30 Day Gospels: An Invitation

If [the things Jesus did] were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books. –John 21:25, The Message

Which book has been most influential in your life?

I’m a BIG reader and I can recommend any number of books, classic and contemporary, fiction and non. But for me, the “most influential” is, was, and always will be: The Bible.

The Bible, Genesis through Revelation, has been my source book, telling me who I am, who God is, and how I fit in this world. It has been my go-to for wisdom, not “What should I do today?” but “How should I live?”

The Bible has been my story book, my children’s story book, my history book, text book, and reference book. At times I have neglected the Bible – frustrated with life, God, the Church, or just plain too busy. Other times, I’ve taken my fight with God to Scripture and found consolation there among biblical characters who also wrestled with God (the Psalms especially are great for that, as well as for offering comfort).

I have no idea how many times I’ve read the Bible. I’ve read it cover-to-cover and I’ve read it in the chronological order in which it was written. My favorite way to read it is to follow a reading plan that always keeps me on track even when I skip a day or five.

I’ve been reading and studying the Bible for most of my life and, truth be told, sometimes I get bored. I know the stories by heart and I can tell you what many of them mean to me.

So sometimes I need a nudge to keep reading. Maybe you do, too.

This year I set a goal to interact with different versions of the Bible to shake up my reading and potentially bring new things to light. During Lent 2020 I hung out in The Jesus Storybook Bible, my very favorite children’s Bible which I recommend to more adults than children for its gorgeous way with words and art.

During September I read from The Message as I followed author Annie F. Downs‘s plan to read the Gospels in 30 days. Yes, I skipped a few days because life has its own plans. Some days I read simply because I had committed to do so.

And other days words jumped off the page at me. Like in Matthew 2:11 when it says that the scholars from the East, upon seeing baby Jesus in Mary’s arms, were “overcome.” I’m so familiar with Jesus that I forget to be overcome by Him. I long to be overcome, not by the day’s realities but by Jesus’ loving presence.

Or in these crazy-chaotic pandemic-political times, when it’s so easy to feel depleted and to dread each day’s news, I’m thrilled to read that “Jesus was quick to comfort them. ‘Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid'” (Matthew 14:27) and that “…your sadness will develop into gladness” (John 16:20). Right about now I can use a hefty dose of courage and the hope that gladness will be on its way.

So I’ll be reading through the Gospels again in October and I invite you to join me. I haven’t yet decided which version of the Bible I’ll read (what’s your favorite, or how do you shake things up?). I expect, like always, some days will be dull and other days new word, phrases, or images will leap off the page…because God’s Word is alive with insight, and oh how I need the presence of Jesus during this unusual time in which we live.

from Annie F. Downs

9 Prayers to Squelch Pandemic Panic (aka, anti-anxiety prayers)

A few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic shelter-in-place, I knew I needed a different kind of spiritual discipline, one that focused my creative writing on Scripture God could use to lift me out of the sudden onset of anxiety. I began searching God’s Word for promises related to anxiety and fear, and what I needed most, peace.

From there, I wrote short prayers following the tradition of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during King Henry VIII’s reign of England and author of the first Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: an address for God, a characteristic of God, a request, an intention, and the name of Jesus. While I used a traditional form, I also personalized it in ways Cranmer couldn’t have imagined.

Listening to God through the Bible and then listening for what my heart wanted to say in response has helped me channel my energy into making something meaningful. Praying these prayers resets my anxious mind, centering my focus on God’s presence here and now. I pray they’ll also share some peace with you. Please feel free to share with friends who might want to pray along with you!

Psalm 40:1-3 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

My Rescuer, always listening and quick to respond, rescue me now. Lift me up to new, safe heights so that I may bellow your praises. In the name of Jesus Christ I sing, Amen.

Psalm 94:18-19 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Loving God, though I fall, you never fail; you extend comfort when anxiety topples me. I’m slipping, Lord! Catch me in your strong arms of love and hold me so tight that, instead of fear, I am squeezed by joy in your presence. In Jesus’ name I squeak love, Amen.

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Creator God, who sculpted my heart and knows me inside and out, excavate the junk I can’t, or won’t, admit. Take my hand and direct me in better ways to better days with you by my side forever. In your Son’s name I pray, Amen.

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Lord my God, you who have been with me since before the beginning and will be for eternity, dress me in your strength, your courage, your nearness, so that I am prepared for the adventures of brave living each day. In the name of your Son who is the Way, Amen.

Matthew 6:25-27, 32b-34 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? …your heavenly Father knows [what] you need… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Provider God, who feeds the birds and cares even more for me, give me what I need for body and soul. Set my eyes so firmly on your kingdom and plant my feet so firmly in today that my faith in you motivates my every step. Thank you, Jesus, Amen.

John 14:1, 27 Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Faithful Savior with arms full of offered peace, sprinkle your sparkly glitter dust of peace over the messy glue of my heart to create a down-to-earth and still frame-worthy work of art entitled “Confident Belief.” In your name I pray, Jesus, Amen.

John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Hey Jesus, my Comforter, the world is in trouble and I feel stuck in the world. Wrap me up in your peace and show me how you are overcoming so that I can move forward into this braveheart life. I pray in your name, Jesus, Amen.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Jesus Christ, my near and gentle Lord, fill my mouth with rejoicing and drench me in peace so that your gentleness, rather than my anxiety, becomes evident to everyone I meet. I rejoice in you, Jesus, Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Servant Savior, who loved us fully by showing us how to be humble, I am tossing all my anxiety at you like a sack of dirty laundry–I don’t want it, please take it. Thank you for gently loving me, for cleaning up my messes and holding me tight. Humbly your child prays to you, Jesus, Amen.

Cover image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay 

Finding Faith in the Storm

I woke suddenly to the boom of an explosion, my heart-thud echoing the blast. In my sleepy-confused state, I lifted my eye mask and glanced around the bedroom cast in early gray light. Had it been fireworks? A blown transformer?

No, there it was again: thunder crack so loud I shook; seconds later, a charge of lightning zapped the gloom.

In the fourteen years I’ve lived in Northern California I can’t recall a single summer thunder-and-lightning storm. After days of oppressive, record-breaking heat, rain felt refreshing. Unusual heat, followed by an unusual storm; unusual, like most of 2020.

Which got me thinking about other storms, like this one:

23 As they sailed, [Jesus] fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him” (Luke 8:23-25).

The disciples were in the boat because Jesus asked them to go to the other side of the lake. They sailed while He fell peacefully to sleep. Jesus must have been exhausted, because he stayed asleep during their storm-battle. Experienced fishermen among them, it must have been exceedingly bad for them to panic as they did.

They woke Jesus. I would have, too, wouldn’t you?

As I reread this story, I realized I’ve been reading it wrong since forever. Jesus rebuked the wind and water; He didn’t rebuke the disciples. I’ve read His question, “Where is your faith?” as a rebuke, but that’s not what it says.

Jesus calmed the storm, and then turned to calm His amazed disciples, to remind them that He deserved their faith.

2020 has hurled all manner of storms our way: a global pandemic; unemployment and/or financial insecurity; political and racial tension; distance learning; the cancellation of oh-so-many celebrations and traditions; isolation and loneliness; mental health turmoil; frustrated and angry people at every turn; devastating fires in Australia, Colorado, and again in California (the NorCal fires resulted from those lightning strikes); I could go on, and you’d have your own storms to add to the list.

We all recognize that 2020 has been a whopper of a year, and I don’t mean delicious. But the storm last weekend reminded me of the storm in Scripture that reminds all Jesus’ followers that Jesus is with us in the storm. We can have faith. No matter what, He is here.

Not all storms are bad, some might even be refreshing, and especially if they send you running to Jesus. Jesus will never rebuke us for running to Him during our storms. He won’t be angry when we “wake” Him, and He never wakes up sleepy-confused. He knows the score: God always wins, even when the game looks like an upset from our perspective.

Take heart, friends. Jesus is with you, a calming presence in every storm. Put your faith in Him.

Cover image: Craig Mole Photography, sfgate.com

Who Will Be the Good Samaritan?

When someone tells you they’ve been hurt, you wouldn’t tell them they haven’t.
When someone shares with you about their experience, you wouldn’t tell them that can’t have happened because you have a different experience.

When a whole group of people tell us they’ve been hurt, a compassionate response involves listening.
When a whole group of people share their experience, a compassionate response involves trying to understand how and why that happened to them.

An appropriate, compassionate response does not include setting about to prove them wrong, declaring that that can’t possibly have happened because it hasn’t happened to you. They must be wrong, right?, because what they’ve described seems so wrong.

If I tell you I’ve been hurt, and you tell me I haven’t; if I describe my experience and you tell me I’ve misunderstood what happened to me; if you choose not to listen and try to understand, not to bear my pain with me but instead to defend those who have hurt me, I will not trust you. In aligning yourself with the one who hurt me, you have added insult to injury. I will call it like it is: you have heaped additional abuse upon the abused.

And if you don’t listen but instead want to tell me to buck up, that God loves me and God will take care of me if I just trust Him more, I won’t believe you. Because we know of God’s love through the ways we are loved, and you haven’t loved me.

We cannot love well unless we listen well. And once we’ve listened, we have to be willing to do something. We have to be willing to lean in and shoulder the pain with those who’ve been hurt. It’s time to stop defending the abusers, even though they may be us.

Jesus told a story about a traveler who got robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the roadside (Luke 10:25-37). One after the other, some VIP’s passed by on the other side of the road. Jesus doesn’t explain their excuses but it’s not a big stretch to imagine that it might have had to do with ceremonial cleanliness–they couldn’t afford to get blood on their blouses since that would mean additional time to ritually purify themselves before they could get on with their very important business, ironically (or not) of helping others come close to God.

The story’s good guy is the least likely of the passersby to stop and help. Samaritans and Jews didn’t mix. The Samaritan should not have wanted to help a Jew, and the Jew might not have accepted the help if he had been aware enough to have an opinion. At this point, though, it’s pretty clear he needs help or he will die.

This Samaritan allowed himself to be moved by pity for their shared humanity. He got on his knees in the dirt to do roadside triage. He examined and then treated the man’s wounds, cleaning and anointing them to prevent infection. He put the man on his donkey and took him to an inn. He spent the night caring for this stranger when surely he should have been on his way to his intended destination. When he had to move on, he made sure the injured man would have continued care; he paid the expenses and promised to check back in and cover any overages.

The Samaritan went so far out of his way and then some. Clearly the story tells us that he didn’t have to. He could have kept on going like the others. Jesus’ listeners wouldn’t have expected the Samaritan, of all people, to stop. Yet the Samaritan who showed mercy has become the Ultimate Example of what it looks like to love your neighbor.

You know, the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself. The two basics of living in God’s kingdom, the non-optionals above all others for what it looks like to follow a God who defines Himself as Love (1 John 4:8).

Our brothers and sisters of color have exhausted themselves trying to get us to hear and understand that they’ve been hurt. They’ve been beaten and left for dead. And so many of us have crossed the street, looked away, held our noses to avoid the stench of blood. We’ve said we’re too busy, the problems are too big and they’re not our problems. We’ve said that there aren’t any problems, that they’ve misunderstood their own experience, that they’re bringing the problems on themselves. It has nothing to do with us. We’re good people, and we’re not racists. Obviously we would never beat someone up.

Obviously. However, if we haven’t been part of the solution, we have been part of the problem. We are complicit if we walk on by with our heads full of excuses held high. Getting involved will be costly. So I ask: who will be the good Samaritan? And what will that look like today?

I’m listening.

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Nothing to Be Ashamed Of

When did you last feel guilty? What did you do, and what did you do with your guilt: confess it and make it right? Hide it and walk away?

What are you ashamed of? It could be related to the same situation if your guilt went unresolved. But shame is sneaky. You likely feel ashamed for things that aren’t your fault at all: body image, not fitting in with whatever group you were made to feel you had to fit in, insults you internalized as a child that reflected more about the person who uttered them than any truth about your character.

Guilt: I did something bad.
Shame: I am bad.

I’m no expert, but it seems to me that guilt can lead to feelings of shame. I did something bad because I am bad. And shame can lead to further guilt: since I’m bad, I might as well act badly. Like Adam and Eve eating the fruit in the garden (guilt) and realizing they were naked (shame over their beautifully created bodies), and hiding from God.

But those things are more easily dealt with than the shame most humans carry through no fault of their own. That requires much deeper, harder work, and I’d wager that most of us don’t want to go there…until for whatever reason we realize we have to.

Peter denied knowing Jesus three times (John 18), just as Jesus had told him he would (John 13). Peter felt guilty, but the way Jesus restored him indicates that Peter may also have been feeling ashamed (John 21).

The real shame expert, Brene Brown, says that if we wanted to grow shame in a petri dish we would add secrecy, silence, and judgment, all ingredients in ample supply.

Even though Peter denied Jesus publicly, it’s not a stretch to imagine that Peter had buried his actions. The other disciples weren’t there, so how would they know? And how would they react if they did? Again, judgment isn’t a huge leap… Oh Peter, how could you? Although, given the circumstances, maybe they would have done exactly the same; or maybe they could have imagined themselves in Peter’s sandals. But Peter wouldn’t know that, since he likely kept his guilt and shame to himself.

Secrecy, silence, and judgment multiply shame. Jesus not only addressed Peter’s guilt, He also obliterated Peter’s shame. This conversation wasn’t just redemption, or restitution; this conversation became a catapult to mission. Without it, we might not have the Church.

I find it fascinating that John chose this scene to conclude his gospel. Peter, who had lived and served with Jesus for three years, denied even knowing Jesus on the night He was arrested. But that doesn’t stop Jesus’ love, Jesus’ forgiveness, Jesus’ mission. John wants us to know that no matter what we’ve done or how unqualified we feel, Jesus will meet us there, gently and lovingly lift us up, and give us meaningful service.

Leave behind guilt. Do whatever hard work you need to do to move beyond shame. Let Jesus love you right where it hurts (especially if you’re not ready to admit that it hurts…that’s where you need it). And then get up and follow Him on the adventure He has waiting for you.

Connect
Share some of the ways you demonstrated love for someone this week.

Study
Read aloud John 21:15-25.
Also read John 18:15-18, 25-27. How did Jesus questioning Peter’s love three times connect with Peter’s three denials?
Even though Peter felt hurt by Jesus’ questions, how was Jesus demonstrating love for Peter?
How did Jesus ask Peter to demonstrate his love (vv15-17)? Why is that significant?
Since Jesus knows all things, why did He have this conversation with Peter? What difference does it make to say the words out loud?
Why did Jesus refer to Peter’s death (vv18-19)?
Why did Peter ask about John, and how did Jesus respond (vv20-24)?
Why do you think John chose this to be the last scene in his gospel (v25)? What does this scene tell us about Jesus and His followers that might act as a conclusion to the story?

Live
How do you define shame? How is it like/different from guilt?
When is shame an appropriate response? When is it unhealthy?
How can safe and loving conversations and an appropriate course of action be helpful in overcoming shame?
If you can, share about a time when Jesus redeemed your shame.
Why is it important to demonstrate love with words and actions?
Are you better at loving with words or actions? How can you grow in balancing expressions of love?
How can you demonstrate your love for Jesus as you love others with words and actions this week?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for loving us no matter what and offering redemption from shame.

Family Share Questions
Reflect on John 21:15-19 individually and with your family:
How do you show someone you love them?
How does loving people help you love Jesus more?
Thank Jesus for all the people you love.

For more on shame, watch this Ted talk by Brene Brown.

 

Images by John Hain from Pixabay

Fear & Peace

For two long days last week as my pastor-husband prepared a sermon, I overheard his end of several zoom interviews asking people two questions: What causes you fear? and How have you encountered Jesus at your point of fear?

I couldn’t hear their answers, so I pondered my own responses to questions I’d been asking myself for weeks.

Shelter-in-place brought on an anxiety I couldn’t control or explain. I felt uncomfortable, awkward, ashamed. What is wrong with me? I wondered. Not in a high risk category, I’m not really afraid that I’m going to contract COVID-19. And, at least on the surface, my life hasn’t changed that much. So where are these Big Feels coming from?

  • Sleep immediately flew out the window for me and our kids. “Bedtime” suddenly shifted to 3 am, which meant we also slept half the day. It took about a month to settle into a healthier sleep rhythm.
  • The loss of routine. Our family doesn’t easily set our own routines, meaning that we rely on external structure to organize our days.
  • With everyone at home all the time, there’s no solitude, little silence, and regular interruptions, which makes it hard to concentrate, to write, to be creative. I have been less able to plug in to my natural outlets.
  • The obvious loss of social outlets. ‘Nuff said.
  • I’m not working, and I don’t know what work will look like in the future.
  • The comparison game at which I keep losing: others claim to be living their best life, developing new skills and side gigs, while I want to crawl in a hole and cry, or at least, hole up with a book or three.
  • The fear of the unknown: how long will this last? And all the swirling questions: how long should it last to keep us all safe?
  • And the big one: I fear that others aren’t taking this seriously, that they’re not truly sheltering-in-place, they’re not social distancing, they’re going out too often and letting their kids hang out with others. And by not taking it seriously, they’re invalidating my taking-it-seriously actions.

So where is Jesus in all this? Sheepishly, I asked Guy if anyone had dared to answer that they didn’t know…or that their fear was not having heard from Jesus during this time. Good for them, but no, no one answered that way.

I know Jesus is with me, but He hasn’t exactly been dramatic about announcing Himself. So I keep doing what I do to cultivate an environment for peace: I persist in my daily gratitude hunt. I find joy in exercising with my dogs. I’ve rediscovered a yoga practice that I can maintain at home long-term. And I write Bible studies where Jesus helps me craft questions as He speaks to my heart.

As the days plod along, slow and steady, I am grateful for faith in His gentle presence in the heart of our home. Even when I feel less than peaceful, I trust He’s here with peace in hand.

Connect
Name one of your biggest childhood fears. Alternately, share about something that currently makes you fearful.

Study
Read aloud John 20:19-23.
Put yourself in the room with the disciples before Jesus shows up (v19). What are you thinking and feeling?
How does Jesus’ greeting also address the disciples’ fears (v19)?
Why did Jesus show them His hands and side (v20)?
Why did Jesus emphasize peace (vv19, 21)?
How are peace, the Holy Spirit, and forgiveness connected? Why are they important for the ones whom Jesus sends?

Live
When do you feel most peaceful?
What does it look like for you to receive Jesus’ peace?
If you can, share about a recent time when you felt afraid and how Jesus showed up for you.
In the midst of fear, how can you actively put your trust in God?
How does a sense of purpose help one deal with fear?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to meet you in your fears and fill you with peace.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on John 20:19-23 individually and with your family:
What are you afraid of?
How can Jesus help you feel peaceful?
Ask Jesus to help you trust Him when you’re afraid.

If you’d like to hear Guy’s sermon based on this passage, you can watch here. The Scripture reading followed by the sermon starts at 13:32.

Image by Raheel Shakeel from Pixabay

Unexpected

How are you holding up during the pandemic? I don’t typically experience anxiety, but I have during the five weeks the San Francisco Bay Area of California has been under shelter-in-place (SIP). Some days, or at least some hours, I’m fine, and others not so much.

I do typically seek out gratitude, and this discipline has become even more important these days. It has helped to hold me steady. So the unexpected feelings of anxiety have me looking for unexpected things I can be grateful for during this extremely unexpected experience.

Unexpected things I’m grateful for during SIP (beyond things I’m regularly thankful for, like walkable neighborhoods and blooming spring flowers):

Not having to rush everywhere
Our church has learned how to broadcast services and Sunday school resources, and folks who haven’t been attending church have been finding their way back
All the people we meet face-to-face (at a safe distance) while walking
Cleaning out closets, the pantry, the fridge/freezer, vacuuming under the bed, etc.
Family projects–both kids worked with their dad to create/update pet habitats and Q15 has a new live edge redwood desk with redwood legs
People rediscovering the art of correspondence
Also, rediscovering playtime–puzzles, games, hobbies, toys that had been outgrown and tucked away have been pulled out
New cooking/recipe groups on social media and time to try new recipes
Bartering–a friend swapped me two bottles of wine for homemade hummus and granola
Artists and musicians sharing their gifts and humor freely, and amateurs dabbling creatively
My overflowing (and occasionally crazy-making) bookshelves + our local online library service + more time to read and I will never run out of new material
Technology meeting the demands of new restrictions and reminding people that we can be connected even if we’re far apart
People have been leaving whimsically painted rocks along the trails and roadsides for others to find–like discovering Easter eggs all spring!

I’m also grateful for the opportunity to write Bible studies like the one below, in which Jesus showed up to His grieving friends. I’m grateful for the reminder that I don’t have to have it all together for Jesus to be with me, to love me just as I am.

Connect
What unexpected things have you discovered you can be grateful for during shelter-in-place?

Study
Read aloud John 20:1-18.
What did Mary, and then Peter and John, expect to find at the tomb (vv1-3)?
What different responses did Mary, Peter and John have as they approached the empty tomb (vv1-9)? Who do you most relate to in this scene and why?
Why do you think Peter and John went back to where they were staying while Mary remained at the tomb (vv10-11)?
Why didn’t Mary recognize Jesus (vv9-16)? What did it take for her to recognize Him?
Describe the interaction between Jesus and Mary (vv15-18).
What instructions did Jesus give Mary, and why is it important then and now (vv17-18)?

Live
How do you typically expect to approach and interact with Jesus?
How has Jesus recently surprised you by bursting beyond your expectations?
When coming to God, are you more of a “clean it up first” or “bring the whole mess” kind of person? Explain.
What does it sound like for Jesus to call your name? How do you respond?
How has Jesus met you in the grief and disappointments of life?
What difference does the resurrection make to your life today?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray for eyes to see the Lord.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on John 20:11-18 individually and with your family:
What makes you sad?
How can Jesus comfort you when you’re sad?
Pray for eyes to see Jesus.

If you’d like to hear a sermon based on this passage, my husband preached a grace-filled message for our church today. You can watch here.

Cover Image by TC Perch from Pixabay

If Only…

Pre-pandemic pause, we said:
If only…we weren’t so busy.
If only…we had more time.
If only…the family could do more together.

During this pandemic pause, we say:
If only…this had never happened.
If only…I had my own space.
If only…we could go back to normal.

[Please note: This pandemic hasn’t thrust us into the same boat, but into the same storm. So, truly, people say lots of different things to express their experience from their perspective in their boat in the storm. All valid.]

If only…we could wish ourselves out of whatever situation we’re in.

Instead, how about being present, whatever that means, no matter how hard. Let’s fully experience it, feel the feelings, do our best, and move forward to the next right thing, whatever that might be?

After the crucifixion, the disciples did their best. Confused, they did their next right thing. And the resurrected Jesus met them there, in their “normal” as fishermen, because that’s what they knew how to do.

Whatever you do. Whatever your “next,” do what you need to do.

Jesus will meet you there. Always and forever, He loves you. He can’t wait to be with  you.

In case one of your “next right things” is spending time with Jesus, here are some questions to guide you…

Connect
When recently have you said, or heard someone say, “If only…”?

Study
Read aloud John 21:1-14.
Why did Peter decide to go fishing, and why did the others go along (vv2-4)?
How did “the disciple whom Jesus loved” recognize Jesus (vv4-7)?
Why did Peter get dressed and jump in the water (v7)?
Why do you think Jesus helped the disciples catch fish (v6) and asked for some of their fish (v10) when He already had fish (v9)? What might that tell us about Jesus? About us?
How do you understand the disciples’ reaction to Jesus (v12)?

Live
What regular activities do you do to distract yourself from feelings of “If only…”? Do they help?
Share some of the healthy ways you deal with negative emotions.
How do you recognize Jesus when He shows up?
What have you heard Jesus saying to you during shelter-in-place?
If you can, share about a time when you witnessed Jesus do something remarkable.
Where in your life would you especially like Jesus to show up?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray for God to do more than you can ask or imagine.

 

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on John 21:1-14 individually and with your family:
What miracle does Jesus do in this story? How do you think the disciples felt about it?
What miracles would you like to see Jesus do in the world today? In your own life?
Pray for God to be powerfully present in your life.

 

Image by jürgen Scheffler from Pixabay

Easter Sunday 2020

“Jesus isn’t dead anymore!” [the angel] said. “He’s alive again!”
And [the women’s] hearts leapt. And then the angel laughed with such gladness…

Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

For those who want a fresh take on Luke’s familiar resurrection account, I offer some questions to guide you.

Connect
Reflect on a favorite Easter celebration from your childhood.
How will/did you celebrate Easter while sheltering in place?

Study
Read aloud Luke 24:1-12.
Who went to the tomb, and why (vv1, 10)? What do you know about these women (see also Luke 8:2-3)?
What did they find/not find (vv2-7)?
Summarize in your own words what the angels told them (vv5-7)?
Why did the apostles not believe the women’s testimony (vv9-11)?
How did Peter respond, and what did he find at the tomb (v12)?
Why do you think the angels appeared to the women but not to Peter?

Live
On a practical level, what does the resurrection mean to you?
Do you think people still “look for the living among the dead,” and if so, how?
If you can, share about a time when you told someone about Jesus and they dismissed it as nonsense. How did you respond?
What about Jesus and the resurrection still causes you to wonder?
What will you do this week to live out the reality of the resurrection?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Praise God for His gift of His Son, praise the Son for His gift of Himself on the cross, and praise the Spirit for the power to live as God’s people.

 

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Luke 24:1-8 individually and with your family.
What good news have you heard recently?
Why is it great news that Jesus rose from the dead?
Thank God for Easter!

 

During Lent 2020, I read and reflected on The Jesus Storybook Bible.You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

And special thanks to my loyal readers who encouraged my heart each time they read and liked one of these Lenten blog posts, especially to Robin Leann & Simply Wendi!

Lent 2020: Maundy Thursday

“My body is like this bread. It will break.” Jesus told them. “This cup of wine is like my blood. It will pour out.”
“But this is how God will rescue the whole world…. So whenever you eat and drink, remember,” Jesus said, “I’ve rescued you!”

My husband just popped dinner in the oven (a frozen veg lasagna he bought when he braved the grocery store this morning, restocking us for Easter + two weeks) and brought me a piece of fresh rosemary focaccia bread to nibble as I type.

The bread is soft and delicious, a little chew from the crust and a salty-herby punch to its flavor. He only brought a small piece; it’s enough to make me want to get up for more.

Does every “taste” of Jesus make me want to get up for more? Do I eat mindlessly, or do I notice the delicious and nourishing taste?

I love to cook. I love to serve my family nutritious, tasty meals. I follow several cooks online, always on the hunt for new recipes. During shelter-in-place, when suddenly lots of people have opportunity to indulge their culinary efforts (or not, at least their good humor), I’m in additional “whatcha cookin” type groups.

And still. It’s easy to just eat. To mindlessly put food in my mouth to satisfy my hunger and/or my anxiety. To mindfully serve my family and yet forget to remember and thank the Source of all good things.

Today is Maundy Thursday. We should be going to church. But even on Sunday, Easter, we will stay home. The world turns upside-down…

Jesus, help me to remember–when I eat and all the time–that you allowed your body to be broken because you came to rescue us. Your body saved ours. Your love infuses our blood. Now as much as ever, we need your rescue.

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.