Sunday, May 3, 2015

A to Z Reflection

When I woke up on April 30th I luxuriated in my bed and relished the pleasure of not having to even THINK about writing a post! I was done with that daily duty, having posted "Z is for Zebedee's Son" before crawling into bed.  But I hadn't rolled out of my bed before I started thinking that maybe I might want to start writing in my journal from time to time. The realization struck me: the habit of composing was upon me! Even though I didn't want to, I needed to write.

Somewhere along the way, the patterns of a writer's thinking had infected me as I blogged along from A to Z. 

It's somewhat akin to the way Jesus worked. He would tell someone to go and do something, and while they were in the process of obeying they'd be changed.  Like when the ten lepers were healed as they obeyed Jesus' odd prescription to go to the priest. And as they went, they were cleansed. (Luke 17:14) Their healing happened while they obeyed!  Similarly, while servants at the wedding feast did his bidding, the water they were pouring into jars became wine. (John 2)

God told me to blog, and as I blogged, my mind became more and more atuned to that of a writer—playing with words in my head, feeling the impulse to record. I realized that I had been changed.

How did this happen? Where did it all begin?

I can trace many slender roots to this story.  But the most obvious one was in Tina's characteristically warm and enthusiastic response to a student's request, "I think studying John would be wonderful!"

She began teaching the gospel of John in January of 2014. But by February, Tina was sick again, and the main teaching responsibilities had fallen on me. Despite the revolving-door visits to the hospital, Tina was set to mentor me during the summer so that I could formally take on the leadership of our Bible study in the fall.

But by the end of August, two unpleasant surprises had invaded my life. Both Tina and my father had become seriously ill and passed away within a matter of weeks of one another. By September, I was moving through a fog. Holding onto the rails of the Word. Leaning on the Holy Spirit for each class.

Beginning with our first class last fall, I tried to gin up support for the April blogging challenge in honor of Tina. It had been so important to her. We'd only need to write a few posts each to cover the alphabet. But by mid-March, as I dealt with health issues with my husband and other family issues, I decided that participating in the challenge didn't make any sense. I didn't need the pressure and no one in the class seemed excited by it. I was relieved that the decision NOT to do the A to Z Challenge seemed unanimous.

Then, early on a Saturday morning in late March, I sat contemplating John 19 and the powerful and emotional story that lay in Mary Magdalene's discovery of Jesus. I toyed with how I would tell that story if I were writing a blog post. Then I saw the problem... M for Mary would happen in the middle of the month, about a week before I got to R for Resurrection.

Could one go from A to Z in the order of the gospel?

I took out a blank sheet of paper and wrote out ABC.
I turned to John, Chapter 1.

Hmm. The Prologue.

A - Announcing!
B - Behold the Lamb
C - Come and See

The titles seemed to jump onto my page.

But would I be able to keep on going?

"D" would be "Disciples Believe" from Chapter 2.


I wrote out the rest of the letters from "E" to "Z". In minutes I had the whole plan drafted out. Each letter took a somewhat sequential step further into the Gospel of John.  

"Wow! This would be a great handout for the class! It's like God just gave it to me," I thought. I ran to my computer and typed it in, incredulous.

Looking over the document, I pondered. It's like God just gave it to me.
The next day in church, I was asking God, "Am I supposed to do this blogging challenge?"

Through the next week, I grappled with the question: was God telling me to do this? I would do the bulk of the writing, the class would partner with me mainly through prayer. If God wanted me to do this, He would have to make it clear. I decided to put my toe in the water. I went to the A to Z website to try to understand how it all worked. And that is when I saw the badge.  

There it was... "for Tina..."

I wept.

I knew I had to do this!

With a lot of help from my family, I got a website up and running. I learned how to do the mechanics of including pictures, links, etc. Somehow, I found time to throw words onto the page—words that I didn't know had been living in my head. The house suffered, I lost sleep, a lot of things fell through the cracks. But somehow I got a post up each day.

As the month wore on and the list of remaining letters in the alphabet got shorter and shorter, I was awed by the fact that my initial list (that had only taken minutes to write) was holding up.  Again, I just knew that this was something I was meant to do. The Lord had given it to me, just like He had given me—the Queen of Unfinished Projects—the energy and persistence that I needed to complete the challenge.

So now, like the one leper who went back and gave glory to God when he realized the power of God at work in his life, I can only say Soli Deo Gloria—to God be the glory!

Humanly speaking, I lacked the energy, time and understanding to follow this call, but the Lord was faithful to supply. It's like that old song: "Love supplies, what love demands." My love of God and my love for Tina compelled me along this path. And the God who is LOVE supplied all that was needed. Just as Jesus had promised.

And now, for the requested feedback on how the challenge was administered:

1) Thank you for honoring Tina on the badge!

2) Thank you to Arlee for the amazing inspirations and sunflower pics!!

3) For me, the hardest part of the challenge was the blog-hopping and commenting. Would you consider allowing some folks—maybe newbies—to have a delayed start on that? Maybe allowing them to take the first three days to ease into the A to Z activities and coming on board full force on "D" day (D for the Delay)? Honestly, I think it would help everyone get off to a stronger start, but I can only speak from the perspective of a rookie.

4) It would be helpful for novices to have some tips on comments, etc. Is there an etiquette for that? I was into the second week before I realized how to reply to comments on my blog. In the crush of writing, posting, and hopping, I was totally overwhelmed by the steep learning curve.

5) Is there a place we can go to to report deleted or non-participating blogs or advertisements?

6) I KNOW the hosts pour lots of time and energy into this. God bless you! I pray you do not grow weary in doing good.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Z—Zebedee's Son

Journey through the Gospel of John with rookie bloggers seeking to honor their good friend, Tina Downey.

In the final post about this gospel, we will consider its author: Zebedee's son, John.

The final chapter opens with seven disciples hanging out together. As usual, though John is clearly present, he avoids naming himself.

Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 

John and his brother James are "the sons of Zebedee," they had been fishing partners with Simon Peter prior to their interactions with Jesus.

None of the other gospels explicitly state who they are authored by. And John seems to follow this practice in his gospel. He simply refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved."  John doesn't seem to do this to make himself out to be more important than others, but to emphasize that love was Jesus' primary mode of interaction. In fact, John seems more focused on emphasizing the disciple Peter than promoting himself.

One example of this is in this chapter, where John relates how Peter is reinstated to a place of ministry, being told three times by Jesus, "feed my sheep." After relating Jesus' prophecy about Peter's faithfulness to the point of death, John clarifies what Jesus said about his own future. Apparently, he was writing to discredit rumors that he wouldn't die.

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them...When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?" —John 21:20-23

Here John clarifies that he is the one who writes the gospel, emphasizing that he is an eye-witness.

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. —John 21:24

John seems to stress the authenticity of his testimony because it undergirds his purpose in recording the facts about Jesus' ministry.

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.John 20:30-31  

By believing you may have life in his name.


Journey through the Gospel of John with rookie bloggers who are seeking to honor their good friend, Tina Downey.

In the final two chapters of John's Gospel, we have something of a "Just say 'Yes'" campaign. We see three different people interacting with the resurrected Jesus. Each must move past their initial uncertainties to the point where they can respond affirmatively to the risen Christ. 

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene was prominent among the woman who followed and cared for Jesus. She had seen His power to heal firsthand, as He had delivered her from seven tormenting spirits. Her devotion to Him was apparent in her presence at the crucifixion and at the burial. John's narrative of the Resurrection seems to highlight her grief and desperation.

When Mary comes to embalm Jesus, she sees the empty tomb and panics. Running to the disciples, she tells them,"They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" Peter and John race to the tomb; but after seeing that it is indeed empty, they leave. Mary, bereft, stays at the tomb weeping. John's description of her meeting with Jesus is poignant as it highlights joy against despair.

She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). 

Mary was a principle witness to Jesus' death on the cross. She had stood and watched his body being laid in the tomb. Now, her expectations and understanding were blown away. 

 "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" 

And that is when Mary joyfully makes the choice to set aside her expectations and just say YES! to the resurrection.  She went to disciples and told them:  "I have seen the Lord!" 


Thomas is the famed doubter who would not believe that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, even after the other disciples told him that He had appeared to them.

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"  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 it."  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!"  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."  
Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."  

Thomas lays aside his skepticism and says YES! to worshiping Jesus. The fact that Jesus receives this worship affirms His divinity.


Peter was eager to believe the resurrection. He raced to the tomb when he first hears Mary's report; and when Peter is out fishing and realizes that Jesus is on shore, he leaps in the water and rushes to meet him. There on the beach, Jesus feeds the disciples breakfast with the fish that had been caught.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." 

Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." 

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... He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.  I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"  

Peter doesn't doubt the resurrection. His doubts more likely reside in himself. His three-fold denial of Jesus on the night of the arrest must weigh heavily on him and cause him to doubt his place as a disciple. No wonder he went back to fishing! But in this three-fold affirmation of love, Jesus is clearly calling him to a ministry of serving God. He even expresses certainty in Peter's perseverance by asserting that Peter will follow Him to a death by crucifixion. Peter not only says "Yes!" to following Jesus, but he says "Yes!" to the power of the resurrection in His life—power that will carry him beyond his own strengths and weaknesses.

These three show us the power and delight in
just saying "Yes!" to Jesus.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X—the cross

Journey from A to Z through the Gospel of John with rookie bloggers who are seeking to honor their friend, Tina Downey.

           X marks the spot—that spot on Calvary that was the 
         destination prepared for Jesus and prophesied about for centuries.
         X, formed by two planks of wood staked into the ground,
         was the Roman execution.

         X marks that place where divine love was poured out, 
         the crux where mercy and justice meet.
         X was the mark of blood of the Passover Lamb that preserved life.

Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified...
Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others-- one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek....

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 
   "Let's not tear it," they said to one another. 
   "Let's decide by lot who will get it." 
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, "They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." So this is what the soldiers did....

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews 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.  The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.  Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.  

The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.

These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: "Not one of his bones will be broken," and, as another scripture says, "They will look on the one they have pierced."  

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.  

Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.  
At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid...they laid Jesus there. 
                                                                —John 19:16-42

Monday, April 27, 2015

W—Willing Sacrifice

Journey from A to Z through the Gospel of John with rookie bloggers who are seeking to honor their friend, Tina Downey.

After speaking to His disciples about their relationship to one another, to Himself and to the world, Jesus concludes his private teachings with these words:

"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." —John 16:33 

Next, John records Jesus' prayer to the Father. It opens like this:

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. —John 17:1-4  

Although Jesus is clear in His understanding of the impending betrayal, arrest and crucifixion, He describes Himself as an overcomer, and speaks of successfully completing His mission, of having authority over all, and of glory. Clearly, Jesus moves intentionally toward the cross—not as a victim, but as a victor.

We see glimpses of this attitude throughout the gospel. Like when Jesus describes Himself as the good shepherd that lays His life down for His sheep.

"I lay down my life-- only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." —John 10:17-18

But it is in the arrest and trial of Jesus that we see most clearly that Jesus is in command.

When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove..Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. 

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?"  

"Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. 

"I am he," Jesus said. ... 

When Jesus said, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground. 

Again he asked them, "Who is it you want?"  

And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth."  

"I told you that I am he," Jesus answered. John 18:1-11 

Here, Jesus' authority and presence overwhelm the mob that come to arrest Him. He practically turns Himself in. When Peter tries to defend Him by striking out with a sword, Jesus reprimands him:
"Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" 

Clearly, Jesus submits to His Father's will. Even before Pilate, He sees His captors as having no real power in events as they unfold. 

"Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?"
Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.—John 19:10-11 

Ultimately, Jesus goes to the cross a willing sacrifice, embracing His heavenly Father's purposes, 

Friday, April 24, 2015

V—Vine and Branches

Journey through the Gospel of John with rookie bloggers who are seeking to honor their good friend, Tina Downey.

Today we examine one of the most beautiful images of all Scripture. Jesus describes His relationship to believers using an allegory that would have conjured clear images in the minds of his followers. Not only were vineyards common sights to his disciples, but a golden vine adorned the gate of the temple that Herod had built. Once again, Jesus makes a powerful I AM declaration that draws deeply on Old Testament imagery while speaking to His own nature and ministry. The love of God is richly illustrated here:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful...
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned...This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  

The elements of the allegory are clearly drawn:
The Father is the vinedresser who superintends the garden and fosters fruitfulness. Jesus is the true vine, through which flows the very life of the plant. The branches are people, those that are connected to Jesus will thrive. The fruit is the outgrowth of the life that Jesus imparts to those who abide in Him. Jesus mentions what some of this fruit will look like:

Now remain in my love...If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love...

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete...

Love each other as I have loved you

Love, joy, and obedience are all examples of the type of fruit that are seen in the lives of believers. The intimacy of the believer to Jesus is powerful, showing that an ongoing connection allows the believer to draw life and strength from Him. The purpose of Jesus' ministry is the fruitfulness and health of the believer, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

So how does one abide in Jesus? The same way that the disciple, John, did—by believing, by spending time with Him and remembering His teaching and by obeying. 

This is not duty. It is delight. It is exactly like telling a bride she must spend time with her groom. Or like telling a chocoholic that he must eat Godiva truffles. It is a gift to be able to do the one thing that you enjoy the most. 

Today, abide in Jesus, and rest. Know that you can trust the Lord to bring about any fruit that should spring from that.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

U—Unity: Father/Son/Spirit

Journey through the Gospel of John with rookie bloggers who are seeking to honor their friend
Tina Downey.

The Fourth Gospel is unique in the perspective it gives on the Trinity. From the outset of the gospel, John makes it clear that Jesus is fully God:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

It is hard for our finite minds to comprehend that Jesus is God AND He is separate from His Father AND that God is One. But those are the clear implications of Jesus' own words. Here are some of the highlights:

"I and the Father are one." —John 10:30

"...whatever the Father does the Son also does." —John 5:19

"If you know me, you will know my Father also."—John 14:7

"Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."— John 14:9 

"The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work." — John 14:10 

"Father, I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began."— John 17:4-5   

Because Jesus is fully divine ("the word was God") and fully human ("the word became flesh"), His sacrifice on the cross is able to atone for all sin. He is able to take His life up again. And able to give life to those who believe. 

As Jesus prepares to return to the Father, He comforts the disciples by telling them about the Holy Spirit, who is also divine and characterized by truth. This third person in the Godhead will continue the ministry of Christ after He is gone.

"I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever--the Spirit of know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. —John 14:15-18 

"But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."—John 14:26 

"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. —John 15:26

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.—John 16:13-15

In this gospel, we get a glimpse of the somewhat puzzling reality of a triune God. One thing is clear, each person in the Trinity is involved with revealing truth and communing with believers. We are triply blessed to be in relationship with the Lord who loves us and seeks to have us know Him.