Category Archives: Sunday

Strength, Peace, Joy for Palm Sunday

John 21
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said,you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Real life has provided me an opportunity to remember how wide the separation between what I believe and what my response to circumstances can be.  Today I feel like Peter, sputtering my assurances to justify my lack of strength, peace and joy even at the same time I’m convinced of my own repentance.  It’s a mystery isn’t it? 

Even a life of faith and absolute commitment has moments when facing your own brokenness is a harsh reality.  I’ve read these verses countless times before but today Peter’s attempt to reassure Jesus of his love has become more real because it seems like mine too. “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”  

Simon Peter knew the harsh reality of his brokenness. The intensity of his words is almost tangible as he responds to Jesus taking him through that progression of the same question over and over; “do you love me?”  Jesus could just as easily have said “I forgive you.”  Peter would have expected that forgiveness, and been comforted…but Jesus had something more to give Peter during that early morning confrontation of vows and responses.  There was one thing that would ultimately forgive Peter’s lack of strength, comfort his loss of peace and restore his joy too.

Jesus’s gave Peter His trust!
…knowing Peter would complete his vows of love and
 “feed my lambs…take care of my sheep…feed my sheep.”

Grace, Ransom, Healer

John 20:
25…But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 
27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Ransom; a payment for the release of a prisoner

Thomas shared a real-time relationship with Jesus, but all these centuries later the nickname “doubting” is still the first thing we remember about him. “Doubting is a nickname that doesn’t really fit because as the verses show, in that moment he was absolutely certain.  “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 

Each heart of those friends closest to Jesus had been wounded by the betrayal that led to Jesus’s death.  For Thomas that wound had festered into doubt.  Some of the disciples had seen Jesus, but not him. “Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then Jesus singled out Thomas.  

The beauty of this story is that Thomas’s doubts have became incidental.  Jesus showed Thomas the scars of His own wounds one-by-one for a specific purpose; that his wounded heart might be ransomed from doubt and healed.  That makes scars the most important point of this story. 

Wounds often leave a scar and healed scars still have a purpose for friends of Jesus today.  Scars can tell a story of healing that has the power to ransom someone else’s doubt and lead them to repentance.  Scars are not to be wasted.   They are the evidence that Jesus heals wounded hearts and gives them a sign to share of the resurrecting love of God Almighty,  Alleluia!

Shield, Fortress, Hiding Place

John 20:
8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.
9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

>§§§>

These verses reminded me of this screen shot I took last Easter from the live broadcast of Gracepoint Church in Sturgis, Michigan.  That empty tomb for those closest to Jesus resulted in fear, not hope.  Hindsight has proved God’s plan for the salvation of many, became a reality despite those frightened people caught in desperate circumstances.  Jesus’s body had disappeared from that fortress of stone.  How could that possibly be anything but bad?  “(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)” 

That parenthetic verse 9 has become a modern-day lesson for me.  As odd as it is to type this sentence; doubt and fear have always been a part of faith, even for those closest to Jesus.  Even the “other” disciple, the one Jesus loved, hesitated. “Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.”…and

“Thomas felt a surge of shock and unbelief…Then he felt regret for having left. Then he felt isolated. He was the only one who hadn’t seen Jesus.  He had seen so many things that would have been unbelievable if he hadn’t seen them. Most haunting right now was Lazarus.  And then it happened. Thomas was staring at the floor, sinking again under the fear that maybe Jesus had rejected him because of his stubborn unbelief. If so, he knew he deserved it. Then someone gasped. He looked up and his heart leaped into his throat! Jesus was standing across the room looking at him. “Peace be with you”a

Faith is what gives us the courage to come out of our hiding place, confront our fears and doubts and to believe Jesus’s words are meant to shield us today, too –  “peace be with you.”  These two verses have become my reminder that recognizing the reality of an empty burial tomb is more than evidence of my faith…it’s evidence of God’s faith in me!  “Finally” I “saw and believed” and He turned that stone cave into a fortress of hope that “the LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”b

When it’s Hard to Believe
b Psalm 18:2

Capital “P” Preparation

John 19:31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.

This is the second time the phrase – “the day of Preparation” with that same capital “P“ appears in this chapter.   I am convinced God has shown me that capital “P” to teach me something important about the celebration of Passover, and Lent.  The capital “P” Preparation is Jesus; the one very real difference between the preparation for the celebration of the Jewish Passover and the celebration of Lent that leads to Easter morning.  Both celebrations recognize the need for an annual, dedicated break in time with sacrifice so the heart might remember with thanksgiving and worship what the Eternal, Almighty, Righteous God has done in the past to make new beginning a reality.

Passover is the dedicated break in time for devout people whose desire is to remember the blood of the perfect lamb that saved them in the past.
Lent is the dedicated break in time for devout people whose desire is to remember the blood of the perfect lamb that saved them in the past.
• The Passover remembrance begins with the recognition of need for removal of the decay that leads to ruin.
• The Lenten  remembrance  begins with the recognition of need for removal of the decay that leads to ruin.
• The hope of Passover lies in the Eternal, Almighty, Righteous God’s acceptance of their sacrifice for Him…so He might be pleased with them.

• The hope of Lent lies in the Eternal, Almighty, Righteous God’s sacrifice of Jesus for them…so He might be pleased with them.

The Plan

John 19 NIV7 The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid,  9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.  10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” 13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha).  14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.  “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.”

>§§§>

The plan of the Jewish priests and leaders had always been clear – they wanted Jesus dead.  Pilate’s wife has had a dream and warned him about judging a “righteous man.”  His own superstitions have forced him to consider the possibility that Jesus may in fact be a “little g” god.”  He can find no sin in Jesus but Pilate is trapped by circumstances.  He’s tried to set Jesus free but now his choice has come down to who he fears most; Rome, the Jewish leaders, the anger of the local people, or Jesus himself.  Pilate’s decision based on threats, sin and fear was used by God to set in motion His plan of promise, forgiveness and hope:  It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.  “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.”

Misplaced and Misspoken

John 18:15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door.  So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. 19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. ESV

>§§§>

One of the first words of Jesus’s ministry was “repent.”  Jesus told his best friends at their inner circle supper just a few chapters earlier that one of them would betray him.  “Simon Peter motioned to this disciple [Jesus loved] and said, ask him which one he means.”a  All but one man in that small group probably heaved a sigh of misplaced relief when Jesus revealed the identity of the betrayer; it’s Judas – it’s not me!   

Later when Peter stood outside the courtyard where Jesus had been taken, the other disciple “known to the high priest,” used his credentials to bring him into another inner circle place where his misplaced relief of innocence became his misspoken words of denial – “I am not.”  Peter surely heard those words of betrayal from his own mouth and realized they belied the innocence he’d been so sure of  earlier…because it was him!  

Judas is the one we usually condemn as the guilty betrayer.  He betrayed Jesus to the guards and Pharisees.  That’s Gospel truth.  Peter’s denial of Jesus was for a different reason and to a different crowd but it was betrayal too.  That is also Gospel truth.  Judas and Peter both came to recognize any relief they might have felt about their innocence was misplaced.  Both felt the anguish of the guilt of their betrayal, but only Peter had the courage to face Jesus, confront his denial, repent and accept forgiveness.  God has chosen those startling similarities and that one big difference between the experiences of Judas and Peter to remind me this Lenten season of something important about innocence and repentance.  

We are human. We cannot escape the results of that brokenness. It’s easy to accept misplaced relief as the standard of innocence when it’s clear someone else is guilty.  We excuse misspoken words as something other than betrayal because judging intent is easier than admitting guilt.  I think the comparison of Judas and Peter has revealed another Gospel truth; repentance is not about relying on innocence, it’s about seeking purity.  Jesus offers so much more than innocence.  We have a Savior who promises to receive the pitiful offerings of misplaced relief and misspoken words into His own heart as an act of repentance from a human heart that longs for true purity.

aJohn 13:24

Psalm 119:169-176 Taw – Mark, Sign, Signal, Truth

Psalm 119 Taw
169 May my cry come before you, Lord; give me understanding according to your word.
170 May my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise.
171 May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees.
172 May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous.
173 May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation,Lord, and your law gives me delight.
175 Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me.
176 I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.
                                                          >§§§>
These twenty two sections of Psalm 119 and their relationship to the Hebrew letter the Psalmist chose to “mark” each of them have challenged my thinking from mid November through Advent, Christmas and into this new year, 2021.  Transposing sentences has been a way to pay homage to the Hebrew method of reading Right to Left.  These last eight “right to left” verses were organized with that in mind but with a twist; writing all the right phrases, one after another, and then stringing all the left phrases together after them.  My intent is for them to be read as a whole that gives these important old words a new expression and then consider why the Psalmist marked them with last letter of the Hebrew Aleph-bet, “Taw.” 

The image of the ancient letter, Taw, was used like a signature mark to verify the truth of what was said.  Taw is pictured by two sticks crossed but I don’t see two sticks.  I see a cross!   It’s amazing to consider the Psalmist purposefully chose a mark all those centuries ago to verify the truth of his words and become a recognizable sign of the cross, chosen by God, to verify our future.  Read on please…
                          – Psalm 119:169-176 All Right then All Left –
Give me understanding according to your word. Deliver me according to your promise, for you teach me your decrees.   All your commands are righteous for I have chosen your precepts. Your law gives me delight and may your laws sustain me.  Seek your servant for I have not forgotten your commands.  May my cry come before you, Lord; may my supplication come before you.  May my lips overflow with praise; may my tongue sing of your word.  May your hand be ready to help me.  I long for your salvation, Lord. Let me live that I may praise you.  I have strayed like a lost sheep.
                                                 –––∞ My Thoughts ∞–––
Jesus IS the  Word!  That’s the understanding of God we need.  God’s promise to us lives in Jesus Christ; the way, the truth and the life.  Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s precepts, laws and commands and He will remove the condemnation of those same laws from those who place their life in Him.  Jesus has completed everything God required to sustain us.  He is our reminder that the truth we now have can hold us firmly while our lips learn to overflow with praise and our tongues find words to sing the song of salvation for lost sheep; being crucified with Christ.  I long for your salvation, Lord. Let me live that I may praise You, glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Psalm 119:153-160 ר Resh – Head

Psalm 119:153-160 ר Resh – Head
153 Look on my suffering and deliver me, for I have not forgotten your law.
154 Defend my cause and redeem me; preserve my life according to your promise.
155 Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek out your decrees.
156 Your compassion, Lord, is great; preserve my life according to your laws.
157 Many are the foes who persecute me, but I have not turned from your statutes.
158 I look on the faithless with loathing, for they do not obey your word.
159 See how I love your precepts; preserve my life, Lord, in accordance with your love.
160 All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.

Right >§§§> Left

I have not forgotten your law, look on my suffering and deliver me.  Preserve my life according to your promise, defend my cause and redeem me.  The wicked do not seek out your decrees, salvation is far from them.  Preserve my life according to your laws, your compassion, Lord, is great.  I have not turned from your statutes but many are the foes who persecute me. The faithless do not obey your word, I look on them with loathing.  Preserve my life, Lord, in accordance with your love, see how I love your precepts.  All your righteous laws are eternal, all your words are true.

–––∞∞∞–––

Resh – Head might be the Psalmist’s acknowledgement that he knows God is his Head.  He is confident God always acts in accordance with His character.  He is truly certain of what his heart knows about God but his words show us that isn’t always what is in his head.  God has chosen to show us the honest words of this man “after His own heart” because they clearly reveal a struggle between the faith of his heart and the words of his head.  That is the struggle people of faith still confront today.  

The Psalmist knows every circumstance of his life is exposed to God’s own heart. I think that’s what he wants us to learn too.  “We [must] let our mind descend into our heart and there stand in the presence of God.a    Standing in that presence our heart and head can finally recognize the gaps in our faith. That is the place God’s own heart transforms our faith from what our own heart and head know into faithfulness based on knowing God’s law is always balanced by His promises; His decrees by His compassion and His precepts by His love. 

a Henri Nouwen in Spiritual Direction

Psalm 119:137-144 צ Tsadhe – fish hook?

Psalm 119 צ Tsadhe – fish hook?
137 You are righteous, Lord, and your laws are right.
138 The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy.
139 My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore your words.
140 Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them.
141 Though I am lowly and despised, I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.
143 Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands give me delight.
144 Your statutes are always righteous; give me understanding that I may live.

Right >§§§> Left

Your laws are right.  You are righteous Lord!  Fully trustworthy are the righteous statutes you have laid down.  My enemies ignore your words and my zeal wears me out. Your servant loves your thoroughly tested promises.  I do not forget your precepts though I am lowly and despised.  Your law is true.  Your righteousness is everlasting.  Your commands give me delight when trouble and distress come upon me.  Give me understanding that I may live your always righteous statutes.

–––∞∞∞–––
Obviously there isn’t much efficiency in working on two sections of the Psalm at a time if you end up having to say “sorry this section is posted out of order.”  I have been “caught being human too.”

The Psalmist had his own reasons for choosing Tsadhe – fish hook as his title. Today it’s a stepping stone, a mental path, to find truth that makes old words real for contemporary life.  Fish hook is only one step away from the idea of being “caught.” Is the Psalmist caught thinking his zeal for God is what changes his enemies?  Is that what’s wearing him out? Is he caught by his own perception of what others think of him? Is he caught by his own trouble and distress? Is he caught being human? The answers to all of the above may well be yes.

That’s why his words seem familiar – they’re still struggles of being human today. Maybe Tsadhe – fish hook – is the Psalmists’ way of remembering being “caught” is also what makes it possible for him to find a positive response to those negatives.

He’s “caught on” that despite thorough testing, he still loves the promises of God. He’s “caught on” that God’s righteousness is everlasting but his circumstances aren’t. He’s hooked by these truths that allow him to live, to believe, to be faithful…even though he’s caught being human too. He’s been caught and firmly hooked by a righteous and trustworthy God.a

aReposted from September, 2016

Psalm 119:145-152 ק Qoph Axe, Back of Head

Psalm 119 – Qoph Axe, Back of Head,
145 I call with all my heart; answer me, Lord, and I will obey your decrees.
146 I call out to you; save me and I will keep your statutes.
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.
148 My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.
149 Hear my voice in accordance with your love; preserve my life, Lord, according to your laws.
150 Those who devise wicked schemes are near, but they are far from your law.
151 Yet you are near, Lord, and all your commands are true.
152 Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever.

Right >§§§> Left

Lord, I will obey your decrees; answer me; I call with all my heart.  I will keep your statutes, I call out to you, save me.  I have put my hope in your word; I rise before dawn and cry for help.  Through the watches of the night my eyes stay open that I may meditate on your promises.  Preserve my life, Lord, according to your laws; hear my voice in accordance with your love.  Your law is far from those who devise wicked schemes near me.  All your commands are yet true, Lord, you are near.  You established your statutes to last forever, long ago I learned from them.

–––∞∞∞–––

I write what I “think I know,” because I want God to “know I think.” More importantly I believe God knows what I need to know, and He wants me to know it too.  I wonder if that’s the process of discernment?

I’m guessing seeing beyond what he thinks he knows is why the Psalmist writes too. Maybe that’s the secret of his obscure title Ooph – axe, back of head. The “back of the head” according to a Google search about anatomy is the “occipital lobe that controls sight.  What the Psalmist “sees” are his life experiences but he knows there is a greater truth that can cut away the debris of life and reveal a much greater reality.  The decrees, statutes and promises are the “axe” that can open his mind beyond what he thinks he knows, so he can see their truth; God wants him to know that His love preserves life.  “All your commands are yet true, Lord, you are near.”a

a  Rewrite of September, 2016