40 Days with Jesus: A Lenten Devotional
As I was putting the finishing touches on the second Lenten journal, in which I was involved, I thought of my Love Speaks Daily Readers. I had not spoken to you in a while and felt compelled to take this journey with you. As I was trying to think of a way to frame this adventure of trying to say something of value, the phrase “40 Things I Love about Jesus” came to mind. And so, I’ve decided to share with you 40 of the millions of reasons why Jesus is still the best thing that has ever happened to me. It is my hope that my reasons are reminders of your own reasons for loving Jesus. I hope that these brief reflections inspire you to bask in knowing the One who cares for your more than anyone can ever understand. I hope that you are reminded that whatever is going on in your life, there is One who knows all and sees all and walks with you through all. As always it is my hope that Love Speaks Daily to you.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. According to the UMC, “Ash Wednesday emphasizes two themes: our sinfulness before God and our human mortality, helping us to realize that both have been triumphed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. During some Ash Wednesday services, the minister will lightly rub the sign of the cross with ashes onto the foreheads of worshipers. The use of ashes as a sign of mortality and repentance has a long history in Jewish and Christian worship. Historically, ashes signified purification and sorrow for sins. It is traditional to save the palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday service to burn to produce ashes for this service.”
While I didn’t grow up observing Ash Wednesday or Lent, in the last 10 years of my life I have. Most times when I participated in the imposition of ashes, the minister said, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” However, a time or two, I’ve heard, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Today as I think about Jesus, the word believe is resounding in me.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Anyone who knows me, knows that since childhood, my favorite book of the Bible is the Gospel of John. Also, anyone who knows me knows that my favorite Bible verse about belief is John 3:16. In case you don’t know the verse by heart, it says in the NKJV, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
This verse reminds me that Jesus is the Source of our belief, the reason why we have hope, the reason why we have eternal life. Sometimes, my humanity gets in the way and I forget that I cannot save myself. I may be able to take God’s direction in order to be saved from one thing or another, but ultimately, it is God through Christ Jesus, who saved/saves/will save me. Even at my most sinful, Jesus Christ says, “I am your source for salvation, redemption, and restoration. You must simply believe.”
John 3:16 reminds us all that salvation is not earned. We cannot make enough money, climb the career ladder high enough, or be good enough to obtain eternal life. Yet, it is easier to obtain it than doing any of that. All we have to do is believe.
Today, as you observe or think about Ash Wednesday and the rest of this Lenten season, consider this thought: God has given us everything we need to experience God’s love in eternity, and the doorway to it is simply to believe in Jesus Christ.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
As I was reflecting on last night’s Ash Wednesday services, I thought of how dust, on its own, is of little value. By its very nature, dust is void of water, the thing it needs to become solid building material. Without water, dust can simply be tossed in the wind.
I have been studying the book of John since childhood and I’ve read John 4:10 over and over again. I’ve danced this verse, I’ve sung this verse, I’ve meditated upon this verse, and I’ve cried about this verse. This morning, I found new meaning in this verse as I thought of being dust. Jesus said to the woman the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
God reminded me that when you add water to dust, it becomes stronger and is better able to withstand the wear and tear of life. But, when you mix dust with Living Water, it becomes something more. It becomes a work of art, made in the image and likeness of God.
Yes, we are dust and during Lent, we must remember how this dust fails/will fail God time and time again. Yet, because of God’s love, grace and mercy through Christ Jesus, we become more than dust, more than sinners. When, and only when, we allow the Living Water to permeate us, we become sinners saved by grace; we also become stronger and better able to withstand all that life throws at us.
Today, as you reflect, remember that although you are simply dust, with Living Water permeating your being, you are made in the image and likeness of God, which makes you more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
As we head into the weekend, for some, it promises to be a time of fun and relaxation. For some, it may be filled with a flurry of activity or work towards Monday deadlines. For some, the week has taken its toll and the mind is filled with worry or wonder about some unfinished or unfortunate thing. Whatever our situation, there is One whose voice can even calm the wind and storm. Jesus, Our Prince of Peace, is not worried about what lies ahead this weekend or at any point in time or eternity. For those of us who have PhDs in worry, this is indeed Good News.
In John 14:27, Jesus reminds us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Jesus didn’t just give us some knock-off peace that we can obtain through alternative means of calming our minds, hearts and nerves. Jesus has given us HIS peace. So, put down the drink, blow out the medicinal smoke, back away from the game app, stop cruising social media, turn off the mind-numbing television programming, get off the gossip line, and back away from the credit card. Instead, stand in the peace of Jesus Christ.
Jesus has given us HIS peace. The peace of Jesus does fade with time or fall under life’s pressure. This peace is a perfect balance of strength and serenity. This peace is a perfect combination of resilience and rest. This peace crushes worry. American humorist, Erma Bombeck reminds us that worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but gets you nowhere.
Today, as you reflect, let go of worry and grab onto the peace that takes you to the most importance place you need to be, in the presence of the One who can calm all of life’s worry.
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”
When you were in middle and high school, which crowd were your people? Were you the popular crew, the rebels, the athletes, the nerd, the bully or the bullied, the mean girl or her victim? From 6-12 grade, I was a blender.
My ability to blend in with any group of people was due partly to the fact that I was smart, which meant I could help anyone with their homework and partly because I was nice, which meant I helped most people when needed it. Also, I didn’t spend much time away from the sight of my teachers. I did what was expected of me and I had perfect citizenship (behavior) every year in middle and high school.
For the most part, people didn’t notice me unless they were blenders like me. A few times, here and there, a popular guy noticed me and talked to me in public but for the most part, I was one of the few black students in all of my classes and was expected to represent my race well. That pressure kept me pretty busy; so, I didn’t go out of my way to be noticed or obtain popularity.
But, there was one person who got the worst of it. There was always that one person that no one spoke to and who everyone shunned, even the nerds. When I was growing up, that person was a boy who was really poor. From the time I knew him, he was always alone. No one ever spoke to him. He got on our school bus, sat in the front, and got off our school bus to go to school. He was always alone.
To this day, though I remember his face, I am not sure of his name. I saw him every day and never had one conversation with him. He lived less than two miles from me, and I never visited him. He and his grandmother were the neighborhood recluses. In fact, I didn’t even notice when they both no longer lived in our community. As a blender, I never gave up my protected status to speak to him and nor gave him a place to be among the crowds.
Thinking about my schoolmate, I am reminded of John 4:27, “Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’” Jesus didn’t care about the cliques or his reputation. Jesus didn’t seek to protect his status as male and Jewish. Jesus didn’t even assert his authority as the Son of God, too holy to be tainted by this woman. Jesus did what Jesus does best. He used his power and privilege to uplift someone, to put a hedge of protection around a lost soul and to increase the status of someone whose social status had taken a beating.
Jesus’ example challenges me to look around and see who could use some of my protected status to help them be elevated among us humans. With whom am I called to share my power and privilege? Yes, even as a black woman in these not often United States of America, I have power and privilege. Even though my socioeconomic status is not the best, I still have power and privilege through Christ Jesus. We all do.
Today, as you reflect, think of the persons that need you to advocate for them as you think of the times Jesus advocated for your when you most needed it.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
As I get older, the one thing I have to contend with is a decreasing vision. I have glasses but I just can’t get used to wearing them. They are bifocals; so, I have to look down a certain way when I want to read plus I can’t use them for working on my computer. Most times, I do okay but when it comes to seeing things from a distance, I struggle. Yet, instead of putting on the glasses, I just look at the distant and blurry world before me, hoping I don’t miss anything important.
One day, my Mom shared a bit of wisdom with me. She said that most times when I am struggling to see, it is because the lighting in a place is insufficient. As I tested her theory, I noticed that every place I was having issues with my eyesight was a place where the lighting was not all that great. While I still need glasses for distance, I don’t need bifocals to see everything. I can see most things if the lighting is sufficient.
That’s how our walk with God is. Left to our own devices, we see things dimly. We see only part of the situation. Things appear fuzzy. However, when we allow Jesus to be our light, we can see things clearly. There is no dark place that the light of Christ cannot illuminate. There is no dark situation that the light of Christ’s love cannot brighten. There is no God-given dream darkened by setbacks that Christ’s light cannot re-ignite. There is no abandoned hope that Christ’s light cannot rescue.
More importantly, there is no sin that Christ’s light cannot banish. We are reminded of this when Jesus dealt with the women caught in adultery. In John 8:12, after redeeming her, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Like this woman, though our sins may be dark, Christ’s light, activated through our confession and repentance, puts us on a pathway to healing and wholeness.
Today, as you reflect, think of all the dark places in your life in which you need light. Allow the light of Christ’s love to shine in every corner and crevice until you shine brightly as one redeemed, healed and made whole by Jesus Christ.
He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
One of my absolute favorite lines in the Gospel of John is John 9:25. The verse is part of the story of the man born blind, whom Jesus healed, and the temple officials questioned. When they had finished questioning his parents, they questioned him for a second time and called Jesus a sinner because he healed the man on the Sabbath. The man replied, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” This man was not concerned with public opinion about Jesus; he was concerned with the fruit of Jesus’ ministry. In today’s context, the man looked at the proof in the pudding of Christ’s action instead of church protocol, theological debates, and scripture quoting.
When I am among my non-Christian colleagues, I often find that one of the hardest things to explain to them is my belief. I can get really technical and start quoting Bible verses. When I am in my nerd space, I can get all theological and try to explain it with big words. But, it is only when I take off the mask and tear down the wall of difference with simple talk that I make any headway. One of the ways that I talk about Christ is by telling people that the reason why I’m alive is because Christ, like an action hero, literally swooped in and saved my life.
Almost 20 years ago, while I was on the edge of life, God said not today; suicide will not claim your life today. There was no one else around but God that lonely night on I-285 in Atlanta. One turn of my wheel and I could have been gone. Yet, God called out from heaven and got my attention. From that moment on, Jesus spoke to my heart and reminded me that He died so I wouldn’t have to that night. Jesus also reminded me that He conquered death so I could live my life to its fullest.
This is the story I tell when Bible quotes and theological treatises make no difference to people who have often been hurt by these things. This is the story that I tell when I can’t get anything else out of my mouth because someone reminds me that church can be messy. This is the story I tell when it is a matter of life and death for the person before me.
However, sometimes, God doesn’t ask me to tell that story. Sometimes, the story is as simple as God made a way when I needed it the most. The point is not to tell a dramatic story but to tell a sincere story of Jesus Christ in action in your life.
Today, as you reflect, what is your simple and sincere story of God’s presence that can help someone see that Christ is indeed the world’s greatest Action Hero?
Jesus said, “I am the true vine… Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
Yesterday, after a stressful visit to the doctor, my blood pressure was elevated. As I age, any trip to the doctor is stressful, especially when it means that I have to take more tests. I think doctors get a high off of taking our blood and running tests. Needless to say, my blood pressure never decreased like it normally does at the end of the visit.
Afterwards, to get my body back in alignment, I decided to stop at Whole Foods to get something healthy but tasty. As I was walking around, trying my best not to buy the whole store, this awesome aroma came across my nose. Immediately, I felt my whole body calm as my nostrils opened wider to inhale more of the scent. I turned to see an aromatherapy diffuser releasing puffs of steam into the air.
After investigation, I discovered that the essential oil they were using was frankincense. As I inhaled as much of the scent as I could, the effects felt magical. I couldn’t confirm it, but I knew that my blood pressure was decreasing. The effects were powerful enough to inspire me to purchase the oil and the diffuser. As I priced the frankincense, I paused. Of course, it was the most expensive oil on display. At $40 for ½ ounce, I was not going to purchase it. This was Whole Paycheck after all. They probably got the oil from some remote location across the ocean, the best of the best. I figured that I could just buy a knock-off brand somewhere else.
I smelled all of the oils again, hoping one of them would have the same effects. Of course, they didn’t. I picked up the directions for the diffuser and noticed that only one drop was needed per usage. That fact was food for thought for my Uber ride to class.
Just a little bit did the trick. Just a little bit was all I needed. Just a little because the quality was so high that just a little bit would do the trick. As I rode through DC, still calm from my encounter with the frankincense, now thinking of the gift of frankincense brought to baby Jesus, I realized the analogy. The frankincense was the real deal. Just like Jesus. Only Jesus is the real deal.
In John 15:1, Jesus said, “I am the true vine.” In other words, Jesus is the authentic way to the Father. In the rest of John 15, Jesus talks about our relationship to the true vine. In 15:5, he says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” -John 15:5, NLT.
This morning, as I thought of those verses over and over again, I realized that yesterday was an illustration of their truth. My blood pressure is an indication of my heart health. The heart is only as healthy as the vessels and arteries leading to it. The network that pumps blood to my heart has to be of the best quality to do their best work, to produce their best fruit. Just like putting junk in my body creates problems for my body network, just like using subpar essential oils will not produce the best results, is the same as not be connected to the real deal Jesus. Without the essential connection to Jesus, the True Vine, our lives will not be the best they can be, and our fruit will be subpar.
Today, as you reflect, listen to your heartbeat. Stop for a few moments and just listen to it work. Just like the quality of the blood and the network pumping the blood creates a physical quality of health, your connection to the true vine creates a spiritual quality of health. So, I ask, are you connected to the real deal Jesus?
During the time he was in Jerusalem, those days of the Passover Feast, many people noticed the signs he was displaying and, seeing they pointed straight to God, entrusted their lives to him. But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them.
I must admit, when I write Love Speaks Daily, I always seek to inspire, uplift, and warm people’s hearts. Since I started this blog in 2009, I have always wanted to focus on the positive side of our faith. Anyone who has been with me that long knows that I don’t do many posts that are words of conviction unless I am fighting societal injustice or telling on myself. But, as soon as I got a clearer understanding of today’s passage, I knew that God was leading me in a different direction.
Following the scene where Jesus cleanses the Temple, John 2:23-25 says in the MSG version,
“During the time he was in Jerusalem, those days of the Passover Feast, many people noticed the signs he was displaying and, seeing they pointed straight to God, entrusted their lives to him. But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them.”
When you look at the passage in the original Greek, the word pisteuō (often translated, “believe”) is used for both instances of the word entrust. In the first occurrence, the sense of the word is “to trust (as in have faith) or to have a strong confidence or reliance upon someone or something. The second time the word is used, the sense is “to entrust or to put into the care or protect of someone.”
So, if I were to translate these two lines, I would say. They had faith in Jesus because of the signs he performed that pointed straight to God. But, Jesus didn’t trust them with his life because he knew their hearts. In other words, although the people could trust Jesus, he knew that he couldn’t trust the people, no matter how much they sang his praises in the moment. Jesus knew that the moment he stopped performing signs, they would stop believing. Jesus knew that in the end, none of them would have his back. Either some would help kill him or some would do nothing to stop his death.
Now, it’s our time. The question God has for all of us during this season of Lent is, “Can we be trusted?” While I assume that none of us will not crucify anyone, I still have to ask, “Can Jesus trust us with His life?” In other words, do we understand the importance of what Jesus did for us at Calvary to the point that we are willing to submit and commit our lives to Him? Do we sing His praises and do His will? Do we remain faithful even when there are no signs? Do we say his name in private and in public? Are we anchored in Christ during the storms or are we fair-weather friends? Can we be trusted?
Today, as you reflect, ask God to reveal any areas in your heart, mind, and life where you can’t be trusted to live for Jesus. AND, know that no matter what, if you trust God, even with your fickleness, God will have your back.
And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
John 2:4, NRSV
John 2 records the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus performs his first sign, turning water into wine. John 2:4 has often perplexed me. When his mother pointed out that there was no more wine, instead of getting right on it, Jesus responded, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
In order to get to the deeper meaning of Jesus’ response, I had to look past the fact that most of us would not be alive if we answered our mothers like that or had the nerve to address her as “woman.” I had to stop assuming that Jesus was trippin’ out on his mother. With the help of the Bible scholars, I was able to look at the world of the text and see a deeper message.
First, Jesus was not being rude by calling his mother, “woman.” He often addressed women with the greeting, “Woman,” but his use of the word does point to a larger point. Jesus was distancing himself from his family, his community, in preparation for his ministry. Second, by asking his mother why the problem was their concern, Jesus was distancing himself from human control. Mary’s response points to this. She says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (v5). She was not deterred by his distancing. She trusted him to do what He thought was best. Finally, by saying that his hour had not yet come, Jesus was distancing himself from human time and tapping into God’s eternal clock.
I say all this to say that sometimes, we become overly concerned with what others think. We get caught up in what our community thinks – family, friends, church folk, co-workers, etc. Sometimes we get caught up with things that don’t concern us. Sometimes we get caught up in human time. But, for believers, we must remember who is in full control of our lives, our plans and our time. While the world has its own perceptions of everything, we look to Jesus as a perfect example of how to live in community, on purpose, and on time.
Today, as you reflect, ask yourself these questions. Are you concerned about others’ perception of you or are you at peace with knowing that God’s opinion matters most? Are you looking at your milestones through human eyes or are you resting in the knowledge that God’s plan for your life reigns supreme? Whose time are you on? Are you pressed and pressured by human time or are you flowing effortlessly with God’s eternal clock?
But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”
I joined my church in a fast in January. During the fast, I was 100% committed. I even exercised every day of the fast, which was a shock to me as well. Going into the fast, I figured that I would skip at least one day, especially when it came to exercise; however, I managed to fulfill my commitment. As a result of the fast, I lost about 10 pounds. That was not my intent, but it was a by-product of a healthy lifestyle.
When I went to the doctor last week and was weighed, I noticed that I’d gain a few pounds. I felt convicted as I thought of the chocolate bar I’d just eaten at work. Then, I thought of all the times I tried to eat better since the fast. No matter what, I just couldn’t retain the same level of commitment I had during the fast.
In John 4:32,34, Jesus said to the disciples, “I have food to eat that you do not know about… My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” As I was pondering the text, I thought of my struggles with healthy eating. I know part of it was that I did the fast in community. One thing my church is great at doing is motivating us to do things in community. So, it is as no surprise that I did well with the January fast.
While being in community is important, my inability to commit to a healthy eating after the fast pointed to a larger issue for me. Food was still controlling me. My relationship to food is directly proportional to the amount of control God has in my life. The times when I am locked into God’s will and trusting God step by step, food is more fuel than gluttony. When I am doing my own thing apart from God or lack faith in God’s plan for my life, food is more gluttony than fuel. It is just that simple. The solution is simple as well. I must be like Jesus and make doing God’s will a priority over eating. I must trust that God is stronger than any plate set before me.
Today, as you reflect, is there anything controlling your life that may point to you being out of God’s control?
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Since leaving home for undergraduate in 1991 I lived in Georgia for 12 years, I lived in New York City for 6 years, and I’ve lived in the DC Metro Area for 10 years. Even though I’ve only lived in three states, I have lived in at least 24 different homes, usually in the form of apartments. That means in the last 28 years, l lived an average of 1.17 years in each place. In fact, there are only three homes in which I’ve lived more than 2 years. That level of mobility has sometimes taken its toll. I often don’t stay in a place long enough to feel connected to the home or my neighbors. When I realized how much I’ve moved in my adulthood, I thought about how many times I’ve been an outsider, the new kid on the block.
I’ve moved around so much because I’ve always struggled to pay rent when it has increased after the special that got me to move in the first place. I’ve struggled to pay rent because I’ve never trusted God with the call on my life; so, I’ve always worked “real” jobs trying to build a “real” life based on the collective consciousness of African Americans who were taught to get a good education in order to get a “real job” and live a “real” adult life.
Last week when my “real” life took over my creative call, I missed an important deadline for my thesis. I felt crushed and I felt like I had let God down. I realized that I’ve never trusted God and the call to be an artist. I’ve always tried to go it alone or do it on the side. In other words, in terms of my call, I’ve never abided in Jesus nor have I allowed Jesus’ words about my call to abide in me. I’ve been listening to other folks and this society’s value system.
When God gave me John 15:7 for today’s blog, I went back to my January reflection on the verse. In my journal I wrote, “Abide is one of those words we take for granted, especially in John 15. The Greek definition is pretty straight forward, μένω ® “menō” ® “remain; stay; reside.” I like the word reside. It gives me a sense of permanency, a residency, a place to hang one’s purse and place one’s pumps.”
This morning, I would add that abiding in Jesus gives me a place to hang my imagination, put down my pen and pour out my words. God has said that it is time for me to take myself seriously. Most importantly, God has reminded me that while I fear being able to pay my bills, it’s time to take John 15:7 seriously when Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” That includes asking Jesus to help me support myself as I answer the call on my life.
Today, as you reflect, ask yourself in what place are you afraid to abide in Jesus?
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Sometime ago, I had a huge crush on a guy at a church I was attending. We had a lot of things in common; so, we spent significant time together in ministry. I never told him how I felt about him and to be honest, he was so popular I didn’t expect him to ever pay attention to me. One day, while we all were out to brunch, he took me by the hand and asked me why I wasn’t dating anyone. I told him that I didn’t’ have time. I am sure my vitiligo spot was fire red. I managed to get through the moment without making a fool of myself. He finally asked me to join him on a major ministry project and I thought to myself this is it. But, being a cautious person; instead of saying yes, I told him that I would pray about it. I did pray about it and felt that God told me to say yes to the project.
A week later, I joined him and the rest of the people he invited on the project. We began working and during that time, he gave me more and more responsibilities, which meant we spent more and more time together. One day, he was giving me a ride and I asked him why he was not dating anyone. He smiled and said that it was because he didn’t have time. While my flesh loved that smile and reminder of what I said to him, I felt the pause in my spirit, but I didn’t heed the warning. Something was off and I knew it, but I couldn’t figure it out at that time.
We kept working together in ministry and we also kept up this game of cat and mouse. He would move towards me then when I responded, he would back away. He would block other men from paying attention to me or talk trash when I pay attention to other men. I kept holding on to this bits of home and thought they all meant something. On and on we went.
Two years later, a seminary friend of mine ended up attending an event where he was. After she met him, she pulled me to the side and said, “Girl, he is gay.” Afterwards, she schooled me on the men in ministry who experience so much discrimination in the body of Christ and so fear being exposed that they choose a beard to keep them covered. According to the Wisdom Daily, “In the early days of queer culture, a “beard” was a wife, girlfriend or female companion who acted (wittingly or not) as social cover for a closeted gay man.” [http://thewisdomdaily.com/are-you-a-beard] Unfortunately, while the world may be more open in its thinking so beards are not necessary, the church is not.
While it took some time to deal with the reality of my situation because I had invested years in this friendship and because I was blindsided, I eventually healed and forgave. I eventually understood how the church puts people in this situation. Sharing this story is part of documenting that healing process.
The other reason why I am telling this story is because I feel that the church has got to get it right when it comes to our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters in Christ. I won’t belabor this. I’ll simply return to my favorite scripture in the Gospel of John. John 3:16 says in the KJV, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” For the modern-day and/or seminary-trained folk, the NRSV says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that EVERYONE who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
My point is this. If God has not made a distinction of how people can get to heaven, except they believe, how can we?
Today, as you reflect, ask yourself, who are you trying to stop from getting to heaven or who are you not helping to get to heaven?
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.
John 5:8, NKJV
Last night, with God’s help, I made the decision to walk away from a pathway that I’d been pursuing since 2005. For fourteen years, I have been pursuing something because I thought it was the right thing to do and because I thought that it was the only way to do it.
This morning as I reflected on my fourteen-year wilderness experience, I was reminded of John 5:1-15, which documents the story of the man who was healed by the Pool of Bethesda. For 38 years, this man suffered with an infirmity. For 38 years, he was at the pool of Bethesda wating for a miracle, wating for his chance to be the first to get into the pool of Bethesda at just the right time when an angel stirred up the water and wating for someone to help him.
Like this man, I had been doing a lot of wating. I didn’t pursue this pathway as much as I had been watingto be recognized, wating to be given a chance, wating to be called by humans to do what I’d already been called to do by God.
As we know, Jesus healed people using a lot of different methods, but I am moved in a different way by the times that Jesus asks people to do something to obtain their own healing. I can’t think of any time that Jesus asked people to do anything difficult. In the case of this man, Jesus simply asked him to rise, take up his bed and walk.
I looked up all three of these words in the Greek. The words rise and take up are pretty straight forward. But, when I looked up walk, expecting the same thing, I was pleasantly surprised. The word walk in the Greek does mean walk of course, but there is a second definition = περιπατέω peripateō = walk; live.
When I saw the word live, I felt a rush of life flow back into my blood and bones. It was as though the Holy Spirit had been waiting for me to live my life instead of waiting on permission to live my life. Like this man, who had been waiting for some outside force to give him permission to breath and be, I had been holding my breath, waiting on others when God needed me to live.
At the core of living is not waiting but doing. God was asking me to do what I was called to instead of waiting for permission to do it. Looking back at the full verse, like this man, I had to take my chance at doing a God thing. In order to take my chance, I had to rise up off my bed of waiting in order to do and live.
Today, as you reflect, what have you been waiting to do that requires you to do it in order to live the life that God has called you to live?
So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” (For not even his brothers believed in him.)
John 7:3-5, NRSV
Recently, a ministry colleague said to me that the reason why so many people have such a hard time in ministry is because churches today don’t care about you unless you are already someone important.
I wanted so badly to prove him wrong, but I couldn’t because both he and I could think of many people, including us, who were victims of that type of thinking. While every word he said to me was true, the comments are part of a specific type of thinking in a specific type of ministry setting. Anywhere there are people who don’t believe that the power of God is stronger than their own power, will be folks trying to decide who is important.
However, experience has told me that there is a whole world of church folk out there who are about the business of God to the degree they are just looking for those called by God to do the work. To this group of people, titles are not as important as anointing; people connections are not as important God connections, and pedigree (in all its various forms – genetics, education, marriage, etc.) is not as important as being a child of God.
As I was reflecting on this conversation, I thought of John 7:3-4, where Jesus’ brothers were trying to get him to be more public about his works. They said, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”
I am so glad Jesus told them to kick rocks. Actually, he said in verse 6, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.” In essence, Jesus was saying, you may think it is time for me to go public, but it is not time.
While others will only recognize us when we are elevated, God recognizes us when we are still hidden. That is the truth that we must hold onto when dealing with folks who are only interested in who we are according to society’s standards or even contrived religious standards.
While doing the work of God is sometimes a public act, seeking after man-made fame or recognition is a dangerous place to be. Even artists who only produce art that sells, often find that they have sold out their souls.
In today’s text, Jesus reminds us that the only recognition that matters is that given by God. One of my favorite Gospel singers, Francesca Battistelli says it this way,
I don’t need my name in lights
I’m famous in my Father’s eyes
Make no mistake
He knows my name
I’m not living for applause
I’m already so adored
It’s all His stage
He knows my name
Today, as you reflect, is there something you have been discouraged to do because of people’s thoughts about your level of importance? If so, consider this, Jesus Christ reminds us that God is the only recognition we need?
When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
I have read the story of the women caught in adultery quite a few times. As with all scriptures, each time I read it I find some tidbit of revelation. In January when I read it during a fast, I got another revelation. And, even writing today, I got another. I love God!
So, to the story…
After dragging the woman off of her bed of adultery and dragging her into temple before Jesus, the men who brought in the woman were waiting for Jesus to answer their dilemma. Would he do as the law of Moses said and stone the women or would he violate the law and let her go?
Imagine that you are watching the season finale or premiere of your favorite show or imagine that you are at the cliffhanger in a movie or novel. This is the type of tension that probably was present in the room. Everyone was waiting to see what Jesus was going to do. The men just knew they had him right where they wanted him. Imagine their smug smiles and puffed out chests.
Imagine those in the room who had done the same thing with their pensive eyes waiting to see their they will get a pass too by virtue of Jesus letting this woman live. Imagine being the woman, waiting to see if it was your time to die. Imagine the eyes of the crowd looking back and forth between the men, the woman and Jesus. It is in this type of atmosphere I imagine that Jesus bent down, slowly and intentionally, to begin writing in the sand.
I bet you everyone shifted their eyes solely on Jesus. Those close up read what he was writing and those far away tried to figure it out. All I know is whatever he was writing didn’t stop the men from waiting on Jesus’ answer.
So, Jesus tried another tactic. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her (7).
You would have thought that Jesus’ words would have pierced them immediately. But, that is not what happened apparently. Otherwise, I don’t think Jesus would have needed to return to writing in the sand. So, he does. And slowly, each person realizes that their accusatory voices of trickery were silenced.
The first line of John 8:9 captures this eloquently, “When they heard it…” You see, they didn’t hear Jesus all at once. Each took some time. They were so bent on catching Jesus that they didn’t realize that they had been caught, that Jesus had been speaking to them.
Sometimes that is what happens to us. We are so bent on our own agenda that we miss the voice of God. We might be unable to hear because of our own internal drama that drowns out the still small voice. We might be unable to hear because the voices of others prevent us from hearing. We might be unable to hear because we are caught up in the rules, the laws, the traditions, or the past. And yes, sometimes we are unable to hear because of our own sin.
Whatever the reason, like these men, Jesus will keep waiting and writing in the sand until we do. Notice Jesus didn’t accuse them of anything. He just offered them an option that freed them and the woman. All they had to do is heed the truth and repent (walk away). As we know, the woman was released when her accusers got free.
Sometimes, it’s like that. We are caught up until others see the truth. That’s why it is important for us to pray for our enemies. It is by praying for them that we might obtain our own freedom.
Today, as you reflect, ask God if there is any area in your life where you are not hearing from him. If so, just ask God to write it upon the sands of your heart and give you another chance to hear God’s voice and to obtain true freedom.
When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground.
Sometimes, I allow problems to create stress for me. But, yesterday God challenged my normal stressful reactions to problems. Something minor went wrong with my car. Because I just bought the car, I could have gotten stressed out about it.
But, while I was trying to fix the problem, I noticed that I didn’t feel stressful. Even when I needed to get help, I felt not stress. And, even when I ended having to follow up with the dealer, my blood pressure remained in check. As I was driving to the dealer, God pointed out that my stress level was kept in check because I believed that there had to be a solution.
I came to the conclusion that this is always the case with our lives as Christians. There is always a solution and that solution starts and ends with God, our Alpha and Omega. For me, that was the start of a new way of thinking. I know that there will be times in the future when I will not be able to figure things out but there is always a solution.
That solution may come through human hands, but as a child of God, it begins in eternity. Even for something as minor as car issues, God knew from eternity that I would need help and that I would need a reminder to trust that I’m covered by the blood of Jesus.
My experience yesterday brought to mind John 18, when the soldiers, led by Judas, came to arrest Jesus. They said that they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth. “When Jesus[a] said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground (v.8). Scholars point out that in the Greek, the word “he” is not used; so, actually, this can be thought of as another of Jesus, “I Am” statements. Therefore, it would read, I am…”
This verse inspires me to see my problems responding to “I Am” by falling to the ground. Just like the soldiers, they are no match for the One who is everything we need and more.
Today, as you reflect, please remember no problem in your life is a match for the Breath of I Am…
When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.
In February, I finished the first draft of my thesis for my MFA in Creative Writing program. It was a 244-page document that felt nothing like birthing a child physically, but it felt like a spiritual birth. When I put the manuscript in the mail, I told the mail clerk to take care of my baby. I had planned on saying something cooler to end our conversation about what I was mailing. However, the moment she put the box on the stack of mail in the big bin behind her, I felt like a part of me was leaving. I felt like a parent watching their child go off to college.
It reminded me of John 16:21, where Jesus says, “When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.”
Like writing my thesis, my walk with Christ has not been pain-free 100% of the time. There have been times when being a believer has been difficult. Yet, I continue in the joy in knowing that nothing can come between God and me. The joy of having God in my life supersedes any pain of being made into a disciple of Christ.
While writing about my life, including the painful parts, goes with my call to ministry as artist and theologian, I know that I am not the only one who has experienced a painful birth – whether physical or spiritual. There are some things that God has birth in us and through us that required pain but also produced joy. As believers, we all have been through painful times as God has shaped us into vessels of clay for God’s glory.
Jesus has the most experience with this. This is the work that Jesus did on the cross. Jesus died the most painful death, all for the joy of having a relationship with us. Now, that is indeed some Good News.
Today, as you reflect, think of how God has turned the most painful parts of your life into joy and please always reflect on how Jesus took the most painful death and turned into joy on our behalf.
But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
John 6:16-21, 35
I finally bought a new car, which means I am back to driving during rush hour. Also, I just recently moved to Maryland, which means I am a Maryland commuter. Yesterday, I drove a new way to my destination. It was crazy. I mean really crazy. Some in the DC Metro area say that Maryland drivers are the worst. From what I’ve seen these last two weeks, I must admit that I can’t disagree. Even though the speed limit down Central Avenue is never higher than 40 MPH, I felt like I was on a racetrack.
As I kept at a steady pace below the speed limit, I watched folks weave in and out of traffic without a care of who was in front, beside or behind them. There was one woman who came barreling down Pennsylvania Avenue with horns blasting because we didn’t move through the green light fast enough for her. She was willing to risk her life, our lives and her nice Mercedes just to save a few minutes.
I said to God that these people were driving like their life depended on it. No one had on their flashers; so, I assumed that no one was trying to get to the hospital, to a dying relative or to a sick loved one. There were driving like they would die if they didn’t do it at the speed of light.
A thought occurred that these people were driving as though the cars they were in, the houses they own, the clothes they wore, the people they supported and the lifestyle they were trying to maintain would all fall apart if they didn’t make it to work on time. Everyone was acting like they were their own providers.
In thinking about how much fear and frustration I saw out there on the roads, I thought of John 6:20. This verse is part of the story where Jesus came to the disciples walking on water. This is not the same instance where Peter comes to him, but the more mysterious version where after the disciples recognize Jesus and wanted to take him into the boat, they immediately reached the shore.
A few things about this text have bearing on the speedsters that were trying to make their way to their morning destination. First, Jesus was walking on water, while the disciples were rowing a boat. Second, as soon as the disciples invited Jesus into the boat, they ended up exactly where they needed to be without doing anything else. Third, this points to Jesus words in John 6:35, when he says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
In short, our fears for provision are banished when we remember that Jesus, the one who can walk on water, is our Provider. When we focus on the Water Walker, we get exactly where we need to be without succumbing to the frustrations of life. Finally, when we put our need for provision in the hands of the Bread of Life, we have everything we need to sustain our lives.
Today, as you reflect, remember that provision is in the hands of the Provider, the Water Walker, the Bread of Life.
They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.
Part of the oral history of the historic black sororities and fraternities (The Divine 9) is a short poem called “Excuses.” The author is unknown and among us are different versions, but one version is this:
Excuses tools of incompetence
Used to build monuments of nothingness
Those who use them
Seldom amount to anything.
As I reflect on this poem, I think of what Jesus did for us. Jesus didn’t make any excuses, even when it came to death on the cross. The reality of Jesus’ sacrifice is seen clearly in John 18:40. After Pilate questioned Jesus and found no reason to hold him, he asked the crowd if he should release Jesus. “They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!”
Imagine that you are on trial. You are 100% innocent. You have done nothing but help people. In fact, the reason why you are standing before the judge and jury is because you are helping people. Imagine that every piece of evidence submitted points to your innocence. Imagine that the eyewitnesses accounts conflict so much that they are no longer valid.
Imagine that you were just betrayed by one of your own, who ratted you out to the police and pointed them to you for some money. Imagine that even though your toughest crew member is probably justified in cutting off the ear of one of the crooked cops, you can’t help yourself and you heal the man who came to arrest you.
Imagine that the rest of your crew has abandoned you. Imagine sitting in that courtroom, and you hear from the jury, we don’t care that he is not guilty we want to use our grace card on a real criminal. We want you to release the man that has stolen from us and hurt us. We want to punish the man who has been helping us and healing us.
That’s what happened in John 18 and it culminates in verse 40 when the crowd chose the bandit over the Savior. But, Jesus didn’t let that stop him from doing what needed to be done. He didn’t make any excuses. He didn’t turn around and say never mind. Jesus carried out his assignment.
What if we approached our walk with God and our witness in this world the way Jesus faced his trial? What if we made no excuses when God asked us to do something? What if we just trusted God to the point where we said yes instead of building monuments to nothing?
Today, as you reflect, think of your excuses and then think of how Jesus would respond.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
I admit it. There are times when I just plain whine about life. There are times when I complain and complain and complain. Something has not gone my way and I let everyone know about it. These are the times when my friends and family members cringe when they answer the phone.
There are also times when life has thrown me a curveball in the form of a closed door. These are the times when I am disappointed and I tend to close myself off to new opportunities as I ponder the past. Once again, talking to me can be a chore.
There are times when I beat up on myself for some mistake I made. I play it over and over again in my head. I think of what could have been. During these times, I usually write profusely in my journal, talk endlessly to God about it, or just internalize it, which manifests in sleepless nights and consumption of large amounts of chocolate.
Whatever the source of my negativity, it consumes a great deal of time for me and for others. It also blocks out opportunities for growth and new forms of blessings. The time wasted prevents me from solving problems, being innovative and enjoying life.
For this Lenten Season, I chose a behavioral commitment instead of giving up a food item. I chose to do silence as much possible. My times of commitment are 2 hours before work and 2 hours after my last activity. During the in between time, I try to spend the least amount of time possible talking to people, especially about negative things.
I admit, it’s been rough, but I’ve seen something interesting. When I do slip up and say something negative, I notice how my body reacts to the negativity. It zaps my energy. If someone is being negative around me, it zaps my energy.
When I think about all this energy zapping, I think of John 10:7-10, where Jesus talks about being the Good Shepherd and the gate for his sheep. Jesus shepherds his sheep by protecting them and showing them the way to go.
Applying this to negative thinking and speaking, John 10:10 takes on a new meaning. Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Negativity is a thief, plain and simple. The only way to conquer this thief is to allow the True Shepherd to surround us with his love and care.
It is impossible to have a negative thought while thinking about Jesus. It is impossible to speak negatively when you talk about the goodness of Jesus Christ. It is impossible to stray when the gate you use is the one opened by the Good Shepherd.
Today, as you reflect, make a determination in heart and mind to combat negativity with the truth that the Good Shepherd came to give you life and life more abundantly.
“Do whatever he tells you.”
“Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). These are the words that Mary said to the servants as she did what God told her to do, prepare the way for Jesus to do his thing, his first thing, his first sign in the Gospel of John.
Mary told the servants to listen and obey, and the servants did what they were told. There is no record of them talking back, questioning, or ignoring the request to do whatever Jesus told them to do. They didn’t say to Jesus, “but these are just water pots.” They just did what they were told.
It must have been strange to them. They knew they were out of wine and Jesus told them to fill up some water pots. I wonder what they were thinking. Did they even know who Jesus was at the time? Were they there when John the Baptist identified him in John 1? Did they hear John’s testimony, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Did they hear John when he said, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” Did the servants know who Jesus was or were they just being obedient?
Actually, it doesn’t matter because they chose to be obedient. They did what they were told. They filled the six water pots with water and waited for Jesus to do the rest. Imagine that. All they had to do is fill some water pots and they were part of a miracle. They were part of something greater. They were part of a movement of God. All they had to do is to do what they were told, as simple as it was.
I hope by now you know that I am talking about us modern day believers. Sometimes we make God’s call to do something so complicated. Well, I know I can. I can take a simple instruction and blow it way out of proportion. Usually, when I do this it is because I am relying on my own flesh to get the job done or I am trying to prove myself to humans or make up for some lack I feel.
But, that is not what God wants from us. God wants us to do whatever we are told to do, nothing less and nothing more. It’s just that simple. While the task may seem like it will not make a difference, in the grand scheme of life, it will because that one simple part connects to the grand design of God.
The servants filled up some water pots, and the water was turned to wine by Jesus. The little boy offered up his lunch and Jesus fed thousands. Simple acts lead to big results when they are part of the big plan of God. Simple acts lead to big results when they connect to the power of Jesus Christ.
Without Jesus, those water pots would have just been pots filled with water. But, when Jesus did his thing, the water became something greater. The greater was the result of the greatness of God. The servants’ role was obedience. Jesus’ role was to perform the miracle.
Today, as you reflect, think of the simple thing that God is asking you to do. Remember, that while simple, each act of obedience prepares the way for Jesus, Our Miracle Worker.
“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
Yesterday, as I was walking along, enjoying the day of sunshine, a bird decided to make me its toilet. The poop landed on my sweater and scarf. That could have easily been the start of a negative day, but I simply took out a napkin and wiped the waste from my sweater and scarf. When I got to a bathroom, I washed both items as best as I could with hot soap and water. Later, at home I washed both items in the machine. Of course, God used this experience to teach me a lesson.
First, God showed me what grace looks like in everyday life. Grace showed up in the fact that the poop didn’t land on my black girl hair. Anyone who has black girl hair knows that it would have been disastrous to have to wash my hair on the spot in some sink in a church bathroom. That moment could have been a whole lot worse, but God’s grace prevailed.
Second, God used the minor inconvenience of bird poop to remind me of how many times minor inconveniences were for my good. I recalled the many times things could have been worse for me. I thought of the times that being late because of traffic prevented something from happening. I thought of the times when a letter of rejection prevented me from pursuing the wrong pathway. I thought of the times when not being chosen for something prevented me from being taken being taken for granted. I thought of the times when God answered my prayers for something I thought was the right thing with a firm, “No!” Once again, God’s grace prevailed.
Third, God used the experience to remind me of the times when the minor inconvenience was not so minor, like the loss of something significant – a job, a home, a loved one. Yet, even in these times, God’s grace prevailed.
In thinking of the multiple ways that God’s grace shows up in our lives, I thought of John 16:33, when Jesus said, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
While bird poop is not persecution, it does represent mess and the messiness that life can sometimes be. In this moment, I hear God saying that even though life may be messy, even hard sometimes, Jesus has got us covered. He has already overcome this world and therein lies our victory, even over loss, grief, and pain. No matter where we are on the continuum of life’s challenges, Jesus is our victory.
Today, as you reflect, think of the multiples ways that Jesus has got you covered; think of the multiple times, even when things are at their worst, Jesus is your Victory.
When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
As I walked from my car to work, the frigid air conflicts with the fact that spring started on March 20 and that today is April 1. Everything is ready to bloom and get on with spring 2019, but the weather keeps rejecting the pleas of plants and people to allow warmth to surround us.
Even the birds seem to be chirping their disappointment in the weather. Their normal harmonious sounds seem out of sync and disruptive. They seem to be yelling instead of singing. Their voices reprimand the weather to get with the program and let the bright sun signal winter’s end.
As my body adjusts to the change of seasons, my eyes are trying to get used to the brightness of the sun and the allergens that are being released into the atmosphere. I am also irritated with the weather for being so unkind.
Global warming has caused our weather to shift out of sync with plant life. While the temperature feels like a throwback to January, the plants are on schedule as they bloom their way into our senses. Since I’ve been here in the DC Metro area, the cherry blossoms have always been fighting with the unseasonably low temperatures for their chance in the spotlight for the annual festival.
While none of this is new to me as a 10-year resident of this city, this morning, as I was driving along a route that I’ve driven hundreds of times, I felt as though I was seeing everything for the first time. The white blossoms in my neighborhood caught my eyes like never before.
When I think of all of this, I think of Jesus’ question in John 1:38, “What are you looking for?” Jesus was talking to two disciples of John the Baptist, one of whom was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. After John identified Jesus, the two disciples started to follow Jesus.
Jesus’ question was the first words he spoke in the Gospel of John. Jesus’ question was an invitation to discipleship. You can tell by the response of John’s former disciples. They asked, “Where are you staying?” Their response was a yes to Jesus’s invitation to follow him.
In thinking about the battle between earthly life and the weather, I like how the blossoms responded. They just did what they were called to do and left the weather up to Mother Nature. The birds fussed about the weather and got distracted by it while I needed to have my eyes opened by the blossoms’ obedience to the eternal clock.
The blossoms were looking at eternity while the rest of us were looking at the weather. Their eyes were set on the One whose appearance is a sight for sore eyes when the weather of life is harsh, cold and bitter. They responded with a yes to the call to discipleship – a chance to glorify God on earth with all that God has given them. For the blossoms, God gave them beauty and a sweet fragrance to usher us into God’s presence.
Sometimes, as the weather of life rejects our desire to be surrounded with warmth, we lose sight of what really matters. Our eyes become sore with the things we see in the world. Sometimes, our eyes just become sore from fatigue at looking. Yet, Jesus has a new vision for us to see as we gaze upon Him.
Today, as you reflect, I ask you, “what are you looking for?” Are you waiting for an invitation from Jesus to be His disciples or are you fussing with the cares of life or looking at the wrong thing? What are you looking for? I know you know the answer. You are looking for Jesus, Our Sight for Sore Eyes.
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Last night, I was chatting with a group of my sisters in Christ. We were talking about praying and seeking God’s will for our lives. While the subject matter was powerful, what was even more powerful was the level of sisterhood and unity that took place during our conversation. Every sister had a chance to share her story and everyone took the time to help each sister with her specific situation.
Because of the safety I felt in that room, even I, the poster child for introversion dared to share something. While it took this introvert longer to get her thoughts together and get them out in a coherent way, the women in that room were patient. One sister in particular, noticed my body language and challenged me to keep talking until I was understood.
What I experienced last night brought to mind John 17, when Jesus prays for the Apostles and for his future disciples – us. The unity among these dynamic women of God was the unity Christ spoke of when he said, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity” (17:22-23a).
Without even knowing it, and with God’s grace, mercy and love, we women were able to experience Jesus’ model of community. While none of us can take credit for what happened, as I reflect, I can see some key components that allowed God’s will for community to happen.
First, we allowed the Holy Spirit to lead the way. While we had an agenda to follow, we didn’t prevent the Holy Spirit from taking over as needed.
Second, we shared our heart. No one just sat like a fly on the wall and watched the other women share. Each of us shared our struggles and our victories for the greater good.
Third, we gave each other grace and mercy. No one judged the other and no one took lightly what was being shared. We all were invested in each other’s success.
Fourth and finally, we allowed God’s love to reign supreme. Although we did some hard work, which caused us to remove the masks black women tend to wear, there was not one instance that God’s love didn’t flow through that room.
Allowing God to love us helped us to love one another. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said in verse 23, “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” When we allow God to love us, we can’t help but love each other and the world can’t help but see that love and respond to it.
Today, as you reflect, think of the ways you can allow space for Jesus’ model of community to take root in your life, whether for a moment, a season, or a lifetime.
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11 Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
In John 18:10-11, we find this: Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath.”
As I read this scripture this morning, I was reminded of middle school. For me, middle school was where the after school fights started. My elementary school in my rural community was more controlled. Plus, everyone knew everyone; so, if it got back to your parents or guardians that you were fighting, you’d have to face the consequences. But in middle school, we traveled to the “big city” of Walterboro, which was 20 miles away, to attend the county’s school that brought together people from all over Colleton County, SC.
One of my cousins told me that from six grade through high school, because I was the only child from my family, I’d have to fight one person at the beginning of each year to have peace the rest of the year. His words were prophetic. Each year, I’d have to make a decision to fight in order to not be bullied for the rest of the year. Most of the time, the fight was with a boy who touched me inappropriately on the school bus.
One year, however, the fight was with a pair of sisters from a family of fighting women. By the time I got to twelfth grade, there were only the two of them left. I remember the day they started picking on me. I was so glad that their older sister, the toughest of the group, was no longer in school. Then, I realized that I would have to fight them or be bullied by them, and everyone else, for the rest of the year.
Unlike the previous times, this could be more than hand-to-hand combat. The sisters were known for carrying razor blades and potash, a lye based mixture, which burned the skin. I had neither. I had to think fast. I had to prove that I was tough without getting hurt or getting in trouble for hurting someone.
I used the only things I had available to me, my mouth and my brains. One of the sisters stood, breathing heavily in my face, while the other stood over my back while I sat on the school bus seat. I mustered all the courage I had in me and said something like, “If you don’t get out of my face, I’ll kill you.” Now, I had no intentions of killing anyone but I had to make it seem like I was just as crazy as them or else, I’d end up with a scar or a burn before I got home that day.
As I held my gaze steady and calmed my shaking frame, I watched a miracle happen. The sisters backed down and returned to their seats. And, they never bothered me again after that day. To be honest, I don’t know why that worked. I definitely was at a disadvantage. Even the bus driver didn’t mess with this crew, probably because she had seen the work of their family when she was in school. I was waiting to be taken to the hospital, but I got off at my stop, fully intact.
I’ve never forgotten that day and to this day, that is how I handle conflicts, without physical combat. I hate drama and fighting. I hate when people can’t love each other. It absolutely breaks my heart when folks would rather hurt each other than love their neighbors. But, God also told me that my mouth can be a weapon; so, I’ve been trying a more peaceful way the older I get. I am still a work in progress.
This scripture reminds me of my commitment to a nonviolent pathway, to include my mouth and my mannerisms. I think when Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath,” He was giving Peter and therefore us, permission to handle conflict another way, a better way. For Peter, he had to trust the process – the will of God that Jesus die for our sins. For us, in this current day, in this current place called the United States, we definitely need to be reminded of this lesson.
And, while it is very hard, we who call ourselves believers in Christ Jesus are expected to respond to life the way Jesus would – from traffic jams to jams in Congress, from family drama to drama in the workplace, from friend issues to issues in the body of Christ. It’s hard, but that’s what we signed up for when we gave our lives to Christ.
Fighting, in my humble opinion, has never really solved anything except determine who has the best weapons – whether missile or mouth, whether tanks or tricks, whether fighter jets or favors. We all lose when we use what we have to hurt each other. And, I know that every time I let conflict get the best of me, I hurt God’s heart. We all do.
Today, as you reflect, think of all the conflicts in your life and ask yourself the question, is there a way to follow Jesus, Our Way to Solve Conflict.
“But those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
A month ago, I started using a new brand of toothpaste. The new product caused dry mouth, thirst and a host of other problems, including issues with my stomach. Not only did it make me wonder what they put in the product to make my body respond that way, today, it makes me think of John 4:14 when Jesus said to the woman at the well, “but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The inclusion of the conjunction, “but” means that Jesus was offering a contrast to what the woman had been using to quench her spiritual thirst.
Jesus was also offering her a different form of comfort and security that was not dependent on a man. While she was wired by her context to provide security for herself in a society where women were nothing without a man beside them, Jesus was offering her something more – earthly comfort in a godly way. Jesus was giving her a heavenly mind and a earthy purpose. Once her spiritual thirst was quenched, her earthly mission of being an evangelist began. Jesus just reordered her life in a godly way to put spirit before things.
Like this woman, earthly comfort and security is something we humans are wired to pursue. Like this woman, we humans are also wired to pursue something greater than ourselves. For us Christians, we pursue God through our relationship with Christ Jesus.
We live in a societal context that will wear us out in pursuit of earthly comfort and security. Yet, when we achieve those things, if we have not also tended to our soul’s thirst, we will be miserable. Living in the DC Metro area, I am always in conversation with some of the most materially successful men and women in the nation; yet, their souls continue to thirst. Instead of judging them for pursuing success, God has asked me to offer them Christ as a way to order their lives; so that their soul thirst is quenched. Like the woman at the well and like all of us, they need something more than earthly security and comfort.
Even though there was nothing I could do about my new brand of toothpaste and the thirst it produces, I can always do something to quench my spiritual thirst, and that is take a drink from Living Waters.
Today, as you reflect, are your thirsty for a soul refresh? If so, take a drink from Jesus, the Living Waters, our real deal Thirst Quencher.
“You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you.”
John 15:16, CEB
About a month ago, my aunt sent me a prayer request from a ten-year-old girl. The little girl’s request touched the heart of everyone so much that the pastor asked all the believers in the congregation to join her in the request.
My aunt told me her story and I couldn’t help but share the little girl’s request with others. On one of my prayer calls, we discussed how much this little girl reminded us of a pure faith in Christ Jesus.
While I nor any of the people in my prayer circle have ever met this little girl, she touched our lives and impacted the way we approach God. Her request was simple but in its simplicity, it bore much fruit by connecting people in one common goal and by causing them to consider the content of their prayer life.
What was her prayer? When she came forth in church to give her life to Christ, the pastor asked if she had any prayer concerns. Without missing a beat, she asked God to help her mom get her life together.
Before the ink was even put on her membership paperwork, before she asked for a Christmas present or some other material thing, this little girl asked for another person to experience the love of Christ Jesus.
I’m sure this little girl didn’t have John 15:16 in mind when she came forward as a new believer and as a prayer warrior, but her actions embody the meaning of this text, which says, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you.”
This little girl’s prayer request teaches us some valuable lessons about the meaning of John 15:16. First, she reminded us that we have been chosen by Christ. God did the choosing, way back with the children of Israel. Before we thought to come to Christ, we were already chosen by God and already loved by God.
Second, we are reminded that we were chosen for a purpose. We were not chosen to just sit around and collect dust. Our salvation is a call to ministry. We are called by God to recognize the work of Christ and to share that work with others.
While salvation is personal it is not private. Our salvation is meant to bear public witness to the love of Christ through his sacrifice on our behalf. And, we are meant to bear fruit by sharing this Good News with others.
Finally, our prayers bear fruit as a result of our relationship with Christ. Asking for something apart from our relationship with Christ and expecting to bear godly fruit is pointless. And, we actually don’t produce the fruit. Only God can produce godly fruit. We produce nothing on our own. God is the producer.
For the record, the fruit of this little girl’s request was seen the following week, when her mom came to church. And, while this mom’s total restoration is a work in progress, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that her actions will bear much fruit that will last.
Today, as you reflect, what fruit is God asking you to allow him to produce through you in this moment, in this season, and/or in your lifetime as a testament to being in relationship with Christ Jesus, Our Fruit Producer.
Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” (14:1).
One of my favorite people to talk to when I want someone to listen is my Aunt Connie. She has a true gift for being a great listener. While there are times when I need advice, most times when I am dealing with an issue, I just need a good ear. If I need to get something off my chest or need to hear my ideas out loud, I can call on Aunt Connie. Some of my best revelations have come from her gift of listening.
The gift of listening is something that is underemphasized in the body of Christ, where fixing things is primary. People in ministry love to solve problems but sometimes we struggle to trust the process of listening.
I’ll even venture to say that beyond ministry, we all tend to solve problems first and listen later. However, listening first and responding later has many advantages. For one thing, it helps us to respond correctly the first time. Notice how Jesus never had to backtrack on anything he said. He never had to correct himself.
Jesus often demonstrated the value of listening in his ministry. One of my favorite scenes of Jesus-type listening is in John 14:36-14:1 when Jesus foretells Peter’s denial. Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”
Then, right after telling Peter the truth, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (14:1). This is a case of Jesus-type listening. Jesus response was the result of him listening to Peter’s heart, which was in the right place although his courage would fail him. Jesus listened to Peter’s need and spoke a word of encouragement that he would need in the future. In other words, Jesus-type listening is hearing the person’s heart and responding with God’s heart.
In the course of our lives, we will be asked to minister to people through the act of listening. While it seems like such a simple task, our ability to hear people’s heart and respond with God’s heart is its own type of miracle.
Today, as you reflect, ask God to give you a heart for listening to people’s heart and responding with God’s heart.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
When I was a kid, I struggled tremendously with the concept of being blessed. The reason for my struggle was that some of my best friends were not as well off as I was. Now, mind you, no one in my rural community was rich. In fact, there was no central air/heat, no microwave, AND no cable TV in my house. And, my Great Grandaunt, who raised me, did not own a car. But, I was blessed and my family made sure I knew it.
They also made sure I knew that I was blessed to be a blessing. So, when I saw my friends struggling, I felt guilty. I thought that somehow their struggle correlated to my blessings. In other words, my child’s mind rationalized that there were only so many blessings to go around and I need to even things out by sharing a much as I could.
While the theology of my generosity was totally incorrect, I learned a valuable lesson from sharing my new clothes that my mother sent me from Germany, sharing my lunch at school, sharing the extra dollar I had from time to time, or sharing my quietness by listening to everyone’s issues. I learned that it felt good to share with others.
Sadly, as I grew older and moved to urban environments, the sense of community that I experienced in Green Pond, SC disappeared. I no longer talked to my neighbors and people were often distrustful of the kindness of strangers.
Today, as I think about my current context and how much I keep to myself, I think about how much it impacts my ability to be generous. I also think about how much it changes the way we view each other and our relationship to one another.
This morning, as I was reading John 3:22-30, I reflected on the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. John was clear that he was called to point to Jesus. John’s commitment to his call made me think of my neighbor. While I am called as a believer to point to Jesus, I am also called as a believer to point to my neighbor. I am called to point my blessings to my neighbor, whether it is a material blessing or the blessing of my voiced raised in a cry for justice. I am called to point the way to those who need our help.
It doesn’t matter that I don’t know my neighbor’s name. It doesn’t even matter that urban life causes us to fear and not trust the kindness of strangers. I am called to point the way to Christ and to point to Christ’s way. Christ’s way includes loving our neighbors.
Today, as you reflect, think of your neighbor and whether they can tell that your are pointing the love of Christ their way.
The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household.
John 4:46-53 documents the story of the healing of the royal official’s son. Like the water to wine story, this story takes place in Cana. Like at the wedding in Cana, Jesus poses a challenge before he performed the miracle or sign as they are known in the Gospel of John. Bible scholars tell us that John calls Jesus’ work signs because they are meant to be signs that point to who Jesus is. The story of the royal official’s son does this. It points to who Jesus is, in this case, Jesus is Our True Healer.
Like the wedding story, the person asking for the sign is not deterred by Jesus’ initial rebuff. Mary was not deterred when Jesus said that his time had not yet come. The royal official was not deterred when Jesus said in verse 48, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official simply continued with his request by saying, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies” (verse 49).
What I like most about this story is that Jesus does not do what the official asks. He does not go to the boy. Jesus simply says, “Go; your son will live.” In my humble opinion, Jesus was testing out the man’s faith and belief. Would he believe that his son was healed even though he didn’t see the sign? In other words, Jesus was ensuring that the man believed no matter what he saw or didn’t see, in this case. According to verse 50, the man believed Jesus’ words.
I wonder how many of us have faith to believe God’s word when everything we see points to the contrary. I wonder how many of us would have trusted Jesus’ word in that moment.
Today, as you reflect, what is God asking you to trust him with, no matter what you see or don’t see?
Now that day was a sabbath.
This morning on the way to work, I was listening to a new song by William Murphy called, “Chain Breaker.” The chorus struck a chord in me. It says,
If you’ve got pain
He’s a pain taker
If you feel lost
He’s a way maker
If you need freedom or saving
He’s a prison-shaking Savior
If you’ve got chains
He’s a chain breaker
In thinking about chains as I searched for today’s text, John 5:8b stood out to me. There we find these words, “Now that day was a sabbath.” It is the second half of the verse that is part of the story of Jesus healing the blind man on the Sabbath. The blind man was laying at the pool of Bethesda along with others who were blind, lame, and paralyzed. In other words, all the folks with issues were at that pool waiting for their chains to be broken.
And, Jesus did things as only Jesus can. Not only did he break the man’s chain of blindness but he broke the chain of legality by doing it on the Sabbath. Jesus used the healing of one man to break an entire system of laws that were binding people with chains. In doing so, this sign that Jesus performed pointed to Jesus as our Chain Breaker.
Today, as you reflect, what chains do you need Jesus to break for you?
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I love singing and one of my favorite places to sing is in a choir. Early on, I discovered that unless I chose singing over writing, I would not excel in it enough to be a solo artist. To be a soloist in both, one must commit to the rigors of training to stand out from the group when called upon to sing with one voice. Yet, even with solos, there is often an element of community. Whether it is the solo singer within the community of choir, whether it is a solo writer within the community of readers, or whether it is a solo believer within the community of church, all soloists need community to be their best.
One of the elements of community is love. Jesus talks about this love in John 13:34-35 when he says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
What makes the church its most powerful is when we love one another as we work, grow and serve in community. When we love one another, we are showing that we belong to Jesus, Our Community Leader.
Love does not require rigorous training like a career in singing or writing but a few things love does require is commitment, humility and obedience. We commit to be disciples of Christ who are humble enough to know that the only way we succeed is in obedience to Christ. And, to bring it full circle, we are obedient when we love one another.
It really is a circle. Three of the ways we love is through commitment, humility and obedience; and, obedience requires us to love one another. This is how we build community so that all of the times when we are called to be soloists, we never have to do it alone.
Today, as you reflect, where have you been called to be a soloist? How can you surround yourself in community so that your solo is able to be its best? How are you being called to community through love, commitment, humility and obedience through Christ Jesus, Our Community Leader?
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”
“You just can’t get everyone to like you, Patrice.” Growing up, those were words that I heard from the adults every time I got my feelings hurt because someone disliked me no matter how well I treated them. Yet, the need to be liked by everyone lingered into my adulthood.
This need to please seeped into my relationships in the workplace, in friendships, in dating, and in the church. There were very few places where I wasn’t trying to make everyone happy. While there were times I was able to hold the issue at bay, it was always there in the background of my life. And, to some degree it is still there; although, reaching my 40th birthday made me less concerned with what others thought of me.
For those times when people pleasing takes over my life, God always points to Jesus as a reminder of what a life surrendered totally to God looks like. Think about it. If Jesus gave in to people pleasing, where would we be? I see this clearly in John 4:27 when he was interacting with the Woman at the Well.
The 2012 Women’s Bible Commentary summarizes Jesus’ faux pas this way, “He speaks with a female member of an enemy people.” To speak to a female, especially an unmarried female, was bad enough, but to speak to a Samaritan was just way too much. Yet, Jesus didn’t care one bit. He knew that he had work to do on behalf of God; so, he focused on the task at hand.
Imagine the freedom we have when we place God’s work above people pleasing. Imagine what it would feel like to be at peace with the only opinion that matters.
Today, as you reflect, think of how people pleasing has shown up in your life. If that is not your issue, what prevents you from doing what God desires? Think of what it would be like if you focused on Jesus, Our Only Opinion That Matters.
 Source: O’Day, G. R. (2012). Gospel of John. In C. A. Newsom, J. E. Lapsley, & S. H. Ringe (Eds.), Women’s Bible Commentary (Revised and Updated, p. 521). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!’
Ever since I’ve been a little girl, one of the things that all of my friends and I have watched have been royal weddings. Since I’ve been alive there have been four royal weddings in the UK. I don’t think I actually watched the first because I was only five months old, but I imagine that my family, like much of America, tuned in somehow.
Next to sporting events, royal weddings are one of the most unifying events in our country and across the globe. The last royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was definitely one of the most impactful on me. Just seeing Meghan’s mother sitting there made us African American women hold our heads a little higher in a way not since the first African American FLOTUS waved and smiled our way.
Yet for all their unifying power, the royal family receives the most hateration in the media of any group of people I know. I think even the worst criminal makes off better in the media than the royal family. Yesterday when I was at the grocery story, I saw so many negative headlines, it made me wonder, is there any rest for these public figures.
In thinking about the UK royals, I am reminded that tomorrow we will celebrate Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The processional, which takes place the day after Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, is found in John 12:12-13. “The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!’”
This event is one of the most significant and unifying events in scripture. People from everywhere came to see Jesus, even folks from Greece (John 12:20-23). It is considered a happy occasional. Jesus takes his place as one from the Royal Family. The children of Israel, those who believed, were elated and expectant of what this King would do.
Yet, there were people in the background hating on Jesus. In fact, before Jesus even made his way to Jerusalem, “the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus” (John 12:10-11). Jesus had become a public figure and for some a public threat. He and anyone associated with him were an issue for the establishment.
Sometimes, even in these modern times, even in this country of religious freedom, being a Christian can be a problem. This is especially the case in our political climate, where the lines of Christianity and politics are so blurred that it makes all of us look bad. Still we must maintain our identity in Christ.
This week, as we enter into Holy Week, the questions we will be faced with center around our identity in and commitment to Christ as we are reminded of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us.
Today, as you reflect, ask yourself, no matter the costs, are you willing to pay the cost to be associated with Jesus, Our Royalty?
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
John 13:1b, 12, 21
Yesterday, I found out that someone I trusted lied to me. As I was reflecting on this, I thought about John 13:21, which states, “After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.’”
It’s one thing to find out that someone betrayed you in the past, but it is quite another thing to know in advanced that someone is going to betray you. What I find most interesting about this text is the way Jesus felt. Even though Jesus knew the beginning from the end and even though Jesus knew the purpose in this betrayal, he felt troubled in his spirit. He was hurt by what Judas was about to do.
Besides the fact that Jesus showed his humanity in that moment, Jesus also showed us how to respond to those who betray us, even if we sense the betrayal in advance.
If we go back a few verses, we see that the placement of this revelation is key to understanding the lesson that we can glean for today. John 13:12a says, “When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.”
Jesus actually washed the feet of his betrayer. He does not skip over him. He shows him the same love, grace and mercy that he showed the other disciples – all of whom would betray him in one way or another – some by denial and some by desertion. All of them really had their part in Jesus fate although we tend to focus most on Judas and make him out to be worse than the others.
This is what we believers tend to do today, we rank sin instead of admitting that we all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God and that we continue to sin, even after God has forgiven us over and over again.
What type of love is this? It is a love that would lay down its life in the face of betrayal, humble itself time and time again, and treat the betrayer like royalty with a foot washing.
That’s why Jesus question after the foot washing is key. He asks them in John 13:12b, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” I hear Jesus asking us today on this Monday of Holy Week, “Do you understand what I’ve done for you, each of you, even the so-called “worst” of you?
When I think about Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for me and for you, I am drawn more deeply into the meaning of John 13:1b which says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
That’s right, just like he loved ALL of the disciples until the end, Jesus will love ALL of us until the end. That’s some real love.
Today, as you reflect, pause and really ponder the love that Jesus Christ showed on the cross. Really ponder the way he showed up for us until the end. Ponder our Savior, Jesus, Our Real Love.
Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
There is a ministry colleague of mine who has the gift of God’s healing touch. She just has a way of making a pat on the shoulder something significant. Recently, she was encouraging me to continue my training as an artist by giving me some pointers on how to improve a set of skills. As soon as she touch my forearm, I wanted to cry and say thank you. Her touch told me that God had my back and I had nothing to fear about growing in this area of my ministry.
I can only think of a few other people in my circle who have that same gift of healing in their touch. I am not sure if they are even aware of it or even if it matters. What matters is that God always brings one of them across my path exactly when I need it and most times I don’t even know that I need a touch from God.
Reflecting on my recent experience of God through human contact, I thought of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus in John 12:3. “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
I wonder what she was thinking in that moment. I also wonder what she was thinking before she began anointing him. How did she come to the conclusion that she would do it? Did she carefully plan it out or was it a spur of the moment thing? Did she travail in the spirit or was she decisive without questioning the notion? Did God speak to her in a significant way or did she think she was doing something of her own volition? Did she know the significance of what she was doing or was she just doing what came naturally? What was Mary thinking?
Better yet, did Jesus touch her physically when he rescued her from the ridicule of Judas and elevated her to biblical history? How did Jesus touch her in that moment? Did he take her by the hand? Did he touch her on the forearm? Did he give her a reassuring shoulder pat? How did Jesus come to her rescue?
Of course, biblical context says that he couldn’t have touch her. She was a woman after all. She was not his wife. She was at the bottom of society’s barrel along with the other marginalized people. Yet, I wonder, did Jesus risk culture and caste to touch her?
We will never know, but what we do know is that Jesus always finds a way to touch us when we need it most. Jesus always responds to our human efforts to connect with him. Jesus always honors human contact displayed in his name. Jesus always finds a way to heal us, and sometimes that healing comes from human touch.
In pondering human touch in Jesus name on Tuesday of Holy Week, we must pause at the cross before we close to look at the crucifixion. It was indeed an act of human touch, many acts of human touch, gone wrong. The physicality of the cross cannot be denied. It was brutal, it was heinous, and it was evil transacted upon a body in a way that we in our modern context cannot understand.
Yet, in this horrible human touch, Jesus healed us. Isn’t that ironic? The worst of human touch led to our victory in Christ. The worst of human touch gave us eternal life.
Today, as you reflect, think of two things. First, think of how you can use your human touch, whether through hand or action, to help or heal someone. Second, think of how much it means that our Savior endured the worst type of human touch in order to save us and so we can have a relationship with him in eternity. Think of Jesus, Our Healing Touch.
Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.
For the past six months, I’ve been looking for a copy of a particular book. Because it is out of print, the prices for used copies are exorbitant. For a long time, I kept finding prices ranging from $100-$200. So, I gave up on finding the book at a reasonable price until the publisher decided to put it book back into print.
Recently, the Holy Spirit told me to look again. Sure enough, the book was available online at a price that I could afford. The only thing I had to do was spend my chocolate budget. While getting the book was awesome, two amazing things made this experience even more awesome.
First, I was able to get a new copy of the book. Second, only that one copy was available. Yes, when I checked back after ordering, the only copies available were the expensive used copies. I was spared paying the higher price because I was in the right place at the right time, in the presence of God through the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
When I think about this experience, I think of John 18:38-40, where the Jews demanded that Pilate release a criminal instead of Jesus. In verse 40, “They shouted in reply, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a bandit.”
I wonder what Barabbas must have been thinking. Using my imagination, I figured he knew that he was going down for the crimes he committed. He probably had already said goodbye to his loved ones, made his peace with his fate and was waiting to be put into prison. Then, in a moment, everything in his life changed. He was no longer condemned by was saved because he was in the right place at the right time. He was set free because he happened to be there when Jesus was there.
Like with my new book. Barabbas received something new and didn’t pay full price. I didn’t pay the going price for that book because God made a way for me to be shown favor in a moment in time. Barabbas didn’t pay for his sins because through Jesus, he was shown favor.
On this Wednesday of Holy Week, Barabbas serves as a reminder that Jesus took our place on that cross. The only thing we did was show up at the right place at the right time in the presence of God with our sins. Jesus did the rest. Jesus paid it all.
Today, as you reflect, think of the many times, you were shown favor and didn’t have to pay the full price for something. Then, think of the times you were shown favor and didn’t pay the full price for the sins you committed because Jesus took your place. Think of Jesus, Our Replacement.
They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”
John 9:15 is one of the saddest scenes in the story of Jesus’ arrest and trial, which started in Chapter 18 with the betrayal of Judas. Once again, the children of Israel rejected God’s offer to be their King. It reminds me of another time that the children of Israel rejected God’s offer to be their sole monarch.
The story takes place in 1 Samuel 8:19-20, which reads, “But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
Even though Samuel warned them that this king would lord over them with an iron fist, Israel wanted to be like everyone else. They wanted their king to look like all the other kings in the world.
Fast forward to the Gospel of John, and things have not changed much. The children of Israel rejected Jesus because he didn’t look like the other kings in the world. In other words, Jesus was not willing to go to battle to defeat the Roman Empire, at least not in the way they thought he should.
What Jesus was willing to do was defeat Rome and all the oppressive powers of the world in a different way. He was willing to die for all so all could have a new kind of life on earth and to one day live with him in a place where time is swallowed up by eternity. Jesus was thinking eternal King while the children of Israel were thinking earthly king. Jesus was thinking timeless while Israel was thinking today.
But, before we get all judgmental about the children of Israel, we must look at our own modern context. Do we not crave human leadership more than God’s leadership more often than not? Do we not trust in human power more than God’s power more times than we care to admit? Do we not do things with human efforts more than we do them with God’s anointing? While we may not be literally asking for a human king, our actions may say something else.
On this Maundy Thursday, as we prepare to observe the Last Supper and look soberly towards Good Friday, let’s not forget that even though the world places human kings above God, we have a Messiah who has paid the full price to be our Eternal King.
Today, as you reflect, ask God to search your heart and reveal to you any area where you have placed human ways above God’s ways. Remember that God’s ways are always best. Remember that God does not lord over you as a human king would. Remember the real monarch, the one willing to suffer and die for you. Remember Jesus, Our Eternal King.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
If someone had told me that it would come to this, I don’t know. Perhaps, I would have asked God to choose someone else. You grow up with all these stories about him, and you get caught up in the excitement and the promise of it all. You never really think that it could be like this, so gut-wrenchingly painful.
I knew he had pushed them too far. I knew that he had said too much, done too much, challenged people too much. He really didn’t need to put his life on the line like that. Will it really change anything? Will we have that abundant life he talked about, will we finally be free to worship the Father in spirit and in truth instead of living in fear and in poverty because of those in power? In the end, will it be all worth it?
As I watched him grow into the man who has become. As my Jewish sisters teased me and wondered why he was so different. Then, we realized the truth, we used to sing this song, “Mary did you know, that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Did you know?”
I can’t help but keep wondering. Will my son’s death, really matter? I know that He is the Son of God, who makes me ponder you God. But, he is also the Son of Man, this woman’s son who came from this womb. He is my son, the one who created these worry lines each time I lost him in the crowd.
I really don’t mean to be so disrespectful, but I just need to know if you really meant things to be this way? I know you are his father, but I am his mother, and this is just too much to bear. My soul, my soul, my soul is crushing under the weight of this sorrow. I cannot watch my son die, not even for the entire world.
And look at him, hanging there, suffering, bleeding, dying, yet still worried about me. I hear him God trying to make sure I am okay, trying to be my savior. But, as I listen to his words, “Woman, here is your son…Here is your mother,” I, I, I remember. I cry without end, but I remember my promise to you God.
“Here am I,” STILL, “the servant of the Lord; let it be with me” AND HIM “according to your word.”
Today, as you reflect, see the cross. See yourself there, next to Mary and ponder with her. Remember, him dying for you and me. Remember Him, Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God.
Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Before he came
Hearts seeking Spirit
Minds needing Peace
Truth that tells
Justice that rings
Were all ignored by
Code of silence
Conspiracy of silence
Wall of silence
Consent through silence
While he stayed here
Were all swallowed up in his life
That was not enough
“He bowed his head
Gave up his spirit”
Now his death is
As silent as the grave
While he sleeps, let us sit with him in silence.
Today as you reflect, while he sleeps, let us sit with him, Our Silent Saturday