrested.  While Matthew doesn’t name him, John’s gospel tells us that it’s Peter.  Oh, our dear Peter.  His typical hot-blooded response is to grab his sword and he manages to lop off the ear of a soldier.

Jesus’ rebuke is quick.  “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword shall die by the sword.”  He goes on to remind them that He has business to accomplish and turns his attention to the bleeding ear.  It is at this point that in Luke’s Gospel we are told that Jesus performs his very last miracle, he heals the Soldier’s ear.  I read once that Jesus couldn’t have even the smallest loss happen in his defence.  He knows that the only blood to be spilled in the coming hours can be his.

This miracle was not only his last, it was the smallest.  The soldier would have not suffered hearing loss, his life was not in danger, at the most it was a cosmetic wound. But Jesus had taught his followers to “love your enemies”, and he practiced what he preached – right to the end.  His last miracle was a response of kindness to an enemy.

Maybe it wasn’t such a small miracle after all.  He could have a called all the angels to come to respond, and let them see ALL his power, but he didn’t.  Maybe, just maybe, this was his greatest.

May our prayer today be that He would grant us the grace to confront life the way He did in that olive grove.  Take time to thank God that this last miracle reminds us that even the smallest details are important in the Kingdom.  Important enough to be tended to by the Saviour.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Chosen – Lent Day 37

Luke 22:2-30 When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. 15 Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. 16 For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

17 Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. 18 For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.”

19 He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

20 After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.”

Remember when we were able to have meals together?  To gather with friends, break bread and talk?  It seems like a lifetime ago.  We are still waiting to have our 2020 Easter Breakfast celebration with our church family.  But waiting is the theme of these past 12 months, and it seems that we still have months to go.

The first event of Maundy Thursday (maundy comes from the Latin for “commandment”) is perhaps the most famous meal in history.  On Mount Zion in Jerusalem, there is a room. It’s been a Christian Church, (we know this because the room is oriented towards the Church of the Holy Sceptulcre and not the temple mount.  It is also full of Christian symbols in the stonework and not Jewish ones), and now has a mosque connected to it, but 2000 years ago it was likely quite nondescript. But it’s a room that was a part of the events that changed everything.



It was Passover, and Jesus and his disciples are gathered to have the traditional meal. They were about to spend a lot of time here, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.  As the evening progressed, Jesus took the bread and cup and gave them a new symbolism. He told them that the bread was His body that would be broken for them, and the wine was His blood that would be spilled for them. Then, a promise that this was a new covenant, a new promise between them and God to be His people, and He, their God.  

To our 21st century minds, we instantly see this as communion, but to those gathered they will have known these words spoken as the promise made between a young man and his beloved as they became betrothed. The groom offered a cup of wine to his chosen, and with the drinking of it, she accepts and the covenant, the promise of marriage is sealed. After this, the groom would leave and prepare the place where they would reside together.

All this – the birth 33 years earlier, the teaching and healings, the giving us a new way to relate to God and each other, the invitation into this new promise and the coming agony and triumph – was all part of the plan from the very beginning. Jesus came to claim us, you and I, as His own beloved. He knew that he would seal the promise of union and then have to go away to prepare the home for us to live with Him.  

The invitation still stands. He still offers that promise to us. Friday is a hard day, the disciples were scared and hiding in the very room where this invitation was given. They were sure of arrest if they went outside and were recognized as His friends. They will have spent many of the coming 50 days, and it’s in this same space that the coming of the Holy Spirit happened – just as it was promised.

Take, eat. Take, drink. This is the new covenant. He chose you.  He chooses you still.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Here Is The Man – Lent Day 36

John 19: 1-5 “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

The Via Dolorosa is a must do part of a pilgrimage to Israel.  Wandering through the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, thousands of Jesus followers follow the route that Jesus was led to The Cross.  It begins at the Praetorium, where he was brought before Pilate and flogged.  It carries on through what has become known as “The Stations of the Cross”, until we arrive at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which hold Golgotha and the empty tomb.  The architecture along the was is highly symbolic in places, and quite ordinary in others.

The first stop is at the Church of the Flagellation.  Its façade is quite a work of stone masonry. Carved into the stonework are crowns of thorns and strips to represent the whips.  Inside the church is a very detailed stained-glass window of Jesus being beaten.  It’s an active church, with places for worship to occur, as there are in so many spots along the route.  Moving from the church, it’s not a long walk to the archway that was added by Hadrian in the 2nd Century AD to the entrance to the public square where Pilate pronounced his sentence of Jesus with the words, “Here is the man”.

He was badly beaten, made to put wear a mocking purple cape and had a piercing crown of thorns shoved onto his head.  The blood will have been shocking, even for Roman standards of punishment.  Despite the crowd demanding his death, Pilate isn’t able to find any reasons to support the condemnation.  Hoping for compassion, he presents this very broken man.  “Here is the man”, is his final attempt to change the crowd’s collective mind.

We are in a society that still needs us to present Jesus to them.  People have become so jaded against any organized religion, and sadly the press loves to give airtime to those who show the very worst side of the Christian worldview.  We need to show them the true Jesus.  The one who laid his life down to secure ours.  The one who modelled how to live in right relationship with God, the Father.  The One God sees when He sits in judgement of those who have made Jesus the center of their lives.

I wonder if, looking upon the badly beaten and humiliated Jesus today, would I still be able to sing this favourite Holy Week hymn.  I pray that I would.  Bernard of Clairveaux wrote the words in French in the 12th century, but it still powerful words resonate in our day:

O Sacred Head, now wounded,

With grief and shame weighed down. 

Now scornfully surrounded

with thorns, Thine only crown;

O sacred Head, what glory,

What bliss, till now was Thine!

Yet though despised and gory, 

I joy to call Thee mine.

What thou, my Lord, has suffered

Was all for sinners’ gain;

Mine, mine was the transgression,

But thine the deadly pain;

Lo, here I fall, my Saviour!

Tis I deserve Thy place;

Look on me with Thy favour,

Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow

To thank Thee, dearest Friend.

For this Thy dying sorrow, 

Thy pity without end?

Oh, make me Thine forever;

And should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never

Outlive my love to Thee

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Sit With Me Awhile – Lent Day 35

Matthew 26:36-38 “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.””

At the bottom of the Mount of Olives, there is a church built beside a beautiful garden filled with olives trees.  We’re going to visit there again on Friday this week, but today I wanted to show you the church.  It’s called the Church of the Agony.  History proves to us that the location of the garden is correct because that’s where the city olive press was during the 1st century, and in Hebrew Gethsemane means olive press.  So, the church is built on the grounds of the olive grove connected to Gethsemane.  On those grounds that Jesus went to pray before he was arrested.

The first picture is of the Church from the Mt. of Olives.  The second is the mosaic over the front entrance.  Picture 3 is the Crown of Thorns altar – this is the actual bedrock from the area where Jesus will have been praying and finally picture 4 is of the mosaic work on the ceiling.  This church is also called the Church of All Nations, because Jesus died for us all. To honour that, there are medallions worked into the design, and this picture includes the one for Canada.

In our Scripture focus today, Jesus has come to the garden to pray.  He says to his best friends, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”  He knew that weight of what the next 24 hours held for him and his time here on earth.  Surely, he knew that part of the agony was to experience God’s silent response to his cries from the Cross.  But during the prayer time, Jesus knew the value of having friends near when going through times of great sorrow.

If you’ve ever walked through a crisis, or through the dark days after the death of a loved one, you’ll know how valuable the support of others can be.  I remember one of the scariest days of our lives.  Jeff was having routine wisdom tooth removal surgery, and so we went to the hospital for the early morning procedure fully expecting to be home by lunch.  It was not to be.  While I was in the waiting room, an ambulance attendant went past me with an empty gurney, and after some time, returned with it just as empty.  He was asked about that by a nurse, and his response was that “they’ve changed their minds”.  No sooner had he left again when a nurse came and got me.

Turns out he had had an allergic reaction to one of the drugs in the anesthetic and had to be admitted to the ICU until he was able to breath on his own again.  I was alone with this, or so I thought.  A volunteer came and sat with me, brought me something to drink and eat (a thought I hadn’t even entertained).  She just stayed and chatted until I was able to go into the unit to see him and start to prepare to head home.  We left the hospital by days end, 4 hours longer than anticipated.  It wasn’t until I reflected on the day that I realized just how important her presence was for me.  It’s a life lesson I’ve never forgotten.

We can learn 2 things from this encounter with Jesus’ request:

1 – Don’t hesitate to ask for your friends support when you are in crisis.  It’s not a sign of weakness, but a flare in the dark for help as you walk through these moments.

2 – Be that friend.  The request for your company may not be convenient or even comfortable, but it takes courage to even ask, so honour that.  Your presence will be calming, your help can make the burden lighter.  Offer to pray with them, or just sit quietly if that’s what they need.  It’s hard, but silence can be comforting and healing.Ask God for courage to be in either role, to be able to ask for help or to respond when you are needed.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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One Foot Infront of the Other – Lent Day 34

Matthew 27:1-2 “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.”

The night will have been long.  First there was the dinner where He told Judas and Peter what they were going to do before the sun came up.  Then, that agonizing prayer and pleading with The Father to “take this cup”.  Even his most faithful friends just couldn’t stay focused and awake to pray with him.  As the time of prayer ended, Judas came with that purse of silver.

He got so close to Jesus, he was close enough to kiss him.  It had to be a friend to betray Jesus, because a stranger would never be able to come that near to Him.  And only a friend’s kiss was cruel enough to seal the betrayal.  The soldiers had been anything but gentle – Rome was not known to employ gentle men to carry out orders.

The time before the High Priest, the man who was set apart to teach people about the love of The Father, was full of accusations and people lying with false charges.  The night in the dungeon at the Priest’s palace was dark and cold.  And now it’s daylight, and He knows how the day will end…

Matthew tells us that they “bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate”.  Our picture today is the flight of stairs that led from Caiaphas’ palace down into the heart of Jerusalem.  These stairs were found over 100 years ago and have led to the discovery of many more artifacts that prove the location of the palace.  These stairs are one of the 3 sites in Jerusalem that we know, with Biblical support, Jesus walked on.

Jesus walked down those steps knowing full well that they were necessary steps toward the very reason he had come to dwell with us.  The certainly were steps that held sorrow at leaving his friends, but (and this is just me pondering) steps that knew the grand event that was on its way in just 3 short days.

There is so much more of the story to get through before we get to the beautiful ending, but what if those stairs became a symbol of the life that follows Jesus?  We know that there will be hard things ahead of us.  Trials and accusations, goodbyes that are harder than we can imagine.  But as we walk the road to our final destination, we also know of the triumph that is promised us when our time here is finished.

We will have steps that feel insurmountable at times and easy to skip along at others.  All the same, they are our steps to take.  So today, as you go through the routines of the day, ask that God will let you never lose sight of the win we, as Jesus followers, are promised.  Especially on the very hard days.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Didn’t I see you? – Lent Day 33

John 18:15-27  “One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?”27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.”

Built on the grounds that we now know was Caiaphas’ palace is the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (from the Latin “where the rooster has crowed”) has had a church there since the 400’s.  What stands now was built in the 1920’s and fully restored in 1997.  Symbolism is plentiful in the design of this church; the rooster on the roof, the relief door with the trial scene, Peter after his denials in mosaic, all masterfully crafted to remind us of the events in this significant place in Jerusalem.

Peter, the quick to respond with enthusiasm disciple, declared that Jesus was the Messiah.  He’s walked on with water with his Lord and has learned at Jesus’ feet for 3 years.  At the Passover meal just earlier in the evening where today’s events occurred, he has emphatically restated his commitment to following Jesus.  Jesus himself knew of what was to come.  Brought before the High Priest, Jesus begins his trial and final moments to The Cross.  There is a crowd gathered in the palace grounds, and someone recognized Peter.  When he denied even knowing Jesus for the third time, the rooster crowed – just as Jesus had told him.  It must have been a crushing reminder for Peter, of just how imperfect he was.  He had been so certain of himself just short hours ago at dinner, and now…

We often write our own version of our narrative.  We justify behaviour, purposely convince ourselves that outcomes from our decisions were out of our control.  Making up time in slow traffic is the reason we got that ticket, not because we chose to drive outside the law.  Needing to work extra hours is the fault of all those interruptions, not because we got side-tracked with shinier attention-getters.  That friend we never hear from just dropped out of sight, as opposed to getting tired of never having their calls or texts returned.  You get the idea.  And then, as reality comes crashing in around us, well we crumble under the truth of our true nature.

Yet, at the same time Jesus gives steadfast testimony before his accusers and those who pursue him – ‘I am he’. Peter is on trial too, subject to minor interrogation from servants and others while he waits outside. But three times he denies who he is, a disciple of Jesus. Am I afraid, like Peter, or steadfast like Jesus?  

We are like Peter, and like Peter Jesus has big plans for us.  It was through the conversation on the beach after the resurrection that we see the depth of God’s forgiveness.  Even after denying Him, Jesus tells Peter to care for his followers.  There is nothing we can do that can remove us from God’s love.  He calls us to share the game-changing news of His death and resurrection and to help people come into right relationship with him – even when the pressure of knowing Him is harder than makes us comfortable.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Coming Forward – Lent Day 32

Matthew 26:57 – 66 “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.”

The Temple leadership and the Sanhedrin have had enough.  They have successfully had Jesus arrested, and have brought him to the home of the High Priest, Caiaphas to begin his trial.  They are angry and are willing to stop at anything to confirm the charges against him.  They have to get a conviction and so they even bring people to give false testimony.

Today, we have a picture of the relatively recently archaeological find of Caiaphas’ house.  Heading up the hill from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount we climb Mount Zion.  Most of the way up that hill, is the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (we’ll talk about that in a few days), and on the grounds of that church is this pictured archaeological site.  Caiaphas was the High Priest and certainly lived in this area, and other finds have confirmed that the high priests lived in luxurious housing. Set on the hillside, the view of the city would have been spectacular, as well as giving easy access to the Temple.  The ruins pictured here show large rooms, and outer walls showing spacious living.  There are also dungeons at the site that are likely where Jesus was held over night before heading into the city to appear before Pilate.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where someone is needing to fully discredit you – a work mate, a boss, a member of a club you’ve been in or someone at church – but it’s painful to go through the lies and dirt people will search for as they try to make their case.

Sadly, it’s human nature, but it’s awful to live through all the same. Once you’ve lived through something like that, you’d think that you would do everything in your power never to do the same to anyone.  But it’s so easy to fall in with crowd and join the accusers.

We’ve read Ken Gire before in this journey, and today I want us to pray part of his prayer written regarding this event in Jesus’ trial.  Taken from the book, “Moments With The Saviour”, make this your prayer – it’s certainly mine:

“Give me insight, I pray, into what went on in those chambers where Jesus was taken the night he was betrayed.  Those very religious chambers.  Where your Son was so shamelessly treated.

Who would have thought that there, in those sacred halls, lived such insecurity, such hostility, such treachery?  Who would have thought the opposition to the one you anointed would come from the very offices you ordained?  From priests and temple officials. Their Scriptures, their sacrifices, their holy days, their rituals, they all prepared the way for his coming.  How could such religious people, so steeped in the Scriptures, so trained in theology, how could they miss him?  How could they miss the truth when the truth stood right before them, staring them in the face?

And yet how many times have I failed to see the truth when it was standing right in front of me?  How many times have I failed to see the eyes of your Son in the eyes of (people around me)? Or failed to hear the voice of the Spirit in the pages of the Scripture?  How many times, Lord, have I been deaf to the sounds of heaven, blind to the sights of spiritual things, ignorant to what you are doing in me and around me?

Help me, God, never to sit in a judgment seat where the only purpose is the destruction of another person’s reputation.  Help me never to raise a question that is aimed at putting another human being on trial.  Or raise a hand that is aimed at hurting. Help me not to take the role of the high priest, thinking I have to question everything, judge everything, condemn everything that in some way is different from my way.  Help me not to take the role of the temple officials, thinking I have some office to defend or some person to protect.

Help me to remember that the people in that chamber read the same Scripture as Jesus did, believed the same theology, worshipped in the same temple, observed the same rituals.

Yet their hands were the first to strike him.

Grant that I would never have a hand in such a thing, never be a part of what took place in those chambers.  Those very religious chambers.  Where your Son was so shamelessly treated…”

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Out of the Mouths of Babes – Lent Day 31

Matthew 21:14-17 “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise.”

Today’s view is looking from the Garden at Gethsemane toward the Temple Mount and the Eastern, or Beautiful Gate.  You’ll notice that the gates in the wall have been bricked in to prevent anyone from entering the Mount.  This is the gate that the Jewish people believe their Messiah will enter to liberate Jerusalem, and as a way to prevent that the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman sealed it in the 16th century.  The Golden Dome is the dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, now a Muslim holy site, built over the remains of the Temple.

It was through these gates that the Palm Sunday procession ended, it was here Jesus will have entered into the Temple. It was then that he cleared the temple for the second time, and then invited in the blind and the lame.  They were seen as non-desireables and kept out of the holy sites by the leadership.  Once again, the agitated Priests and teachers confronted Jesus.  

Part of their irritation was hearing the children singing “Hosanna to the Son of David”.  Children were non-persons, and the simple fact of their making any sound inside the Temple gates was deemed to be unacceptable.  But Jesus uses the words of the Scriptures the leadership will have known so well, “From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise”, to once again rebuked them.” 

His answer to their complaint gives the reason why the children may rightly praise Him. He quotes Psalm 8:2, a passage in which the “mouth of babes and infants” establishes “strength.”  Can you just see body language of the Priests at this point, the irritation will have been palpable!

The correction holds a great reminder for us.  The children who were singing His praise would never have known who Jesus was without having heard and seen their parents praising him during the parade into town.  It’s the same for us today.

Children watch how we, especially their parents, respond to matters of faith.  They see your participation in worship – do you sing the worship music, and engage with the message?  As you do, so will they.  Do you make worship attendance, (virtual or in-person) a priority in your week or an after-thought?  You are setting their view of church for them.  Children learn by example.

This reminds me of a friend’s daughter.  I’m sure that as soon as she was able to talk, she knew she was a Maple Leafs’ fan.  Not because she did deep research into the quality of their playing, but because her father was (and still is) a HUGE fan.  Thankfully, her parents love Jesus more than their sports teams, and because of that example, she learned to love Him too.  Children’s praise is honest and wonderful to hear.  They don’t learn it in a vacuum though, faith is taught not caught.

If you have children in your life, let them hear your worship so that it might become theirs.  If you were a child with strong faith influences in your life – thank them for that legacy, and thank God for placing them in your way.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Short Lived Hosannas – Lent Day 30

Luke 19:28-47 “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.””

We’re heading into the final countdown to Good Friday and Resurrection Day, and although Palm Sunday is this weekend there are too many sights I wanted you to see between now and then.  Today we begin the sights and events of Jesus’ last week.

Starting at the edge of the Mount of Olives and ending at the Garden of Gethsemane across the Kidron Valley is the road in our picture.  It’s in much more manicured than the parade heading into the city would have encountered, but it’s an ancient travel way.   The route is just shy of 1km and descends 400m.  About ½ down the route, is the church in the middle of the first picture.  It is called the “Tear Drop Church”, as it was built to remember the moment Jesus wept over Jerusalem. The second picture is us heading down the route towards the Garden. (We were all quite spread out by this time.)

The tension between Jesus and his followers and the religious leaders is coming to a head.  After directing the disciples to go and find a colt of a donkey, he begins his triumphant ride into Jerusalem.  This fulfilled one of the Old Testament prophecies from Zechariah 9:9. As he heads into the city, the people begin to yell, “Hosanna” (Save us!), and the Pharisees tell him to quiet them.  Jesus rebukes them and says that if they do not proclaim it, even the rocks will cry out!  All of creation knows who He is, and this ride is the beginning of the hardest and best week in history.  The entire procession will have had an energy of celebration.  While it will have faded quickly, and the shouts of joy quickly turned to shouts of anger.  But on this day, Jesus knows most of Jerusalem missed the meaning of who he was.  He stops and weeps over the city, for he knows of its pending destruction by the Romans.  

Does our knowledge of who Jesus is make us so excited that we need to tell others? Or does it make the music of praise just bubble out of you?  If your answer is, “Yes”, don’t stop it.  If Jesus were to ride through your main street, would you be celebrating, or would He be weeping because your community missed the point?

I leave you today with this poem by Malcolm Guite:

Palm Sunday

Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,

The seething holy city of my heart

The Saviour comes.  But will I welcome him?

Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;

They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,

And think the battle won.  Too soon they’ll find

The challenge, the reversal he is bringing

Changes their tune.  I know what lies behind

The surface flourish that so quickly fades;

Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,

The hardness of the heart, its barricades,

And at the core, the dreadful emptiness

Of a perverted temple.  Jesus, come

Break my resistance and make me your home.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Watching for the Homeowner’s Return – Lent Day 29

Mark 13:33-37. “…Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

It’s quite a view as we look over the city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.  It’s hard to notice in the modern scene, but the lowest point of the picture is the Kidron Valley, and we are looking across at the Temple Mount. 

The Mount of Olives is frequently mentioned in the New Testament as the route between Jerusalem and Bethany.  It would be the place where pilgrims would have had their first up-close view of the city.  This is where the Lord Jesus was greeted by the crowds on Palm Sunday and is probably where he wept over Jerusalem. The Lord Jesus is also said to have spent time on the mount, teaching and prophesying to his disciples, and also came here on the night of his betrayal: “When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives”.  At the foot of the Mount of Olives lies Gethsemane.  Acts 1:9-12 identifies the Mount of Olives as the site of Jesus’ ascension and the Angel’s words have suggested to some that this is where he will return, linking that day to the prophecy in Zechariah.

In our passage today, Jesus and his disciples have returned to the Mount of Olives from the Temple. As the group commented on the beauty and grandeur of the building, Jesus tells them  that the stones they were looking at will be not be left standing.  They are confused, and as they arrive back on the other side of the Kidron Valley, Jesus gives this explanation.

He tells them of the coming destruction of the temple, and of the end of times.  With all the promises of things to come, he tells the disciples that they must keep watch and be ready for the arrival of the “homeowner”.

Steven Curtis Chapman has a great song called “The Next Five Minutes”.  The lyrics are a great reminder of why need to lived in constant preparation for Jesus (our homeowner) to return and claim His own.  The first verse and chorus are(I’ve put the Youtube link at the end, take a listen today): 

I can reminisce about the already
I can worry and fret about the not yet;
But when it all comes down I know it really
Really all comes down to the right now
So right now

I’m living the next 5 minutes
Like these are my last 5 minutes
‘Cause I know the next 5 minutes
May be all I have
And after the next 5 minutes
Turn into the last 5 minutes
I’m taking the next 5 minutes
And starting all over again

People have been predicting the second coming, ever since Jesus returned to heaven.  1st century Christians quit their jobs to be ready and not miss his coming.  The Shakers slept fully clothed, and in bed that were so narrow in order to assure they were dressed and ready to rise should Jesus come while they were sleeping!  The Oil Crisis, The Gulf War and now this pandemic have all fuelled peoples belief that the end is imminent. We have a choice, we can panic and listen to all the untrustworthy, foreboding voices.  Or, we can trust that God has a plan and because we follow Jesus, we will be fine no matter what and/or when the end happens.

We don’t have to live a life in fear of the unknown or uncontrollable.  We are children of the Author of Time, and we are to always be ready for Jesus’ return.  May it be soon!!

(Have a listen to the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMgFRTfeGYI)

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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On The Steps – Lent Day 28

Mark 11:15-18  “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.”

The Temple, we’ve not actually been to the temple mount.  It’s a Mosque now, and not available to those who of a different faith – save a few hours each day.  But the Temple was HUGE and getting to the worship areas involved climbing many steps and going through many sections.  The section we are stopping at today is one of 3 areas of Jerusalem we know with certainty that Jesus walked there.  We’ll talk about the others before the end of this journey together.

It’s a treasured part of our time in Jerusalem.  To sit on the steps leading into the Temple, to spend time on the very stones that Jesus will have walked on to enter into worship. He may well have stopped on them and taught, and in our passage today, reclaimed sacred space for God’s purposes. The stairs are irregular, with both original and replaced stones, which forced the faithful to pay attention as they ascended the alternating wide and narrow steps. It also prevented a hurried approach to the Temple, which would be tempting with the thousands of people here. Just think of all the bustling social interactions, the throngs chatting, the buying and selling, and the meeting of family and friends. It would have been a major event. Such an uneven pace up these stairs hopefully forced time for personal reflection on the solemnity of approaching God and leaving the noisy crowd behind. This very spot was the main entrance for the common man to enter into the Temple.  There were 2 sets of gates at the entrance, both are still visible in the wall at the top of the steps.  While sealed with stones in the Arab/Crusader times, the outlines of the arches are still visible.

It was necessary for people coming to the Temple needed to have animals and birds for offering sacrifices.  Often, it was impractical for them to bring those offerings with them, making purchasing necessary.  So, those who sold them made purchasing easy.  Then, fully in human nature, some merchants chose to take advantage and created quite the inflated market with unfair prices and practices.  No doubt, their behaviour prevented some travellers and faithful worshippers from entering into The Temple.  That in turn will have prevented them from being able to come before God, for forgiveness or blessing.  That will have made Jesus the angry teacher we read of in this passage.  Mark notes that this behaviour caused the chief priests and teachers to fear him.  I wonder if it was because of the sharp conviction they felt at his correction and righteous anger.

The question must be asked, would Jesus need to cleanse our “temple steps” if he were to arrive at our churches today?  I fear the answer is a highly probable “yes”.  We place expectations and restrictions (no, I’m not talking about Health and Safety issues for the prevention of COVID!!) on people attending.  Do they dress and behave in suitable ways?  Do they know the right people, sit in the right spot, know our Scriptures well enough, etc?

It breaks my heart when I hear of someone who attended a church and was made to feel so unwelcome that they never went back.    I know of instances that have seen folks criticized for their attire, or hair, or behaviour of their children.  How often do heads turn if a baby makes a peep in the worship space?  These responses can prevent the subject from being in God’s presence and among God’s people.

May we who are the Body of Christ, be willing to welcome in whomever wishes to worship with us (when number restrictions allow us to do so).  May we not put blocks in their way, and may we not fear the teaching of God’s truth.  And may we ask forgiveness for the times when we have been like those Jesus challenged on the steps.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Health and Wellness – Lent Day 27

John 5: 1-9 “Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.”

It’s a most impressive place in the Old City.  The Church of St. Anne sits very near-by and it brings my spirit such joy to sing in its sanctuary.  But that’s not the focus of today.  Today, we are at the Pools of Bethesda.  The Gospel of John (5:2) describes the miracle that took place there, but for centuries, historians argued against its existence.

John described a pool in Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate of the Temple, which was surrounded by five covered colonnades and which in Hebrew was called Bethzatha (or Bethesda) meaning “house of mercy”.  Until the nineteenth century AD, there was simply no evidence outside of John’s writing for the existence of this pool.  Because of this, many scholars argued that John’s Gospel was written by someone without first‑hand knowledge of the city of Jerusalem (and therefore not the disciple John), and that the ‘pool’ had only a metaphorical, rather than historical, significance.  Then in the nineteenth century, archaeologists discovered the remains of a pool fitting the description in John’s Gospel.  Archaeologists discovered a large tank situated about 100 feet northwest of St. Anne’s Church, which they contended was the Pool of Bethesda.  Further archaeological excavation in the area, in 1964, discovered the remains of Byzantine and Crusader churches, Hadrian’s Temple of Asclepius and Serapis (gods of healing), the small healing pools of the Asclepieion, the other of the two large pools, and the dam between them over which the fifth portico ran.  This archaeological discovery proved beyond a doubt that the Biblical description was indeed the pool that had been uncovered, and that John truly had first-hand knowledge of the location.

People believed that there were angels that lived in the water, and if they could be the first to touch its waters each day, then they would be granted healing.  Our encounter begins as Jesus walks up to a man who had been unable to walk his entire life.  Every day, he had hoped that someone would assist him in getting to the waters first, so that he could be healed.  Every day though, he was disappointed again.  Surely, as Jesus struck up a conversation, he was sure of the inevitable outcome.  Instead, he is asked, “Do you want to get well?”

At first glance, Jesus’ declaration of healing is simple and straightforward, but really read it again.  There are 3 commands here, and they completely changed the man’s life.  “Stand up.” Jesus is telling him to rise, and take his place among others, for people who couldn’t stand were held in the lowest regard.  “Take your mat”.  Pick up and remove that which was giving you your label as unworthy.  “Walk”.  Be active again, in your interactions with people and in your everyday life.  You and I may not be spending our days on a mat beside and ancient pool, but we may well be longing for healing.  Jesus still asks us, “Do you want to get well?”  Some may honestly say “No”.  It’s hard to break out of our wounded routine.  The coat of pity and self-depreciation is easier to wear than seeing the full person God created us to be.  When we are fully healed, our job is before us, and it begins with the same 3 commands: stand up; take your mat; and walk.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Here’s Mud in Your Eye – Lent Day 26

John 9:1-38 “Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him.”

Today, we’ve left the quiet landscapes of the Galilee, where so much of Jesus’ ministry happened, and we turn our sight to Jerusalem.  The city we see today is complex, an overwhelming mix of ancient (2000+ years), old (1000-500 years) and new.  Coming into the city, you truly notice that you are ascending quite a hill.  The Temple was built on the peak of the city, visible from great distances.

From now until Easter, we’ll spend our days at the points of ministry around the city talking about what those sights have to say to us even today.  Our first stop is at the Pool of Siloam, in the oldest inhabited section of the city.   The Pool was built by King Hezekiah about 700 years before today’s encounter with Jesus, to collect runoff from his tunnel.  The Pool in our picture is what has been excavated. It was expanded by King Herod to be a much grander site than what Hezekiah knew.  It is the pool that Jesus sent the healed blind man to wash in.  Roughly the size of a community pool and paved with Jerusalem limestone.

This same pool was a very important part of the cleansing ritual during the feast of the Tabernacles.  Priests would draw water from here, carry it up to the Temple and pour it around the altar.  They would then remind the congregation that in Zechariah, it is promised that living water would flow from Jerusalem.  They couldn’t imagine just how true this prophecy was!  It was during this ritual that Jesus spoke up and declare that, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38).  Living water comes from a constant, replenishing source.  It was from this living source that the man found himself healed.

The blind man’s healing happened in a couple of ways.  His sight, obviously, but he also received the courage to publicly tell people what Jesus had done for him.  This man had been judged and shunned by people his whole life, and now he is able to declare that “I am the man!”  The passage tells us that the Pharisees argue that Jesus was breaking the law by healing on the Sabbath, and the man declares that Jesus is a prophet.  When, finally, the healed man is driven out of the Temple, Jesus goes to find him.  After an exchange, the man says to Jesus, “Lord, I believe.”  Now, not only does he see with clear eyes, but eyes of faith as well.

What has God cleared from your eyes?  What has he healed that has given you the courage to tell others of His work in you?  I have heard the stories of people who have had unexplainable healings, physically and mentally.  It’s astonishing, and incredibly encouraging to those who have also heard the account.

Perhaps today, God has planned for you to encounter someone who needs to hear your story of what He has done in your life.  Tell it with joy and be sure to give thanks to the Great Healer and Provider. 

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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The Rock and a Hard Place – Lent Day 24

Matt 16:17 – 18. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. “

Here we are, still at Ceasarea Phillipi, and Peter answered that most important question of who he says Jesus is – the Son of the living God.  The setting was full of statues of Greek gods; Pan, Echo, Hermes, and the worshippers were there to have their desires granted.  Part of that ritual was to offer a sacrifice in that rather large cave in the rock.

It’s not visible in the pictures, but inside that cave it’s quite dark (duh, that’s what caves are).  In the center is a large stone table, and the cave was often filled with water.  The pagans of the day commonly believed that their fertility gods lived in the underworld during the winter and returned to earth each spring. They saw water as a symbol of the underworld and thought that their gods traveled to and from that world through caves.

To the pagan mind, then, the cave and spring water at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld. They believed that their city was literally at the gates of the underworld – “The Gates of Hell”.  In order to entice the return of their god, Pan, each year, the people of Caesarea Philippi engaged in horrible deeds, including prostitution and sexual interaction between humans and goats.

Jesus, after Peter’s answer and declaration of who Jesus is uses the setting to deliver this powerful object lesson and affirmation.    “I tell you that you are Peter, (means “rock”) that on THIS rock I will build my church (as opposed to the rockface behind them, used to build the temple and niches) and not even the Gates of Hell (that cave of unspeakable things and home to ungodly creatures) will not overcome it.”

This statement of Jesus was one of fact.  Even though he knew what Peter would do that Thursday night in Jerusalem.  Peter, the rock, was given the keys to the Kingdom and from his ministry in the days after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Church of Christ still stands.  

You and I are still invited to be a part of this Body on earth.  Satan and his minions work pretty hard every day to wipe us out.  To discourage us, to tickle our ears with engaging but false teaching.  C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book that was true when it was first published, and sadly is still pretty accurate today.  The Screwtape Letters is a series of conversations between the powers of senior demon Screwtape to his nephew demon, Wormwood as they plot the demise of “The Patient”.  The tactics shared are still in use today.

The Gates of Hell aren’t just a cave in Israel, they are any way we allow Satan to bite away at our foundation of faith – personally or in the Church.  The promise has remined true for 2000 years, and no matter what happens in our flawed, human congregations, the Church of Christ will always be the Church of Christ, in spite of us.  Its foundation is solid, and nothing will stand against it.    

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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An Important Question – Lent Day 23

Matt 16:13-16. “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Saturday’s reflection left us at the foot of Mt. Hermon, at the headwaters of the Jordan River.  As you approach this site, you find the rock face with the niches for ancient Greek gods, and the ruins of a huge Hellenistic temple.  It is said that the temple would see over 100,000 visitors a year.  It’s quite a site, and it the place where my biggest “aha” moment happened the first time we completed a pilgrimage.  Its contemporary name is Banias, but in the first century was known as Caesarea Philippi.

Jesus and his disciples have made their way north, and they enter this area of pagan worship.  There were statues to Pan, the god of fright (thus our word “pan”ic, “pan”demic, etc) to Echo, Pan’s consort and Hermes, Pan’s father.  The temple itself was built by Herod to worship Ceaser.  Of course, other than Ceaser at the time none of the gods were living beings.  And Jesus, wanting to teach the ultimate object lesson (we’ll finish that tomorrow) asks his disciples a question.

He turns to them, in this very grand setting, and asks, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  They reply with the things they have heard in the last 3 years – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.  And finally, the question that is still needing to be answered today, “Who do you say I am”?

Peter, of course, is the first to answer.  He says, “You are the Son of the LIVING God”.  Jesus makes the most wonderful response, but that will wait for tomorrow…. Remember, they are standing among these statues of non-living, false gods and Peter, dear Peter, states the truth that all Jesus’ followers must realize for themselves.  Jesus is the Son of the LIVING God, the God who still moves, who did, is and will still live among His people.

There are so many things that call for us to give our lives to, aren’t there?  Fame, more money, control, corporate climbing, family, etc.  The list seems endless, and although we haven’t built temples to all of them, they certainly act as gods in our lives.  A god is anything that takes our devotion away from the God who created everything in the first place.

Jesus came to earth to show us how to be in right relationship with God, the Father. Then, he remained faithful to that mission by giving Himself to die in our place as the ultimate payment for our disobedience.  This payment secured the way for us to re-establish the connection with God. This relationship requires us to answer the question, still today.

Who do you say that Jesus is?  Your eternity is in your answer.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Clouds and Sunshine – Lent Day 21

Mark 16:6-7   “Don’t be alarmed,” he (the Angel) said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

It was a pretty dreary day while we were at The Primacy of St. Peter.  We heard the account of the breakfast and Peter’s restoration with our umbrellas up and hoods pulled tight.  But the shells on the beach were plentiful and some folks went beachcombing for keepsakes, while others were in prayer and reflection in this place of forgiveness.  Just before we left, we had this glorious parting of the clouds and these streams of sunlight broke through.  Just one more stunning moment of God’s reminders of His grace and presence.

We’ve read the fulfillment of this directive the past few days.  The women have come to the tomb, and finding it empty, they instead see a “man” in the space where Jesus had been laid.  This man, we are told, is an angel. He tells them to not be afraid, and that He is risen!  Then, this directive that is easy to gloss over, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter…”.  He goes on to say that Jesus will meet them in Galilee.  Where was that breakfast and restoring conversation?  In the Galilee and it was Peter who was the person Jesus sought to speak to most specifically.

I have to admit – preparing this is the first time I’ve noticed how the account in Mark connects to the account in John.  These 2 men who related the truths of Jesus ministry won’t have written their accounts at the same time.  Mark was very likely the man we see named in Acts and may have been a Greek interpreter for Peter during his ministry there.  John was most certainly the “loved Disciple.”  But between them, they tell the before and after of Jesus’ appearance on the beach.

I want to camp with that phrase, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter…” for a minute.  The weight of his words on the night of Jesus trial will have haunted Peter.  So proud to pronounce who Jesus was, and so quick to denounce him when it wasn’t safe.  I imagine he was so ashamed of himself. Wouldn’t you be?   And now the Messenger in the empty tomb tells the women who had come to tend to the body of Jesus to go share the news.  He even stresses to tell Peter.  

A sign of things to come.  God’s message of the joy of the resurrection was to be shared with the disciples, and especially the one who had broken their relationship.  Peter’s dark clouds will have surely parted as he was singled out in receiving the news.

We’ve just passed 1 year with this pandemic.  1 year of being away from family, friends, routines.  Days have been challenging, moods have been up and down.  God still has messages for us in those dark days. They may come in a text, or a phone call or even an unexpected gift at your front step.  Watch and listen and wait for the clouds to part and the sun to shine.  His love will be loud and clear.  

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2021 in Family ideas

 

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Do You Love Me? – Lent Day 20

John 21:15-17 NLT. “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”

It was a rainy morning while we were at the Primacy of Peter. Not a drenching rain, but enough that I was happy to step into a sheltered area, while my fellow pilgrims were still on the beach. What I wasn’t expecting to find was this scene. Not only was it a refuge, but it was a beautiful reminder of grace. I wasn’t even aware that it was there, and it became my very favourite moment of that trip. 



I imagine that the conversation was unexpected for Peter, too. The memory of his triple denial of knowing Jesus will have been still fresh in his mind, and now here they are on the beach. His risen Lord has cooked breakfast for them.  He could have been doing much more important things, but Jesus chose time with friends over grand appearance.  Because he was so much like us – Peter must have felt awkward and desperately trying to find the right way to apologize for what had happened the night of Jesus’ trial. Instead, John shares this exchange with us. Jesus asks Peter 3 times (one for every time he denied him) if he loves him, Jesus gives Peter the job of feeding His sheep.

Imagine! You’ve damaged a close relationship to the point that you repeatedly refuse to acknowledge that you even know them, and that very person tells you to take care of the people they love most. That is truly unmerited grace. Jesus restores Peter and gives him his job description.  Not just that, but He entrusts his beloved followers (you and me) to Peter’s care.

God’s offer of grace and restoration to us is often unexpected and becomes a moment of refuge. Our history of breaking relationship with Him seems beyond repair. But there is nothing we can do that can outweigh the love God has for us. The Cross and resurrection made it possible for the break to be healed – completely. We just have to willing to see the offer, and step into its refuge.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2021 in church life

 

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Blessings and a Beach Breakfast – Lent Day 19

Luke 21:1-14 – 13“Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.”

While not in chronological order, today’s locale in the Galilee is an important one, although the events happen after the Resurrection of Jesus.  Some of the disciples have left Jerusalem and returned to the life they knew before their time with Jesus.  Peter, the one who had denied him, was among them.  (Spoiler alert, he’s pretty important in the rest of our weeks reflections).  

So, they are out fishing and having a frustrating time.  We are told that they fished all night and caught nothing, and now there’s a man standing on the beach.  Can’t you just feel their frustrations mount knowing they are being watched, not yet realizing who it is.

We don’t know for sure which part of the shoreline this encounter took place on, but the beach near the Primacy of Peter is a very well- educated guess.  It is not far from Peter’s hometown, but it wasn’t part of a settlement, so it will have been quiet.  If they returned to their livelihoods, these fishermen turned fisher of men will have returned to their families too.  

We have a painting of this biblical scene that hangs in our living room.  It was created by a dear friend and is a piece I am honoured to look at every day.  It is mostly a picture of the view from this very beach, but if you look closely enough, 3 fishermen are approaching a figure standing near a fire.  What I love most, aside from the friend who gave it to us, is that at first glance you miss the most important part of the picture.  It is only when you lean in and stand in its presence that you see all that is there.

Back to our frustrated disciples, Peter is not succeeding at a task he had done well before.  He is at a loss.  He’s been through the events in Jerusalem and sees no future now that he is not travelling with Jesus, especially since he proclaimed he didn’t even know the man.  But, when he hears instructions to fish on the other side, they do.  Even in their astonishment, it takes John realizing it’s Jesus before Peter catches on to what is happening.

Perhaps that’s been your experience.  Something completely unexpected blesses you beyond anything you can imagine, and it take someone else to point out that it was God’s hand that brought it to you.  

The best part of this story is about to come – stay tuned.  But Jesus – the resurrected Son of God – is here on the beach, and he’s cooking!  He’s come to find the ones he loved and want to spend time with them.  It surely must have been a hint for Peter of what was coming.  After all, sitting at table with someone you are angry with is not a comfortable experience.  

Jesus wants you – and that includes spending time away from the crowds.  Find some time to be in quiet fellowship with him.  Let his words feed you and his blessings surprise you.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2021 in church life

 

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Go Home – Lent Day 16

Mark 5: 1-20  “Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis[b] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.”

Have you ever taken a trip (well not in the last year!!) that you never wanted to end?  To have had such a life changing experience that you could see yourself always being a part of that experience?  We’ve had a few, although honestly, when we travel, we’re both done and ready for home after about 10 days.  We once took a trip to the States, and even with 5 days left of our vacation, we drove straight through from Nashville to home – just to be home.  But, put us in the Rockies or me in Israel – it’s much harder to leave.

Our trip around the Galilee has us at the north end of the lake today.  If you draw an imaginary line through the lake – the east is where some of the 10 communities of the Decapolis were in Jesus’ time, and was populated by Gentiles.  The miracle of healing took place in the community of Kursi.

Our account today records an encounter with a man who under the possession of demons, and because he refers to himself as “Legion”, we know that there were many demons to be dealt with.  Jesus drives them out and has them settle in a herd of pigs (that’s how we know it was the Gentile area of Galilee). Those pigs then run off a cliff and drown in the waters of the lake.

At the excavations of Kursi,  the ruins of the 5th Century Byzantine monastery were first unearthed by road construction crews.  The major excavation of the site took place between 1971 and 1974.  The monastery was surrounded by a stone wall, the entrance of which faced the Sea of Galilee and was guarded by a watchtower, with a paved road leading down to a harbour where boats could berth – the site of an ancient fishing village.  You can still see caves and a long cliff that fit the description of the situation in this Jesus encounter.

After the healing, the man wants to join Jesus and travel with him.  Jesus tells him to “Go Home” and “tell them how much the Lord has done for you.”  

“Mountain top” experiences are easy to stay in, but life happens in the valleys.  Mountain tops are beautiful and enticing, but valleys are real, and rough and sometimes, pretty dark.  But, when you’ve been taken to the mountain top and had your life changed, your job is to go back to the valley and tell people what God has done for you.

That can be scary, but no one but you can truly tell your story.  No one else has had your experience of God’s presence and work.  Let the memories of your “mountain top” keep you energized and be a reminder of God’s work in your life when times are hard.  But, let them be an encouragement to others so that they might seek their own “mountain”.  As God to show you just one person who need to hear your story this coming week, and when He does, “tell them how much the Lord has done for you”.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2021 in church life, family ministry

 

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